Mental Health Awareness Month

Compared to other countries, the U.S. is definitely more accepting of mental health issues however, there remains a strong negative stigma associated with mental health issues. For anyone who has ever been treated for anxiety, depression, even flying phobias, your medical records will indicate that you were treated for a mental illness and thus labeled as uninsurable according to the health insurance companies. Health care is not considered a human right in the U.S., the land of the free.  I will table my tirade and comments on the U.S. health care system for another time. It is these types of obstacles that feed into the negative stigma of mental illness and further dissuade people from seeking help.

For some reason, it is seen as a sign of weakness to seek help for a wide number of things from help with parenting, relationship issues, depression, job issues, etc.  And that is just naming a very limited few of the issues that civilians may battle. How about individuals who work in high-stress jobs or jobs that may require the taking of another life or exposure to the absolute worst examples of humanity – i.e. air traffic controllers, police officers, firefighters, nurse, doctors, paramedics, and of course, our soldiers? If an individual who works as an administrative assistant views seeking counseling for anxiety as a sign of weakness, what about the individual who is expected to be the brave ones, the first responders, the defenders of freedom, the life savers? We need to eliminate this stigma.

Some may argue that they see no problem. It is up to an individual to take care of himself/herself. I disagree. This stigma has resulted in high unemployment for groups of individuals who may be viewed as mentally ill or unstable, which leads to high poverty rates and homelessness for these individuals (as a result of joblessness and inability to obtain health insurance to cover medical care and possible medications), and in a small number of cases, individuals may resort to violence. Unfortunately, the media plays a terrible role in all of this. By sensationalizing the small number of incidents of violence perpetrated by someone who may be suffering from a mental health issue, the media has stoked the fire of fear in our society against those who are suffering from mental health issues, even though most of them are non-violent. Further, by portraying only the violent symptoms that some (not all) soldiers, veterans, first responders, and others who suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), these men and women often find themselves discriminated against in anything from finding a job to adopting a child.

Some politicians have called for legislation to be passed that restricts the rights of individuals who suffer from mental illness. What they do not seem to understand is that mental illness is not a fixed, static category of disorders and conditions. The official classification system is found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association. Since its first publication in 1952, it has undergone several updates and revisions. Over the years, conditions have been added and removed from the classification system of mental illness. For example, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder until it was officially removed from the classification in 1986. Another example is with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) which officially appeared in 1980 but partially appeared in 1968 under a different designation (hyperkinetic reaction of childhood). The next DSM will be released this month with several changes including the addition of gambling disorder and changes in the definition of PTSD. See the American Psychiatric Association website for more information.

The bottom line is that mental illness is viewed as a sign of weakness, a form of deviance from social norms, and treated with fear and avoidance. There is no shame in asking for help. The world has changed dramatically and even civilians may experience traumatic events that may forever change their outlook and mental health. Do we punish those who witness acts of violence? In theory, no, in practice yes and it is done through the continued discrimination and negative portrayal of mental illness. This needs to stop and the sooner the better. If the media insist on sensationalizing mental illness, they MUST get their facts straight and present all of the information, not just what will attract the most viewers and be considered the most scintillating. Society must be shown and educated about mental health issues. We need to spread the news about how inaccurate the media’s portrayal and resulting societal treatment of the mentally ill is damaging our society, not only socially, but within the judicial, economic, and education institutions among others. We need to promote tolerance and respect not fear and ignorance.  And for those battling with what may be considered mental health issues, remember that you are not alone.

Here are some links that may be of interest:

Bryan A. Wood “Sometimes The Hardest Part to Going to War is Coming Home”

Myke Cole “What PTSD Is”

Kate Holt “The ‘Dangerous’ Veteran: An Inaccurate Media Narrative Takes Hold”

Veterans Crisis Line

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Finding Help for Mental Illness

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Mental Health

Mental Health Help Hotlines

The Blame Game

The explosions at the Boston Marathon today were an act of cowardice. It is truly horrible that we live in a world where congregating in groups makes you a target for terrorists. But sadly, this is the world we live in. We need to stay vigilant and not get so bent out of shape over security measures aimed at keeping people safe. Inconvenient? Maybe but in the end, if it ensures safety, I’d opt for that inconvenience. When I was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I saw first hand the security measures in place to help deter attacks and protect civilians. When it came time for me to leave, upon entering the airport, I was met in a large room that only had one empty table and 4 fully armed British soldiers, all aiming their automatic weapons at me as I was frisked and my bags emptied and examined. While I was not exceptionally pleased at looking down the barrel of 3 automatic rifles while the 4th soldier examined my luggage, I must say that once I was allowed to continue into the airport, I felt more secure than I have felt walking down the streets of Chicago. Bottom line is that these security protocols are suggested and implemented to ensure safety so instead of arguing with those that are doing their jobs and putting their lives at risk to protect the civilians, we should thank them for their vigilance.

As I watched on television the coverage of the aftermath of the explosions in Boston today, I was struck by a few things. The first and most notable was the dozens of people who ran towards the blasts to offer help. These are true heroes to join our first responders at a time of uncertainty and chaos. While I find so many daily examples of incidents that make me weep for humanity, watching those brave people give me hope for the future. Maybe there are more heroes out there than we know. Maybe we are personally capable of doing more than we think we would. I should stop here but I feel it is necessary for me to address the parts that do make me weep for humanity.

Several news stations continually ran photographic and video footage of the explosions and the areas after the explosions on loops for hours. If the reporters had pointed out the people running to assist the wounded, I may not have been so cranky about this but I did not hear a single mention of that. Instead, our attention was repeatedly drawn to the wounded themselves as well as the blasts. Next come the talking heads discussion who is to blame and attacking the vocabulary used by government officials in this aftermath. I hope that we elect officials who we feel are competent in their jobs and as leaders, it is essential to remain calm in the face of chaos and disorder. It is essential for our sanity to not jump to conclusions and speak on official terms as to what you may personally be thinking is happening within minutes and even hours after chaotic events. We want answers, I know, but how many times do we go after officials months, even years later as to how they reported inaccurate and untrue information following tragedy? Too many. In the interest of spreading truthful information, it is best not to jump to conclusions. Finally, this is not a time to jump on some political bandwagon to get your agenda sponsored. I was immediately greeted with several graphics and statements about how gun control contributed to the events at the Boston marathon. Any soldier in the military knows that a gun does not protect you from a bomb that you are unaware of. I mean, really, there are many more important items to report on and pay attention to rather than try to use such a tragedy as the groundwork for any political platform, liberal or conservative.

So stop your hate-mongering and let’s come together in support of those whose lives have been altered by the events of today. Let’s focus on the heroes of today and not the race, ethnicity, religion, or nationality of the unknown perpetrators. I have confidence that the individual or individuals will be brought to justice.

So it is with sadness that I must share the following links with you once again as our nation struggles in the aftermath of tragedy. Please be cognizant of who is watching this news footage and take the time to talk to and have a true, conversation with your children about these events.

Here are links for parents and teachers to help with talking to children of all ages about such tragic events as well as for those who may find these events and their coverage to trigger emotional distress. There is no shame in seeking help.

Talking With Kids About News

Helping Students Navigate a Violent World by Sean McCollum

Listen, Protect and Connect: Psychological First Aid for Teachers and Schools (www.ready.gov)

American Psychological Association “Talking to Your Children About the Recent Spate of School Shootings”

National Association of School Psychologists Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Coping with Stress”

SAMHSA Coping After Traumatic Events Helpline 1-800-985-5990

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families of the victims and survivors as they cope with this tragic event. My thanks go out to all of the first responders who risk their lives every day and face the horrors that some members of society insist on perpetrating on the innocent. Thank you to the good Samaritans who ran towards the blasts to help the victims. And finally, my most humblest thank you and appreciation to the men and women of of armed forces, whether active duty or veteran. Your sacrifice is not in vain. I appreciate the risks you take not only physically but psychologically in doing what so many others lack the fortitude to do. Thank you and stay safe.

Tragedy in Newtown, CT

With the media spending all of their time not only focusing on the violence of today but rehashing and showing the violence of the past, an important part of our humanity is being ignored. What about the survivors? What about those who are watching from afar, especially the children? At this time, I have only found one local news source that spent any time dealing with how parents should go about talking to their children about the tragic events that occurred today. In contrast, some of the major media outlets have spent time interviewing children. To those journalists and parents who allowed these interviews to occur, I say shame on you. We need to put the children ahead of any personal desire for 15 minutes of fame or to beat a deadline. Not only have the horrific events and loss of innocent life today have made me sad but the reaction has truly tested my faith in humanity.

Please note that i f you have children and are watching the news coverage of this tragedy, be mindful of where your children are. If they are with you, turn the television off and spend quality time with your family.

What I am offering are links for parents and teachers to help with talking to children of all ages about such tragic events.

Helping Students Navigate a Violent World by Sean McCollum

National Association of School Psychologists Resources

American Psychological Association “Talking to Your Children About the Recent Spate of School Shootings”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “Coping with Stress”

SAMHSA Coping After Traumatic Events Helpline 1-800-985-5990

Listen, Protect and Connect: Psychological First Aid for Teachers and Schools (www.ready.gov)

Talking With Kids About News

Remember that for many who have survived tragedy, the media coverage of new tragedies may trigger emotional distress. There is nothing wrong with asking for help or needing someone to talk to.

I hope you find these resources helpful and I further hope that the media will focus on how to help the survivors and the rest of society deal with such a horrible act.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families of the victims and survivors as they cope with this horrific event. My thanks go out to all of the first responders who risk their lives every day and face the horrors that some members of society insist on perpetrating on the innocent.