BringChange2Mind

April 18, 2011

It’s Still a Shame

Filed under: Contributing Blogger — Tags: , , , , , , — Marc Peters @ 9:00 am

Last Friday, I had the rare opportunity for a class session with former

President Bill Clinton. (That’s one of the benefits of attending his graduate school I guess). Surprisingly it wasn’t that great a day. I was exhausted and detached for most of my four hour class that morning. My behavior was off enough for my classmates to inquire to see if I was okay. I’d been doing fairly well lately and working nonstop at school work so I figured I was just exhausted. It took until that evening when I could not get remotely excited for the presidential Q&A for me to realize that I was sliding into a mild depression. I even had a good question prepared. I was going to thank President Clinton for signing the first Mental Health Parity bill into law back in 96. Then refer to his famous (in the mental health community) quote on mental illness:

Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.

That is what he said after losing a close friend to suicide. He was right then and he was right now. I wanted to ask him whether he thought we had progressed much in the years since he made that profound statement and what more could we be doing.

What’s tragic is that our society has not come that far in the 10+ years since Clinton left office. The Mental Health Parity Act passed in 2008 made great strides in evening the health coverage playing field. I’m just not convinced that progress in policy have been accompanied by a change in the hearts and minds of everyday people. I have no doubt that things are better now than they were then. However, just because things are better today than they were yesterday doesn’t excuse us from working feverishly for a brighter tomorrow.

I still know people who are embarrassed to tell people when they are seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. In our “lift yourselves up by your bootstraps” society, heaven forbid someone need to ask for help. I get emails often from people who feel more comfortable talking to me, a complete stranger, than they do their friends and family. Would the world be a better place if people chose help-seeking over isolation? Absolutely. Can we get there? I have no doubt. But we aren’t there yet.

If we are going to get there (wherever that is and whatever that means), we need to pay heed to the first half of Clinton’s quote. We need to realize that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. We cannot continue to cower anytime we admit that we’re feeling depressed or anxious or whatever the case may be.

Rather than feeling shame about being different, realize that there are a lot of people out there walking this walk with you. Rather than beat yourself up for what you can’t do, respect yourself for managing the challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis with courage and character. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Let me say that again- you have nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe it is a matter of us telling each other that a little more often.

For as outspoken as I am about living with bipolar disorder, that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel shame for the way it makes me feel or act. We all need a reminder now and then of how much we are worth, how far we have come and how much more we can do.

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October 13, 2010

What Can I Do?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Marc Peters @ 7:30 am

Ask yourself why you are involved in this cause. You may have a mental health disorder or know a family member who does. You may have lost a friend to suicide or simply had your heart broken by all of the news reports of young people taking their own lives. We all have our own motivation for getting involved. The problem is that it is (relatively) easy to get fired up about a cause. It’s much more difficult to sustain that commitment.

One of the things we can do is to guard against “do-gooder” flame-out. You may have instantly realized that youth suicide is a tragedy and an issue to be addressed. Maybe you think it should have been eradicated yesterday. Perhaps you quickly came to the conclusion that mental health stigma is a disgrace and that every day that it exists in our world is a terrible reflection on us as human beings. Impatience can be a valuable trait when it keeps you from settling for the status quo. It becomes dangerous when you grow easily frustrated when change doesn’t come at your preferred pace. Mental health stigma and suicide have been a part of our culture from day one. They will be a part of our culture tomorrow, next week and next year. Yes, we should challenge ourselves and each other to set HUGE goals, but we also need to set small, achievable benchmarks.

I know that I explicitly needed to be told that I couldn’t do everything myself. I could commit every hour of every day to this cause for the rest of my life and not reach everyone. Some things can only be done together. It is instinctive (and reasonable) to think, “Well if I won’t see results right now and I can’t get it done alone, why tackle this at all?”

Just because you can’t fix the problem completely doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. The onus is on all of us to serve as support system for each other and prevent others from losing hope and giving up.  Everyone has a sphere of influence. Everyone has people they can reach. We all have people we look up to and people whom look up to us. If you learn that one of your friends suffers from depressive episodes, you can find out how they want to be supported and fill that void. You can offer to be called day or night and be willing to drop anything you are doing to be with them when they desperately need the presence of a friend. You can speak up in groups of your peers when they are bad-mouthing people who are “crazy” or dismissing people with depression as “overly emotional.” We can all be more supportive to people we care about and (more importantly even) to people we pass by daily and hardly notice. We can use teachable moments not to admonish people for expressing ignorant beliefs, but rather to increase understanding and decrease stigma.

We all can do something. Take Ron Artest for example:

From ESPN.com

Ron Artest of the Los Angeles Lakers is motivated to win another NBA championship because he plans to auction his ring from last season’s title to raise money for mental health counseling in schools.

I think it’ll be more important to give back to something I believe in, which is providing kids with someone to talk to because it’s so expensive. I pay for parenting counseling, marriage counseling and anger management, and it’s very expensive. This will be for children of all demographics, rich or poor — preferably the rich can pay for their own psychologists — but it’ll be a great way to help kids who don’t know where they’re going in their life at this point.

When I think of mental health advocates, it’s easy to relate to Tipper Gore using the reach of the Vice Presidential office of her husband to bring mental health issues into the national debate. It’s easy to comprehend Mrs. Carter offering fellowships to journalists to write about mental health. We applaud Glenn Close for sharing her sister’s story and using her celebrity to draw attention to a cause that is all too often ignored. They are the ideal advocates we have…for middle class and elite America.

But what about everyone else…it’s commendable that Ron Artest is using his considerable clout among young people, the very people unlikely to seek help, to make a difference. We may not all be NBA superstars with a sphere of influence in the millions, but no matter how large or small, what is important is that we do something.

You don’t have to change the whole world. Start by changing your world and I will work on changing mine and if enough of us do that, the entire world will begin to change.

September 30, 2010

Mental Health: A Healing Profession, By Kim Glazer, LGSW

Filed under: Guest Blog, Story — Tags: , , , , , , — BringChange2Mind @ 6:31 pm

Kim Glazer

A professor of mine once said to me, “It’s selfish working in the field of mental health.”  Perhaps “selfish” isn’t the best word to describe the experience of being a mental health professional; but I think my professor was on to something. What my professor was describing was how powerful, moving and healing working with individuals with mental illness can truly be.  The relationship between the clinician and client is not one sided; the client is able to help the clinician just as much as the clinician is able to help the client.  How “selfish” it is to have the opportunity to listen to a person’s deepest fears and insecurities, and in turn learn about my own.  How “selfish” it is for me to be granted the opportunities to gain a better sense of myself through watching others confront their challenges and limitations.

My desire to gain a deeper understanding of myself, and to analyze why we think, feel and act the way we do is what drove me into the field of mental health.  In college I thrived off of reading studies about human behavior, and what factors shape who we become.  This fascination in the strong interplay between the individual and the family, community, and culture is what led me to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of Pennsylvania.   Not only did I want to help people manage and overcome their mental illness, but I also wanted to advocate for these individuals to increase resources available to them, and decrease the stigma they experience.

Working in the field of mental health has taught me a great deal about myself, which is ironic seeing as the purpose of the profession is to help others.  But when you think about it, helping others has an incredibly powerful impact on the way we see and understand ourselves.  The feeling of satisfaction and worth that I get from trying to help others through listening, empowering, and advocating for them heals something inside of me.   This ability to find tranquility and peace through working with others is what I believe my professor meant when he referred to the “selfishness” of the mental health profession.

I have learned that in order to be successful as a professional in the mental health field, it is imperative to have a strong grasp of one’s own limitations, biases and insecurities.  So much of myself goes into helping others, that I must be able to put the innate emotions and reactions I experience aside and instead provide the support and empathy that is needed.  While it is impossible to suggest that therapists and other mental health professionals deny our emotions (after all, we are all only human!), it is important that we have the self-awareness of what these emotional reactions are.  And I believe that through modeling to clients that we too have limitations, biases and flaws – and we too must learn to cope with them, the alliance between client and clinician becomes stronger.  Besides, no matter what the differences are between clients and clinicians, we are all in the process of healing and learning together.  And without the ability to join and form a strong relationship, the process of healing and growth is impossible.

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