Halloween: More trick than treat for those with mental illness?

I came across a thought-provoking post today and wanted to share it here. The original post came from Healthy Place.

Halloween: More Trick Than Treat for Those With Mental Illness?

Halloween and Dia De Muertos (The Day of the Dead) can be child’s play. Ghosts, goblins, superheroes, Disney princesses and more bring both smiles and horror. For those with a mental illness, PTSD or panic, Halloween can conjure up very intense negative responses.

Sometimes horror flickers on the TV screen or in the movie theater, sometimes horror is found behind a mask, sometimes it comes to visit wrapped in “Trick or Treat!” Potential triggers lurk everywhere: black cats, oversized spiders, masks, horror movies and even costumes that perpetuate mental health stigma, domestic violence and much more. Ahhh, the midnight hour.

I Hate Halloween

I admit it – I hate Halloween with a passion. My dislike for Halloween began innocently enough: my birthday is the week before Halloween. Instead of a cake of my choosing, I used to get the horrid orange and black Halloween birthday cakes. There is nothing more unappetizing than black frosting. Next up: My 4th grade Halloween party. My teacher decided that fun would be turning off all of the lights in the room and having us stick our hands into bowls of food that represented body parts: elbow noodles for brains, olives for eyes and chicken liver for…well, you get the idea. Fun? Not so much when 15 kids are vomiting. Fast forward to 2003: I was assaulted on Halloween. My assailant wore a Halloween mask. Yep, I hate Halloween.

Halloween is Scary for Adult Trauma Survivors

For the adult survivor of trauma, Halloween can hold all the makings of flashbacks, panic and terror. The macabre comes out to play in the form of costumes, props and decorations. Whether it be fake blood, severed body parts, all-out zombie attacks, masks from classic horror films such as Friday the 13th, It, Saw, Nightmare on Elm Street, Pin Head, Scream or witch costumes or the props (knives, needles or impalement, anyone?), Halloween brings out those who enjoy Halloween for shock value. The beauty of Halloween is that for at least one day, we can be anything we wish: the shy become bold pirates, the geek becomes the hunk or diva, those who would suppose him or herself to be weak chooses to be a superhero. That is also the beast of Halloween.

Facing Halloween Can Be Difficult

If Halloween is troublesome for you, here are a few things that may be helpful:

  • Avoid watching television during this time.
  • Don’t give out candy or if you choose to give out candy, don’t answer the door by yourself.
  • Spend the evening doing things completely unrelated to Halloween.
  • Listen to some soothing music to help lower the hyper vigilance.
  • Eat the candy yourself. No one said you have to share it.

Some Inspiration for Your Weekend

Active Shooter Events: What they don’t tell you

Since I am heavily involved in my community as the Neighborhood Watch Committee Chairperson, I decided to attend the local police department’s 12-week Citizens Police Academy. We meet every Thursday evening for 2 – 3 hours, depending on the topic. I’ve learned about things such as SWAT, hostage negotiation, traffic stops, building searches, crime scene investigations and officer safety. Last week’s topic impacted me so much that I spent the drive home in tears.

The aforementioned topic was ASE, or Active Shooter Events. If that term is confusing, think ColumbineVirginia Tech or Fort Hood. Think of one or more person(s), armed with guns, attacking innocent groups of people, usually for revenge, fame or infamy, trying to rack up a high body count.

I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you that the topic itself is upsetting. While ASEs can be traced back to 1764 (really!), the increase in the last two decades is at the least alarming and at the most, terrifying. The presentation was Texas State University’s program to educate civilians about what ASEs are and how to deal with them if a person finds him/herself facing one. Local officers have delivered this presentation to all of the area school districts, some businesses, churches, military bases and hospitals. The local school district has incorporated “lockdown drills” along with the fire drills that have been routine for decades. I must admit, visualizing my teenage daughter going through a lockdown drill makes me sad and angry.

While I hate to give attention to negative things, hearing this presentation brought up a few issues in my mind. There was ONE slide in the PowerPoint that briefly addressed what someone may feel after going through a trauma like this. The officer that was teaching us started to gloss over the fact that many people develop PTSD and PTSD-like symptoms. Almost involuntarily, I shouted, “Getting help is not a sign of weakness! It’s a sign of strength!” Fortunately for me, the officer agreed and elaborated a bit more about the importance of getting professional help after going through an ASE.

The presentation also encouraged us to live life basically looking over our shoulders and preparing for worst-case scenarios every time we went into a public place. I don’t know about you, but I can’t live like that. That’s not even living, in my opinion. The presenting officer gave several examples from his own personal life that involved his wife and son, who have been encouraged to be constantly on alert for badness. How sad for them.

The bottom line is that sometimes people do horrific things. The reasons vary, but mental illness plays a large part in many of these tragic events. It’s up to us as people, citizens, parents, children, brothers, sisters, co-workers, neighbors and humans to not ignore others when they are showing signs of mental instability. It may feel like none of your business, but if this person ends up doing something horrible, will that excuse assuage your guilt? I’m calling everyone who reads this to action: let’s de-stigmatize mental illness and its treatment so that some tragedies can be prevented. I realize that this will not be a panacea for ASEs, but if even one crisis can be stopped before it has started, that will be a victory in my book.

[Original article may be found here]

Non-treatment of mental illness: Who’s to blame?

This year (2013), October 10 is World Mental Health Day. I’d be remiss not to mention this considering that I write about mental health all of the time. Actually, I find that I write about mental illness more often than “health.” Like most things in life, we tend to take notice of things that go wrong because, really, most other things go right. It’s just that we take these things for granted.

Think about it. The very fact that you’re breathing is “right.” If you’re reading this post that means you can see. That’s pretty cool. Even if you’re going through a crisis, you do have many other things that go smoothly, even if they seem “behind the scenes.” The reason humans tend to focus on the negative so much is because it is out of the ordinary.

That being said, mental illness is unfortunately more ordinary than most people think.  According to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), one in four American adults (61.5 million people) and about 20% of adolescents age 13 – 18 experience some kind of mental illness in any given year. These people are just like you and me – they may even be you and me.

Even though education about mental illness has increased over the last decade or so, there’s still a huge stigma associated with it. It breaks my heart to hear about someone who could have been helped if they had just reached out for it, but instead ended up in a tragic situation.

Why does this still happen? I wish there was a simple answer, but in many instances, the person is either not aware he/she is ill, is not aware of local and national resources or is too afraid to be labeled “crazy” if he/she seeks out help. Sometimes, as in the case of Andrea Yates, many entities fail.

After the birth of her first child, Noah, in February of 1994, the Yates were advised not to have any more children because Andrea developed Postpartum Psychosis. Due to their religious beliefs and family influences, they continued on to have four more: John (December, 1995), Paul (September, 1997), Luke (February, 1999) and Mary (November, 2000). Andrea had trouble after each birth, but never stopped being open to, “having as many children as God wanted.”

After Mary’s birth in 2000, Andrea’s psychosis went into overdrive and once again, the Yates sought help for her. She was hospitalized, placed on anti-psychotic medication, and eventually sent home. One problem that psychosis presents to the mental health practitioner is that a diagnosis relies heavily on self-report from the patient. In 2001, Andrea reported to her psychiatrist that she was no longer having delusions or hallucinations, and she stopped taking her medication. You probably know the rest, but if you’re interested in learning about Andrea’s specific delusions that prompted her tragic actions, visit Wikipedia’s page.

So, who’s to blame? We can point fingers at multiple system failures:

  • Andrea herself, who could have stopped having children, been more honest about her experiences or could have taken her medications as prescribed;
  • Rusty, Andrea’s husband, for insisting that they follow “God’s plan,” for not carefully monitoring his wife’s medication regimen and leaving her alone with the kids for even 5 minutes;
  • Their religion, which encouraged couples to have as many children as they could naturally;
  • The mental health professionals for not insisting that she stay on her medication, no matter how much better she was feeling;
  • Her family, for not seeing how ill she really was and believing that she could never hurt anyone except herself (she had tried to commit suicide multiple times);
  • Her parents for passing on the genes that biologically allow for the expression of symptoms;
  • American society, for making mental illness so stigmatizing that she was extremely embarrassed to have to see a professional at all; or
  • Everyone who came in contact with this woman and either missed or dismissed the odd behavior she was exhibiting

As you can see from this one case, “the system” failed on multiple levels. Unfortunately, the loss of innocent lives are not the only fatalities caused in some part by mental illness. NAMI estimates 30,000 Americans commit suicide each year, with about 90% struggling with mental illness.

What can we do? Each person that reads this needs to pass it on to others so that they can educate themselves about what mental illnesses are, how to look for signs of symptoms in others and themselves and find local and national resources that can provide help. With each person that is educated and prepared, another piece of the stigma falls away. It is my personal hope that mental illness will be almost completely de-stigmatized in my lifetime, but that is up to you.

[Re-posted from its original source at Examiner.com]

Women, Hormones and Mood

Did you know that women experience twice as much depression as men? Would that be because we’re more sensitive? I think not. The explanation which best fits is that we are more affected by hormonal shifts which influence our brain chemistry, particulary around times when our lives change dramatically-like pregnancy and post-postpartum.

In fact, 1 in 8 women will experience a clinical episode of depression or anxiety during pregnancy, postpartum and menopause, which is greater than the occurence of most health conditions. So, why aren’t women being routinely screened for mood and anxiety conditions? How can health conditions which have such a profound impact on moms, babies and families continue to be ignored? How many more stories like Miriam Carey’s will unfold ?

To end such needless suffering and tragedies, we must come forward and share our stories to support each other in getting the help we need and deserve. We must be prepared to educate our health providers and make it clear that we expect to be cared for-body, mind, heart and soul. We must challenge our own biases about anxiety and depression, and accept them as “health conditions” just like heart disease or diabetes.

Ghandi said, “Become the change you want to see in the world.”

Now, it’s up to each of us to do our part to reduce the stigma and shame associated with mental health conditions. In Miriam’s memory and for the sake of safeguarding the health of moms and babies, WE MUST.

30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself

I came across this blog post this morning and just had to share!

30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself.

Big Changes

Diane will be back posting next Monday after she gets back from her fabulous trip  to Spain! Hopefully we’ll get to hear all about it!

In the meantime, I wanted to share an experience of my own with you. My family and I recently decided that it was time for my mother to move in with us for several reasons. I felt such a mixture of emotions at the thought: happiness because I’ll see her more and because I’ll be there if she needs anything medically; apprehension because of our past relationship (though it has since been healed); and wariness that I might fall back into my childhood relationship patterns with her.

She’s only been here a couple of days and I have to keep myself from treating her like a guest. My impulse is to ask, “Can I do something or get something for you?” In reality, all she wants is to find her own way and settle into her own routine that is harmonious with ours. My offers to do things for her would just enable her to be more dependent than independent, and neither of us want that.

We have agreed on a code of complete honesty, even if that may mean hurt feelings. We have discovered the hard way through the years that mind reading is just not possible!

This is a big change for all of us, and I struggle to remember that. Holding myself back from offering things and allowing myself to be calm in spite of my mother’s habitual anxiety is a challenge. But my intuition is telling me that this is a good situation, so I’m focusing on an attitude of gratitude instead of stressing out. It’s not easy, but I am worth it – and so are YOU!