About This Blog
The Mental Health Association of Minnesota Blog is to keep our audience informed about current events and developments in Minnesota's health community.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
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
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
Listings of Minnesota county websites
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Brain Awareness Week
The Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives
Mental Health Day on the Hill
Minnesota Mental Health Legislative Network
Mental Health Month
Mental Health America
National Children’s Mental Health Day
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month
National Center for PTSD
National Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day
National Recovery Month
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA)
National Suicide Prevention Week
American Association of Suicidology
Mental Illness Awareness Week
National Alliance on Mental illnesses
National Depression Screening Day
Screening for Mental Health, Inc.
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 email@example.com, 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.
Policy and Outreach Associate
Don’t forget! Tomorrow, November 15 is Give to the Max Day through GiveMN.org!
The MHAM Board of Directors will match all donations given to MHAM through GiveMN up to $10,000! Your donation will go further and you will be helping people with mental illnesses remain healthy and independent. Go to givemn.org/story/Mental-Health-Association-of-Minnesota right now to schedule a donation for November 15, or join us on Give to the Max Day to help us reach our $25,000 goal.
MHAM is behind in its fundraising goals for 2012. While we receive some corporate and foundation money, we are far more reliant on individual donations to provide our services throughout the state. Remember – with our generous Board match, your gift of $10 becomes $20, a gift of $25 becomes $50, and a gift of $100 becomes $200. Please join us on November 15 and improve the lives of people living with mental illnesses.
MHAM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We meet all standards of the Charities Review Council. We do not sell or share our donor lists.
November 15 is coming up! It’s Give to the Max Day through GiveMN.org. MHAM is pleased to announce that our Board of Directors is offering a very generous $10,000 match for all donations made to MHAM through GiveMN.org on November 15.
MHAM qualifies for additional opportunities to raise even more money:
• Every hour, one donor will be selected at random to receive a Golden Ticket and $1,000 will be added to their donation.
• At the end of the day, one donor will be selected at random to receive a Supersized Golden Ticket, and $10,000 will be added to their donation.
• MHAM is registered for the mid-sized nonprofit leaderboard for total dollars raised – $12,500 will be awarded to 1st place, $5,000 to 2nd place, and $2,500 to 3rd place. In addition, $1,000 will be awarded to the nonprofits that place 4th through 10th on the board.
Giving on Give to the Max Day is easy! Go to givemn.org/story/Mental-Health-Association-of-Minnesota. Look for the box on the top right side of our page. Enter a dollar amount and hit the Donate button.
Not going to be around on November 15? You can also schedule your donation. Go to givemn.org/story/Mental-Health-Association-of-Minnesota and click the link to “schedule one for Give to the Max Day 2012.” Your donation will be processed on November 15 and count toward our match. All scheduled donations will be processed in the first hour and will be included in the random drawing for a Golden Ticket that hour.
MHAM is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. We meet all standards of the Charities Review Council. We do not sell or share our donor lists.
Antipsychotic medications can be effective in treating psychotic symptoms among people with schizophrenia or related disorders. Unfortunately, some commonly used antipsychotics are associated with serious metabolic side effects such as weight gain and heightened cholesterol levels. These health complications can lead to heart disease or diabetes.
In some circumstances, it may be possible for people experiencing metabolic side effects to switch to a different antipsychotic. However, doctors are often reluctant to make changes in patient’s drug regimen when the current medication appears to keep the person’s psychotic symptoms under control. When considering a switch to a new antipsychotic, doctors must perform a careful balancing act, weighing the possible benefit of reduced metabolic side effects against the possible risk of symptom relapse or medication failure.
In an effort to address such concerns, a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has published research designed to determine if an antipsychotic medication switch could be made safely and without sacrificing the clinical stability of the participants.
The study enrolled people who were taking a commonly used antipsychotic and were experiencing serious metabolic side effects. Half of the participants were assigned to continue taking their current medication and half of them were switched to an antipsychotic that was associated with fewer metabolic risks. All participants were put on a diet and exercise program designed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
After 6 months, the researchers found that those who had switched antipsychotics had improved cholesterol levels and had lost more weight, on average, than those who had stayed with their original medication. In addition, those who had switched medication did not experience any more illness relapses or worsening of psychotic symptoms than those who stayed on their original medication.
However, participants who changed to a new antipsychotic were more likely to stop taking their medication compared to those who continued to take their original medication. Almost 44 percent of those who switched antipsychotics discontinued their new medication, as compared to the 24.5 percent of those who were assigned to stay on their current medication. The study’s authors suggest that since both the participants and clinicians knew which drug the participant was taking, patients who switched antipsychotics may have felt uncomfortable about the change. Participants also may have been more likely to discontinue their medication when doctors noticed the first signs of difficulties.
Among persons with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar affective disorder, the metabolic side effects associated with second-generation antipsychotics may contribute to early deaths. As a 2006 report by the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors notes, persons with serious mental illnesses die an average of 25 years earlier than members of the general population and are at an elevated risk of dying from diabetes and heart disease. In response to the health crisis affecting those with serious mental illness, Minnesota has launched a branch of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) 10 by 10 Wellness Campaign. This program seeks to increase the life expectancy of persons with serious mental illness by 10 years in 10 years through developing measures by which to track the health of persons with mental illnesses, raising awareness among consumers and mental health professionals, and by encouraging psychiatrists and primary care physicians to talk with patients about health risks and tools for health management.
To learn more about incorporating physical wellness in mental health recovery, please check out Steps to Wellness and Take Charge on the MHAM website.
This article was contributed by Claire Jamison, a volunteer for MHAM.