Category Archives: bipolar

National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

Anchored In Knowledge Counseling

national minority mental health awareness month
Did you know that July is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month? If not, you’re not alone. Sadly this month is often overlooked by the majority of Americans. It is a time when summer has bloomed, fireworks have entered the scene, and multiple summer parties and cook-outs are in full swing. It comes at a time of the year when so many people are outdoors, enjoying the summer time weather and penetrating sun. This lack of awareness, however, not only affects minorities struggling with mental health problems, but our society at large.

There are multiple things we need to do to bring greater awareness to minority mental health:

  1. Build awareness
  2. Remember services are difficult to locate
  3. Remind clinicians and mental health professionals to be culturally competent
  4. Understand that:
    • Many cultures lack knowledge about mental illness or see it as taboo
    • Lack support from their own culture to seek services
    • Do…

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Don’t Kill Yourself

I always hear people tell me it will hurt those who love me, but seeing this really opened up my eyes.

This is the good life

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That’s Not How It Works

I found these posters via a post on Upworthy. They are done by a talented artist and discuss topics related to depression and rape and the responses that some people hear from friends, loved ones, and strangers about these illnesses and events.

That’s Not How Depression Works

Traveling with Mental Illness

I survived! I survived my family reunion – which meant being stuck on a boat (granted it was a cruise) for 1 week with some of who I am quite close to and others who I do not have the greatest relationship with. Even though it was a cruise which had lots of fun activities – I still was required to spend quite a bit of time with family, who as I said, I am not particularly close to and do not have the best relationship with, and was not able to do things I actually wanted to do, which was frustrating.

I did have a good time, but getting through the week was very hard also.

Traveling when you have mental illness is not the easiest thing though. So many things can go wrong. Who are you with, medication problems, sleep issues, why you are traveling in the first place, how long you will be gone, missing therapy appointments, where you will be going, and so many other things! So how do you deal with all of this?

1. Who are you with – Being around people you do not have a great relationship with can be VERY stressful. Make sure you have time for yourself. Schedule time for yourself. You might have to eat meals with them or go to certain events with them. But tell them that you need a nap or have to take a break, especially if they already know about your mental illness, they should “hopefully” understand. During this time, do whatever makes you happy that you can do – read a book, take a nap, draw, practice deep breathing, take a walk, etc.

2. Medication – If you take psychiatric medications (or any other medications), make sure you have an adequate supply. If you will run out during the trip, get an over-ride by your insurance company to get it filled early. It is so important to take all your medications as prescribed. If you are traveling outside of the country, also bring a copy of your prescriptions as some countries will require the copy of your prescriptions when you enter or leave the country as well. While most do not, it is better to be prepared than to run into a problem. Always make sure they are in the prescription bottle. Put your medication in carry on luggage if you are traveling in an airplane as well so it will not get lost if your luggage is misplaced.

3. Sleep – When you are not in your own room in your own bed, sleeping can sometimes become a problem. And if you are traveling across the world, jet lag will really throw you off. Be consistent with your sleep. Lack of sleep can throw you into a mania if you have bipolar (according to my psychiatrist). You can also go into a deep depression. Bring any sleep medication that has been prescribed to you as well in case you might need it.

4. Missing therapy sessions – Make sure you talk with your therapists about what to do since you will be missing therapy sessions. Can you have extra session before the trip if needed? Will you have a session scheduled after the trip or will there be a waiting period to get back in? Is there a way to contact him/her during the trip if you need to? If not, do you have a friend that you trust to talk to if you cannot talk to those you are traveling with about what is going on?

5. Where will you be going – If something happens related to your mental health, do you have a system in place for what to do? Are there mental health hospitals available? Do you have the suicide crisis line number to call? Does your health insurance cover out of state/country medical emergencies (mental health emergencies/hospitalizations) Of course, you do not want to even think about this as you just want to hope for a good time, but especially if you are traveling outside of the country, it is something you might want to think about as many countries have different ideas of how to handle mental health crisis, and many international travel insurance policies do not cover mental health care or pre-existing conditions.

6. Coping skills – These are super important. You need to remember to use these when things get hard. If you need to bring anything to help you, bring it. Paper for drawing. Markers. Coloring book with crayons. Crossword puzzles. A book. Magazine. They are generally small enough to fit in a backpack or luggage. A stress ball. Then there are always the skills that do not need an object such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation. Simple meditations.

Smart Phone Apps for Mental Health

With technology being so ubiquitous today, there are a multitude of ways we can use it to help us improve our mental health. There are so many applications we can download on smart phones to help us track moods, create safety plans, what coping skills are available, and many other things.

These are 4 mental health apps that I currently use. They have all been very helpful for me. Does anyone else use any others? What are they? How do you like them? Comment below and let me know!

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*WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) – Created by Mary Ellen Copeland, this allows you to create a safety plan for when you are in a crisis as well as what to do after the crisis is over. “The WRAP APP, with all the parts of WRAP, also includes sections on Values and Ethics and Key Recovery Concepts. It will make it convenient to always have your WRAP Plan with you. You can add to your plan whenever you want. Email a page, or the whole plan, to yourself or your supporters.” (from the WRAP website).
It is available on the iPhone and Android for $4.99

*WhatsMyM3 – This is a list of questions that gives you a mental health score based on your answers. The results can help you see how you are doing over time as they are saved over time. None of the results are an official diagnosis though. The higher the score, the more likely you need to get an evaluation from a psychiatric professional or call your current one for help.
It is available on both the iPhone and Android for free.

*SAMApp (Self-Help Anxiety Management) – Allows you to track your anxiety levels. It also has coping skills you can use to reduce anxiety as well as a message board to talk with others. There is information you can read about anxiety on the app as well.
It is available on the iPhone and Android for free.

*T2 Mood Tracker – This has a range of mood scales and you can add in your own so you can track your moods over time. There is a report generator so that you can share the report with your doctor. You can also back up any data you have so that you do not have to begin all over again if you need to replace your phone.
It is available on both the iPhone and Android for free.

What Does Depression “look like”?

I have struggled with depression most of my life. The first time I remember really being depressed and staying depressed was probably when I was around 10 years old.
No one ever really knew it though. Why? Because depression can take many different forms – when we are depressed, we can hide it very well or we can display it very obviously. It really can depend on many factors.

So what can depression look like?

It can look like someone laughing and smiling and having a great time.
It can look like someone crying and sobbing.
It can look like someone sleeping non stop.
It can look like someone with horrible insomnia.
It can look like someone who has absolutely no appetite at all.
It can look like someone who cannot stop eating even though they just ate 5 minutes ago.
It can look like someone who has lots of friends.
It can look like someone who has no friends.
It can look like someone who does well in school.
It can look like someone who does poorly in school.
It can look like someone who has a great job.
It can look like someone who has no job.
It can look like someone who is well off (“rich”).
It can look like someone who is not well off or poor.
It can look like someone who is white, black, brown, pink, purple, striped, or polka dotted.
It can look like someone who is in the USA, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Africa, Australia, Russia, Brazil, or any other random place they might be.

Depression takes many forms. It does not discriminate to a certain type of person. And even if a certain person looks “fine” they might not be. Someone does not have to be lying around all day, crying all the time, to be in horrible depression.

For many years in middle school and high school I kept high grades, was in all AP classes, but was severely depressed with strong suicidal ideations. Secretly I would cry at night, but in front of everyone else, I kept myself strong. No one had any idea that something was wrong with me. A few teachers had an idea as I slowly began to not do well in their classes and slept throughout the class, but would bring my grades up by the end of the semester so they never addressed it. On the outside, for the most part, my life looked great. If friends came over, they only saw the good parts of my life. On facebook they only see positive status updates and happy pictures (which can many times be forced smiles).

Many times people call this “wearing a mask.” Similar to in theatre, when people would wear masks to represent the happy or sad faces — a depressed person would simply put on a mask to display the emotion of happiness. We feel vulnerable taking off the mask. We feel as though it will make us weak. And society has somewhat put this thought into our heads, especially for the male population. Many children have also been taught this by their families – they should not express their emotions.

So, do not assume that just because someone seems happy that they do not struggle with depression. Just because someone constantly posts positive facebook pictures and statuses that they have an amazing life. Or that whenever you go to their house that they have a peaceful house so they must be happy. No one knows the situations behind closed doors, behind the masks that people wear.

1 in 5 adults (over the age of 18) had a mental illness within the last year. That is 45.6 million people (according to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration – SAMHSA). This includes diagnosable mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders BUT excludes developmental and substance abuse disorders.

Mental illness is much more common than we think. However, with the stigma behind it, not many people are open to talking about it. Not many people are willing to be honest with others about their feelings about how bad they are really feeling. This prevents many people from getting the help that they need and causes many to struggle on their own for a long time.

Stressful Holidays

No, it isn’t Christmas or Thanksgiving. Not a big holiday at all. It is going to be the Fourth of July – Independence Day though. And coincidentally my family decided to also have a family reunion at this time too. So, for me, this is going to be a big holiday celebration weekend that then turns into a long vacation week after that.

Now this presents two problems for me which I somewhat have discussed in previous posts which affect me. Social anxiety and not having a great relationship with family members. So, how am I supposed to get through this weekend…. and the fact that it actually is going to go on all the way through til the 13th of July???

My direct family members know about my bipolar, PTSD, and borderline personality disorder. They also do not live close by to me though, so it is quite easy to tell them that I am “fine” over the phone. Over all I am fine most of them time. I do still struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts sometimes though and currently am having awful symptoms of PTSD since I am dealing with that in therapy right now. Much of which is related to my childhood; hence my not so good relationship with them. I also do not have a great relationship with one group of relatives, and am just not comfortable with others due to anxiety issues.

Well, first the first few days we are going to be in town for the 4th of July weekend. I do have two little cousins, 8 months old and 3 years old, so I maybe could get away with just going off and playing with them. Less stressful than being around the adults and my older cousins perhaps.

My biggest concern is going to be when I am stuck on a boat (cruise) with all of them for a week. So how am I going to take care of myself during this holiday/reunion – If I am feeling overwhelmed being around everyone and need to get away:
1) My therapists suggestion (comical yet kind of realistic) – “the boat is big, you can get lost on it”
2) Take time to myself, the trip should be relaxing, so tell them I want to relax.
3) Get tired from having “too much fun” and go take a nap, just to get away. Either really go take a nap if I need to or just go find something else to do.
4) Exercise. There is an exercise room and everyone knows I am working out. They should understand that I want to continue this especially since we will all be eating a lot of food. This should release stress and increase my endorphins!
5) Be honest. Tell them I am feeling overwhelmed and just need to get away.

Does anyone else have any ideas on how to deal with family holidays or family reunions? I could definitely use some tips?

Also, because of this, my brother is already in town as of last night, and my mom and brother’s fiancé come in tonight, so I will not be writing any entrees in here unless I find time. But I will be checking here off and on. So please write some comments on tips if you can think of any. They will be greatly appreciated!

Life with Suicidal Thoughts

It is so easy to think about suicide.  And then so easy to begin ruminating on it.  And for me, it eventually became easy to act on those thoughts.  For two years, I was so deeply depressed that my life revolved around my suicidal ideations and even suicide attempts.  I would simply lie on my couch, crying and thinking about how to die and how much I wanted to die.  I knew why and yet I didn’t know why at the same time.  Sometimes it had to do with my bipolar, a chemical imbalance.  Some of it had to do with my borderline personality, just if something happened that triggered me to suddenly lose control of my feelings.  And other times it just had to do with my PTSD if I was having awful memories and wanted to just get away from them and end my life. It went on for two years though because I didn’t want the help, I didn’t know how to truly accept the help, and in some weird way, I didn’t even think I needed help.  I felt like the only help I needed was for someone to help me die.

I had quite a few suicide attempts, but never really did any major damage.  I was in the ICU a few times, but only one of those times was it somewhat serious.  At the time, I didn’t know if I was happy or sad to be alive.  Actually even today I am not sure how I feel about that attempt.  Things have gotten much better in my life, but I still suffer with depression because of my mental illness, and so I question if living or dying would be best.  I do not think suicide is the answer at all, but as many (not all) people with depression do, suicide still comes up in my mind from time to time.

I really like the saying: “Suicide does not end the chances of life getting worse, Suicide eliminates the chances of it ever getting better.”

People always tell you, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”  Yes yes yes… I know I know.  But in my head, my problem is not temporary, so if you say that to me… it doesn’t even sound like a good statement.  So I hated when people told me that.  And everyone told me that, over and over again.

However, the first statement, that just seemed really eye opening to me.  I really never pictured my life getting better, but it still lit up my mind to thinking perhaps it could.  So when I think of suicide now, I always tell myself this quote.  If I just wait another day and see how that goes.  Maybe tomorrow will be better.  And I just keep putting it off.  Eventually the thought does pass.  Eventually I do have a day that is better than the previous day, and the thought somewhat disappears into my brain – until the next chemical imbalance or trigger or flashback.  Again, I try to use the same technique of putting off and suicidal actions day after day after day though.

I lost a friend to a drug overdose back in November.  It was not a suicide attempt, but she did suffer with depression.  It hurt me incredibly bad.  Seeing how it affected me and her family and other friends was very eye opening.  I never thought about how much it would hurt my family and friends.  I really believed in my mind I would make things better for my family and friends.  I thought they would believe I was better off dead – that my pain would be gone and so they would forgive me for what I did.  That I would no longer be a burden to them and that they would be happy with me gone.  But now that I am thinking clearly, on proper medication, in good therapy – I see that this thought process was not true at all.  I slip into every once in a while still, but that is how our brains work and we have to fight back.

We will all go back and forth, have good days and bad days, but we can have a good life.  I went through 17 hospitalizations between 2011-2013.  Fifteen of those being within 1.5 years.  Today, while I still struggle, I am stable for the most part and trying to get my life back on track.  Much happier, not lying on my couch all day, not crying all the time, and my mind is not obsessed with dying.  Life does get better.  I never thought I would say that either.

 

If you, or anyone you know, might be feeling suicidal, call the suicide hotline at: 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or go to http://www.crisischat.org (between 2pm-2am)

Also, talk with your doctor and/or therapist if you have one about how you are feeling, and do not abruptly stop any of your medications without consulting them.

Stop Telling Me to Get Off My Meds if I Need Them

A lot of people tell me I don’t need medicine.  This especially happened when I was first diagnosed with depression.  “Oh I have been depressed, it will pass.  Just don’t worry about things.  You have such a good life.  You are doing so well in school.  I don’t even know why you are depressed.” – they would say.  Even today, I get the whole “mind over matter” given to me or “God will heal you, just pray.”

My problem with this is, none of these people have been in my situation.  Sure, everyone gets “depressed,” BUT depression is such an overused word now that it has lost its real meaning.  In reality, everyone gets “sad.”

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, depression is defined as:  a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, sad is defined as:  affected with or expressive of grief or unhappiness

So when people say they are depressed, they are not, they are sad.  Unless they have been to a doctor and have been diagnosed with a disorder that encompasses depression, they do not understand.

I am not saying that everyone who has a psychiatric diagnosis of something that encompasses depression will need to take medication, because there are a select group of people that can function and learn to function without it.  However, many people do need to take medication. For others to put stigma on mental illness and basically encourage them to not take their medication by saying they do need it is dangerous.

I personally have gone on and off medication.  I was noncompliant with my medication when I was first diagnosed.  I didn’t think I needed it and I didn’t want to take medication the rest of my life.  What ensued after every time I stopped taking them was a trip to the ER and then psych hospital for a suicide attempt, a trip to the psych hospital for suicidal ideation, the cops coming to my apartment for welfare checks and then usually bringing me to a psych hospital…and that continued until I was eventually committed to a state hospital where I was forced to take medication.  The light bulb went off in my head there, my Aha! moment occurred there though.  I was actually doing better! I was feeling better!  The medications actually helped me!

It took years and years to find the right combination of meds for me.  And for most people it does take that long.  It is easy to give up, especially when people are telling you that you don’t need it.  If you know that you need them because you are not functioning well though, don’t give up.  Continue to use your coping skills and continue to fight to gain your life back.  Mental illness is not easy, but you can learn to live with it.  And not only live with it, but live a good life with it.

Most importantly, if you ever feel like you want to get off or change medications, for any reason at all, make sure you talk to your doctor about it.

Importance of Support Groups

Today I “graduated” from the NAMI Connection Facilitator Training!  I officially can be a facilitator at my local NAMI meetings.  Why am I so excited about this?

Well, first off, NAMI has been an integral part of my recovery through mental illness.  I first found a NAMI Connection Group when I was in college and began having severe symptoms.  I was in nursing school and had heard of it during my psychiatric clinicals.  I was nervous to go as the meeting was held in the local hospital where I did my clinical and thought some of the nurses might recognize me.  I went anyway, and continued to go.  Meeting others that had similar diagnosis and faced similar problems in their day to day lives with me helped me tremendously.  I was able to relate to them and learn new coping skills.  I still struggled a lot and was in and out of hospitals, but they were there for me.  I had no family in Indiana and they really became like family to me – they were my support system as I did not really have one before joining NAMI.  After moving to Florida, I immediately began attending a NAMI group here.  The closest one to me was about 45 minutes away at first, but I went anyway.  I made such amazing friends.  Another one started closer, about 30 minutes away, so I went to that one too – but I could leave my friends from the other one, so I went to both.  And now a 3rd one is even closer, only 15-20 minutes away.  And I have trained to become a facilitator for that group, as I want to step up and grow within the organization which has helped me so much.

So, what exactly is NAMI?  NAMI is the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  It is the largest mental health grassroots organization.  It has local affiliates all over the US and Puerto Rico.  There is most likely one in your area – and you can go to http://www.nami.org to find out if there is one.  They run all types of educational programs.  They have support groups for people with mental illness (NAMI Connection), support groups for family members of people with mental illness (Family to Family), educational classes for people with mental illness (Peer to Peer), educational classes for family members (also called Family to Family), educational class for parents of children with mental illness (NAMI Basics), and many other services depending on what your local chapter might also offer.

Support groups are important to our success when we are trying to recover with mental illness, whether it be through NAMI or another organization.  Whether we feel great or bad, attending them helps us.  It helps us focus on how to continue to focus on the positives, how to socialize and not isolate, how to help others which in turn makes us feel good, how to learn new coping skills, how to examine our own needs, and how to express ourselves in healthy ways.  Someone once told me, when you feel like you want to go to a meeting you should go, and when you feel like you don’t want to go to a meeting, you need to go.  They said this because generally, if you don’t want to go, that is when you really need to go – you are isolating or feeling depressed, and being around people and hearing the support they can give is what you most likely need.

I hope that if you are not already involved in a local support group, you find one and check it out.  There are many out there.  A few that I know of are DBSA (Depression, Bipolar Support Alliance), NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) and MHA (Mental Health America.  Depending on your area, these organizations might or might not run groups or another organization might have groups too.