Letter from our Executive Director

2017 has been a dynamic year in mental health. For some, it feels like both a lifetime and a single second has passed since the year started back in January.

Thanks to you, some big steps have been made in bringing mental health care in the United States into the 21st Century.

We couldn’t have made progress happen within Higher Education without your generous support.

We maintained coverage for mental health and substance use benefits thanks to the thousands of you who called, emailed, and sent letters to your legislators telling them to make mental health a priority.

Our high student affairs policy standards let peers show their expertise and experience, which opens new career paths and more opportunities to transform lives and services.

This is all thanks to you – with you, we can change the trajectory of thousands of young lives.

We cannot thank you enough for your support. Griffin Ambitions Ltd and Vital Time will not settle for the answers of the past in mental health care and treatment.

With your help, we can take charge of a brighter future—where there is always hope.

To all those preparing for the celebrations, happy holidays from all of us here at Griffin Ambitions!

Be well,

 

Jacob M. Griffin

 

Exemplar: Mental Health Day at the Office

We’ve all heard that we should take a mental health day from time to time, but how many of us are brave enough to actually take one—and let our coworkers and boss know that mental health issues may be the reason for being out of office?

empty desksEFLON/FLICKR – FLIC.KR

Well, Madalyn Parker, a web developer, did exactly that in an email.

She sent an email to her team letting them know she was taking two days off “to focus on my mental health”—and was shocked by the CEO’s response.

She tweeted the email exchange, where it has over 30,000 likes and 8,400 retweets.

MADALYN PARKER/TWITTER – TWITTER.COM

Ben Congleton, the CEO who replied, was so stunned by the outpouring of support that he wrote about it on Medium.

“I wasn’t expecting the exposure, but I am so glad I was able to have such a positive impact on so many people,” he wrote on July 6.

“There were so many stories of people wishing they worked at a place where their CEO cared about their health, and so many people congratulating me on doing such a good thing,” he continues, adding:

It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health.

Congleton is sourcing a Scientific American article from December 2016, which goes on to report that “just over one in 10 adults reported taking prescription drugs for ‘problems with emotions, nerves or mental health,'” sourcing statistics from a piece published in JAMA Internal Medicine earlier that month.

A top highlighted quote from Congleton’s Medium piece is “It’s 2017. We are in a knowledge economy. Our jobs require us to execute at peak mental performance. When an athlete is injured they sit on the bench and recover. Let’s get rid of the idea that somehow the brain is different.”

It’s even more difficult for people of color to not only receive mental health care, but to even discuss it.

HuffPost reported in October 2016, “according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services of Minority Health, black people are 10 percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than white people. There’s a stigma when it comes to black men talking about their mental health.”

And it isn’t just about stigma. They continue: “Despite being disproportionately affected by mental health conditions, black men in America have to deal with a lack of health care resources, a higher exposure to factors that can lead to developing a mental health condition, a lack of education about mental health and other factors that serve as barriers to getting proper help.”

It’s also more difficult for people of color to feel as though others—even medical professionals—can relate to their mental health care; “African-Americans make up less than 2 percent of American Psychological Association members, according to a 2014 survey,” Mic reports. Even more, “Latinos are less likely to report mental illness,” with very few Latinos actually seeking help, according to Latina.

Which is why it’s so helpful and important for people like Congleton and Parker to speak openly about the need to take care of mental health.

“What if we talked about physical health the absurd way we talk about mental health?” ATTN: asked in a video posted on May 26.

Parker wrote about her previous hurdles in navigating a job while handling anxiety and depression, noting, “I struggle with illness. Just as the flu would prevent me from completing my work, so do my depression and anxiety.”

Her point is valid, mental and physical health are treated differently. As the video shows, you wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg, “it’s like you’re not even trying to walk.” Why do we do the same thing to people suffering from mental conditions?

“Smiley” Depression

Staff Reports—

 

When many people think of depression, they often think of sadness — and not much else. This generalization can be harmful to people who experience depression, but may not “look” depressed. For some, depression may look like sadness or exhaustion. For others, depression might look like a smiling face, or a person who “has it all together” — something we think of as “smiling depression.”

It’s important to remember every person’s experience of depression needs to be taken seriously, no matter what it looks like on the outside.2 We wanted to know things only people with “smiling depression” understand, so we asked members of our mental health community to weigh in.

Here’s what they shared with us:

  1. “It’s easier to cheer people up but not myself. I can make them feel great when they’re going through the worst [times], but I cannot get myself happy, really happy. That happiness you see is just a way of not letting people [see] my problems.” — Sofia V.
  2. “I am so tired. So, so tired, all of the time. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting and pouting or smiling and engaging. [It doesn’t matter if I’m] dancing, running, swimming, eating, brushing my teeth, by myself or in a room full of people or sleeping. I. Am. Exhausted.” — Rinna M.
“Other people don’t get it. What it’s like to feel so trapped and in darkness, because I appear ‘happy’ and strong — even though [it feels like] I’m slowly dying.”
— Nicole G.
  1. “[I] fake it because [I believe] no one wants to hear about [my] depression. [I] fake it because [I am] tired of hearing all the ‘expert’ advice insinuating that [I’m] just [not] trying hard enough.” — Lisa C.
  2. “[I] don’t always wear the mask for other people. Sometimes [I] wear it because [I] don’t want to believe [I] feel as miserable as [I do]. [For me], it isn’t always about making other people with [me feel] OK. Sometimes it’s wearing the mask so [I] don’t lose [my] job or so [I] can just get takeout without being asked what’s wrong.” — Melinda A.
  3. “I can still laugh and give a big belly laugh about things, but on the inside, I feel empty. It’s a weird feeling being happy as much as you can, but your mind won’t follow suit. [I] just feel empty and the happiness isn’t genuine. It’s fake but [I] can’t change that no matter how hard [I] try for it to be a real feeling. Depression drains everything out of me. It takes an enormous amount of strength to appear ‘normal,’ it exhausts me… [My] smile doesn’t reach [my] eyes.” — Rebecca R.
  4. “The problem lies in the fact that no one truly and honestly knows me. I feel like I’m alone every day — even when I’m surrounded by people.” — Jen W.
  5. “[I] constantly doubt whether [my] struggles are real. When [I] finally get the courage and strength to open up about [my] depression, [I] always hear, ‘But you don’t act like you have depression.’ It took me years to come to terms and believe my own struggles.” — Adrianna R.
  6. “Most days, I feel like I’m just barely surviving. Once I’m alone at the end of the day, all I have the energy for is crying. Crying because I’m just so exhausted with life and I’ll convince myself I can’t handle tomorrow and I need to call in sick. But when the next day actually comes, I’m too afraid to not show up. Eventually, after debating with myself for far longer than I should, I drag myself out of bed. The cycle [feels] never-ending. It’s like, if I choose one day to just stay in bed instead of getting up, it would be the most horrible thing in the world, so I eventually always get up, no matter how exhausted I am. It’s inevitable.” — Keira H.
  7. “I try to keep up appearances to protect my family because my depression upsets them. I’m not very outwardly emotional, so everything gets to me more than I show it. I can’t open up to them, because I just get told, ‘Change your thoughts,’ ‘You seem fine, why do you want to go to a therapist?’ It makes those times when I can’t control my emotions even worse. I feel alone, tired and lost.” — Jessica C.
  8. “Sometimes I really, like really want to show people how I’m really feeling, but I just physically cannot take the mask off. It’s like the walls just grow stronger the more I try to tear them down.” — Kira H.
  9. “[I thought] if I faked being happy enough, then maybe I could get a glimpse of what it’s like to be ‘normal.’ I always feel like such a burden on the people [who] love me. [I feel] I have no choice but to pretend.” — Bree N
  10. “The time I’m most encouraging to myself is when I’m telling myself, I can make them laugh so they never suspect anything! I’m funny, right?” — Shelby S
  11. “The physical pain as well as the emotional pain. It hurts to walk, get up, move, force [myself] to smile, try to look ‘normal,’ happy.” — Keara M.
  12. “[ I believe] we are the best actors in the world. Because if I have to explain depression one more time… it’s just easier to fake it until I get home.” — Lisa K.

 

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

 

Far from respecting civil liberties, legal obstacles to treating the mentally ill limit or destroy the liberty of the person

By Herschel Hardin
The Vancouver Sun July 22, 1993
Republished with permission

Herschel Hardin is an author and consultant. He was a member of the board of directors of the Civil Liberties Association from 1965 to 1974, and has been involved in the defense of liberty and free speech through his work with Amnesty International. One of his children has schizophrenia.

The public is growing increasingly confused by how we treat the mentally ill. More and more, the mentally ill are showing up in the streets, badly in need of help. Incidents of illness-driven violence are being reported regularly, incidents which common sense tells us could easily be avoided. And this is just the visible tip of the greater tragedy – of many more sufferers deteriorating in the shadows and often, committing suicide.

People asked in perplexed astonishment: ” Why don’t we provide the treatment, when the need is so obvious?” Yet every such cry of anguish is met with the rejoinder that unrequested intervention is an infringement of civil liberties. This stops everything.

Civil Liberties, after all, are a fundamental part of our democratic society. The rhetoric and lobbying results in legislative obstacles to timely and adequate treatment, and the psychiatric community is cowed by the anti-treatment climate produced. Here is the Kafkaesque irony: Far from respecting civil liberties, legal obstacles to treatment limit or destroy the liberty of the person. The best example concerns schizophrenia.

The most chronic and disabling of the major mental illnesses, schizophrenia involves a chemical imbalance in the brain, alleviated in most cases by medication. Symptoms can include confusion; inability to concentrate, to think abstractly, or to plan; thought disorder to the point of raving babble; delusions and hallucinations; and variations such as paranoia. Untreated, the disease is ravaging. Its victims cannot work or care for themselves. They may think they are other people – usually historical or cultural characters such as Jesus Christ or John Lennon – or otherwise lose their sense of identity. They find it hard or impossible to live with others, and they may become hostile and threatening. They can end up living in the most degraded, shocking circumstances, voiding in their own clothes, living in rooms overrun by rodents – or in the streets. They often deteriorate physically, losing weight and suffering corresponding malnutrition, rotting teeth and skin sores. They become particularly vulnerable to injury and abuse.

Tormented by voices, or in the grip of paranoia, they may commit suicide or violence upon others. Becoming suddenly threatening, or bearing a weapon because of delusionally perceived need for self-protection, the innocent schizophrenic may be shot down by police. Depression from the illness, without adequate stability — often as the result of premature release — is also a factor in suicides. Such victims are prisoners of their illness. Their personalities are subsumed by their distorted thoughts. They cannot think for themselves and cannot exercise any meaningful liberty. The remedy is treatment — most essentially, medication. In most cases, this means involuntary treatment because people in the throes of their illness have little or no insight into their own condition. If you think you are Jesus Christ or an avenging angel, you are not likely to agree that you need to go to the hospital.

Anti-treatment advocates insist that involuntary committal should be limited to cases of imminent physical danger — instances where a person is going to do bodily harm to himself or to somebody else. But the establishment of such “dangerousness” usually comes too late — a psychotic break or loss of control, leading to violence, happens suddenly. And all the while, the victim suffers the ravages of the illness itself, the degradation of life, the tragic loss of individual potential.

The anti-treatment advocates say: “If that’s how people want to live (babbling on a street corner, in rags), or if they wish to take their own lives, they should be allowed to exercise their free will. To interfere — with involuntary commital — is to deny them their civil liberties.” Whether or not anti-treatment advocates actually voice such opinions, they seem content to sacrifice a few lives here and there to uphold an abstract doctrine. Their intent, if noble, has a chilly, Stalinist justification — the odd tragedy along the way is warranted to ensure the greater good. The notion that this doctrine is misapplied escapes them. They merely deny the nature of the illness. Health (Official) Elizabeth Cull appears to have fallen into the trap of this juxtaposition. She has talked about balancing the need for treatment and civil liberties, as if they were opposites. It is with such a misconceptualization that anti-treatment lobbyists promote legislation loaded with administative and judicial obstacles to involuntary committal.

The result, …will be a certain number of illness-caused suicides every year, just as surely as if those people were lined up annually in front of a firing squad. Add to that the broader ravages of the illness, and keep in mind the manic depressives who also have a high suicide rate. A doubly ironic downstream effect: the inappropriate use of criminal prosectuion against the mentally ill, and the attendant cruelty of commital to jails and prisons rather than hospitals. Corrections officials once estimated that almost one third of adult offenders and close to half of the young offenders in the correction system have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Clinical evidence has now indicated that allowing schizophrenia to progress to a psychotic break lowers the possible level of future recovery, and subsequent psychotic breaks lower that level further – in other words, the cost of withholding treatment is permanent damage. Meanwhile, bureaucratic road-blocks, such as time consuming judicial hearings, are passed off under the cloak of “due process” – as if the illness were a crime with which one is being charged and hospitalization for treatment is punishment. Such cumbersome restraints ignore the existing adequate safeguards – the requirement for two independent assessments and a review panel to check against over-long stays. How can such degradation and death — so much inhumanity — be justified in the name of civil liberties? It cannot. The opposition to involuntary committal and treatment betrays profound misunderstanding of the principle of civil liberties. Medication can free victims from their illness — free them from the Bastille of their psychosis — and restore their dignity, their free will and the meaningful exercise of their liberties.

The Vancouver Sun July 22, 1993

Reprinted with permission. Copyright 1993 The Vancouver Sun. All rights reserved.