#EndTheStigma

Summertime… and the living isn’t easy for everyone. Depression in the summer is more common than you might guess. While many equate summer with school vacation, outdoor camps, water fun, and blooming gardens, others can and do feel depressed during the sunny season—and the social expectation that you’re supposed to have fun can make that depression feel even lonelier and more isolating.

How to Identify Summer Depression

While summer depression shares common symptoms with depression (feeling depressed most of the day, having low energy levels, losing interest in activities you used to enjoy, difficulty concentrating on tasks, and feeling hopeless or worthless), summer depression has specific symptoms that include:

  • agitation and restlessness
  • loss of appetite
  • trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • weight loss
  • anxiety

If you feel depressed come June each year and it seems to improve around September, you may be experiencing summer depression. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates a patient may be diagnosed with summertime seasonal affective disorder if they have symptoms of major depression, have lived with depressive episodes in the summer months for two consecutive years, and have a tendency to have depressive periods more frequently in the summer than in than in other times of the year.

Symptoms of summertime blues, by contrast, are similar (low mood and a lack of energy) but less debilitating.

Where Does Summer Depression Come From?

Like all forms of depression, summertime depression can have biological, psychological, and/or environmental causes. Summer schedules are often disruptive to our usual schedules, and this sudden, big change can be hard to handle, especially for people who are vulnerable to depression.

Biologically, some studies suggest that, like other forms of major depressive disorder (MDD), summer depression may be linked to the brain chemical serotonin. The risk of developing summer depression is higher for women, those with relatives with a mental illness, or those who have major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness.

More than 3 million American adults experience seasonal affective disorder, or SAD. Of those, about 10% of people who have a MDD with a seasonal pattern, such as SAD, have their depression symptoms begin at the onset of summer, not winter. It’s unclear why this happens to a subset of those with MDD or SAD. Some experts point to too much sunlight, heat, and humidity as possible culprits.

How to Help Your Clients Cope with Summertime Depression

A number of tools and strategies can be employed by mental health practitioners to help their clients cope with summer depression.

  • Change dosage. If you are licensed to prescribe medications, consider temporarily increasing the dosage of your client’s medication for depression. Or, if you are not, encourage your client to speak to their medication prescriber about gradually increasing their dosage in late spring and easing off slowly in the fall.
  • Respect the worry your client may be feeling. With summer depression in particular, people who are struggling with their mental health are apt to feel something is wrong with them: Why does it seem like everyone else is having fun and I’m not? What’s wrong with me? While this is a typical response, it is not helpful to compare how we’re feeling with how we think we’re supposed to feel. Instead, gently encourage your client to focus on the causes of their summertime depression and how it can be resolved.
  • Evaluate triggers. Consider what past experiences your client may be associating with summer, whether it’s the death of a loved one, an important anniversary, or another traumatic event. Working through triggers may lessen or release some of these associations.
  • Experiment with darkened rooms. Following some mental health professionals’ theory that too much sunlight could be causing summer-onset MDD, spending more time in darkened rooms—the opposite of light therapy—may be advisable. For similar reasons, wearing sunglasses may help.
  • Advocate for regular exercise. Numerous studies demonstrate that regular physical activity can help depression and mood disorders.
  • Recommend a good night’s sleep. Insufficient sleep can trigger depression. Rule out this cause by ensuring your client is getting enough ZZZs (generally 7 to 9 hours a night for adults).
  • Engage in mindfulness. Yes, there’s that oft-mentioned recommendation to develop a meditation and mindfulness practice again! Evidence shows mindfulness has a significant impact on mental wellbeing, combating fatigue and naturally bolstering one’s defenses against depression.

Get Help

If you or someone you know thinks they might be depressed, regardless of the time of year, please get help. Do not take summer depression lightly or downplay its symptoms. Talk to a mental health practitioner. We are here to help, and there are effective treatments available. You do not need to suffer in the summer.

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More than 52 million American adults—or one in five—live with a mental health issue. Despite its prevalence, we hold an unhealthy stigma of mental illness. As a result, some individuals who live with mental health issues experience challenges accessing quality care and coverage, a challenge that can be exacerbated by their backgrounds and identities. This needs to change.

Reducing the stigma associated with mental illness is central to Health Affiliates Maine’s vision. By recognizing that we are all affected by mental health and substance issues, we reduce the stigma associated with accessing care, and in doing so, we increase the opportunity for everyone to participate in their own journey to wellness.

That’s why we’re proud to raise awareness for the Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month this July. “Together for Mental Health,” we proudly stand up for a shared vision of a nation where anyone affected by mental illness—no matter their class, culture, ethnicity, or identity—can get the appropriate, quality care and support they need to live healthy lives.

“We need a national campaign to destigmatize mental illness, especially one targeted toward African Americans…It’s not shameful to have a mental illness. Get treatment. Recovery is possible.” –Bebe Moore Campbell, 2005

 

Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness. Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender, class, sexual orientation, or any other elements of our identity. While BIPOC have rates of mental health disorders similar to white people, people in the BIPOC community are disproportionately affected by a lack of access to quality healthcare and cultural stigma, according to US News.

Of the 52 million+ Americans who live with a mental health condition, nearly 5 million are black people—and yet only 33% of those seek appropriate treatment, such as regularly meeting with a mental health professional, compared to nearly half of white people. As writer and policy analyst Brakeyshia R. Samms describes, there are many factors that contribute to whether or not a person with a mental illness receives treatment, including under/misdiagnosis, lack of access to quality care, and community stigma. We all experience these factors, but some communities experience them to a disproportionate degree—and suffer as a result. Bebe Moore Campbell summarized the issue: “No one wants to say, ‘I’m not in control of my mind.’ But people of color really don’t want to say it because we already feel stigmatized by virtue of skin color or eye shape or accent, and we don’t want any more reasons for anyone to say, ‘You’re not good enough.’”

How to Help

Samms suggests four activities we can all engage in to take action against the stigma around mental illness: gather information to counter “negative preconceived notions,” speak up, remain open, and believe people. “Stigma stems from a lack of knowledge,” Samms writes, “and the best way to fight a gap in information is by educating others in our community.” To this end, understanding and then communicating the complex issues at play helps spread acceptance and inclusivity, which in turn fights the inequities and stigma we have developed and now need to unlearn as a culture.

 

Sources: www.nimh.nih.gov, nami.org, rtor.org, mhanational.org

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As a compassionate behavioral and mental health care provider, you incorporate many modalities to treat your clients. For those clients seeking recovery from addiction or substance use, one lesser-known, relatively new model is Motivational Interviewing (MI). Developed in the early 1980s, MI requires an approach based on collaboration, understanding, and empathy. 

What is Motivational Interviewing?
Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a technique commonly used in the treatment of clients with addiction or substance use. This style of treatment can be thought of as an evidence-based conversation that truly encourages behavior change from within and guides clients toward a specific end goal (in this case recovery from addition). 

Motivational Interviewing is highly collaborative. Through approachable dialogue, the client is encouraged to explore their desire for change, receiving kindness, compassion, and acceptance both from their counselor and from themselves. 

This style of treatment is not meant to manipulate, coerce, or “get people to change” as in an intervention. Motivational Interviewing is an on-going conversation between clinician and client that takes time, practice, and the client’s own self-awareness.

Essential Processes of Motivational Interviewing
There are four main processes to successful Motivational Interviewing or “keeping the conversation going.” During the “conversation” (Motivational Interviewing treatment), the clinician must always be: 

  • Engaging. The foundation to MI: actively listening, reflecting on, and affirming a client’s experience and perspective. 
  • Focusing. Steering dialogue toward the end goal of positive change.
  • Evoking. Helping clients build on their “why.”
  • Planning. The “how” to the process of change for a client.

Signs Motivational Interviewing May Benefit a Client 
Although not an exhaustive list, a client may benefit from MI if the following is present:

  • Ambivalence: having mixed feelings about change
  • Low confidence: doubting their ability to change
  • Apathy: low desire or uncertain if they want to change 

Is this tool aligned with my treatment style and will it be beneficial to my clients?
Be honest with yourself if this tool may be right for you, your clients, and your practice. Not every clinician or behavioral health provider is a good fit for motivational interviewing, just like not every client will be a good fit for this type of treatment.

The following are important characteristics in clinicians for the success of Motivational Interviewing:

  • Partnership and collaboration. Clinicians guide toward change, not force it.
  • Acceptance. Clinicians are non-judgmental and actively seek to understand their client’s perspective and life experiences. 
  • Compassion. Clinicians express unending empathy and promote their client’s wellbeing in a selfless way.
  • Patience and understanding. Clinicians actively listen, ask meaningful questions, and provide affirmations to build up client confidence

Behavioral and mental health providers should consider if Motivational Interviewing would be an impactful approach for those clients who are willing and wanting to change. It is proven to be a successful, client-centered approach to encouraging change, promoting resilience, and building confidence particularly in those seeking recovery. 

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Your mental and emotional health directly affects your ability to provide quality care to your clients. Healthcare professionals in various industries—and mostly due to factors of the coronavirus pandemic—are feeling guilt, shame and exhaustion, all symptoms of burnout. But are you experiencing something more complicated?

What is Burnout?

First, let’s discuss what burnout is. Burnout is a non-medical diagnosis characterized as a specific type of work-related stress. Burnout causes physical or emotional exhaustion (or both) that typically includes a feeling that you’ve lost your personal identity and sense of accomplishment.
Experts don’t know the cause of burnout, but some believe that depression and other individual factors may be involved.

Signs of Burnout

One person may experience burnout entirely differently from another. Take a few moments to consider these work scenarios to see if you’re experiencing burnout:

  • You feel pessimistic, critical and/or irritable
  • You feel unmotivated, easily distracted, and less productive
  • You don’t feel satisfied by your achievements or your work
  • Your sleep habits have changed (extreme fatigue, insomnia, sleep disturbances)
  • You’re experiencing headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments
  • You’re using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to not feel at all
  • You no longer have energy for the people or things you enjoy

Possible Reasons You May Experience Burnout

Again, reasons of burnout will be different for each individual. Common factors include:

  • Lack of support
  • Unclear job expectations
  • Toxic or dysfunctional workplace environment
  • Lack of work/life balance

You may also be experiencing a heavy workload, excessive or long hours, or having little control over your work or schedule. Unfortunately, if you work in a helping profession, you may be more susceptible to burnout. If you suspect burnout, discuss your feelings and possible options with your supervisor or an HR resource.

You can also seek the advice of a healthcare professional to help address and alleviate any physical or emotional effects that are troubling you. Without intervention, burnout could lead to excessive stress, sleep issues, substance misuse, high blood pressure and higher risk of other health-related conditions.

Identifying with typical job burnout may not be sufficient for those in the helping professions, particularly in the years of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is where moral injury is increasingly getting brought into the conversation.

What is Moral Injury?

Moral injury involves the stressful social, psychological, and/or spiritual effects of having witnessed or participated in behaviors that go against a person’s core beliefs and values.

The term was developed in the 1990s to describe the moral conflicts military professionals were feeling after returning from war zones. Later, it was used to describe healthcare professionals facing similar distressing environments.

In a healthcare setting, burnout is described as a type of “chronic work stress” while moral injury is explained as the “suffering that occurs in response to moral adversity.” Having our beliefs or ethics repeatedly dishonored at our workplace can create undue psychological injury including disrupting how we feel about our individual selves and how we show up in the world.

What does moral injury look like in the helping professions?

Moral injury can occur in any profession but is on the rise in the healthcare industry. Here are some examples of what that may look like:

Feeling a sense of responsibility to make decisions that entail conflicting morals, ethics and values. For example, taking on more clients to meet the needs of your community, despite the caseload size exceeding your typical self-care standard.

Doing something that goes against your beliefs (referred to as an act of commission). Behavioral health care workers may be faced with situations where they need to decide how best to prioritize clients in need of a session (e.g., which clients receive less/more frequent sessions and how to best use limited time when multiple clients need help or when many are waiting for services).

Failing to do something in line with your beliefs (referred to as an act of omission). Moral injury can also develop in behavioral health care workers when they feel unable to provide the type of care requested by the client (e.g., in person session) for sake of their own safety or their families.

Witnessing or learning about an act that goes against your ethics and beliefs.Some may feel guilt and shame because they felt numb in the face of suffering and death. Behavioral health care workers may also witness what they perceive to be unjustifiable or unfair acts or policies that they feel powerless to confront.

Experiencing betrayal by someone you trust. A person who experiences betrayal may also feel anger, resentment, and/or diminished confidence in peers, leaders or organizations.

In behavioral health and mental health professions specifically, moral injury is a common occurrence. However, neither moral injury nor burnout is the fault of an individual, and self-care alone will not eliminate them. If you’re experiencing or have experienced moral injury, consider the following:

  • If you don’t already, attend therapy sessions regularly
  • Connect with colleagues who feel or have felt similarly
  • Take the time to self-reflect often (journal, prayer, meditation, etc.)
  • Stay connected to your true self, beliefs and values
  • Align your personal values with your business’ values
  • If you’re not self-employed, look for a workplace that prioritizes care over quotas and encourages a work/life balance

Clinicians, therapists, and other behavioral health workers are in their line of work because they truly want to help others—but remember that being an impactful, successful, and respected healthcare professional doesn’t need to come at a personal cost.

Self-care for moral injury can be particularly challenging for people working in behavioral health care given that those in the field strongly value caring for others and may prioritize the needs of others over their own. It is often only in conversations with others that we can hear a different, more helpful way to think about or make meaning from morally distressing situations.

On the positive side, there is also evidence that indicates after potentially morally injurious experiences some people develop a redefined meaning in life and, with time and support, begin to incorporate the experience into growth or helping others. Further, some develop new insights about how to help the systems in which they work or that can help them grow in their own work or lives.

Behavioral health care workers, their colleagues, and leaders can use strategies to take care of themselves and each other both during and after potential morally injurious situations, to support recovery and growth.

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If you are asking this question, you are probably not alone. In fact, 18 million Americans struggle with misusing alcohol or with the symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD). If you feel as though your relationship with alcohol is a problem or could become a problem, it is important to know that you are not alone. There are resources that can provide help and guide you through a recovery journey. Arming yourself with information is a good first step.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (alcohol addiction)?

There are hereditary and environmental factors to addiction, but many times the cause is not known. The following are some of the symptoms that characterize AUD.

The individual:

  • drinks more or longer than they initially intended to
  • has tried to moderate or stop drinking in the past, but has been unable to
  • spends a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking
  • experiences cravings, or strong desires to drink
  • drinks even though it interferes with home, family, work, or school responsibilities
  • drinks even though it causes trouble in their personal life
  • gives up activities or obligations that were once important, in order to drink
  • gets into situations while drinking that may be risky or cause harm
  • continues to drink even if it causes depression, anxiety, or other health problems
  • has to drink more to produce the desired effects
  • has withdrawal symptoms when not drinking

NOTE: According to the DSM-5 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, showing two-three of these symptoms in the last year may indicate a mild alcohol use disorder, while showing four-five symptoms indicates a moderate AUD. Displaying six or more symptoms signifies a severe alcohol use disorder.

Who is at risk for alcohol use disorders?

Drinking alcohol in moderation can be okay for some people. This means that while they may feel the effects of alcohol consumption, they do not feel compelled to keep drinking. Moderate drinking is classified as no more than one or two drinks per day for men and women.

Using alcohol when bored, stressed, lonely, depressed, or if there is a genetic predisposition to addiction (family members with AUD), can lead to further serious problems. If you or someone you care about is drinking to get through the day, it may be time to reach out for help.

How does alcohol affect physical health?

Like any substance consumed in excess, there will likely be side effects. Alcohol may also interact negatively with prescription medications and make it difficult to diagnose other health concerns.

When drinking to excess there can be problems with:

  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Reduced inhibitions or risky behaviors
  • Inability to focus, impaired memory
  • Affected vision, reflexes, and coordination

Long-term effects of active addiction:

  • Impaired learning and/or brain development
  • Increased depression and anxiety
  • Major organ damage; increased risk for heart disease
  • Cirrhosis (chronic liver disease)
  • Cancer

How does alcohol affect mental health?

Alcohol is a depressant. Therefore, it slows down your brain and alters its chemistry. There are many effects including changes to mood, energy levels, memory, concentration, and sleep patterns.

Alcohol may also impact decision making. While drinking, a person may “do things without thinking” or say or do things they would not do or say while sober such as pushing away or hurting the people who care most about them. It can give a person courage to engage in risky situations like unsafe sexual encounters, trouble with law enforcement or getting into fights. Alcohol can contribute to life falling apart, causing withdrawal from important relationships and social situations, and even self-harm. A combination of factors along with intoxication has led to many dying by suicide.

Where do I go for help with AUD?

Talk with your primary care practitioner. There are multiple treatment options ranging from hospitalization for detox if needed, to outpatient therapy with a counselor or group, to rehabilitation or participation in an intensive outpatient program (IOP). There is also residential treatment. There are even medications that can provide support for building a sober life.

Lastly, there are many recovery communities like AA, Smart Recovery, and Women for Sobriety that provide support and assistance in learning how to live a healthy, sober life.

sources: healthline.com, headspace.org, recoverycentersofamerica.com, cdc.org, apibhs.com

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Bipolar disorder is thought to be a rare condition consisting of “mood swings” but it’s much more common and complex than that. Bipolar disorder affects 60 million people worldwide and approximately 5.7 million Americans. Of these, an estimated 51% will go untreated or misdiagnosed.

Bipolar disorder, sometimes known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression, is a mental disorder that causes an unusual shift in mood, energy, activity level, concentration, judgement, or ability to perform day-to-day tasks. The “unusual” shifts refer to uncharacteristic changes in an individual lasting days or weeks. This is known as an “episode.” A manic episode is an emotional “high,” while a depressive episode is an emotional “low.”

Manic and hypomanic episodes include three or more of the following signs:

  • Unusually upbeat, jumpy, or wired; increased activity, energy
  • Exaggerated sense of well-being or self-confidence
  • Distractibility, racing thoughts
  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Unusual talkativeness
  • Poor decision making such as excessive shopping, risky sexual behavior, etc.

Depressive episodes include five or more of the following signs:

  • Depressed mood; sad, empty, hopeless, irritable feelings
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Restlessness or slowed actions
  • Apathy
  • Abrupt change in weight and/or appetite
  • Decreased ability to think/concentrate
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
  • Thinking about or attempting suicide

Those with bipolar disorder may not recognize the changes in their behavior. Some may also enjoy the feelings of euphoria that accompany a manic episode, but an emotional crash will always follow. The signs described above are not normal or typical of young children, adolescents or adults, and should be taken seriously.

There are three different types of bipolar disorder diagnoses:

Bipolar I Disorder: Manic episodes lasting at least 7 days or manic episodes so severe that immediate hospitalization is required and depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks. Mixed features may be possible (manic and depressive episodes occurring simultaneously). Bipolar I disorder is the most severe.

Bipolar II Disorder: A pattern of depressive and hypomanic episodes (less severe mania) that last for longer periods but are less severe than bipolar I disorder.

Cyclothymia: Periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms lasting at least 2 years. Symptoms are less severe than Bipolar I and II disorders and individuals are usually able to function in their daily life.

Bipolar disorder is commonly misdiagnosed, the main reason being that those with the disorder may also have a co-occurring disorder. These can include anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance use disorder, eating disorders, or other mental health disorders. A mental health professional will diagnose bipolar disorder by observing signs and symptoms, life experiences of the individual, and the family health history of the individual. A diagnosis typically occurs in late adolescence with the average age being 25, but those in their later adult years can also be diagnosed.

It’s important that those with bipolar disorder or those with undiagnosed symptoms to attain treatment. If left untreated, an individual’s manic and depressive episodes will not improve. Additionally, they may be at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, legal or financial troubles, impaired performance at work and school, difficulty maintaining relationships and suicide attempts. In fact, 30% of individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder will attempt suicide at least once in their life. A diagnosis and ongoing treatment are vital.

Individuals with bipolar disorder are at higher risk of thyroid disease, migraine headaches, heart disease, diabetes and more. Treatment is highly individualized, especially when it comes to correct medication, often an antipsychotic and/or anti-depressant. Primary care visits are also important in ongoing treatment.

Treatment can include psychotherapy sessions (talk therapy) and medication taken consistently, regular exercise that benefits brain and heart health, sticking to daily routines, avoiding misuse of substances, as well as journaling for symptom tracking are recommended. Individuals with bipolar disorder can lead wonderfully healthy, functioning lives with the assistance of lifelong treatment.

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Sad red-haired girl

The Emotional Ripple Effect of Someone’s Suicide

I have a tough subject to talk with you about: the extreme and extensive impact of a loved one’s suicide.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on November 20th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

I have a tough subject to talk with you about: the extreme and extensive impact of a loved one’s suicide.

Suicide is always shockingly sad anytime we hear of it, whether we know the person or not.  When it happens to someone we care about, like our spouse, parent, a brother or sister, a child or teenager, a neighbor, cousin, uncle, aunt, coworker or friend, it knocks the wind out of us, like a punch in the gut.  It is hard enough to lose someone in the normal course of living, but to lose them to suicide is immeasurably hard to grasp.  It is an unexpected ending and our lives are suddenly changed.    

When someone is the one left behind by a suicide they experience so many emotions, unusual circumstances, awkward conversations, and they have so many questions, most of which have no good answers.  If this were to happen to you, here are some things you may experience:

You may have to endure a police investigation. A police investigation can be unsettling, especially when you’re grieving.  The police have to investigate and they are looking for information, but because of the shock and confusion, giving answers may be difficult.  

You may feel confused, forgetful, or exhausted. A typical reaction to traumatic events is to feel confused or forgetful. You may forget to do your usual routines, like eating or brushing your teeth.  You may feel like you can’t think straight.  You may experience extreme exhaustion (as is typical with emotional pain), yet sleep can be elusive.

You may feel abandoned, left alone by someone you thought cared.  You may wonder, “Didn’t they care about me?” and “Why wasn’t my loving them, enough? Why didn’t they come to me?” Children may wonder what they did wrong.

You may be in denial and not believe that this actually happened, and that it was actually a suicide. 

You may feel numb and feel nothing.  You may even think you have gotten over the event.  Then, suddenly, you are living it with intense emotion.

You may have regrets about not having known they were in serious trouble.  Some people present as fine on the outside and are torn-up with despair on the inside.  Sometimes they work really hard to hide these feelings from loved ones.  I have known many people who say “I wear a mask.”

You may feel guilt or responsibility.  “If only I had…” and “If I would have/could have done something, they would still be here.” 

You may be angry.  You may be very angry–at the person (“How could she do this?” “How could he throw away his beautiful life?”) or at those who you feel should have helped (“Why didn’t the doctor/the school/the counselor do something?”) It is no one’s fault, and certainly not yours.

Your faith may be rocked. “How could God let this happen?”

You may feel shame about it and not want it to be public knowledge.  There is stigma which makes us not want to share when we or a loved one struggles with mental illness.  Our society has equated emotional suffering with weakness.

You may feel relief, which often leads to feeling more shame because you do feel relief.  When someone is depressed to the point of suicide it affects everyone around them.  Their depression can make us feel hopeless and anxious.

You may feel depressed, and alone in your grief.

Emerging after someone’s suicide takes time.  It is best to allow yourself time to grieve, to feel what you feel, and to talk about your questions with a counselor, pastor, or a caring friend.  Don’t do it alone.  If you feel depressed, or in spiritual despair, seek help.  If you feel suicidal, seek help. 

This person you have loved was part of your world.  Talk about your loved one by remembering the good times, as well as the bad times.  This can help with healing.  Say their name.  It keeps them alive in your heart.  Eventually you will come to your own acceptance and peace.  Be gentle with yourself.

 

Suicide Hotline:  1-800-273-8255             Maine Crisis Hotline   1-888-568-1112

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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Teen Suicide: It’s Not Just Drama

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 5, 2019 by Mary A. Gagnon, LMFT; Health Affiliates Maine

“She’s such a drama queen.”

“All he wants is attention.”

“They’re not serious.”

These words—and others like them—lead to the dangerous belief that a teen who is talking about suicide should be dismissed or, even worse, purposely ignored. Those beliefs can sometimes lead to tragic results.

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face. It’s important to understand this because teens often act without thinking and have little experience in managing their emotions. These are two risk factors for suicide. Other risk factors—mental health issues, poor coping/social skills, perfectionism, unrealistic parental expectations, family conflict, abuse, and more—heighten the risk for teens already struggling to learn how to become adults. 

As adults, it’s easy to brush off a teen’s behavior as “dramatic” or “attention-seeking.” So how can we tell the difference between a teen having a bad day and a teen who needs more support? Look for some of these signs:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Making plans to kill themselves
  • Expressing hopelessness about the future
  • Displaying extreme distress or emotionality (more than is typical for a person their age or for the teen in general)
  • Increase in agitation, irritability, anger (more than is typical, or an extreme change)
  • Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy

What can you do if you suspect that an adolescent is thinking about suicide? First, you show them you care. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them what’s going on in their lives, who their friends are, how their academics are going, how they’re feeling. And if they tell you, listen. Teens know if you’re not being sincere, so don’t make it an interrogation—make it a curious, genuine inquiry. Second, you ask the question—Are you thinking about suicide? Yes, it’s direct, and yes, it’s scary. However, it’s the only way to get the answers you need, and the consequences of not asking could be dire. Don’t worry—you won’t put the idea in their heads. That’s a myth. And third, you get them help. If they say yes, you make sure to connect them with a mental health or medical professional right away, and do not leave them alone. If they say no, it’s still a good idea to help them connect to a mental health professional because even if they aren’t planning to take their own lives, chances are good that they could use some extra support.

One of the major factors in preventing suicide is the presence of caring adults in the lives of teens. Truly, adults can make the difference for adolescents considering suicide. Be the difference. Show you care.

*Credit to the Maine Suicide Prevention Program (www.namimaine.org) for information regarding signs and risk factors for suicide.

Mary Gagnon is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Training and Clinical Development Specialist for Health Affiliates Maine.  Mary has worked in private practice as well as a variety of community mental health settings throughout her career.  Her most recent work at Health Affiliates Maine includes oversight of clinicians in private practice and development and facilitation of trainings for schools and conferences throughout the state.  She is also trained to provide Suicide Prevention Awareness sessions for the Maine Suicide Prevention Program.

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Play Ball!  Join us for the Inaugural #StrikeOuttheStigma Co-Ed Softball Tournament.

We are pleased to accounce Health Affiliates Maine is partnering with NAMI Mainein support of raising behavioral health awareness in our community.   Let’s #StrikeOuttheStigma together!

This day will be filled with some friendly team competition and family fun! Bring your family and friends and cheer the softball teams. 

100% of all proceeds from the sale of food, beverage, baked goods and raffles will be presented to NAMI Maine. 

 Support your community.  Support #StrikeOuttheStigma

Join Us!

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Hi again! I am back with another blog. I was re-reading my first one “Shame: Managing Stormy Days” the other day and thought it was, “to my surprise” not bad.

I say this not with an ego. I say it as “An Adult Child Of An Alcoholic” who can still slip back to that spot of low self-esteem. Not for long and for sure not as often BUT the feelings don’t change. In that spot, I was quite nervous about my first writings here.

The thought or the fear was…..

“Will I write something worth reading? A thought not new to me. I shared those same feelings with my wife Linda when she first asked me to write our book “Weathering Shame”. Remember when I talked in that first blog about the Lack Of Awareness Around How I Grew Up? I also noted that Growing awareness during the beginning of my “Journey Toward Wellness” helped build successes and to make better choices. All true!

However the biggest change along the way is a growing confidence in myself and that has helped me feel more positive about ME!

I got there by being very aware of both my Strengths & Weaknesses and accepting both. 

 

  • Re-reading my first blog has me feeling that I made several good points that I am really proud of.
  • I have heard and taken in positive feedback from you the public and the folks at “Health Affiliates Maine”.
  • A new habit, replacing the old habit of discounting kind words. That was around how I felt about myself.
  • I am  growing and learning of being able to acknowledge small successes.
  • Being less concerned about what other people think of me including not going to a negative place with it.

The most important change happening is a True Feeling of Self-Worth!

Not being in such a rush to finish tasks. Being a better listener and offering support not solutions and the most important realization..“DON’T BE INVESTED IN THE OUTCOME!” If you have read our book “Weathering Shame” you know how much of a problem I had around these issues. Has it gone away completely? Of course not! But I do feel a strong shift in feelings and my behavior.

So at this point in my journey, I do believe that what I am saying around the issues of Shame and stigma is helping those who hear or read my words to maybe begin sharing their own stories and struggles with someone they trust.

In closing, MY THANKS to those who have thanked me for my role in Health affiliates Maine TV and Radio campaign. The recovery stories being shared by others are amazing and powerful.

ACCEPTANCE IS ONE IMPORTANT STEP ON THE JOURNEY TOWARDS WELLNESS

AuthorKevin Mannix, Weather Forecaster,WCSH 6, NEWS CENTERS and co-author of “Weathering Shame”

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