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The Mental Health Benefits of Doggos and Other Animal Friends

According to my Facebook memories, one year ago today, I wrote, “The only true winners of the pandemic are the pets.”

The picture above is the pet, Lexi. We got her in August 2019, and she has been our bestie ever since. She is sweet, lovable, patient, insane, and a wonderful addition to our family. We got her about six months after we lost Molly and a few weeks after we tried – and failed – to foster Mack.

I said it to my wife a thousand times, and it’s true: Lexi made the pandemic so, so much easier. She was a constant companion, a source of amusement, and basically just seemed…pretty glad to have us around. She seemed to just make us happier.

I just wanted to point this out – that’s a very, very real feeling. Doggos help, big time. From a mental health perspective, they:

  • Reduce depression
  • Ease the symptoms of a variety of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression, and PTSD
  • Lower stress hormones
  • Reduce anxiety felt in children
  • Fill us with love and affection

There are a variety of physical benefits as well, including an increase in exercise, lower cholesterol, and improved heart disease. 

Oh…cats. Fine. I’m a dog person – and, unless I’m mistaken, I’ve found more articles about dogs than cats. However, cats do have real benefits on our physical and mental health, with some studies indicating that they lower blood pressure.

Actually, let me add one more thing. For years, Auron has wanted a fish. I mean, years. We told him – years ago – we’d do it when he was ten. To my disbelief, he actually remembered! Well, Auron turned ten the other day, and his Pappy got him a fish. We were all actually really clear with him: This is yours, buddy. You will be responsible for cleaning and feeding it – yes, we are supervising, I don’t want the damn thing to die.

To be clear, don’t get a dog to cure your depression. That’s not fair to the dog. They are living, breathing things. They are real, intense, and expensive responsibilities. But, if you have the time and the money, they are so, so worth it. If you are on the fence, keep that in mind. They are utter joys. And they can make us feel good.

Go Outside: It’s Good for Your Depression – and a Whole Lot More

Let me start by acknowledging that I’m really lucky that I can actually type this up. I have a nice house with a big backyard. Not everyone is able to do this. However, if you can, if it’s nice enough, you have the means to do so, and you have the space to do so – please go outside.

When I was younger, I went outside more often. That slowed as I got older, and I couldn’t even really tell you why. I was never a backyard kind of guy. Then we spent ten years in a home with a relatively small backyard (albeit a nice porch) and I didn’t see much of a point of going out. That changed as I did more research. One book in particular sticks with me – I’ve written about it before – The Depression Cure by Dr. Stephen Ilardi. The book argues that depression came from the way we have crafted civilization and that more time outdoors is necessary to address depression. I had other issues with the book, but on this point, I think is absolutely right.

The basic crux is that going outside helps make you feel more relaxed, more at peace, and more connected to others – even if there is no one around. And it’s backed up by some research:

  • One analysis of ten studies found that self-esteem and mood could be improved for people who spent more time outside.
  • People who walked in nature showed lower activity in brain centers associated with rumination, as opposed to those who walked in an urban center.
  • Being close to nature or “greenspace” can reduce stress, symptoms of anxiety, and provide children with ADD or ADHD additional cognitive benefits.
  • Nature is also associated with lower stress levels and higher levels of relaxation.

Alright, fine, going outside is good for your mental health. That probably isn’t really much of a surprise to you. It also helps explain why I’ve spent so much dam money on my backyard of late. But, let’s be clear, there are implications here that go a bit beyond the need to get some fresh air. Let’s go back to my disclaimer at the front of this article: What about people who don’t have a backyard? People who live in a heavily urbanized area and don’t have nearby public parks or nice amenities? People who are physically disabled and thus unable to easily access the benefits of nature?

Well…I mean, let’s be honest, they’re not going to get the benefit that the rest of us will. And that’s deeply unfair.

Of course, the benefits of nature, parks, greenways, and waterways are about more than improving your mood. Studies also show that access to nature can improve your physical health and provide a sense of connection with others. It can also improve your memory, your concentration, and help you lose weight. It’s pretty clear that being able to get outside in a high-quality space is about more than just improving your mood. It can do a lot more, and maybe, if Dr. Ilardi’s theory is to be believed, help people reconnect with something deeply biological within them.

So, if you can, go outside. Also – if you can – let’s all do a better job of advocating for high-quality public spaces that can be accessible to all of us, regardless of our income levels, where we live, or our levels of physical functioning.

The Rise of Telehealth

Telehealth wasn’t new to COVID-19. The concept has been around for decades and applies differently to different areas of medicine. That being said, one of its most positive potential uses has been in the area of mental health, and in that regard, COVID-19 may have pushed us towards telehealth in a big way.

First, check out this USA Today article on the subject. This line stuck with me:

Prior to the pandemic, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts received about 200 telehealth claims per day. That number reached up to 40,0000 claims per day from April to May 2020, and the insurer is still receiving about 30,000 claims per day almost a year later, according to spokesperson Amy McHugh.

The article also noted that ” mental health appointments made up about 53% of the 7.5 million telehealth claims processed by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts since March 2020.”

This isn’t a surprise, and many of us have had experiences with it. I know I had numerous virtual appointments via telehealth over this pandemic, and I found it every bit as effective as an in-person visit. Maybe even more so – the flexibility that came with it was highly beneficial. I remember having a therapy appointment from my office in Harrisburg!

Of course, it’s not for everyone, but there is unquestionably good news in the area of telehealth. According to a 2020 article from the American Psychological Association, telehealth seems to be working so far. There are even some questions as to whether or not telehealth may be more effective for some groups that are typically less willing to visit a psychiatrists office – like men – as it allows them to get therapy without having to leave their house, thus reducing potential barriers and making it easier for them to overcome self-imposed stigma.

The USA Today article also noted that telehealth can make a therapist more efficient. Said one therapist, “I probably spend somewhere between 2 to 5 minutes per patient moving from one room to another or pausing to document or checking something on their file or handing something off. There are built-in inefficiencies that isn’t time spending with the person… but some of those inefficiencies are taken care of by the fact that everything is electronic.”

Obviously, COVID pushed us more this way as part of all of our efforts to socially distance. However, major challenges remain in terms of full utilization and effectiveness of telehealth services. First, telehealth is predicated on the idea that someone has the broadband infrastructure and necessary equipment. As this pandemic has shown, that is NOT the case for everyone, particularly among rural Americans or the urban poor. Lacking such equipment means that someone will not be able to get the help they need.

Furthermore, there are insurance barriers. Not all insurance companies cover telehealth, and while states of emergency have knocked down many of these barriers, they haven’t destroyed all. As such, insurance regulations need to be updated in many states. However, this presents a problem in and of itself. For example, in Pennsylvania, the issue has been tripped up due to attempts to limit telehealth services and prevent abortion services from being prescribed or conducted via telehealth. Don’t ask.

The point is this: Telehealth is great, but we’ve got a long way to go.

Let me conclude with this: Did you have a telehealth experience with COVID-19? What was it like? Did you find it to be as effective as an in-person visit? We’d love to hear from you – give us your comments below!

Coming Back To Normal

Ahh, the blog entry I’ve been wanting to write for so, so long.

Slowly but surely…it seems like life may, just may, be returning to normal. We’ve got a long way to go, of course, but there is light at the end of the tunnel that is getting brighter by the moment.

A quick look at the facts. As I type this entry on March 14, the United States is making real progress. Excluding an odd data dump, March 13 set the new one-day record for vaccinations, with 2.9 million people vaccinated. 100 million doses have been administered. 13% of all adults are now fully vaccinated, and about 20% of the population has had at least one dose. It’s not herd immunity, but it’s real progress, and the rate of progress is accelerating.

So, what does all this mean? The increasing rates of vaccines and the relatively steady rates of cases implies that we are starting to get to the point that we can resume normal life. Restrictions on businesses and crowds are starting to be loosened, although some states are obviously taking that way too far. Schools are starting to reopen fully or in more hybrid modes. Of course, thanks to new CDC guidelines, families are getting together again, hanging out with fully vaccinated grandparents for the first time.

On March 9, I had lunch with my Mom. Also, this happened:

My parents and in-laws – both fully vaccinated and post two-weeks – have been over, as per the CDC guidelines. There have been snuggles with the grandkids. A year’s worth of snuggles.

Of course, this is all wonderful news. It is desperately needed and wanted. Life is starting to resume. But, that asks a few questions: What does THAT mean from a mental health perspective? Specifically, what are the dangers of this new moment as life gets back to normal?

A few thoughts. First of all, readjustment will be hard for all of us. Events will resume, as will seeing people. Handshakes may come back…maybe. That’s going to be a challenge. I mean, think about it. For most of us, we’ve avoided crowds or crowded buildings. How will we adjust to being near people again?

Another example: Take events. How are any of us going to get used to being around people again? Will it cause major spikes in anxiety?

What about people who have been able to work from home and be near their kids and pets all the time? How will those individuals adjust to being away from their families again?

For people who are in psychologically vulnerable states to begin with, the readjustment may cause real issues. Keep in mind that being “forced” to stay home with loved ones hasn’t been a big problem for many! As such, it begs the question – how will individuals like this react as they resume “normal” activities? And what about people who suffer from anxiety disorders and OCD? What challenges will they face at this moment? After a year of staying home, how will they adjust to being put into an area where there are germs everywhere – even if they have been fully vaccinated?

It goes without saying that these are questions that we should all be grateful we are able to ask. I want us to get back to normal as soon as possible and to resume the lives that we left behind about a year ago. However, this moment is not without its dangers or its struggles. These are things we should monitor in order to ensure that our transition back to “normal” life goes as smoothly as possible.

Lessons That Go Beyond – Applying Tinnitus Lessons to the Rest of My Life

So, as I said some months ago, I managed to jump in a pool funny and develop Tinnitus in my left ear. Yes, it’s every bit as fun as it sounds. For those of who you are (blessed enough to be) unfamiliar, Tinnitus is a ringing in your ear that is non-stop. And it suuuuuuuuucks, let me just tell you. That was about seven months ago now, and there’s never really been a time that it has gone away. So, with some painful brief exceptions, I haven’t really heard silence since early August. It has certainly gotten better, and there are some days where it is better than others, but yeah…it sucks. And no, there is no cure, although some are being researched and show promise. I’m cautiously optimistic that there may be real, physical remedies in the next few years.

Anyway, no, I am not writing this to whine or get sympathy. Actually, I’m writing to share one of the things I learned from it, in the hope that my experiences can positively affect you.

To be clear, the first few weeks I had it was exceptionally difficult. Anxiety and depression are fairly common for Tinnitus sufferers, and they tend to get worse if you already suffer from these disorders…like me. And tinnitus can be even more emotionally painful if you have something called hyperacusis, which is defined as an extreme sensitivity to sound. Yep. Me again.

The first few weeks I had the tinnitus were particularly bad, and I wound up seeing my therapist for it. Interestingly, although there are no physical cures for tinnitus, there are a variety of behavioral techniques and ways in which counseling can help you deal with tinnitus. My therapist…God bless him…was exceptionally helpful in allowing me to identify these techniques.

One such way, and what I wanted to write about today, was something that I alluded to several months ago: Using my new chronic condition for personal growth. I have tried to parallel my new experience with tinnitus to my experiences with depression and anxiety. While both have obviously been hellish experiences, I wouldn’t trade them. They made me stronger, more empathetic and gave me a sense of purpose as a legislator and writer that I never would have had otherwise. It is so strange to say that depression and anxiety made my life so much more joyful and meaningful.

One of the most useful techniques in terms of tinnitus management basically boils down to this: Acknowledge it and move it. There are periods I can forget about the tinnitus – usually when I am wrapped up in work or something fun. I always laugh about it, but the longest I ever went without hearing the ringing in my ear was the day I ran for House leadership – I didn’t hear it for almost the entire day, as I was so intent on making the phone calls and attending the meetings that I needed to attend to win.

Anyway, those moments and days are few and far between, and there are plenty of moments where I hear the tinnitus and get annoyed distracted, sad, or angry. At those moments, one of the things my therapist taught me was to more or less say, “Oh, yep, you’re there. Hello. Nice to see you. Anyway….” and to move on. That requires a letting go and acceptance that I am just terrible at. But, what I will say is that I am learning and getting better. In turn, my tinnitus is getting better. You acknowledge that it’s there but try to remove the emotional connection with it. Studies have shown that the stress and distress you feel with tinnitus aren’t tied to perceived loudness. This means that your level of stress and how you deal with the tinnitus is much more impactful than its actual frequency or volume!

This brings me to a fascinating experience I had last week. As I said above, I have tried to see my depression and anxiety experiences to make myself a better person. When the tinnitus first started, I pledged to try to do the same with the disorder. Doing so, in my mind, would make the tinnitus worth it. And that brings me to this experience.

So, I see something stupid on Facebook. Someone had said something insulting or ignorant, and I’m annoyed by it. And I just have this very quick, almost automatic thought: “Whatever, I know it’s bothering me, but I’ll just acknowledge it and move on…oh–”

It was my Tinnitus process hitting something more real.

Look, this thing sucks. And I won’t pretend otherwise. BUT, that doesn’t mean that good can’t come from it. It doesn’t mean that you cannot experience something good from something just absolutely terrible. And I hope I will continue to take the lessons I’ve learned from Tinnitus and apply them to the rest of my life.

More importantly: I hope you can keep this motto as well. I hope you can try to find the good in the bad and apply lessons you’ve learned from negative experiences into positive ones. Negative experiences, terrible tragedies, horrible events – I am not stupid enough to say that they are “worth it” or won’t cause you endless hours of pain or torment. But what I will say is that one way of dealing with these experiences is to try to take the lessons learned in order to make them more “worth it.” I have found this to be an excellent coping mechanism, one that has helped me take a real challenge and turn it into something positive. I hope this is something you can do, too.

Why is it so hard to find a therapist?

If I hear about one issue related to mental health over and over, it’s this: Why can’t I find someone to see me? Why is it so hard to find a therapist? Why can’t I find a bed to help me with my loved one who needs hospitalization? It is, unquestionably, the most frustrating issue in the mental health world – one that I would argue is more frustrating and problematic than general issues like access, affordability, parity, and stigma. Heck, we could solve all of these issues, but if we can’t get people into a therapist, it doesn’t matter.

The reason, roughly, comes down to this: A shortage of practitioners.

There is a well-documented shortage of mental health practitioners. According to available information, the shortage is growing across all fronts, including marriage and family therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and more. This shortage is particularly acute in some areas, like poorer states, or more rural states. It also gets worse as you start getting into specific areas of mental health, like geriatric or pediatrics psychology. In my home – the Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania – we’re actually comparatively in good shape. This may come as a surprise to many people in our area!

So, why is there such a shortage? As you can imagine, there are many reasons. The biggest one is reimbursement rates. Simply put, psychiatrists and psychologists are not paid as much by insurance companies or Medicare/Medicaid as other doctors, particularly specialists. This, in turn, leads docs to go into more lucrative fields. That’s not it, of course. In fact, one of my legislative colleagues, Rep. Jeanne McNeill, was able to get a resolution passed that studied the mental health care practitioner shortage in Pennsylvania. That study identified numerous reasons, including regulatory barriers, burnout, parity issues, and information sharing.

What can we do about it? An in-depth analysis is well beyond my ability to address in a blog entry that I usually try not to break 500 words with, but in a nutshell, I think it comes down to investment. Everything above can be addressed with money. Not eliminated, of course. But absolutely addressed.

And, just like that, we’re back at my favorite topic. Everyone says they care about mental health. Great, neat. Can we do something about it? Can we pretend that it actually matters and invest in things like our workforce? In telehealth laws that will ensure that everyone has good access to mental health care, and broadband services to ensure that rural Americans can actually see a doctor no matter where they live? Can we enforce parity laws and ensure that larger insurance companies are meeting their needs when it comes to mental health coverage? Can we get the federal government to expand what they pay for in terms of mental health?

Gah. I’m on my soapbox again. But what I’m saying is accurate! Until the day comes that we actually treat mental health with the seriousness that it deserves, we’re gonna have practitioner shortages. This will limit the number of people that can get the care they deserve.

The Smallest Things Can Make the Biggest Difference

As an elected official, I tend to get captured by big ideas. That’s not a bad thing, obviously. Personally, I think this world needs more big ideas and big plans to tackle big problems, and I wish we had more energy to move in these directions.

That being said, sometimes, big ideas come with little problems. When you hear a big plan to tackle an issue like mental illness or suicide, you think that these are the ONLY things that can tackle depression or suicide. That leads to even more dangerous thoughts: You can’t do anything about it. That’s not true. That’s not true at all.

There is no question that grand gestures and big plans often work, and work well, preventing us from getting into trouble in the first place. But, on an interpersonal level, it is the little things that matter. In fact, more often than not, I’d put money down that it’s the little things that you remember. And, in the long wrong, “little things” is a misnomer. Little things can make a big blessing.

This leads to the obvious question: What are the little things that you can do – that all of us can do – that can save a life or help someone who is struggling feel better?

The Shortest Note: I always got a kick out of this study. In the 1970s, two doctors sent follow up letters to a group of patients who had just been released from the hospital, checking in, expressing concern, and saying that they wanted to stay in touch. Another group didn’t get such letters. The results? Of the group who did get the letters, which came on a regular basis, 1.8% died by suicide within two years. In the group that didn’t? 3.52%.

The conclusion? If the study’s findings are accurate, the smallest thing – the smallest little thing – can help to keep someone alive. This remarkable finding shows that people just want to know someone cares, someone values them, and someone is there if they reach out. Does this mean you can stop a suicide? Not necessarily. But it does mean that regularly checking on someone – letting them know that you value them – can help ease their pain. And yeah, maybe keep them alive.

Call Them By Their Name: The rates of suicide or suicide attempts among the transgender community are hellaciously high: Greater than 50% of transgender male teenagers reported a suicide attempt, with nearly 30% for transgender females. These rates of mental illness and suicide are tied to a few factors, including family rejection, bullying, harassment, or perceived danger. However, there is nothing inherent to being transgender that leads to higher risk of suicide, as transgener individuals who do get the support and acceptance they deserve do not have a higher risk of suicide.

So, what does that support look like? Well, accepting these people for who they are. Puberty blockers reduce the risk of suicide. So does the most simple thing: Calling a person by their chosen name and gender. Calling someone by the name they want reduces their risk of suicide and depression.

Again – it’s the little things.

Ask: There is a misnomer out there – that talking about suicide can implant the idea of suicide in someone’s head. To be clear, this isn’t true. In fact, the opposite is true: Bringing up the subject can save a life. This is because discussing the subject and asking specific questions, such as, “Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Have you been thinking about ending your life? Do you have any plans on it?” can actually check on someone. If done in a caring, compassionate matter, you can tell someone that you are concerned about them, and thus make it clear: You’re here to help. Asking someone if they are in pain or considering suicide will NOT make them more likely to make an attempt. In fact, the opposite may be true.

I need to be clear about something: Not stopping someone from dying by suicide is never someone’s fault. Suicide is a complex, complicated process that almost always involves multiple factors. It’s never just one thing, and it’s virtually impossible for it to be your fault. However, while stopping suicide may not be our fault, it is something we should all take responsibility for. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a doctor. You don’t need formal training. The smallest measures of kindness and compassion can save a life.

The debate about in-person vs. virtual school misses the point

As a parent – and as a policy-maker – it seems as if everything we do these days is related to COVID. How will we recover? How can we ensure that everyone is getting the vaccine who deserves it? How can we deal with the devastating economic and unemployment effects? How soon can we (safely) get kids back into school?

Of course, the mental health impacts of COVID are damning as well, and much of that blame – at least for our kids – has been thrown at the feet of virtual learning. There is a lot of truth in that, of course. Evidence is clear that the mental health of our kids are, on the whole, suffering, with a rise noted in self-reported rates of depression and visits to the emergency room. Some are quick to cite the idea that this is a direct result of the fact that millions of kids are in some sort of virtual learning environment now, either full-time or on a hybrid schedule.

That being said, I really, truly believe that much of this debate misses the point. Why? Because – even for kids who are in school – they’re not getting their usual experience.

If you are in the real world in any capacity, you know it: Everything is different. Wear your mask. Wash your hands. STAY MORE THAN SIX FEET AWAY FROM ME. And if you are someone who was prone to anxiety, you are nervous every time you go out, because you can, quite literally, contract a deadly disease at any moment.

Okay, fine. Now, take all those fears and all those changes, and apply them to school. What do you get? A recipe for disaster. Take this article from Wisconsin Public Radio that details the struggles of kids in the pandemic. It notes, correctly, that zoom school makes it harder for kids to get the help they need and limits social interactions and the desperately needed personal connections. But, it also notes that in-person school is not a panacea:

With the broad disruption wrought by COVID-19, though, simply bringing students back into classrooms doesn’t resolve their mental health concerns.

In the Lake Mills district, where Kisten [a school psychologist] works, students have been mostly attending school in person since the start of the year.

“There’s a lot of grief right now, but the students don’t really have the right words to express that, or they don’t even know what it is that they’re feeling,” she said.

Other evidence has buttressed this point: Kids’ mental health is suffering regardless of where they are in school.

I don’t want to miss the point: Zoom and electronic learning is a cause for mental illness. There’s no question about it. However, even among those who are in school, things aren’t normal. And this is hurting the mental health of our kids.

The debate about whether or not kids should be in school or virtual misses the point entirely. We should be concentrating on SAFELY getting all of our kids back into school, then providing them with the mental health supports that they need in order to thrive. Even kids who are in school are reporting difficulties right now. Real-life or virtual, they’re in pain.

Our Role as Parents

As I type this…damnit to hell, I was about to write something sweet about my kids, but I swear to God, my son just screamed “OW!” at the top of his lungs. I’m not sure what happened, but he’s…oh, for God’s sake, he’s upside-down now, playing on the couch. Kids are weird. 

Well, at least I got cute pictures:

IMG_0532

Kids are weird. Yup. Also, here’s my daughter, because as any parent of multiples knows, if you include one kids, you HAVE TO INCLUDE THE OTHER LEST YOU EXPOSE YOURSELF TO ACCUSATIONS OF FAVORITISM. And yes, she was in motion. She’s always in freakin motion. 

Anyway, the kiddos have been on my mind lately. No reason – they’re wonderful, and Brenna and I are very blessed. They spent about two months doing virtual school but have been able to get back to face to face. We’ve sent them to a Jewish Day School in the area for years but pulled them virtual when we were uncomfortable with the COVID numbers. 

Our experience has been blessed. Our kids are physically and emotionally healthy. That is very unlike students profiled in this Morning Call article, who have suffered mightily during the pandemic. And that is nothing compared to the issues faced by students in Las Vegas. Nevada has long been a suicide hotspot, having the 11th highest suicide ratings – and that was before the pandemic. Now? Suicides are so bad that schools are reopening as part of an effort to clamp down on a rash of suicides.

These numbers are brutal. My wife and I are lucky, and while I like to think that we’re good parents, I’m not dumb enough to think that our kids’ health doesn’t have a heaping dose of luck in it. But…I don’t want to understate the role that parents play in terms of their kids’ mental health.

Sometimes, it’s the little things, but they can be so, so meaningful for kids with certain challenges or issues. For example, take transgender kids. According to studies, suicide rates amongst transgender adults are absurdly high: One study shows that more than half of all transgender people attempt suicide. But there’s good news: Parents who are accepting and supportive of their kids can help reduce these suicide and depression risks. This involves promising unconditional love, support, and using chosen names and pronouns.

Of course, there are a million little ways that this is the case, and your kid doesn’t have to be transgender. According to a 2017 study on suicide and parental involvement, parental involvement and support can have a “significant” influence on reducing suicide. The connection is not a question – it makes perfect sense. Kids grave the love and support of their parents, and that support can help  keep them alive.

Because of my own history, I regularly worry about my kids’ mental health. I regularly think about that nightmare scenario. The only way I comfort myself at those moments is by reminding myself there are some things I can do. Loving my kids – unconditionally – and supporting them – that’s about it. That’s all any of us can ask for, and that’s all any of us can do. 

Keep that in mind in your worst moments as a parent. You matter deeply to them, even when you think you don’t.

The Mental Health Struggles of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Today is January 18, and a national holiday, one in which we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many wiser than me have opined on his legacy and it’s countless unfulfilled parts, and I won’t attempt to do so here. Suffice to say, I would encourage you to visit The King Center for more information on his life and his continuing mission. 

One of the under-explored aspects of Dr. King’s life is his mental health – and challenges therein. It’s something which, candidly, I never realized, but according to multiple accounts, Dr. King struggled with his mood and experienced significant highs and lows. I didn’t realize this, but Dr. King actually attempted suicide. He also missed time in high school that was attributed to his mental health struggles.

Furthermore:

As an adult, Rev. King experienced bouts of severe depression. The stigma against individuals with mental illness, which we still battle today, was even more profound in the 1960s. Concerned that people opposed to the civil rights movement would use it as a way to try to discredit him, his incidents with depression remained a closely held secret during his lifetime.

We have, of course, come a long way. I would hope that the words of Dr. King – that we must never fail to be loud in our battles for a better world – would serve as an inspiration for us all. I would certainly hope they inspire us to fight for better mental health, but particularly for minorities, who we know are far, far more likely to suffer from serious mental illness and less likely to get the treatment they need and deserve.

However, for those of you who draw inspiration from the life, struggles, and legacy of Dr. King, I ask you take a moment to additionally appreciate his struggles. This man was a suicide survivor. He survived at least one attempt on his life before being killed. He was under constant physical threat and arrested 29 times.

And yet…here we are, more than 50 years after his death, writing about the sections of his dream that were completed, and the large swaths of his legacy that remain unfulfilled.

Dr. King was someone special, a man of immense talent and power. But he only found who he was because he lived to see it. Because he didn’t die when he attempted suicide. Because he fought his demons. None of us are any more special than anyone else when we are born…we simply make ourselves into who we become. Look what Dr. King made. Look what you can make as well.

I wish I knew more about Dr. King and his mental illness, and I plan on doing more research into the subject. But I will say that there is clearly enough evidence to indicate that Dr. King suffered extraordinarily from depression. May his legacy serve to remind us to better care for all, but particularly those who are clearly still suffering from so much pain that they don’t deserve.