Samantha’s Story

January 29th, 2016

by Samantha Gaspardo

I used to think that my mental illness defined who I was, but over the past five years, I have learned that I define who I am.

I have always dealt with depression and anxiety, but it wasn’t until recently that I was diagnosed with PTSD. In high school, I reached rock bottom. I was in a verbally abusive relationship, I was raped by my boyfriend (which I blacked out of my memory for almost a year) and became suicidal. After being told by my ex-boyfriend that I should kill myself, I finally decided to go through with my plan. To this day, I still thank God for not letting that plan work.

My parents discovered me on my couch, incoherent from taking pills. They rushed me to the hospital where I proceeded to get the help I needed. After being in an adolescent psychiatric ward and a girls group for teenagers with depression, I began to comprehend what I had gone through a little more. However, since the PTSD was still undiagnosed at this time, there were still a lot of issues.

That fall I went off to college and tried not to think about anything I had gone through. I spent the next four years trying to forget about what I had gone through, suppressing the memories by drinking, sleeping around and also became addicted to painkillers. I had tried out a few outpatient programs in those years, thinking that after completing them I was ok. I also was on and off my medication a lot in those years, because I was afraid of peers finding out I was “crazy”. I also thought that by going off my meds that it meant I was ok, everything was better.

That did not turn out to be the case.

Finally during what would have been my senior year of college I entered a partial program for mental health issues. I learned a lot about myself, was finally diagnosed with PTSD and was on the right path. That is until I returned to school. I ended up in the hospital with PID thanks to a cheating ex-boyfriend who caught a disease. After all I had gone through, I felt like everything I worked for in the in-patient program was for nothing. I went back home for a week and became suicidal again.

I did NOT want to go back to school, I was angry at the world, and when my parents told me I had to go back I came up with a plan again.

The very night that I got back to college I overdosed again. I told everyone it was a cry for help and that it was an accident, but secretly I was hoping that something would happen. I was in the hospital overnight and thankfully they agreed to let me go back home and get help. I packed up all of my belongings from my apartment as soon as I got out of the hospital and headed for home. The next few months were very hard, my depression had kicked in full force. I thought I was a failure for dropping out of college, I worried that I would never be ok, and I worried that I had no purpose to my life.

That April I started seeing a therapist who changed my life. She educated me on PTSD, helped me through the trauma through EMDR Therapy, helped me realize I wasn’t a failure, and most importantly she taught me to love myself.

I have been out of school for almost two years now and each day I get stronger. I have told myself that it is ok to have bad days and be sad, but that I should also never stop fighting. I realize I will deal with my depression, anxiety and PTSD the rest of my life, but have decided that I will not let that hinder me from my goals.

Most importantly, I have come to believe in the phrase “it gets better”. I used to hate when people said that to me, as I am sure a lot of people who struggle do. But I now realize why people say that. I cannot imagine not being here today, there is so much that I would have missed out on. So I want people to know that as much of a cliché it is, things really do get better.

Don’t be afraid to drop out of school or delay going to college to get better, don’t be ashamed to take medication, don’t worry what people think because you are in therapy. There is such a stigma about mental illness, you just have to push through that barrier and help people see the side of it that we see.

I am not a victim of sexual assault, I am not my depression, I am not my anxiety, I am not my PTSD. I am a warrior who will never stop fighting.

Sen. Franken’s Bipartisan Measure to Combat Mental Health Crisis in Criminal Justice System Clears Senate, is One Step Closer to Becoming Law

December 11th, 2015

Senator’s Comprehensive Legislation Passes in Full Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/10/15]—Today, the Senate approved U.S. Sen. Al Franken’s (D-Minn.) bipartisan legislation to make our communities safer by improving access to mental health services for people in the criminal justice system who need treatment.

Earlier this year, Sen. Franken introduced his Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act, which would help reduce the rates of repeat offenders and improve safety for law enforcement officers. The bill cleared the full Senate today, and now needs to pass in the House of Representatives before becoming law.

“Our criminal justice system is broken—it doesn’t help treat people who have mental illnesses, and it doesn’t protect the safety of law enforcement personnel,” said Sen. Franken. “The United States has five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population. And that’s in large part because we have criminalized mental illness, using our justice system as a substitute for a fully functioning mental health system. That’s a huge problem, and my Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act would help fix it.

“I’ve been working for years on this bill, and I’m very pleased to say that we just took a huge step towards reforming how our criminal justice system treats mental illness. My bill bolsters federal support for mental health services—including special support for veterans who need help—and provides critical training to law enforcement.

“Now that my legislation has cleared the Senate, I’m going to fight to get it passed in the House of Representatives and signed into law. It’s too important to continue ignoring this crisis.”

For years, Sen. Franken—a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee—has been working on his criminal justice measure in order to bring more resources to law enforcement, the courts, and correctional facilities and help them better deal with the increasingly prevalent mental health issues they encounter. He’s held meetings on his legislation all across Minnesota, meeting with law enforcement, advocates, and other experts on how to best reform how our criminal justice system handles mental illness.

The Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act would improve outcomes for the criminal justice system, the mental health system, and for those with mental health conditions by doing the following, among other things:

Extending the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (MIOTCRA), and continuing support for mental health courts and crisis intervention teams;

Authorizing investments in veterans treatment courts, which serve arrested veterans who suffer from PTSD, substance addiction, and other mental health conditions;

· Supporting state and local efforts to identify people with mental health conditions at each point in the criminal justice system in order to appropriately direct them to mental health services;

Increasing focus on corrections-based programs, such as transitional services that reduce recidivism rates and screening practices that identify inmates with mental health conditions;

Supporting the development of curricula for police academies and orientations; and

· Developing programs to train federal law enforcement officers in how to respond appropriately to incidents involving a person with a mental health condition.

More information on the Comprehensive Justice and Mental Health Act is available here.

How are you feeling? Online Screening: the first step toward recovery

October 7th, 2015

SAINT PAUL, Oct 7. For immediate release.

October 8, 2015 marks the 25th year of National Depression Screening Day. In the last year alone, more than 80,000 individuals have taken an interest in assessing their mental health through the online screening tool provided on the Mental Health Minnesota website, and the numbers are growing. 63% of people taking the online screening are between the ages of 18-24 and 85% between 18-34.

So what’s happening here?

First of all, we know that young people are actively concerned about their mental health, and rightfully so. Between the ages of 18-24 is when people are facing the world on their own for the first time. They are paying bills, going to college, living on their own and building a life. Incidentally, the ages of 18-24 is often when onset for mental illness occurs.

Screening results show that 62% of individuals who took the screening for depression and 72% who took the test for anxiety had never been treated. Those numbers jumped when an individual took the screening for bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); 93% of those people had never received treatment.

And yet, all of these screenings found the vast majority of individuals to be “at risk” for the illness.

The role of mental health screening

Mental health occurs along a continuum. For many young adults it is extremely difficult to know when to ask for help.

At what point does homesickness turn into depression? When do homework and life stressors turn into anxiety? When do the highs and lows of being a young adult point to bipolar disorder? The lines are blurred.

Online screening acts to make it a little clearer. The screening is an anonymous, non-judgmental way for adults to determine where they are on that mental health continuum. Anyone can take the screening anywhere at anytime. Over 60% of all screening completed is on a mobile device. You could be sitting on a bus or at the library and the person next to you would not know you were participating in a screening.

Knowledge is power.

Two-thirds of all mental illnesses have an onset by the age of 25. The average length of time between onset and treatment is 10 years. Those living with a serious mental illness are dying 25 years before those without a mental illness.

By determining whether someone answering questions is “at risk” of a mental illness, we can work to significantly reduce the gap between onset and treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment not only can improve someone’s quality of life but also their longevity. Knowing you may have a mental illness is the first step toward recovery and a fulfilling life.

Mental Health Minnesota: The Voice of Recovery provides the free online screening at

Screen Shot 2015-10-02 at 10.51.47 AM

About Mental Health Minnesota: The Voice of Recovery

The mission of Mental Health Minnesota is to enhance mental health, promote individual empowerment, and increase access to treatment and services for persons living with mental illness.

We work to help people in their journey toward mental health recovery and wellness through direct service, public policy, education and outreach.

Shannah Mulvihill
Executive Director
Mental Health Minnesota
Phone: 651-756-8584 ext. 1


Hali Kolkind
Development and Communications Associate
Mental Health Minnesota
Phone: 651-756-8584 ext.9

Millions Lack Needed Mental Health Care, WHO Finds

August 10th, 2015

Lisa Schlein
July 14, 2015 11:57 AM

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide who suffer from mental disorders get little or no treatment, the World Health Organization reports. Its Mental Health Atlas 2014 finds that though mental illness constitutes 10 percent of the global health burden, it draws just 1 percent of the financial and human resources needed.

The Atlas provides the most comprehensive look to date at the global state of mental health. It contains data from 171 countries, representing 95 percent of the world’s population.

The report finds every country, region, age group and strata of society suffers significantly from mental disorders. Yet, it says the mental health field attracts very few nurses and other health care professionals and draws minimal spending.

A wide health-care gap separates poor and rich countries. The ratio of mental health care providers in low- and middle-income countries is one per 100,000 people compared to one per 2,000 in wealthy countries, the report said.

The financial gap also is broad. Poor countries spend less than $2 per capita each year on mental health, compared to more than $50 in high-income countries, according to the report.

Stigma interferes

Communities and countries do not pay enough attention to mental health problems because of stigma, Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, told VOA. He said people shrink from speaking about their problems for fear of losing status in their societies or losing their jobs and relationships.

“There is a misconception that once a person is mentally ill … nothing much can be done about it, which is far from the truth,” Saxena said. “WHO’s documents have very clearly highlighted the fact that largely mental disorders are treatable. People can become all right – completely all right or partially all right – can go back to their job[s], can look after their normal roles and functioning in a very satisfactory way.”

Mental health disorders are continuing to increase, WHO said, with one in four people affected at some point over a lifetime. But three out of four people with severe disorders receive no treatment.

Serious consequences

Health systems’ inadequate responses are having serious consequences, it said, warning that depression will be the leading cause of disease burden by 2030.

Data from the Atlas show 900,000 people a year commit suicide, which also is the second most-common cause of death among young people.

The report also said people with mental health ailments suffer a wide range of human rights violations.

It’s much better to treat people with mental disorders in community-based settings than in institutions, WHO’s report said. Unfortunately, it noted the majority of spending – 82 percent – goes to mental hospitals, which serve a small proportion of those who need care.

Your phone knows if you’re depressed

July 15th, 2015



Time spent on smartphone and GPS location sensor data detect depression


CHICAGO — You can fake a smile, but your phone knows the truth. Depression can be detected from your smartphone sensor data by tracking the number of minutes you use the phone and your daily geographical locations, reports a small Northwestern Medicine study.

The more time you spend using your phone, the more likely you are depressed. The average daily usage for depressed individuals was about 68 minutes, while for non-depressed individuals it was about 17 minutes.

Spending most of your time at home and most of your time in fewer locations — as measured by GPS tracking — also are linked to depression. And, having a less regular day-to-day schedule, leaving your house and going to work at different times each day, for example, also is linked to depression.

Based on the phone sensor data, Northwestern scientists could identify people with depressive symptoms with 87 percent accuracy.

“The significance of this is we can detect if a person has depressive symptoms and the severity of those symptoms without asking them any questions,” said senior author David Mohr, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “We now have an objective measure of behavior related to depression. And we’re detecting it passively. Phones can provide data unobtrusively and with no effort on the part of the user.”

The research could ultimately lead to monitoring people at risk of depression and enabling health care providers to intervene more quickly.

The study will be published July 15 in the Journal of Medical Internet Research.

The smart phone data was more reliable in detecting depression than daily questions participants answered about how sad they were feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. Their answers may be rote and often are not reliable, said lead author Sohrob Saeb, a postdoctoral fellow and computer scientist in preventive medicine at Feinberg.

“The data showing depressed people tended not to go many places reflects the loss of motivation seen in depression,” said Mohr, who is a clinical psychologist and professor of preventive medicine at Feinberg. “When people are depressed, they tend to withdraw and don’t have the motivation or energy to go out and do things.”

While the phone usage data didn’t identify how people were using their phones, Mohr suspects people who spent the most time on them were surfing the web or playing games, rather than talking to friends.

“People are likely, when on their phones, to avoid thinking about things that are troubling, painful feelings or difficult relationships,” Mohr said. “It’s an avoidance behavior we see in depression.”

Saeb analyzed the GPS locations and phone usage for 28 individuals (20 females and eight males, average age of 29) over two weeks. The sensor tracked GPS locations every five minutes.

To determine the relationship between phone usage and geographical location and depression, the subjects took a widely used standardized questionnaire measuring depression, the PHQ-9, at the beginning of the two-week study. The PHQ-9 asks about symptoms used to diagnose depression such as sadness, loss of pleasure, hopelessness, disturbances in sleep and appetite, and difficulty concentrating. Then, Saeb developed algorithms using the GPS and phone usage data collected from the phone, and correlated the results of those GPS and phone usage algorithms with the subjects’ depression test results.

Of the participants, 14 did not have any signs of depression and 14 had symptoms ranging from mild to severe depression.

The goal of the research is to passively detect depression and different levels of emotional states related to depression, Saeb said.

The information ultimately could be used to monitor people who are at risk of depression to, perhaps, offer them interventions if the sensor detected depression or to deliver the information to their clinicians.

Future Northwestern research will look at whether getting people to change those behaviors linked to depression improves their mood.

“We will see if we can reduce symptoms of depression by encouraging people to visit more locations throughout the day, have a more regular routine, spend more time in a variety of places or reduce mobile phone use,” Saeb said.


This research was funded by research grants P20 MH090318 and K08 MH 102336 from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health.

College Student Mental Health Resource

July 13th, 2015

‘Affordable Colleges Online’ created this guide to inform college students (and their friends and families) on the various on-campus and online resources they can use should a mental health concern arise:

Depression and Heart Disease

February 5th, 2015

February is American Heart Month. People with heart disease are at a higher risk for depression. In fact, up to 33 percent of heart attack patients end up developing some degree of depression – three times the rate compared to the general population.

How are depression and heart disease linked? People with heart disease are more likely to suffer from depression than otherwise healthy people. Angina and heart attacks are closely linked with depression. Researchers are unsure exactly why this occurs. They do know that some symptoms of depression may reduce a person’s overall physical and mental health, increasing the risk for heart disease or making symptoms of heart disease worse. Fatigue or feelings of worthlessness may cause a person to ignore their medication plan and avoid treatment for heart disease. Having depression increases the risk of death after a heart attack.

What are the signs and symptoms of depression? Not everyone will experience the same symptoms of depression, but symptoms may include:

• Ongoing sad, anxious, or empty feelings
• Feeling hopeless
• Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
• Feeling irritable or restless
• Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once enjoyable, including sex
• Feeling tired all the time
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
• Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, a condition called insomnia, or sleeping all the time
• Overeating or loss of appetite
• Thoughts of death and suicide or suicide attempts
• Ongoing aches and pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment

Treating depression can help a person manage their heart disease and improve their overall health. Common treatments for depression are psychotherapy, medication, or combination of both.

Visit the National Institute of Mental Health website for more information on depression and heart disease.

To take a free, anonymous mental health self-assessment that screens for depression and other common mental health conditions visit our online screening.

Holidays and Your Health

December 17th, 2014

The holidays are upon us. For many people, this joyous time of year can also be very stressful. According to an online poll by the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly three-quarters of people reported that the holiday season makes them feel very or a bit more anxious and/or depressed.

The following are a few tips* on how to manage some of the stresses that are often associated with the holidays.

  • Set reasonable expectations and don’t expect the holiday season to be perfect.
  • Practice healthy drinking habits. Alcohol is a depressant and can exacerbate feelings of stress and sadness. Too much alcohol can also interfere with healthy sleep and interrupt natural sleep cycles.
  • Keep up your exercise regimen, as it will provide effective stress relief and productive alone time. A short daily walk can have a big impact.
  • Set spending limits and stick to them. Over-spending during the holidays can lead to continued stress down the road.
  • Treat your body well with balanced nutrition but don’t feel guilty when indulging during the holidays. Moderation is key and is a far healthier response to holiday treats than starvation.
  • Create a space and time for yourself during family gatherings. Take a walk outside, find a quiet corner in the house, or make a quick trip to the store to gather your thoughts and relax.
  • Plan any shopping and cooking in advance. Setting a schedule and making priorities will prevent too much from piling up at the last minute.
  • Talk to someone. Seek support and affirmation of how your expectations for the season don’t always match with reality. A good listener and a little laugh can be great stress relievers.

Sometimes “holiday blues” are more than just passing emotions and can be something more serious like depression, anxiety, or a related disorder. If you have prolonged anxiety, sadness, or a mood that interferes with sleeping, eating or other usual activities, you may want to talk with a health professional.

*From Screening for Mental Health, Inc., “Help Your Community Deal With Holiday Stress”

1 in 5 Primary Care Visits were Mental Health-Related

December 11th, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s November 28, 2014, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), highlighted that in 2010, 20% of all visits to primary care physicians included at least one of the following mental health indicators: depression screening, counseling, a mental health diagnosis or reason for visit, psychotherapy, or provision of a psychotropic drug. The percentage of mental health–related visits to primary care physicians increased with age through age 59 years and then stabilized. Approximately 6% of visits were for children that were 11 years old or younger and approximately 31% of visits were for adults aged 75 years or older were associated with mental health care. The data was obtained from the 2010 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, which can be found at


* A mental health visit was defined by at least one of the following: ordering or provision of depression screening, psychotherapy, or other mental health counseling; a mental health diagnosis or reason for visit; or a psychotropic medication that was ordered, supplied, administered, or continued at the visit. Mental health diagnosis, reason for visit, and psychotropic medications were based on certain categories. Source: Olfson M, Kroenke K, Wang S, Blanco C. Trends in office-based mental health care provided by psychiatrists and primary care physicians. J Clin Psychiatry 2014;75:247–53.

† Includes physicians in primary care specialties: general and family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics/gynecology.

§ 95% confidence interval