Stuck in a Rut? 3 Ways to Get Out of a Funk

By Eric Johnson

Sometimes, you just know at the start of a day that it’s not going to go well. Other times, you seem to have a string of bad luck that leaves you feeling stuck in a rut for days. If things don’t seem to be going your way and you’re having trouble getting motivated and mustering up the resolve to think positive, here are a few ways to overcome a funk, lift your spirits, and regain control of your life.

Help Someone Else

When you’re feeling down and out and like the whole world is against you, it’s hard to feel charitable. But doing something selfless for the benefit of someone else can be one of the most powerful things you can do to lift your mood.

“I think it has something to do with tricking your mind and body (and the person you are helping) that you actually have your stuff together, so together, in fact, that you are able to offer assistance,” explains Therese J. Borchard, Associate Editor at PsychCentral.com.

Next time you’re discouraged with the way things are going in your life, extend a helping hand to someone who needs it. Pay for the person’s order in line behind you at the drive-thru. Take therapy dogs to your local nursing home or assisted living community. Help someone stranded along the side of the road change a tire, or give a friend in need a ride to a job interview. The feel-good vibes you get from making someone else’s day just might make yours, too.

Celebrate Small Wins

When you’re depressed and unmotivated, the mountain of work that may be awaiting you at the office probably seems like an insurmountable obstacle. Often, people in this position end up doing nothing because they’re so overwhelmed by the project as a whole that they don’t know where to begin.

Break down large projects into smaller, bite-sized tasks and start working on the tasks that you can cross off your list in a few minutes. Tackling these smaller tasks helps you feel more accomplished and capable, which also helps to boost your mood. Celebrate these small wins each time you cross an item off your list, and you’ll soon find yourself more motivated to tackle the more demanding tasks.

Make a Mood Board

For some people, few things are more enjoyable than browsing through glossy magazines and cutting out inspiring images that reflect your current mood and goals. If you’ve never made a vision board or mood board, give it a try. It’s a worthy activity with a variety of uses, ranging from project planning and organization to providing a creative outlet and forcing you to take time away from technology to focus on your goals for the future.

What’s more, your completed mood boards can serve as artwork and get your creative juices flowing to benefit other projects. If you have dreams floating around in your head that don’t seem concrete, creating visualizations to illustrate your ideas can make them seem more realistic and achievable, giving you the motivation you need to start taking action. Finally, mood boards can be cathartic, allowing you to express your innermost thoughts and feelings to get them off of your mind.

If mood boards aren’t your thing, try journaling or meditation. Take a relaxing walk through nature, or try your hand at painting or drawing. There are many creative outlets that provide a means to express emotions, which is an uplifting experience that helps you get negative thoughts out of your head.

Everyone gets stuck in a rut from time to time, but you don’t have to let a streak of bad luck get you down. Anytime you’re having a bad mental health day (or week), use these techniques to overcome the obstacles in front of you and start making positive progress.

Image via Pixabay by Sh1ra

 

Unilateral Action, Referees, Players, and Commentators – Observations

By Kevin Sensenig

In a commitment, the psychiatrist acts more as a referee than either as a teacher or as a problem-solving therapist asking open-ended questions.

What does this referee look like?  What qualities?  What if the patient realizes that any qualities are always in context?  What would the psychiatrist set forth?

Note that the sports referee often seems to take unilateral action.  Is this respected?  What does society seek, in sports or in a commitment?  In a commitment, what of the patient and those around him or her?  What does the state expect and why?

The playoff sports commentators do open dialogue, among each other (of course) with the viewers participant as watching.  Is there anything learned?

The sports commentators refer to the calls made by the referees.  They also refer to the plays themselves (with sometimes detailed analysis) and the players.

The referee does not indicate absolute deficiency on the part of the player penalized on one play, nor on multiple penalties across several plays.  The penalty is simply called.  The referee also clearly communicates: what the infraction is and the ensuing penalty. 

Psychosis or depression may indicate more subtle and sometimes more problematic dilemmas.  Yet, this popular culture expression may explain some things.  In psychiatry, one might go back and forth with the patient about behavior and thought-and-action, in an illuminating way, including listening and guiding toward open questions; or in a circular way, with others present.

How to explain discipline of training, discipline of the mind, discipline of mental and physical effort?  Alertness and awareness are part of the referee, the player, and the commentator.

Life isn’t so clean cut competition or even competition in totality (in the first place). Is ‘referee’ called for at all?  If, in part, what does it consist of?  And what else should be present?  Should it also be commentator inclusive of the patient, in an open dialogue sort of way?

What is re-orientation after a play, from the various standpoints?  How might such a suggestion of re-orientation apply to psychiatry?

What if psychiatry was the study of: Reasonable inner calm, resilience, orientation, behavior, and realism; and their exceptions?  How would it explain and describe things differently?  How would it explain and describe things the same?

Bibliography:
Open Dialogues And Anticipations: Respecting Otherness In The Present Moment, Seikkula and Arnkil, 2014.

 

 

Givens, Assumptions and Unfolding Worlds: A Deeper Sense of Logic and Reason

lead_largeBy Kevin Sensenig

What are your givens?  What are your given assumptions?  How did you conclude these?  My experience has been with psychosis, and it seems that I got carried away with chains of premise-given-logic-conclusion in ways that led to confusion and a disruptive state.  I’m still working on what makes this distinctive to a psychotic state of mind and the thought-and-actions that one picks up, and I wonder if this type of thing applies to others going through psychosis, as well.

This past time, in early 2015, I got caught up with givens that proved not to be true, and spent a lot of time working with material that led, through a false sense of logic that was not well-considered, to an expression that was angry and within a false world.  I put a lot of energy into it.  How did this happen?  What are the givens one picks up?  How does one validate the world he or she is working with?

In a manic state, one can perhaps develop unfolding sequences of “worlds” that unfold very quickly; that is, to very quick jumps in “logic” or “reasoning” that take one far off base very quickly.

How does one tell when one is working with a deeper, true sense of logic and reason that actually goes somewhere helpful, that one could look back later on and say, “that was a really profound insight” or “there was a logic to that [train of thought] that really works”?

The relation of thought-and-action is very important, and I think psychiatry could allow the patient more resources to consider these in a step-by-step manner.  Perhaps you have a therapist who already works on such a level, or you can consider the material yourself given some rudimentary “tools”, and engage in a careful type of reflection on thought-and-action, and unfolding logic.

“Tools” might be indicated in Buddhism by the statement that reason is manifest in the universe, that one can tap into; or in Christianity, by the wisdom from above mentioned in James; or in secular thought by a careful study of the chains of logic or questioning of assumptions, and to observe as much as one can.  These may overlap, in some ways.

Then, one can illuminate energy levels and consider step-by-step what is before one, and see if these tools speak in different ways to a calm state, again multi-faceted reflection, and often in the context of those around one.  How do thought-and-action interconnect, within oneself and within the world?

 

Silenced by Gender Roles

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(Image taken from Onlinelearningtips.com)

By Johnston Kelso

What do you think of when someone asks you what it means to “be a man”? Although we all have a different idea of what “being a man” is, this idea is most likely based on the environment we grew up in. I don’t doubt that it fits a stereotypical image of a muscular, stern, working man, void of emotion and led only by his duty to work, family, and God. Certainly, when you ask the majority of people what a man looks like, they do not describe a man as emotional, vulnerable, compassionate, or empathetic, but rather the complete opposite. This is the gender role being set out by society for a male, particularly the straight male.

There are some good aspects of this image. It encourages strength, leadership, and a sense of honor and duty among men. However, there are negatives about this image as well, and they are appearing, or rather not appearing at all. An overwhelming majority of males wish to fit the shoes of what it means to be a male as dictated by this image, and according to research they are willing to fit this role at the expense of their mental health. How? They simply just don’t talk about it.

According to metrics obtained from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), 6-million men suffer from depression while 12-million women suffer from depression. However, even NIMH states that this is not the full story and that the numbers might be skewed due to males not admitting to their mental health issues based on stigma. Most speculate that they don’t want to admit to having a mental health issue because they fear that it will affect the image of strength and mental fortitude embedded in a traditional male sex role. Whether that is correct or not, this next piece of data certainly highlights that there is a problem. According to another NIMH metric, out of all reported suicides in 2011 78.5% were committed by males and 21.5% by women. If anything, this indicates that when men have something wrong, they don’t talk about it and let is fester.

Many experts attribute this behavior to the characteristics of the male sex role detailed in the last paragraph, and that may be correct. However, since we cannot immediately change the sex role assigned to men by society since the inception of the modern Western world, we must look for temporary solutions until we can change that stereotype. Thankfully, NIMH has steps on their website for spotting symptoms and creating a dialogue with males

Additionally, if you wish to speak about your mental health issues in a safe, judgmental free zone, feel free to attend one of our Men’s Depression Support Group meetings. They take place on the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Tuesday of the month from 7 pm to 8:30 pm in Room D-155 at 630 Janet Avenue, Lancaster, PA.

 

The Depression that Stays Hidden: Dysthymia or Persistent Depressive Disorder

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By Johnston Kelso

If you’re someone who works in the mental health field or have ever seen a movie or a show where someone was extremely sad for long period of time, you can more or less have a good idea of what depression looks like, right?  Nope, wrong. 

A lot of us know the signs behind Major Depressive Disorder because they are extremely disruptive to that person’s quality of life. Symptoms include: sleeping all of the time, never sleeping, crying all the time, marked absence from work or class, pessimistic, and self-defeating thoughts. When many of us see these symptoms, we know that person is depressed.  However, it is not always so obvious.

There are many different forms of depression. For example, there is Bipolar Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Dysthymia. I wish to speak about the hardest to spot, and as a result, the least well-known form of depression previously mentioned: Dysthymia. Dysthymia is often extremely hard to spot, simply because the symptoms of Dysthymia are mild in nature, mild enough to hide, and mild enough for a person to function daily without much impediment. To get a better idea of what Dysthymia is, let us look at it in the contrast to the poster-child of depressive illnesses: Major Depressive Disorder.

Let us first look at the many similarities between Dysthymia and Major Depressive Disorder. Both of them obviously include the depressive thoughts, rumination, and pessimism. They both can involve over or under sleeping, a feeling of always being fatigued, and a lack of motivation. Both mental illnesses can launch someone into suicidal thoughts and thoughts of inadequacy. So by now you may be asking, “Well what’s the difference then?” There is one main difference between Major Depressive Disorder and Dysthymia: the intensity of these symptoms.

Under Major Depressive Disorder, a lot of the symptoms are so intense that it often gets in the way of that persons normal functioning. They experience crying spells they cannot control, are so fatigued, tired and unmotivated they cannot make it out of bed. They also have such a hard time concentrating that they cannot function in an environment that requires even minimal amounts of attention.

Dysthymia is not as intense. In many cases, those with Dysthymia are able to function under normal circumstances due to the diminished nature of its symptoms in comparison to Major Depressive Disorder. The symptoms of Dysthymia are much more subtle than Major Depressive Disorder, which is why it’s so difficult to spot. It’s important to actively listen to what people say and pay attention to the behaviors they display.

There is another feature of Dysthymia worth mentioning. This feature actually caused a change in name for Dysthymia in the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition). It is now called Persistent Depressive Disorder due to the feature that in order to diagnose Persistent Depressive Disorder one must have exhibited the symptoms for at least two years! This is one of the most notable features that separate Persistent Depressive Disorder from Major Depressive Disorder.

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Finally, there is one last piece of information you should take into consideration when thinking about Dysthymia, or as we now call it, Persistent Depressive Disorder. This piece of information is that people who suffer from Persistent Depressive Disorder are more susceptible to having Major Depressive episodes.

If the reasons are not already apparent, imagine a boat that is filled with a little bit of water. At this point, the water is only weighing down the boat not sinking it. This represents a person with Persistent Depressive Disorder. Then a storm comes. This storm represents a traumatic life event. The storm causes waves that fill the boat up and eventually sink it. This is a metaphor for a traumatic life event throwing someone with Persistent Depressive Disorder into a Major Depressive episode.

In summation, Persistent Depressive Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder are equally as important to diagnose and to treat, but Persistent Depressive Disorder can be hard to see due to its muted symptoms.  If you think a friend might be suffering from even a minute depression, take time to talk with them and really listen.  You would surprise the good you can do by simply listening and asking the right questions.

References

Mayo Clinic article from their website www.mayoclinic.org which references these sources:

Persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Kriston L, et al. Efficacy and acceptability of acute treatments for persistent depressive disorder: A network meta-analysis. Depression and Anxiety. 2014;31:621.

AskMayoExpert. Persistent depressive disorder. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2015.

Hales RE, et al. Depressive disorders. In: The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2014. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Depression. National Institute of Mental Health. http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/depression/index.shtml. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Depression. National Alliance on Mental Illness. https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression/Overview. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Cristancho MA, et al. Persistent depressive disorders: Dysthymia and chronic major depressive disorder. In: Encyclopedia of Clinical Psychology. 1st ed. John Wiley and Sons; 2015. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/book/10.1002/9781118625392. Accessed Oct. 13, 2015.

Stewart D. et al. Risks of antidepressants during pregnancy: Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Coryell W. Unipolar depression in adults: Course of illness. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Ciechanowski P. Unipolar major depression in adults: Choosing initial treatment. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Ravindran AV, et al. Complementary and alternative therapies as add-on to pharmacotherapy for mood and anxiety disorders: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders. 2013;150:707.

Natural medicines in the clinical management of depression. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database. http://naturaldatabase.therapeuticresearch.com/ce/CECourse.aspx?cs=MAYO&pm=5&s=nd&pc=09-30&searchid=53681138#keywordanchor. Accessed Oct. 12, 2015.

Hoban CL, et al. A comparison of patterns of spontaneous adverse drug reaction reporting with St. John’s wort and fluoxetine during the period 2000-2013. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology. 2015;42:747.

Marchand WR. Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of Psychiatric Practice. 2012;18:233.

Rohren CH (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 22, 2105.

Hall-Flavin DK (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Oct. 27, 2015.

 

The Best Types of Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

bipolartreatment(Photo via Pixabay by geralt)

By Jennifer Scott

Bipolar disorder affects millions of Americans, and many cases go untreated because they haven’t been diagnosed. It’s difficult sometimes for those affected to separate their true feelings from the symptoms of the disorder, causing depression and, at times, even suicidal thoughts.

The good news is that there are many treatments available, ranging from therapy to medication to a combination of both, and there are behavioral therapies one can undergo, as well. It’s important for people who believe they are suffering from bipolar disorder to talk to their doctor immediately in order to be diagnosed and to begin receiving the best treatment for them as an individual. Here are several of the most well-received options.

Therapy

Because depression and bipolar disorder have very similar symptoms, they are sometimes mistaken for one another. It’s extremely important to see a doctor and have a complete mental and physical evaluation before starting any regimen–especially medication, because some anti-depressants work against bipolar disorder–and figure out what approach to take. If it’s determined that you do indeed suffer from bipolar disorder, therapy may be the right path. A psychotherapist can help you understand how to assess the negative thoughts and find out what triggers them, as well as how to cope and even turn them around into something positive.

Mood stabilizing medication

With the help of your doctor, you may be able to find a medication that’s right for you. When carefully monitored and taken consistently, these drugs can help control the mood swings and manic behaviors. You might even ask about taking natural drugs, such as St. John’s Wort, which is believed by many to have a positive effect on mood.

Meditation

Practicing what is known as “mindfulness” means you focus on the present moment and try to break the repetition of negative thought patterns. Breathing exercises and yoga are perfect for this sort of therapy.

Self-care

It may seem obvious, but many people don’t practice adequate self-care, which can lead to a lack of proper sleeping and eating habits. There are many ways to practice self-care, and they’re not all the same for everyone. Sit down and really think about your daily activities; look for any room for improvement. Would it be helpful for you to make lists in order to get things done? To wake up a little earlier in order to get some yoga in? Cater your schedule to your needs and make sure you’re doing everything you can to stay healthy and happy.

Make the most of your abilities

Because bipolar disorder affects a person’s abilities to function well at work or school, it’s important to focus on your strengths. Get creative and try something new if you’re not happy with what you’re currently doing. Making the most of your talents can help you focus on the positive and learn to make real change in thought patterns and behavior.

Consider getting a pet

Service animals can be immensely helpful for those struggling with mood disorders and anxiety. Studies have shown that having a dog or cat around to love and take care of can help lower blood pressure and improve one’s ability to function in society.

 

Join Us for This Year’s #ExtraGive!

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The Extraordinary Give is here again, and we are asking our MHALC supporters to be a part of Lancaster County’s largest day of online giving! On November 18 from midnight until 11:59 pm that same day, you will have the opportunity to go online to our personal giving page to make a gift to our organization. There will be THREE different gift options to choose from:

$25 CAN: Support the promotion of mental health through resources and advocacy efforts.

$50 CAN: Help facilitate a group meeting to develop coping skills and support for inmates suffering from a mental illness in Lancaster County.

$100 CAN: Provide advocacy to children and families in order to learn about the services they qualify for and break the barriers that prevent them from accessing care.

For our personal giving page, please visit: www.extragive.org/designee/mental-health-america-of-lancaster.

Our Facebook event page is: www.facebook.com/events/310779672629926.

This year, we have the support of Philhaven to provide $5,000 in matching funds at the SECOND $5,000 we raise at this year’s event.

We will also be partnering with Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation and Tabor Community Services for some exciting events happening on November 18. Please see below for more details:

lohfLOHF – 2016 Extraordinary Give Breakfast Celebration
Sponsored by LOHF & MHALC!
11.18.16 | 7:30 am – 9 am
128 E Grant St | Lancaster, PA 17602
Free Breakfast

Please join Lancaster Osteopathic Health Foundation (LOHF) & Mental Health America of Lancaster County (MHALC) to learn more about our joint effort to improve access to mental and behavioral health services in Lancaster County during this time of special giving!

Donations for both LOHF & MHALC will be accepted during this time.

To register, please visit: www.eventbrite.com/e/2016-extraordinary-give-breakfast-celebration-tickets-28556321727.

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Tabor Community Services – Drop-In Pre-Party 
11.18.16 | 5 pm – 8 pm
308 E King St | Lancaster, PA 17602

Free Parking: Available at the corner of Locust and Shippen

Live Entertainment:
5 – 5:50 | Fire in the Glen (Celtic)
6:10 – 6:50 | Matt Wheeler (Lyrical Folk Rock)
7:10 – 8 | Temple Avenue (Jazz/Swing)

Food Trucks:
Lancaster Brgr Company | Mad Dash Artisan Grilled Cheese | Lancaster Cupcake | Penny’s Ice Cream Truck | Mara-Leo’s Italian Food Truck | Uncle Jerry’s Kettle Corn

Partnering Organizations:
Bridge of Hope | Clare House | Lancaster County Council of Churches | Lancaster County RMO | Mental Health America of Lancaster County | No Longer Alone | Neighborhood Services | Tabor Community Services | TLC: Bridges to Housing

 

Rediscovery on the Road to Recovery: Finding Activities That Reflect Your New Self

untitled-design-2“It’s not a secret that activities and hobbies are more than just fun: they are coping mechanisms for the stress we experience in our daily lives. Therefore, they are a vital component to any wellness plan on the road to recovery from mental illness.”

By Jessica Grant

Some people may find that revisiting activities they enjoyed prior to their illness setting in is just what they need. Others, like myself, learned that favorite activities pre-M.I. (mental illness) no longer bring the same passion or interest. It can be a daunting task during recovery to push one self to try new activities and hobbies. Finding new activities and hobbies will allow you to honor your new beginning and provide a healthy outlet to bring you mental wellness.

Dancing has always been the most fundamental and integral part of my life and lifestyle. I have been dancing since I was six, and performed professionally since age 13. After injuries sidelined me at 22, I pursued dance as a hobby. In my junior year at college, I joined the ballet group and even managed to perform while I was experiencing the height of my symptoms of major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. It was tough to force myself out of bed to go to classes and rehearsals, but I did. I even performed in their spring showcase. One week later, I attempted suicide.

In my senior year, I performed as a solo artist in many different talent showcases, and enjoyed having the outlet. However, when I moved back to my hometown, I didn’t feel connected to dance anymore. After reflecting on my final collegiate performing experiences, I realized that I wasn’t connected to the art then, either. It was just something I still happened to be fairly good at doing. But it wasn’t enough, and wasn’t giving me the satisfaction it always used to do. So I began hunting for a new passion.

Two years later, three years into my recovery, and many failed attempts at my hobby hunt, I rediscovered a very old love of ice skating. One of my best friends from college was a figure skater, and she still went to the ice rink regularly to skate. A few times when I was able to visit, to go with her to the rink. I’d watch her do a perfect scratch spin and stand in awe as she worked on her double jumps. And I remembered how much I loved skating lessons when I was little. I made a pact with myself that I would start attending public skate sessions. And I did. Then, I made a pact with myself to learn how to do a scratch spin, so I signed up for Learn-to-Skate. Now one year later, I am a member of the Red Rose Figure Skating Club, and am working towards my goals of testing to move up levels, and eventually competing. It’s so exciting.

I tried out so many activities before finding something that really stuck. A lot of what I tried I hated. I began thinking I was never going to find something that resonated with who I was post-M.I. But I stuck with it. I truly believe figure skating saved me.

Moving back home post-graduation was not easy. I was still recovering from my suicide attempt, while experiencing new pressures of finding gainful employment and figuring out what career I was going to pursue. There was so much change, it was overwhelming, and not having an activity to help me cope exacerbated my anxiety and depression I was still experiencing. I wanted to be more social and active, but struggled with finding the confidence to do so. Figure skating gave that to me.

Reconnecting with oneself is so important on the road to recovery. Re-learning how to be your own best friend is integral to the success of your wellness program. Be patient and kind to yourself as you are healing, and know it’s okay if you don’t connect anymore to things that once gave you a lot of joy. Give yourself space and time to find new activities and hobbies. The experiences you have along the way to discovery will be the most rewarding. And when you find that new hobby or activity that reflects who you are as a person now, you will find more satisfaction and a great way to manage any reemergence of your symptoms. You’ll probably surprise yourself along the way as to how far you’ve come in your recovery.

 

Mental Illness and Substance Abuse in College Students

By Johnston Kelso

Double gin and tonic with lime, a Marlboro 27 after a long day, a joint rolled for the long journey ahead, or some powder on a dresser before you go out to a party.  For some, these are things never considered, but for others this is how they have fun, and for a good portion of the people who indulge in these unhealthy habits, it’s a coping mechanism. 

Working at an organization concentrated on mental health, I hear a lot about stigma and never have there been more stigmas than with drug abuse, self-medicating, and mental illness.  People who self-medicate are called “losers”, “druggies”, and “vagrants” among other endearing titles.  It is acceptable to put them down and to make jokes at their expense.  Accompanying this lack of empathy, there seems to be a perception that people who are self-medicating are doing it of their free will and that the drug is causing their issues, not the other way around.  I am here as a voice to help to change these perceptions.

Your college years are some of your most vulnerable years. I say this not as a statistic (although there are tons of statistics concerning the prevalence of depression and self-medicating via substance abuse in 18-24 year-olds), but I speak from personal experience.  We are taught in college not to trust anecdotal evidence and to only adhere to empirical research and academic journals.  While it is true that these are the most trustworthy, they don’t capture the emotional side of a situation.  Due to the entirety of this piece being anecdotal, I have to ask you to trust me and my experiences.  Although they might not represent everyone’s experiences concerning substance abuse and mental illness, you still might gain some insight from my story.

When I arrived for my first day at Millersville University, I did not want to be there.  This was by no means Millersville’s fault.  A large part of me didn’t want to go to college.  I wasn’t sure whether it was being on my own for the first time, the fear of failing exacerbated by adults in my life telling me I wouldn’t make it to college, or the daunting task of trying to make new friends when you are a shy introvert.  One thing was apparent to me–I was scared.

The first couple weeks of college started and I found a small group of friends who were experiencing the same fears as I was.  We used to wander around, as freshmen do, looking for the next party, the next banger.  We would go wherever the music was bumping and the smell of beer wafted through the stale, cigarette stained air. 

This party scene was when I was first introduced to it all, but didn’t necessarily indulge in, binge drinking, smoking (cigarettes, pot, crack), psychoactive drugs (LSD, mushrooms, DMT), snorting both illicit and legal drugs, I saw it all.  I saw those indulge in drugs who were relatively well adjusted, people who were good students, active in school affairs, and had decent university jobs.  I also saw those who were the opposite: very inactive, bad students, some who were buying drugs on mommy and daddy’s dime.  I got to see people who deal drugs, hardcore addicts, overdoses, alcohol poisoning, and all the different behaviors brought forth by these substances ranging from relaxation, to delusion and hallucination, to manic energetic outburst of emotions.

I could talk more on my personal experiences witnessing drug use; however I would digress too far.  The point of explaining this was to establish my personal experience, but what is more important is the cycle I observed over these last four years. 

The vast majority of college student go through a party phase, however a lot of them like me and some of my closest friends grew out of it.  A lot of my friends however, became trapped in a cycle.  They felt down, so they turned to their outlet, a substance of some kind.  This substance floods their head with endorphins creating a chemical happiness.  Then, when those chemicals leave the body, it leaves a deficit of those endorphins.  This causes them to seek that chemical happiness again.  Their body used up all the natural production of endorphins, so they need to artificially stimulate their brain to produce more of those “good vibes”.  Every person who has done a drug that increases endorphin production has experienced a slump in endorphin production after the drug’s effects wear off.  Most people can bear through this and stick it out until their body starts producing endorphins naturally again.

However, those with a pre-existing unhealthy chemical balance of neurotransmitters in their brain might not be able to make it out of this slump so easily.  In my experience, those who became addicted to drugs didn’t become addicted to any one drug, just to getting high in general.  The drug was a means to forget their woes and troubles and it did, in the short-term.  In the long term, I saw their bodies become less and less likely to produce endorphins naturally.  These people slumped into their problems worse than before the drugs, some of them attempting suicide many times, some of them robbing and assaulting to get their chemical happiness, some would talk to me for hours into the night sobbing about how evil the world is and how they want to leave this cold world, and for some I had to stand quietly trying to keep it together at their funeral service.  I came to know drug abuse so well I was compelled to do something about it and help as many people as possible.

There was something I noticed when talking with these damaged human beings.  They were damaged before the drugs damaged them further.  When those who were close to me talked to me about their personal problems, they were problems that pre-dated the drug abuse, problems that follow them daily.  Drugs were their escape, a lot of them, even those still using, openly admit to it.

This made me realize that, although the drugs did have long term and short term psychological effects, the reason people turned to drugs in the first place was mental illness.  It also made me realize that curing a mental illness with substance abuse is like being dehydrated in a desert and drinking Dr. Pepper to stay hydrated.  It will taste good and make you feel like your hydrating, but in the end you are more dehydrated than you were before.

 

Understanding the LGBT Connection with Suicide and Mental Health

By Jessica Grant

Current data shows that suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10-241 in the nation. Of those who died by suicide, 90 percent had an underlying mental illness2. Without question, today’s youth have their inner strength challenged daily with the height of social media and the quest for success and acceptance.

Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) youth are exposed to even more challenges as they seek understanding, empathy and compassion, and the same acceptance the general population seeks. Socially, the LGBT community continually faces stigma, prejudice and violence that can exert an unimaginable toll to their mental health and well-being. Some LGBT youth lack support and positive, healthy environments that enable them to openly identify as LGBT and achieve mental wellness. Prejudice surrounding the youth LGBT community increases risk factors for, and attempts at, suicide.

The hostile attitudes toward LGBT individuals increase the risk for violence such as bullying, physical assault, teasing and harassment, compared to students who do not identify as LGBT3. These traumatic events may lead to increased risk factors for suicide such as substance use or mental illness. Consistent exposure to homophobic violence (bullying, teasing, harassment, and/or assault) makes LGBT youth more likely to use substances3, with each episode of violence increasing the likelihood an LGBT youth will engage in self-harming behaviors by 2.5 times1.  Youth questioning their sexual orientation disclosed they have used substances and experienced feelings of depression more than either LGB or heterosexual youth3.


Prevalence of underlying mental illnesses could significantly impact the likelihood LGBT or questioning youth engage in self-harming behaviors such as substance use. LGBT individuals (youth and adults combined) are three times more likely to have a mental health condition2. However, these mental illnesses may not be diagnosed because of an unwillingness to seek help due to stigma. This places LGBT and questioning youth at an increased risk to attempt suicide.

Suicide attempts in LGB youth are four times greater than straight youth, and two times greater than straight youth for those questioning their orientation1, and approximately 25 percent of transgender individuals reported attempting suicide1,3. These attempts are four to six times more likely to result in injuries, overdoses or poisonings requiring immediate medical attention for LGB and questioning youth. Further, LGB individuals are 8.4 times likely to have attempted suicide following high levels of rejection compared to LGB peers with little or no rejection1. Suicide ideation (or thoughts) is also prevalent. Nationally, one out of six students in grades 9-12 has “seriously considered suicide in the past year”1.

These numbers should alarm one that nationally there is a call for understanding, compassion and kindness towards the LGBT community and those who are questioning their sexual orientation. The prevalence of prejudice and violence towards this population of students does not create an environment favorable of mental wellness. More needs to be done to improve access to help for students who may be afraid to admit to feelings of depression and anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or other symptoms they may be experiencing. Additionally, schools should endeavor to foster environments that have zero tolerance for violence of any kind, and nurture understanding and empathy towards LGBT and questioning youth, which will create a positive environment and promote mental wellness.

Sources
[1] The Trevor Project. 2016. Available from Facts about Suicide. http://www.thetrevorproject.org/pages/facts-about-suicide.  Accessed: September 15, 2016.
[2] National Alliance on Mental Illness. 2016. Available from: http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/LGBTQ. Accessed: September 15, 2016
[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). LGBT Youth. 2014. Available from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Health page: http://www.cdc.gov/lgbthealth/youth.htm. Accessed September 15, 2016.