Don’t Let Your Mental Health Stop You From Voting

I came across this article in Al Jazeera that is arguably an amalgamation of my entire universe. The article deals with the impact that mental health and depression have on voting. As you’d likely expect, people who suffer from mental illness are less likely to vote.

That’s a problem under the best of circumstances, but it’s an even more acute one in the pandemic, when rates of mental illness have shot through the roof, potentially being enough to keep thousands of voters at home. In an election like this one, it’s possible that this could make a difference in some key states.

According to the article, studies have directly correlated depression and not voting. The research that was done indicated that this may be the case for many reasons, including:

  • A depressed person may not have the energy to engage in voting or the prep work that goes into voting.
  • They may not have the mental/emotional energy to participate in the political process in general.
  • There is a correlation between financial distress and depression, and this often leads to not voting.
  • Feelings of depression lead to apathy, which leads to feelings that voting is an utterly irrelevant activity.

Interestingly enough, anxiety seems to actually motivate people to get involved in the political process, because people view the political process as a way to reduce anxiety. It gives them some measure of control over their anxiety.

I want to spin that message back to depression. I get it – better than most – that depressions leads to feelings of hopelessness, and this ultimately ties back to the idea that voting is a pointless, useless activity. However, I am begging you, don’t let that be you. There is too much at stake.

Some personal thoughts, too. One of the things that really has damaged my mental health – and lead to quite a bit of anxiety and depression – is when I am experiencing something that I have no control over. I can’t control whether or not I win my reelection. I can’t control if something will happen to my wife or my kids tomorrow. Yes, there are measures I can take, there are things I could do, but I can’t control everything. None of us can.

All we can do to feel better is accept that, but also take prudent measures to positively influence an outcome. Remember: Voting is all about control. For all the challenges, for all the roadblocks, we can still change the outcome of our government. We can still make it ours again – yours again. Voting is the ultimate measure of control over what the government can and should do. Seize it back.

Please, go vote!

The Coming Depression Onslaught

If this study is to be believed, we’re in trouble.

A study from Boston University conducted a major survey on adults and depression, using previous scores as a baseline measurement. The study used the PHQ-9 questionnaire, which is a nine-question screening method that can be used to determine if someone may be suffering from depression. A 2017-2018 study found that 8.5% of adults were suffering from depression. 

The results were horrifying: 27.8% of Americans are now clinically depressed, according to the results of the study. That is more than a tripling of depression rates. It is massive, it is significant, and it cannot be treated by the current state of our mental health system. 

The study, of course, attributed much of this rise to COVID-19 and the economic stressors placed on society by this disease. The study also found that people with less than $5,000 in savings 50% were more likely to be depressed, further showing the connection between economics, a social safety net, and mental health.

I have a couple of broader thoughts – first, on the general situation, and second, what this study shows us.

First, I think it’s important to keep in mind that this is catastrophically bad but not as bad as it appears! Yes, I said that. First, the good news. This will abate as the pandemic abates and economic damage mitigates. That will happen. It will take time, but I don’t think this represents a fundamental shift in our moods or economic status for the majority of people who took this study.

The bad news? Let’s say this only permanently affects 5% of America. Uhh…that’s tens of millions of people. That is fundamentally, catastrophically terrible. We could be staring down the barrel of millions of people who will never recover without assistance that we cannot hope to provide. Before this crisis, we were looking at a major shortage of mental health workers. There is no way our system has the capacity to deal with all of the people who will need help. 

About two months ago, I attended a hearing on mental illness and the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the things I asked some of our panelists was whether or not there had been an increase in suicides. The answer: Not yet. Emphasis on yet. They were worried that, as the economic toll continues, you’d have a lot of people who would be more likely to die by suicide. This study furthers my concern there.

What can we do? Well, if you believe that economics and mental health are connected – and I do – that means we need to support people in their times of need and provide generous economic supports to get them through this crisis. That means working to prevent evictions and foreclosures. To extend unemployment assistance. To throw money at small businesses in order to keep them open.

This is a catastrophe in the making, but it doesn’t have to be this way. A strong government can stop the economic damage and can abate this crisis, and I don’t think it’s too late. But that’s what we need to get us through the physical, economic, and mental health disaster that we are currently experiencing. 

Three symptoms of depression you may not be aware of

Depression, when you have it, can be all-consuming. I mean, all consuming. It seems to devour your life like a monster, changing your life in countless ways that you may never have anticipated. Indeed, this is one of the greatest problems with depression – it completely changes everything you knew and loved.

Most people are familiar with the basic symptoms of depression – sadness, apathy, fatigue, etc. However, you what you may not be familiar with is the other, more random symptoms of depression that can be just as problematic as the more basic ones.

To that end, here’s a look at three symptoms of depression that you may never have heard of.

Lowered memory function

There is a reason the term “depression fog” means so much to so many. When you are depressed – when you are really in it – your entire brain can feel like it is no longer functioning. As it turns out, this is more than just a perception – it’s very, very real.

Depression can cause memory loss. This has been backed up by multiple studies that show that people with depression have trouble with their short-term memory. It is also possible that certain forms of treatment for therapy – like electroconvulsive therapy or certain medications – can cause memory loss. It’s always worth checking out if you suspect it to be something else, but yes, depression can hurt your ability to store and recall things.

What can you do about it? Chalk it off. I remember being a kid and having major depressive or anxiety episodes. In my mind, I would say, “It’s a day,” and try to move on. Don’t kick yourself over it. It isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. It is a symptom of your disorder. If you treat your depression, your memory loss will fade.

Appetite changes

Here’s another very random one: When you are depressed, your appetite changes. This isn’t as random as you might think – indeed, it’s so common that unexplained weight gain or loss is actually one of the symptoms that can lead to a diagnosis of depression.

Why is this the case? If you eat less, it can be a reflection of a lack of energy or interest. If you eat more, it can be because of emotional eating – you feel emotions that make you miserable and cause you to overeat.

Ironically, and sadly, this is a huge problem. Both overeating or undereating can cause depression to get worse. That’s why appropriate diet when you are depressed is so vitally important.

And, as an aside: This is so me. I stop eating when depressed.

Irritability

So, this is a bad of a random one, and sometimes it may not make sense. It seems to strike more in men, as research shows that men are more likely to be irritable and angry when depressed. Symptoms like these, along with hostility, are more likely to appear in men, and to serve as a mask for depression.

Why is this the case? I can think of a bunch of reasons…but many come down to cultural and familial. In many cases, the way someone is raised will alter the expression of their depression, and depression can easily display itself as irritability or anger. As such, if you know someone who is more irritable than usual lately, it’s absolutely worth checking in on them.

It’s worth noting that, sometimes, these symptoms may appear before other, more severe ones. There have been times I’ve lost my appetite, not been sure why, then realized that my depression was back and it was pissed. Something I actually just read while doing this blog entry: Appetite changes can be an early warning sign of a relapse. That has certainly been the case for me.

Broadly speaking, one of the biggest challenges with mental health is that it is so hard to get any sort of standardization. What works for some may work catastrophically badly for others, and what is a clear cut symptom for one person may not be as clear for someone else.

As always, if you are worried about your own mental health, seek help as soon as you can – the sooner the better. Thankfully, the vast majority of people respond well to mental illness. If this is you, seek help today.

As always, I turn it over to you. What random depression challenges have you had that you never would have believed? Let us know in the comments!

Telling Your Story – The Courage of Brayden Harrington

When we all grow up, we should wish for the courage of this 13-year-old boy.

As many of you likely know, the Democratic National Convention was this past week. Thursday saw the formal acceptance speech of Joe Biden to become the Democratic Nominee, but many people don’t remember that speech compared to Brayden Harrington’s.

Brayden Harrington is a 13-year-old boy with a severe stutter. Apparently, he met Joe Biden at a rally. The former Vice President has struggled all his life with a stutter and has always connected deeply with them.

Here’s the first time Biden & Harrington met:

Then, on Thursday, just before Biden’s speech, Harrington addressed the nation:

It’s an astonishing display of courage and strength. As a 13-year-old, I didn’t want to be seen in public on my best day – let alone with my deepest struggles and insecurities displayed FOR THE ENTIRE COUNTRY. This young man and his family knew – had to know – that they were exposing themselves to millions of horrendous people, people who would mock this kid. They had to know he was changing his life forever.

He spoke anyway.

And he inspired others. I caught this tweet:

This brave man was inspired by a 13-year-old boy. It’s unreal.

Brayden Harrington’s bravery inspired others. It had millions of people looking at television and thinking, “If he can do it, why can’t I?”

Forgive me for a moment as I veer into my story. When I first spoke about my own depression & anxiety issues, I did it to try to destigmatize mental health. What I didn’t calculate was the inspirational effect. That by telling my story, I’d encourage others to tell there’s.

That’s what Brayden Harrington did.

To be clear, what this kid did, given his young age and the literal national audience, was astonishing. I just have no other words for it. But I would hope that all of us out there could look at Harrington’s bravery – and the incredibly warm response it has received – and see ourselves in it. Whatever you shame, your struggle, if you think you are the only one…you are incorrect. Millions upon millions of people suffer from stuttering, and Harrington gave them all a confident and commanding voice.

My point? Share your story. It doesn’t have to be on national television or in an op-ed in your paper. It doesn’t have to be a big Facebook status.

Tell a friend. Tell a stranger. Say the words out loud, and find comfort and strength in finding your voice and using it. There is a power in sharing what you think is a shameful secret…you show it you aren’t afraid. You find support in areas you didn’t know existed. And you inspire others to do the same. It helps you take command of your secret, whatever it is.

Trust me on that.

How Can You Forget?

So, as I wrote about a couple weeks ago, I have developed a fun case of tinnitus. It is not fun. I’m still hoping it goes away on its own, which it might – it comes and goes – but a huge part of tinnitus really seems to be psychological. The good news is that tinnitus is insanely common and that even if it is chronic, a full 98% of people eventually habituate. Habituate occurs when someone gets so used to something that they no longer even notice it.

And that leads me to today’s entry.

Look, this whole thing sucks. I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually – many famous and successful people have – but it has made me think about a broader problem: How can you try to forget something?

The truth – I think – is that you can’t. You can’t actively forget something. And that is a statement that has major impacts on someone’s mental health. If you lose someone, experience a trauma, or have an event occur you’d prefer to forget, you can’t. Just like I can’t forget this damn tone in my left ear.

Memory is quite a pain in the ass if you ask me. There are no filters on it. There’s no recycle bin. You just…have to figure out how to cope.

So, how can you forget, when you can’t forget? A few thoughts.

First, I think one of the best things you can do is accepting that something occurred. In my case, there’s no cure for tinnitus, although there is ample evidence that therapy and time can help alter your perception. That being said, to some extent, this annoyance may always be with me. But if I fight against that, I stir up more feelings of pain, guilt, and more. The same may apply to you and your situation. I’ve read people say that they realized that they had to accept their tinnitus and embrace it – turn into it – not try to run away from it or muffle it with noise. I’ve come to appreciate that perspective.

However, that brings me to my second point. Accepting that something will always be with you – be it the memory of an assault or the ringing in your ear – does not mean that you are accepting a lifetime of pain and trauma. Quite the opposite. You accept so you can heal, so you can deal, not so you can lie down and die. You are not a prisoner of your memory or your experiences, and I think there’s a power in accepting something. What does that mean? Well, to quote a question my wife once asked me: So, what are you going to do about it?

No matter your experience or your pain, odds are good that someone has been there first. I exchanged Emails with a guy named Matt Tanner, a HR professional who developed acute, chronic tinnitus after a cold. He showed me an incredible webinar by Dr. Bruce Hubbard, a psychologist who developed severe tinnitus distress after he got tinnitus. That video discusses how people deal with tinnitus and gave me a great deal of hope.

Let me take that and bring it back to you. Whatever you have gone through – whatever your pain or trauma – I am sorry. But keep in mind, odds are very, very good that your issues have been experienced before. To that end, find others who have spoken about their pain and their trauma. Ask them how they dealt, how they got through. Their advice may be invaluable and life-saving.

Third, remember, there is always something you can do. If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know what an advocate for good therapy I am. Therapy can be a life-saver in almost any instance, and I am so grateful to have someone I can talk to about my various issues – including this. I’ll add that other things can help: Exercise, meditation, or a good hobby can be incredibly valuable and have therapeutic value on their own. All of these items have something in common: They can give you a sense of control and agency. They can help you learn a growth mindset that is so critical for any sort of recovery.

Back to the title of this entry: How can you forget? You can’t. You probably can’t. Instead, you can learn. You can grow. The only way over is through.

Trying To Flip It: Using Pain For Growth

So, last week, I did a stupid. I went swimming with the kids and jumped into the pool. The second a did, I felt water just shoot RIGHT UP into both of my ears. Ow. Ow, ow, ow. I hopped around, I stick my finger in there, nothing. A few home remedies later, and I got the water out. And I also got tinnitus pretty bad in my left ear.

A visit to the ENT and a nice dose of steroids later, and I hope I am on the mend. Tinnitus sucks. And, not gonna lie, it’s been upsetting. Like…is this ever going to go away? How can I get past it? How can you ignore something THAT IS CONSTANT?

There is a way. Actually, the more I relax, the less I concentrate on it and the more I can just…you know, do life…I’m okay. I’ve also been trying to take some of the lessons I’ve learned in the course of my long history with mental illness and apply it to this, including, hopefully, looking at this from a growth perspective.

Okay, first. As a stereotypical male, I do not do well with physical discomfort. My wife makes fun of me cause all of my clothing is usually pretty baggy. But seriously, even the slightest physical discomfort and I have big problems. Kind of funny, considering I’ve done okay in the mental resiliency front, but I digress.

Anyway, this has been a struggle. I can’t lie. I’ve been having a lot of anxiety about the ringing, a lot of guilt that I basically accidented and then stupided myself into this, and just a lot of stress.

I’ve tried to deal with that in a couple of ways. First and foremost: In a sense, this bit about tinnitus is very similar to fighting anxiety. Yes, that’s an accurate statement. Tinnitus is aggravated by stress and anxiety. If you can ignore it – which is HARD – it gets less or goes away. I’m lucky, the form I have is relatively mild, so ignoring it is not the hardest challenge in the world. But I am trying to ask myself some questions that I think are pretty important. How can I take the lessons I have learned from this stupid battle and apply them to the rest of my life? How can I learn to be more comfortable and more relaxed with physical discomfort? How can I teach myself to be okay with a silly mistake that anyone could have made?

My point, from a mental health perspective, is obvious. When you do something dumb, you are allowed to wallow in self-pity for a bit. Go ahead. Flush that stuff right out of your system. And, when you ready, start to ask yourself some questions – not just about how to deal with the immediate situation, but how to grow from it. How to take whatever mistakes you have made and transform them into lessons you can learn. I’ve tried to apply this model of post-traumatic growth to my own life, and I know I have written about it in the past as well.

Anyway, I’m trying to take this model and applying it to my own life. I’m not being as successful as I want, but I’m trying. I hope you can too.

So…do you want to be a Beta reader for my next book?

This one is personal, and it is exciting: I have a Beta version of my next book ready to go, and I’d like your help.

The book – tentatively titled Almost The End Of The World – is about a college student who has to return to life after the very, very near-miss of a world-ending asteroid. Here are the first three sentences of the description:

On January 3, the world was supposed to end when an asteroid collides with Earth.

It missed.

Now, everyone left alive must deal with the consequences.

This one asks questions about our shared obligation to each other. When we’re in a crisis, do we pull closer? Or further apart?

For the record, I started writing this before COVID!

So…want to read it? Or want the full description?

I’m looking for someone to read the Beta version of my book and give me feedback. This isn’t an editing role – I don’t want someone to look this guy over and read it with a fine-tooth comb. What I do want is for someone to read the book and tell me if I hit the main beats. Do you like the characters? Is the story relatable? What do you think I need to make it more clear? Looking for readers with the ability to make brutally honest judgments and the time to give me their unvarnished assessments.

If you’re interested, comment here, or Email me at MichaelSchlossberg@gmail.com.

 

John Lewis & Joy

As most of you are probably aware, Congressman and Civil Rights legend John Lewis died this weekend as a result of cancer. Lewis was 80. He was one of the original speakers at the March on Washington and until this weekend was the last speaker who was alive from that famous day. Congressman Lewis was commonly referred to as the “conscience of Congress” and one of the most powerful voices of the modern era on issues relating to race relations and civil rights. His absence, at this moment, leaves a hole in this country, but at least he died knowing that this country was a better place for his work.

My social media feed was replete with tributes to him – I suspect yours was as well. However, one clip, more than any other, really caught my eye:

To be clear, in this clip, John Lewis – then 76 – is crowd surfing. WEEEEEEE!!

“I just wanted people to keep me up….” That just clipped me in a big way.

I have absolutely zero idea what made Colbert or his producers go, “HEY, I have a great idea…but rock on!” It’s amazing and heartening to watch. And I’ll add this: As you can see in this clip, most of the audience is white. I would have killed to be in that audience and touch John Lewis – to, in his words, make sure that I kept him up. There had to be something so special about that. But there’s a deep sense of poetry there. John Lewis – a man who was beaten on the Edmund Pettus Bridge while fighting for civil rights – being held up by men and women of the same skin color as the men who beat him. It says something about how far we have come.

Of course, as you may suspect, this wasn’t the only clip of John Lewis expressing a deep sense of joy & silliness. Here he is in 2018, dancing away:

Again, the internet is filled with stories of Lewis’s kindness, selflessness, and a sense of caring for other people. Numerous members of Congress spent time discussing the way Congressman Lewis went out of his way to say hello or drop them a kind word.

What does this have to do with mental health? Honestly, quite a bit. We live in very serious times and face seemingly insurmountable issues. Racism. COVID. Climate change. Inequity and more. Every day, brave men and women fight and die facing these issues, willingly or otherwise. John Lewis was one such man.

Lewis could have become an embittered man. Instead, he chose to spend the rest of his life fighting for a cause he believed in, making new friends and allies, new enemies, and more. If a man who almost died on a bridge named after a soldier to the Confederacy could become a public servant and fight the ghost of that Confederacy…what choice do the rest of us have? How can any of us look at the world and decide we must retreat into its shadows when legends like John Lewis fought on?

This doesn’t mean we must always be serious. It doesn’t mean that we forego self-care, reflection, and our own lives. But it does mean that we must use our down moments to lift ourselves back up again.

To paraphrase the life of John Lewis: You have to walk across that bridge to be able to crowd surf.

Find your joy while fighting your fight.

Are suicides increasing during COVID-19?

It was a frequently used argument during the pandemic, one often used against lockdowns: Suicide rates would increase as a result of social isolation, financial hardships, and more limited access to proper medical care. This fear was repeated by medical professionals and medical health care experts. Even Donald Trump repeated the line at one point, arguing that extensive lockdowns would lead to “thousands” of suicides. So great that he and so many others suddenly care about mental health when they spent years defunding services that would prevent suicide and trying to rip health care away from millions, but that’s a completely different story, so let’s move on, let’s move on.

We’re about four months into some of the various lock-downs and quarantines. The question is obvious: What does the data say? Are suicide rates on the rise?

It seems like its too early to tell. We will only be able to more definitively tell the numbers when the annual suicide numbers come out at the beginning of the year, and even then, it will be extremely difficult to determine the cause of the suicide. However, there is some evidence to indicate that things are not as bad as many of us feared they would be – though that could very, very easily change.

First, let’s look at what data is available and what data has been misleading. At the beginning of the pandemic, a doctor said that his California hospital had seen “a year’s worth of suicide attempts” during a four-week period. That report was utterly debunked: Numbers had barely increased at the hospital in question, and locals reported that they believed the local rate had remained stable in the area.

Apparently, calls to some suicide hotlines have increased. Outreach to suicide prevention text lines has increased as well. However, this may not be a bad thing, as it may be a reflection of people turning to the closest support line to get help. Indeed, if these hotlines are working, the increase in calls may be a good thing. Again, unfortunately, there’s no evidence to say one way or the other.

I couldn’t find any hard data discussing whether or not there was any evidence of suicide rate increases in the United States – if someone has that, please correct me. However, I did find evidence that suicide rates have actually dropped 20% in Germany. This is a preliminary finding, so it is likely too early to draw hard conclusions from it.

There is no question that COVID-19 will cause a massive spike in a wide array of social problems, and suicide would certainly seem to be one of these problems. However, as noted by many articles on the subject, it’s more nuanced than simply saying that “The lockdowns led to more deaths.” The pandemic also ripped apart the economy, threw us into a recession, and maybe a depression. There is clear evidence that down economies lead to higher rates of mental illness and suicide. As such, it is difficult to say that lockdowns lead to suicides. It is much more complex than that.

So, what’s the conclusion? There’s no conclusion. Not yet. Time will tell. But, more importantly, policymakers and the community at large must continue to work to mitigate the economic and social impacts of COVID – particularly on the mentally ill. I’m hoping to be able to work on that one over the summer.

Doom Scrolling: What It Is and Why It’s So Dangerous

I think it was at the height of the George Floyd riots (not protests, riots, and I do mean those two differently) that it really hit me. Dozens of cities were burning across the nation, the fire started by the murder of George Floyd. The kids were in bed, and I could not stop looking at Twitter, loading new tweets, reporting whatever horrendously depressing piece of information I learned to my wife, and then letting the cycle repeat itself over and over and over again.

I slept like crap that night. And for the next three.

Finally, at some point, it hit me: What the hell was I doing? Yes, staying informed is important, but this was insane. No good came of me cycling over and over through the battlefield that our news had become. Twitter was horrendous. Facebook was toxic. I needed to put down the damn phone.

I was Doom Scrolling.

Doom Scrolling is when you are staring at your phone, refreshing a social media feed, consciously or subconsciously looking for more bad news. It usually happens late at night, when you turn on your phone to unwind and relax…and instead become convinced that the world is on fire and that you will never get a peaceful night’s sleep again.

Looking at your iPhone late at night is bad enough for your ability to get some sleep, but Doom Scrolling is pretty much the worst thing you can do with your phone before bed, short of trying to eat the damn thing. But the problem with Doom Scrolling is what it does to your mind: It excites it, it terrifies it, it makes you feel sad and afraid. It also revs up your mind at a time you are trying to slow it down and get some rest.

All of these emotions are obviously not conducive to getting a decent night of sleep, and in turn, you wake up feeling sad, anxious, and depressed. This can turn into a bitter cycle.

Stopping Doom Scrolling is important to your mental health. It is difficult, but we have to find a way to do it.

How? Some thoughts.

  • Physically separate from your phone: Yes, that. It can be hard. It may make you twitch. But put your phone somewhere else. Charge it on the other side of the room. Give it to a supportive partner (who probably hates how much time you spend on it, anyway). Set a hard stop: No more phone use after Xpm. Just…go away from it.
  • Monitor your social media habits otherwise: Doom Scrolling happens because we have developed habits that push us towards using our phones anyway. Doom Scrolling is easier to stop when we monitor our social habits to begin with, then avoid staring at our phones at a moment where our minds are already primed to look for the bad news. We all know what it’s like – disappearing down the Scroll Hole. Looking at your phone for so long that you forgot why you started to begin with. Don’t be that person. Develop the habits to stop looking at your phone so much to begin with.
  • Set a time limit: Say you really do want to look at your phone and watch for the news. Maybe you, like me, enjoy being plugged into society and find value in it. That is a totally understandable reflex, and our phones have been unquestionably helpful at building a more connected world…indeed, many of us never would have become as a way of the problems people of color face at the hands of elements of law enforcement, to begin with, were it not for our phones. So, allow yourself ten minutes. Physically set a timer. Scroll for ten. And when your phone rings, be done.

You’ll notice a theme: Some of the pieces of advice that I give are more physical than psychological. That’s because Doom Scrolling is a reaction to the terror around us. I’ve repeatedly tried to note that individual psychology cannot be separated from the real world, and at moments of terror or anxiety, we all become depressed. Our phones just give that an outlet, hence the Doom Scrolling.

And one more thing. Don’t berate yourself for Doom Scrolling. It happens, and it’s okay. You’re not weak. You’re human and normal. We all want to feel connected, even to a world that feels broken. For better or for worse, our phones give us that opportunity.

How much is Doom Scrolling an issue for you? Have you found any tricks that can help you stop it? Let us know in the comments!

EDIT: More Resources! Here is a great article on the topic from Choosing Therapy.