A Few Changes Can Have a Big Impact.

July 11th, 2013

Incorporating healthy lifestyle changes into our daily lives can be challenge, but the long-term benefits it has toward our health and wellbeing can make a big difference. Even simple changes like reducing the amount of time we sit or reducing the amount of salt we eat can have a significant impact on our health. MHAM’s Take Charge booklet provides a few ideas on how to improve your overall health by eating healthy, getting active, managing your stress, and getting a good night’s sleep. Along with these tips, the booklet provides some ideas on how to set a few goals and to track your progress.

Take_Charge-1

The Take Charge booklet can be downloaded from the MHAM website or ordered online. If you are a service provider and looking for multiple copies, please contact Brett Dumke, Education Coordinator, at brettd@mentalhealthmn.org or 651-756-8584, ext. 6.

Healthpartners’ Make It OK campaign

June 28th, 2013

Every month I participate in the Regions Hospital Patient and Family Advisory Council. At our monthly meetings we discuss issues specific to the experience of mental health patients at the hospital, but we also spend time addressing broader issues related to mental health. The advisory council gives feedback not only on the construction and organization of Regions’ new mental health building, but also on patient policy and staff trainings. As part of this, the council got an advance preview of Healthpartners’ Make It Ok campaign last year.

You may have seen some of the Make It Ok campaign posters in bus shelters and on billboards. They typically feature two people facing each other with a blank dialogue bubble creating a barrier between them. The message is that people’s unwillingness to talk about mental health furthers stigma. At the bottom of the poster is a website: www.makeitok.org

Talking about mental health is complicated. Because so much cultural baggage is tied up in our notion of mental health, folks are resistant to identify with the concept or to even bring it up. When I am contacted by friends or family members who are concerned about someone they know, much of our conversation revolves around how to respectfully communicate with someone who may be experiencing a mental illness. When I am contacted by individuals with mental illnesses, much of our conversation revolves around how to be a good self-advocate in a stigmatizing environment. Frequently I’m asked if I know of resources the individual can pass on to family members who know little about mental illness.

The Make It OK website is a great starting point for friends and family. At the website you can browse through different phrases family and friends can use to bring up mental health respectfully. It contains basic information about mental illnesses and tips for how to engage with folks who may be experiencing a crisis.

If you live with a mental illness and want your family, friends and community to learn more about mental health and stigma, check out www.makeitok.org. It may be a useful resource for you. But if you need more information than the website offers, or if you have questions that are more complex, you can also contact an individual advocate for support by calling MHAM at 651-493-6634.

June is PTSD Awareness Month

June 11th, 2013

70% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some type of traumatic event at least once in their lifetime. Of those about 20% will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In any given year, about 7.7 million U.S. adults are affected by PTSD. PTSD can occur after being involved in a traumatic event and can affect both children and adults. PTSD may develop after a person has been harmed or witnessed a loved one or others being harmed. A traumatic event can include combat exposure, violent crime, natural disasters, a serious illness or death, and accidents.

For those who do develop PTSD, the symptoms can begin shortly after or can occur months or sometimes even years after the event. Common symptoms of adults with PTSD include:

> Nightmares
> Flashbacks or feeling that the traumatic event is occurring again
> Scary thoughts that a person can’t control
> Avoidance of places and things that remind you of the event
> Guilt, worry, and sadness
> Trouble sleeping
> Angry outbursts
> Thoughts of harming yourself or others

There are several options for treating PTSD. Treatment for PTSD will vary from person to person and may include therapy, medication, or combination of both.

For more information on PTSD, visit the National Institute of Mental Health. Take an anonymous and free online PTSD self-assessment.

Additional Resources:
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs – National Center for PTSD
PTSD Alliance

MHAM’s ‘What’s Good With You?’ blog project

May 13th, 2013

By MHAM volunteer Stephen Larson

Sometimes I think we let ourselves become identified with our diagnosis simply, and certainly through no fault of our own, because this is what we know. Think back to life before recovery. Personally I did not know there was something physiologically wrong with me. I always thought life should not be so difficult, and I had God knows how many excuses for being and feeling different, alone, disconnected and just not fitting in. The bottom line was that I was damaged goods and reasons or excuses did not really matter apart from serving as more goals to overcome.

Once I had a counselor, in all seriousness, ask me why I had not killed myself yet. At the time I focused all of my anger on his audacity and his ignorance of the fact that I was special. Whatever his motives for posing such a question, the fact is that it stuck.

What kept/keeps me going despite my perceptions of my self and the world? Why care when not doing so would be so much easier?

Blaming others for my circumstances really did not make me feel better and excuses only sidetracked my focus from the real issues. I did not know life could be better. It never occurred to me that I might be normal and healthy in most regards, or that I was not at fault for what ever was keeping me down. I never considered myself mentally ill but rather not a real or whole person at all.

There was something I was not getting.

I often refer to thinking that there was a curtain in my mind and I didn’t know what was on the other side. For me my self- medicating chemical abuse was, and still can be, so horrendous no one thought to look any further. My excuses were provided by those I loved and affected the most throughout my life as I cycled through mania and depression, violence and lethargy, craving attention while fleeing and isolating from people, as well as using sex, drugs and rock & roll just to feel normal when at the same time I was clueless about who or what I actually wanted to be. But I always knew deep down things would be better someday.

And I am glad I waited. Through patience, perseverance, and most of all stubbornness I just tried doing the next right thing and tried not to get caught up in the results. I chose not to focus on happiness as a thing in the future and realized happiness is just a thought away.

And that’s what’s good with me.

I try to do the next right thing, do what I am told and trust all will be well and that I cannot fail. At first I rejected everything about my mental illness and that took some time to get over, but now instead of being consumed by a diagnosis I understand that I if follow through with my treatments and medications it becomes a rather small, though important, part of my life. This attitude generalizes to the rest of my life and allows me to be involved in my life rather than being a passive bystander.

What’s good with me today? I am able to work part time again, I volunteer for causes that are important to me, I write and I am clean and sober, though some days reluctantly. I have another chance to see life from a different point of view, a life that is now full of hope, trust and wonderful people. I once heard that if you have gratitude in your life everything is important.

So, welcome to MHAM’s ‘What’s Good With You?’ blog project!

MHAM is now requesting and accepting stories from you for our new blog project. Submissions should focus on the positive aspects of your or a significant others’ recovery from mental illness, and be up to 750 words in length. Please don’t worry about your writing abilities as assistance with writing or editing will be available.

The following writing prompts may help spark your imagination or develop your ideas:

1. Because my mental illness is managed I see the world differently. As I recover I discover_______________. (e.g. I trust people, I am eager to meet others). What is important and new in your world today?

2. Maintenance of my mental illness is very important to me. I let the people the in my life know I will not compromise on ________________________. (e.g. sleep, human contact, medications, etc…). Describe what others need to know about your recovery.

3. Considering my recovery, when I think of my future I think of_______(e.g. possibilities, wishes, hopes, desires…). Describe what your future holds.

4. Today the best things I have to offer other people include______________________. (e.g. friendship, support, companionship, understanding, help…).

Of course other ideas are welcome though we wish to stick with subjective positive experiences and insights about recovery.

Please send submissions to: stephen-larson@hotmail.com

Study Finds that Lifestyle Changes Can Lead to Weight Loss for People with SMI

April 11th, 2013

For people with serious mental illness (SMI) the risk for being overweight or obese is significant. Four out of five people with SMI are overweight or obese in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), being overweight or obese can increase your risk for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, hypertension, dyslipidemia, stroke, and other health conditions. A recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, shows that tailored lifestyle programs for people with serious mental health conditions can be effective in achieving healthy weight loss.  

The study consisted of 291 participants from 10 outpatient psychiatric rehabilitation programs that were randomly assigned to an intervention group or control group. The study found that the intervention group that received regular weekly group exercise classes and individual/group weight management classes had significant weight loss compared to the control group that had basic information on nutrition and exercise at the beginning of the study.

After 18 months the participants in the intervention group:

  • on average, lost 7 pounds more than the control group.
  • 38% lost 5% or more of their initial weight, as compared to 23% for the control group.
  •  nearly 1 in 5 participants lost 10% or more of their initial weight, as compared to 1 in 14 participants in the control group.

The study also found that the participants from the intervention group who were taking certain psychotropic medications known to cause weight gain still had significant weight loss as well. This study shows that when effective resources are provided, people with SMI can implement healthy lifestyle changes with good results, despite the many challenges that they face.

For more information on this study, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health website:  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/science-news/2013/nih-study-shows-people-with-serious-mental-illnesses-can-lose-weight.shtml

Also, please check out our wellness and recovery resources.

Get Out and Be Active!

April 2nd, 2013

With nearly two weeks of spring behind us, the hope of warm weather and getting outside to soak up some sunshine will eventually come. In Minnesota, we are fortunate to have so many city, county, and state parks that offer a variety of recreational activities, such as biking, hiking, walking and swimming, just to name a few. Not only do many of these activities can impact your overall health, but can also provide a place to connect with friends, family, and people from your community. Below are just a few resources to help plan a visit to your local or state parks.

Listings of Minnesota state parks
http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks

Listings of Minnesota county websites
http://mn.gov/portal/government/local/Counties

Also, check out our Take Charge booklet for more ideas to improve your health and wellbeing, tips on setting some wellness goals, and to track your progress.

A Review of the Guthries’ Other Desert Cities

March 22nd, 2013

Last night I had the opportunity to attend ‘Other Desert Cities’ at the Guthrie Theater. ‘Other Desert Cities’ takes place over the course of Christmas Eve. Brooke, who has recently been hospitalized for depression, and her brother have come to stay with their parents for the holiday. The play is premised on the notion that Brooke’s brother, Henry, committed suicide after assisting a radical leftist organization with a bombing. This loss, and the story of the circumstances around it, has profoundly influenced Brooke’s life and recovery from depression, and inspired her to write a memoir.  When she returns home for Christmas, Brooke informs her family the memoir will be published in the New Yorker. This public voicing of the family secret creates chaos and sparks discussions about mental illness, the nature of silence, the nature of change, and the importance of truth.

Henry’s suicide, and the fact of his existence, has been erased from the family memory. Very few pictures of Henry can be found in the house, and it is clearly off-limits for discussion. Brooke has grown up within the silence around Henry, longing for her beloved brother but unable to discuss the experience of loss with anyone in her family.

However, Brooke’s parents have wealth and status within their community and believe her memoir will ruin their reputation. They have an interest in and benefit from maintaining silence, and the family system is dependent upon this silence. For the family system in its current iteration to continue, silence must be maintained.

Much of the play is consumed with the question of truth. What is truth? What does Brooke have to gain from speaking the truth of her experience? What purpose does it serve? Who does telling the truth harm or heal, and is it worth it? Is it possible for divergent truths to exist within a family? And do these divergent truths make it impossible to relate or love?

There was promise for deep examination of what it means to have divergent truths within a family, the stigma of mental illness and suicide, and how to maintain mental health in hostile territory, but the writing got weak towards the end. Rather than coming to a conclusion about the issues raised by suicide and mental illness, an unexpected revelation turns the play in a completely different direction.

While the first two-thirds of the play did an excellent job of depicting a family dealing with the fallout from suicide, depression, and chemical dependency, the last third seemed to negate the entire premise. A lot of thoughtful material is brought up, and then nothing is done with it. This does not mean the play is not worth seeing—it is fascinating to watch the complex family dynamics unfold. However, be aware that very little is done with this unfolding. While this play brings to light the very types of conversations people with mental illnesses might have with their families in a way that is emotionally real, it collapses on itself and refuses to play them out to their conclusion.

DBSA Video Series Offers Personal Stories and Expert Perspectives

March 21st, 2013

Check out two new video series from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) on their YouTube channel this month.

Out of the Blue: The Many Faces of Depression

Depression doesn’t just look one way. Major depressive disorder affects more than 14 million adult Americans each year, and many don’t attribute the range of symptoms they encounter to depression. In this series of videos, six individuals share their experiences with depression, including some of its less identifiable manifestations, which range from anger and irritability to feeling overwhelmed by a lack of focus and difficulty making decisions. DBSA thanks the Takeda-Lundbeck Alliance for its unrestricted support for the production of the Out of the Blue video series.

Bipolar Disorder Education Video Library

The DBSA Bipolar Disorder Education Video Library addresses common questions and concerns that people living with bipolar disorder and their loved ones often have. In each video, a peer shares their experience with issues such as dealing with stigma, identifying triggers, and working with clinicians. Speakers include individuals living with bipolar disorder, their loved ones, and professionals in the mental health field.

2013 Mental Health Observances and Events

January 17th, 2013

With a new year already under way, we would like to give a preview of a few observances and events for 2013. Please check out our event calendar periodically for community events that may be occurring in your area.

 

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week

February 24 – March 2

National Eating Disorders Association

www.nationaleatingdisorders.org

 

Brain Awareness Week

March 11-17

The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives

www.dana.org/baw

 

Mental Health Day on the Hill

March 12

Minnesota Mental Health Legislative Network

www.mentalhealthmn.org

 

Mental Health Month

May 1-31

Mental Health America

www.mentalhealthamerica.net

 

National Children’s Mental Health Day

May 9

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

www.samhsa.gov/children

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month

June 1-30

National Center for PTSD

www.ptsd.va.gov

 

National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day

June 27

 

National Recovery Month

September 1-30

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA)

www.recoverymonth.gov

 

National Suicide Prevention Week

September 8-14

American Association of Suicidology

www.suicidology.org

 

Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 6-12

National Alliance on Mental illnesses

www.nami.org

 

National Depression Screening Day

October 10

Screening for Mental Health, Inc.

www.mentalhealthscreening.org

 

Reaching Out for Help

January 10th, 2013

Recently, SMCPros featured the work of individuals and organizations in the community.  We had an entry posted there, but we wanted to share it here as well.

Every day of the week, I find a call for help in my inbox.  The people who write are unflinchingly honest about emotional breakdowns, job losses, and medical nightmares.  They found a form on our website or our general email address, and sent something in the hopes that there is some help on the other end.  Even though they have no idea they are writing to me, they are honest and candid to a degree that awes me.  Because I forward these emails directly to our client advocates, Anna and Tom, almost none of them ever hear from me at all.
But nonetheless, they have come to the right place.  In a system that still tends to treat people as less than, and with an illness that can make even the smallest obstacle too much to handle, they have run into a group of people who are dedicated to understanding their needs and helping them find their way.  I work for a small non-profit, Mental Health Association of Minnesota.  For over 70 years, we have helped people with mental illness be heard.

We don’t focus on what we think is important, we ask them what their goals are.  For one client, it was making copies of correspondence without feeling like the hospital staff were looking over her shoulder.  For Amanda, it was just sorting through the paperwork that meant the difference between a stable home and living on the street.  For Kevin, it was trusting group home staff enough to tell them about his nutritional goals.  It all matters because the person behind it matters.

Believing that we’re important and that we can take a concrete step towards recovery is absolutely necessary.  Time becomes a real enemy when I feel depressed or anxious.  I lose my sense of what things are like without that cloud hanging over me, much the same way that you might forget how good a full, deep breath feels after a long bout of the flu.  Without hope and help, everything is too much, and every set back feels like the end of the world.

More than a decade ago, I was a patient at Abbot Northwestern, hospitalized a handful of times for suicidal behavior and thoughts.  I was not responding well to medication, and every change in my prescription added another 15 or 20 pounds to my frame, until I could barely recognize myself in the mirror.  In a matter of months, I had gone from zero involvement in the system to a head-first dive.  It was frightening and lonely, full of people who didn’t believe me or listen to what I thought might help.  I was on a unit with all kids, but many went days or even entire stays without seeing family.

I got daily visits from family.  There were cards from my friends waiting for me when I got home.  My internship supervisor came to the unit to make up for a lunch we were supposed to have.  She even arranged a get-well call from her boss’s boss, a guy named Paul Wellstone.  And from working in his office, I knew that it took phone calls all the way up the chain of command, and a scheduling effort.  Far from taking away from the impact, it doubled it.  You see, the point is that it’s not about one person who cares, it’s about entire families, communities, workplaces that do.

Mental illness is often chronic.  It can be extremely painful and damaging.  It is also true that people recover, leading wonderful and meaningful lives.  They do so every day, but they almost never do it without support. MHAM takes phone calls and emails from anyone who is living in Minnesota or is concerned about a Minnesota resident who is having a hard time navigating the mental health system.  We connect people with needed services, teach skills for self-advocacy and wellness, helping them live into their recovery.

I wanted to share this story with you so that you know two things.  First.  If you have a mental illness, and you don’t know where to turn, there is help. If it’s 2 AM when you’re reading this, and you’re in crisis, please call 800-273-TALK. It’s a different organization, but they are ready to connect with you, and believe me that it is worth it.  But the next morning, I hope you email us at info@mentalhealthmn.org, or give us a call at 651-493-6634/800-862-1799.

Second.  Whether or not you are living with a mental illness, do you agree with me that recovery shouldn’t be luck? There are plenty of ways for you to help.  Drop us a line to find out more about volunteer opportunities, how to contact your legislators about life changing community mental health services, or our wellness education program. And yes, consider a donation.  Our services may not be the easiest to fund in today’s economy, but that voice of hope is worth something.  Personally, I think it’s worth quite a lot.

Ben Ashley-Wurtmann

Policy and Outreach Associate