Misintent : Hazing Students | Mental Health

Notice:  This piece was selected for publishing as an open opinion piece by an unaffiliated contributor.


How is what YOU do, in any way similar to fraternity/sorority HAZING? Before you say “in NO way!”…stop and reflect a little.

I know, not all fraternity “hazing” ends in death, though it is now illegal in California. But no matter how benign it seems, having to jump a lot of hurdles in order to GAIN ACCESS, is a problem for people seeking mental health treatment…or even getting the listening ear of a friend or parent.

Can we prevent the emotional/social pain sometimes inflicted on someone SEEKING ACCESS? Getting access to faith-based or mental health services, to school counselors, to peers or even distracted parents, can sometimes feel like “hazing”…the things we are asked to do, the price we are asked to pay.

How bad does someone want or need access? To what extent are hurdles placed in the way to find out “how high they will jump”? Some people “do what they are told”…are they considered fools (even by those whose services they seek) for not knowing when to stop seeking?

This Atlantic story is sad, but thought provoking.

Checkout: UNAFFILIATED ARTICLE ON THE NEWS STORY

It brings to my mind, another old story about a woman seeking help for her ill daughter, which suggests that even caregivers can learn from care seekers. Her daughter dying, the woman bowed down before the healer (as required by custom) and begged him to help her. His first response was, “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”, meaning…he’s only going to heal the really sick people, and those who are in my neighborhood, so to speak. To that, she said, “Yes, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their owners’ tables.”. Comparing herself with hungry dogs seemed to make a difference. With that, he said, “Your faith is great and it shall be done for you as you wish.” And he healed her daughter at once.

I know scripture readers might argue with my interpretation here, but my point is, even Jesus felt he was only there for certain people and she had to do a little cajoling to get what SHE BELIEVED HE COULD DO. Compassionate or convicted – either way you interpret it – the healer, healed.

But why did she have to beg first? Did he know before she even started the conversation that he was going to help her? Was he “hazing” her a little? Did she have to prove her faith in him first? Or did he have to find her “worthy” of his time? Or did the “hazing” actually show him that his “treatment” was going to work on her prepared/faithful soul? Maybe there was another way to get THAT information…

In the end, she had her daughter back, healthy and whole. I wonder how SHE felt after that conversation. Of course, she felt grateful to the healer for his work. But I wonder if SHE felt healthy and whole, too.

 

“Advocate for mental health. Work to end STIGMA of mental illness.”

 

101 Fantastic Ideas for Students when Feeling College is TOO MUCH

I think that, for most of us, there are times in life when it all just feels like Too Much. Can you say #SelfCare?

There may be some days, weeks, months, maybe even years when — for whatever reason — just getting through the day or going to work or putting one foot in front of the other feels hard. Really, really hard.


Maybe it’s because you’re wrestling with anxiety, depression, or some other mental illness.

Maybe it’s because you’ve had your heart broken. Maybe you’ve gone through a physical or emotional trauma. Maybe you’re deeply grieving. Or maybe there’s no easily understood reason for why you’re feeling bad.

Whatever the case, I want you to know that it’s OK if you’re going through a tough time.

This doesn’t make you any less lovable, worthy, or capable. This just means you’re human. Being a human can be a messy, hard, confusing, painful experience sometimes.

So if you or someone you love is going through one of these tough times right now, a time where it all just feels like too much, I want to offer up 101 suggestions for self-care to help you or your loved one get through this time.

Photo via iStock.

1. Have a good, long, body-shaking cry.

2. Call a trusted friend or family member and talk it out.

3. Call in sick. Take comp time if you can. Take a mental health day.

4. Say no to extra obligations, chores, or anything that pulls on your precious self-care time.

5. Book a session (or more!) with your therapist.

6. Dial down your expectations of yourself at this time. When you’re going through life’s tough times, I invite you to soften your expectations of yourself and others.

7. Tuck yourself into bed early with a good book and clean sheets.

8. Watch a comforting/silly/funny/lighthearted TV show or movie. (“Parks and Recreation,” anyone?)

9. Reread your favorite picture and chapter books from childhood.

10. Ask for some love and tenderness from your friends on social media. Let them comment on your post and remind you that you’re loved.

11. Look at some some really gorgeous pieces of art.

12. Watch YouTube videos of Ellen DeGeneres and the adorable kids she has on her show.

13. Look at faith-in-humanity-restoring lists from around the internet.

14. Ask for help. From whomever you need it — your boss, your doctor, your partner, your therapist, your mom. Let people know you need some help.

15. Wrap yourself up in a cozy fleece blanket and sip a cup of hot tea.

16. Breathe. Deeply. Slowly. Four counts in. Six counts out.

17. Hydrate. Have you had enough water today?

18. Eat. Have you eaten something healthy and nourishing today?

19. Sleep. Have you slept seven to nine hours? Is it time for some rest?

20. Shower. Then dry your hair and put on clothes that make you feel good.

21. Go outside and be in the sunshine.

22. Move your body gently in ways that feel good. Maybe aim for 30 minutes. Or 10 minutes if 30 feels like too much.

23. Read a story (or stories) of people who overcame adversity or maybe dealt with mental illness, too. (I personally admire J.K. Rowling’s story.)

24. Go to a 12-step meeting. Or any group meeting where support is offered. Check out church listings, hospital listings, or school listings, for example.

25. If you suspect something may be physiologically off with you, go see your doctor and/or psychiatrist and talk to them. Medication might help you at this time, and professionals can assist you in assessing this.

26. Take a long, hot bath. Light a candle and pamper yourself.

27. Read inspirational quotes.

28. Cuddle someone or something. Your partner. A pillow. Your friend’s dog.

29. Read previous emails, postcards, letters, etc. from friends and family reminding you of happier times.

30. Knit. Sculpt. Bake. Engage your hands.

31. Exhaust yourself physically — running, yoga, swimming, whatever helps you feel fatigued.

32. Write it out. Go free-form in a journal or on a computer. Get it all out and vent.

33. Create a plan if you’re feeling overwhelmed. List out what you need to do next to tackle and address whatever you’re facing. Chunk it down into manageable and understandable pieces.

34. Remind yourself you only have to get through the next five minutes. Then the next five. And so on.

35. Take five minutes to meditate.

36. Write out a list of 25 reasons you’ll be OK.

37. Write out a list of 25 examples of things you’ve overcome or accomplished.

38. Write out a list of 25 reasons you’re a good, lovable person.

39. Write out a list of 25 things that make your life beautiful.

40. Sniff some scents that bring you joy or remind you of happier times.

41. Ask for support from friends and family via text if voice-to-voice contact feels like too much. Ask them to check in with you via text daily or weekly, whatever you need.

42. Lay down on the ground. Let the Earth or floor hold you. You don’t have to hold it all on your own.

43. Clean up a corner of a room of your house. Sometimes tidying up can help calm our minds.

44. Ask yourself: What’s my next most immediate priority? Do that that. Then ask the question again.

45. Read some poetry. RumiHafiz, and Mary Oliver are all excellent.

46. Take a tech break. Delete or deactivate social media if it feels too triggering right now.

47. Or maybe get on tech. If you’ve been isolating, maybe interacting with friends and family online might feel good.

48. Go out in public and be around others. You don’t have to engage, but maybe sit in a coffee shop or on a bench at a museum and soak up the humanity around you.

49. Or if you’re feeling too saturated with contact, go home. Cancel plans and tend to the introverted parts of yourself.

50. Ask friends and family to remind you that things will be OK and that what you’re feeling is temporary.

51. Put up some Christmas lights in your bedroom. They often make things more magical.

52. Spend a little money and treat yourself to some self-care and comfort. Maybe take a taxi versus the bus. Buy your lunch instead of forcing yourself to pack it. Buy some flowers that delight you.

53. Make art. Scribble with crayons. Splash some watercolors. Paint a rock. Whatever. Just create something.

54. Go wander around outside in your neighborhood and take a look at all the lovely houses and the way people decorate their gardens. Delight in the diversity of design.

55. Go visit or volunteer at your local animal rescue. Pet some animals.

56. Look at photos of people you love. Set them as the wallpaper of your phone or laptop.

57. Create and listen to a playlist of songs that remind you of happier times.

58. Read some spiritual literature.

59. Scream, pound pillows, tear up paper, shake your body to move the energy out.

60. Eat your favorite, most comforting foods.

61. Watch old “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” videos online.

62. Turn off the lights, sit down, stare into space, and do absolutely nothing.

63. Pick one or two things that feel like progress and do them. Make your bed. Put away the dishes. Return an email.

64. Go to a church or spiritual community service. Sit among others and absorb any guidance or grace that feels good to you.

65. Allow yourself to fantasize about what you’re hoping or longing for. There are clues and energy in your reveries and daydreams that are worth paying attention to.

66. Watch autonomous sensory meridian response videos to help you calm down and fall asleep at night.

67. Listen to monks chantingsinging Tibetan bowls, or nature sounds to help soothe you.

68. Color in some coloring books.

69. Revisit an old hobby. Even if it feels a little forced, try your hand at things you used to enjoy and see what comes up for you.

70. Go to the ocean. Soak up the negative ions.

71. Go to the mountains. Absorb the strength and security of them.

72. Go to the forest. Drink in the shelter, life, and sacredness of the trees.

73. Put down the personal help books and pick up some good old-fashioned fiction.

74. Remember: Your only job right now is to put one foot in front of the other.

75. Allow and feel and express your feelings — all of them! — safely and appropriately. Seek out help if you need support in this.

76. Listen to sad songs or watch sad movies if you need a good cry. (“Steel Magnolias,” anyone?)

77. Dance around wildly to your favorite, most cheesy songs from your high school years.

78. Put your hands in dirt. If you have a garden, go garden. If you have some indoor plants, tend to them. If you don’t have plants or a garden, go outside. Go to a local nursery and touch and smell all the gorgeous plants.

79. If you want to stay in bed all day watching Netflix, do it. Indulge.

80. Watch or listen to some comedy shows or goofy podcasts.

81. Look up examples of people who have gone through and made it through what you’re currently facing. Seek out models of inspiration.

82. Get expert help with whatever you need. Whether that’s through therapy, psychiatry, a lawyer, clergy, or something else, let those trained to support you do it.

83. Educate yourself about what you’re going through. Learn about what you’re facing, what you can expect to feel, and how you can support yourself in this place.

84. Establish a routine and stick to it. Routines can bring so much comfort and grounding in times of life that feel chaotic or out of control.

85. Do some hardcore nesting and make your home or bedroom as cozy and beautiful and comforting as possible.

86. Get up early and watch a sunrise.

87. Go outside, set up a chair, and watch the sunset.

88. Make your own list of self-soothing activities that engage all five of your senses.

89. Develop a supportive morning ritual for yourself.

90. Develop a relaxing evening ritual for yourself.

91. Join a support group for people who are going through what you’re going through. Check out the listings at local hospitals, libraries, churches, and universities to see what’s out there.

92. Volunteer at a local shelter or hospital or nursing home. Practice being of service to others who may also be going through a tough time.

93. Accompany a friend or family member to something. Even if it’s just keeping them company while they run errands, sometimes this kind of contact can feel like good self-care.

94. Take your dog for a walk. Or borrow a friend’s dog and take them for a walk.


This kangaroo dog loves walks.

95. Challenge your negative thinking.

96. Practice grounding, relaxation techniques.

97. Do something spontaneous. Walk or drive a different way to work. Order something new off the menu. Listen to a playlist of new songs.

98. Work with your doctor, naturopath, or nutritionist to develop a physical exercise plan and food plan that will be supportive to whatever you’re facing right now.

99. Pray. Meditate. Write a letter to God, the universe, the Source, your higher self — whatever you believe in.

100. As much as you can, try and trust the process.

101. Finally, remember, what you’re going through right now is temporary. It may not feel like that from inside the tough time you’re in, but this too shall pass and you will feel different again someday. If you can’t have faith in that, let me hold the hope for you.

This list is really just a starting point meant to catalyze your own thinking about how you can best take care of yourself during life’s tough times and to spark your curiosity and interest in strengthening your self-care now and ongoing.

It’s not meant to be prescriptive nor do I mean to imply you need to do all or any of these things to take good care of yourself. You are the expert of your own experience, and I trust that you know what’s best for you.

Also, my hope is that in reading this, you’re hearing me say how normal and natural it is to struggle and to have these tough, hard times. It’s part of being human.

You’re not alone in this.

The suggestions and ideas mentioned herein— in no way are a substitute for care or advice from a licensed mental health care clinician, doctor, or other accredited professional. These are self-care coaching suggestions, not therapeutic advice. Moreover, if you feel suicidal or find yourself having suicidal ideations, call the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Record Gifts for NonProfits last year

I don’t usually wait with bated breath for annual giving trends and studies. But this year was different. Many fundraisers (including me) were eager to understand how the emergence of the Trump Presidency last year may be affecting the giving landscape, particularly at the individual giving level.

Like many people, I was intrigued and delighted at the news of big giving surges that occurred in the wake of Trump’s victory. Planned Parenthood reported receiving over 80,000 donations within days of the election. The American Civil Liberties Union received $24 million in online donations in the weekend that followed the news of Trump’s proposed Muslim travel ban.

The nonprofit Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to families in need across the country, took in more than $100,000 in donations after Trump proposed federal budget cuts. Were these giving surges one-time events or a presage of an enduring phenomenon with lasting impact?

The Giving USA Report: Documenting Increases in Gifts to Nonprofits

The annual Giving USA report is the longest-running report of charitable giving in the United States. The latest report, covering the year 2016, sheds some interesting light on philanthropy trends that may continue to affect nonprofits during the Trump era.

The Giving USA study reports that for 2016, all giving rose to $390.1 billion, which is a 1.4 percent growth over 2015 (adjusted for inflation). Individual donors really helped drive giving in 2016, and continue to represent the biggest piece of the charitable giving pie (72 percent). Individual giving alone had a 3.9 percent increase over the previous year!

Meanwhile, charitable giving from foundations and corporations also increased in 2016. However, gifts by estates decreased sharply (-10 percent).

In the individual donor category, it appears that all categories of recipient organizations saw an increase in giving in 2016, meaning that giving wasn’t isolated to so-called “resistance-oriented” groups. The greatest year-over-year increases were seen in environment and animals (7.2 percent); arts, culture, and humanities (6.4 percent); and international affairs (5.8 percent). Even religious groups saw a 3 percent increase.

Towards the Democratization of Philanthropy

Numerous commentators in the nonprofit philanthropy community seized upon this growth in the individual donor category as an important bellwether of changing giving trends in the Trump era.

Ruth McCambridge writes in The Nonprofit Quarterly: “Amid great political uncertainty, and probably even because of it, people without enormous wealth gave in larger numbers than they have in the recent past. The highest increases among recipient groups were […] front and center in public and political discourse toward the end of 2016 as areas that might be targeted for policy changes and defunding by the new administration.”

McCambridge continues: “All of this should come as little surprise to nonprofits, since we already knew that volunteering and giving are relatively closely linked behaviors. Thus, the massive number of people who volunteered to show up for protests on climate policy, immigration, science, and women’s rights over the past six or seven months should have been something of a predictor of what we could expect in giving trends. That makes this an exciting moment for fundraisers and organizers […] and you get a sense of the potential of this moment.”

Quoted in that same article is Patrick M. Rooney, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs and research at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, which researched the Giving USA report.

He suggests that “we saw something of a democratization of philanthropy. The strong growth in individual giving may be less attributable to the largest of the large gifts, which were not as robust as we have seen in some prior years, suggesting that more of that growth in 2016 may have come from giving by donors among the general population compared to recent years.”

Making the Most of This New Era of Civic Engagement

Let’s return for a moment to our initial mention of Planned Parenthood, ACLU, and Meals on Wheels, who saw a literal deluge of donations from existing and new donors. Can these — and many other organizations who aren’t mentioned here — take full advantage of this opportunity to cultivate and deepen relationships with donors, volunteers, and subscribers, eager for action?

If current trends and news reports are to be believed, we are well on our way to a new era of civic engagement. Says McCambridge: “It may be time to concentrate on making the most of this period of multi-faceted activism and our very rich landscape of mobilizable human and cash capital.”

Jay Love, writing in the Bloomerang blog, concurs. He believes that “if a strong base of individual supporters can be built via top-notch relationship building, which takes time, they can be retained at well above average retention levels.” He calls for a resurgence in individual donor cultivation.

As Steve MacLaughlin notes in Huffington Post: “Nonprofits are taking more risks, engaging supporters in new ways, and using more science to aid the art of fundraising. The future of fundraising will require risk, innovation, and a drive to move beyond the status quo.”

I, for one, will be watching nonprofit innovation blossom in the Trump era as a sign that we are embracing new strategies and tactics to engage and cultivate supporters. Will you join us in support of changing the support services for college students needing mental and psychological symptoms.

“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.

 

Mental Health 101

How common are mental health issues?

Studies have shown that 1 in 4 individuals globally struggle with a mental health issue at any given time. If you expand that to the course of a lifetime, the number increases to 1 in 2. That means if it’s not you who is struggling, it’s someone you know or love.

Why is it important to talk about stigma?

When discussing mental health, two main types of stigma exist. One type is external stigma, which refers to the attitudes held by society that people with mental health issues are somehow lacking, incapable, incompetent, or not worthy of dignified and equitable treatment. The other type is internal stigma, which is the attitude held by the person with mental health challenges that they are unworthy, unlovable, and unvalued.

Stigma does a lot of harm to our society. For the people struggling with a mental health challenge, they often lack hope in recovery and don’t pursue treatment because they either don’t believe they can get better or fear discrimination from others. For those who don’t struggle but hold positions of power (such as law enforcement, educators, landlords, community leaders, etc.), stigma can lead to discrimination, which is the unfair treatment of those with mental health challenges.

Having honest conversations about stigma and sharing our personal stories of recovery are small steps we each can take to making our society more equitable and inclusive.

Is recovery actually possible?

Absolutely! One of the biggest misperceptions in society is that mental health issues are a life sentence.

Recovery means many things to many people and is personal in nature. For some, recovery is the complete absence of symptoms. For others, recovery means successfully managing symptoms as a normal part of life with no disruption to daily activities. Research has shown that even for those with the most serious mental illnesses, the right treatment can have someone living an independent, fulfilling, and successful life.

Does everyone with a mental health diagnosis need medication? What alternatives to medication exist?

It’s a common thought that the only cure to a mental health diagnosis is medication and if one stops taking his or her pills, it’s all downhill from there. While medication works for some people, it is hardly a cure-all. In fact, some medications can have side effects that are more harmful than the symptoms of the mental health challenge!

Deciding to try medication is a personal decision. The good news is that it is not the only option. Research has shown that other types of therapies can be extremely effective in maintaing a person’s level of wellness, including mindfulness, talk therapy, peer support, physical activity, and visual and performing arts, to name a few.

So, do I have to share my mental health issue with the world?

Not unless you want to! Some people are very open about their mental health issues because they value transparency and/or want to be an example of recovery. Others may not feel comfortable because they fear stigma, or simply don’t want the world knowing their personal business. Some may choose to tell family and close friends, but not coworkers or acquaintances. There is no right or wrong answer. You should do what makes you comfortable. If you want to start dialogue around mental health but aren’t quite sure if you’re ready to share your experiences, you can always frame the conversation around wellness, which applies to everyone, diagnosis or not.

What should I do if someone discloses their challenge to me?

Just listen. Providing a supportive ear is the best thing you can do for someone who chooses to open up. It’s not always easy to share something so personal with another human being, so taking a genuine interest and being free of judgment can go a long way and do a lot of good.

Persuasive Speech & Insight: Stigma of MI

As most of us know firsthand the difficulties of life with mental illness, its detrimental that we  represent the mental health community in our communities.

Here is a well laid out example to get the ball rolling.

 


“The Stigma of Mental Illness”

“You don’t look like you have leukemia. I think you’re making it up to get attention.” “Well, call me when you decide to stop having arthritis.” “The cure for your epilepsy is to try harder not to have seizures. Just pull yourself together.” We wouldn’t say these things to someone with a physical illness, but people with mental illness hear such statements all the time. According to the CDC, in any given year, 1 in 4 adults in this country has a mental disorder. With numbers like these, it’s majorly important that we as a society change the way we view mental illness and treat those who live with it. The facts are clear: the stigma of mental illness is undeniable. Let’s first discuss what mental illness stigma is, then some reasons why it is harmful, and lastly what you can do to fight it.

So what exactly is stigma? Stigma shows up in different forms. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health defines stigma as “a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses.” So, stigma begins in our minds. It happens when we believe myths and popular media portrayals of mental illness, such as, “All people with mental illness are violent,” and we start to put those with mental illness in a box. We assign labels and see them as different from us. And the moment we start to see someone or something as “different”, it sets the stage for wrongful treatment to occur. Think of racism or sexism. Stigma is no different, although we don’t consider it a blatant social taboo in that sense. And like those forms of prejudice, stigma manifests itself outwardly—in both subtle and overt discrimination. Let’s talk about the harm this causes—both for the person with mental illness and for society at large.

First, stigma harms the individual with mental illness. The CDC reports that only 20% of adults with a mental disorder saw a mental health provider in the past year, and the shame and embarrassment associated with getting help is a major barrier. We have created a society where people don’t want others to find out about their “issues”, and for this reason alone, many avoid seeking treatment. Instead, they may turn to dangerous coping methods such as smoking, binge eating or drinking, which raises their risk for chronic disease and early death. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, those living with serious mental illness die an average of 25 years earlier than the general public—largely due to treatable conditions. On a broader level, stigma harms society. Discrimination against people with mental illness leads to unequal access to housing, health care, employment, education, and community support, and this leads to unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. Serious mental illness costs America over $190 billion in lost earnings per year. At the highest level, stigma influences policymaking. For example, stigma shaped the creation of the Medicaid law, limiting the funds used for treating mental illness but not physical illness. Such things make it difficult to access services for those who do seek help. The June 25, 2014 issue of USA Today tells the story of Laura Pogliano, whose 22-year-old son has schizophrenia. She lost her home after she chose to pay her son’s $250,000 hospital bills instead of her mortgage because his care was not covered by insurance. With all these barriers, is it any wonder that on average, people with mental illness wait nearly a decade after their symptoms first appear to receive treatment?

So, what can you do about this problem? A lot. You see, stigma is something we create, which means it is also something we can reverse. First, you can educate yourself about mental illness. It’s as simple as doing a Google search. Learn the truth about these diseases so you can recognize myths and misconceptions when you hear them and point out, “Hey, that’s not true.” Education also gives you the awareness necessary to change the way you speak. Don’t toss around terms like “crazy”, “lunatic”, or “the mentally ill”. Also, don’t say things like, “He’s bipolar,” or “She’s an anorexic.” A person is not their illness. Instead, say, “She has anorexia,” or “a person with bipolar disorder”. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, calls this “people-first language”. I encourage you to take it a step further, and actually talk about mental illness. According to Patrick Corrigan, psychology professor at Illinois Institute of Technology, “Research shows that the most promising way to dispel stereotypes is to meet someone with mental illness face-to-face.” That’s why I tell my story.

My name is Mei. I’m twenty years old. I love reading, writing, art, psychology, and watching The Big Bang Theory. I dream of being a social worker, falling in love, and traveling the world. And— I live with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and an eating disorder. I found that I’d internalized the stigma of mental illness so much that I’d ask people, “Do you still want to be my friend?” I realized I was almost expecting people to judge me as being “mental” or “unstable” and consequently not want to have a relationship with me. And I thought, “What is so wrong with our society that I feel I have to ask this question? If I had, say, asthma, or chronic migraines, would I still feel I’d have to ask, “Now that you know I have this condition, do you still want to be my friend?”? That leads to my third point, which is simply, be a friend. SAMHSA emphasizes the importance of positive relationships and social connections for mental illness recovery. The handout I’ve given you today lists some things you can do to help someone with a mental illness. Because mental illness is so widespread, I guarantee you that right now, you have someone in your life who needs this.

Today we talked about three aspects of mental illness stigma—what it is, why it hurts everyone, and what we can do about it. Friends, do you realize that you have the ability to create a world where someone like me, who lives with mental illness, can expect the same level of support and care as someone who has a physical illness? Maybe you can’t change the attitudes of everyone in the country, but you can choose how YOU act. You can be that caring and nonjudgmental friend someone needs. You can speak up and say, “We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about this.” I’m doing it. Will you do the same?

Just think:

  • What common myth/stereotype irks/infuriates you? (For me, the popular “default” image of someone with mental illness as a filthy, disheveled man or woman with violent tendencies, rambling incoherently as they wander the streets. Yes, some people with mental illness do fit this stereotype, but most of us appear “normal”, people at whom you wouldn’t glance twice.)
  • What aspect of mental health would you like to see addressed more publicly? (For me, I’d like to see more people talking about PTSD as a result of traumas other than combat. For instance, did you know that children in foster care suffer higher rates of PTSD than veterans?)

By Meiyi Kiyoko Angel Wong Founder of, fighting for mei. Used with permission. All Rights Reserved.

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.