The Mental Health of our LGBTQ Friends

We celebrated National Coming Out Day last Friday, and it gave me a few things to think about. As we all know, this world is hard enough. The times we live in are more interconnected, more stressful and more difficult than they ever have been, and I do think that the current state of our world is adding to our rising rates of mental illness and suicide.

So, imagine being someone who so many in society say is wrong.

I’m a straight, white man. This comes with many societal advantages. And let me be clear, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to be a sexual orientation that is different.

But numbers don’t lie: It’s a harder life. A quick look at the statistics:

  • 28% of all LGBTQ youth said they felt depressed most of the time (in the past 30 days), compared to 12% of non-LGBTQ youth.
  • When compared to non-LGBTQ youth, LGBTQ youth are:
    • Twice as likely to feel suicidal.
    • Four times as likely to attempt suicide.
  • Over the course of their lifetime, 30-60% of LGBTQ people deal with depression – 1.5 – 2.5 times as straight individuals.
  • These issues are largely impacted by perceived support and social stigma.

So, what can we do to help individuals who identify as LGBTQ? A few things. First, remember, all language counts. If you show bias towards one group, individuals are far more likely to perceive you as biased towards another. Don’t be that person who uses bias and then jumps in with, “But I have a gay friend!” Don’t show bias in your language. Don’t use derogatory terms to discuss anyone. Language counts. Language reinforces stigma and stereotypes. Use appropriate pronouns. Use language that is kind and respectful. And just…don’t be an ass.

Second: Show your support. You don’t know who is struggling or who is desperate for someone to talk to. One study which was bouncing its way around my Facebook feed showed that an LGBT individual who found a supportive adult could see their risk of suicide drop by 40%. Be that one person. And be so explicitly. Yeah, post something to your Facebook page about how you support LGBT people and you’re a safe person to come out to. Is it gonna get anyone to come out to you? Maybe. But, more importantly, someone who is LGBTQ will see it, and will appreciate it. They will know that you value them as a person. That you believe in their dignity and basic human rights.

Third: Support policies which humanize LGBTQ people. In most places in Pennsylvania, you can be fired or evicted for being gay. That’s madness, and laws matter: When gay marriage was equal in only some states, studies showed that LGBTQ people had better mental health and lower rates of addiction when they lived in states where gay marriage was legal. Again: PUBLIC POLICY MATTERS. It makes a difference! Support your LGBT friends by supporting candidates for office who support human dignity for all.

Others who are better versed in this subject have written about it, and I encourage you to read more about how to help millions of Americans feel loved and safe. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be a minority in America – particularly today, given that the President is a racist, xenophobic monster who stirs up hatred at anyone he can find. That being said, I remain convinced – now more than ever – that this is the moment to show our friends – all of our friends – the love and respect they deserve. Be that person. Be one of the people who tells our friends that they are loved. You may save a life.

The Hope and Sadness: Out Of The Darkness Walk

With one exception, I’ve had the honor of speaking at every Out Of The Darkness walk which has occurred in the Lehigh Valley in the time I’ve been a State Representative. Since I began publicly discussing my struggles with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, my role has expanded, and I’ve MCed the event for the past few years. I came back from this year’s event a few minutes ago, and I wanted to discuss it.

First and foremost: Man. It’s really, really tough. People walk around with shirts and team shirts and mottos and anti-suicide tattoos and teams of people and you just feel their pain. There are sweet dogs everywhere.

I always have a tough time – particularly during the Honor Bead ceremony, where you introduce family members and attempt survivors – and that just breaks you. You read these stories out loud of people with life and love and potential, and they are gone. This year, I had the honor of reading the Honor Bead ceremony with Congresswoman Susan Wild, someone I’m proud to call a friend. As many of you likely read, Congresswoman Wild lost her long-term partner, Kerry, to suicide, and has lead a very public fight for suicide prevention and mental illness. I cannot imagine how hard it was for her.

And I’m not gonna lie, I feel terrible feeling emotional. I’ve struggled with depression, and I have been suicidal, but I’ve never attempted suicide. I’ve lost people I’ve known, but never a dear friend or someone I love. And you walk around this event – people come with shirts and signs of their loved ones – and you can’t even imagine their pain.

Please understand, I am not looking for comfort here. I get why it’s hard. I just don’t think my pain compares to those who walk for someone they love. And I don’t expect it to, either.

The one story I don’t think I’ll ever forget was this:

That…yeah. It was hard.

Here’s the dichotomy of the event though, and I suppose it’s more a reflection on the dichotomy of the human experience. It was still, for all the sadness and grief, a beautiful event.

First of all, they raised over $115,000. YAY!!! Oh, you can go here to donate. And you should.

Second of all. It’s not all sadness. It was stories of hope. People who survived and turned their life around. An army vet who survived addiction and multiple attempts to stand on that stage in honor of the 22 veterans who die by suicide every single day. People who walk to remember, and who find each other. I kept watching people talk to Congresswoman Wild and say thank you. But there was a real feeling of community there.

As I said in my brief remarks, everyone who attended and walked was brave. We all know what a prominent issue suicide is: 47,000 died in 2017, and more than 1.4 million attempts. And yet, still. Silence and stigma. Every step that was taken, every dollar raised – that’s a little crack in the darkness. I’ll take that.

So, despite the sadness and pain of an event like this, you have to find hope. It can be a struggle. It can be emotionally and physically draining. But it was such a beautiful event to participate in. People found hope, found each other. And found an awful lot of puppies. Seriously, that really helped. The puppies.

I won’t lie and say I’m fine – it was a hard event to run. Speaking personally, there’s a sense of burden there. You want to do the best job you can, and you want to let people know that those of us in power are listening. And that we share their pain and want to help alleviate it.

As always, thanks for reading. Please leave any thoughts below!

3 Unexpected Things Which Are Linked To Mental Illness

We all know that there are some things which correlate positively with mental illness: Stress, negative changes in economics, etc. But it’s more than that – and it’s some areas which you probably wouldn’t expect.

So, here are a three random items – well, seemingly random items – which are correlated with mental illness.

And a reminder straight out of Statistics 101: Correlation does not equal causation. Two items being linked doesn’t mean that one causes the other.

1) Air Pollution

I stumbled across this one while looking at the news, and it really surprised me, but here goes: Air pollution in children is positively correlated with worse psychiatric disorders, according to a study from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The study also noted that already existing research had already established the connection in adults. So, as if we needed another reason to reduce air pollutions (besides all the asthma and death and climate change), here’s more. And, because life is deeply unfair if you’re poor, the study also found that the worst outcomes were reserved for kids who lived in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

2) Childhood infections

This one is, admittedly, not one I would have expected but when you think about it, it sort of makes sense.

According to a 2018 report, researchers in Denmark found links between certain infections and some mental illnesses, like depression, bipolar and schizophrenia. The theory here is that certain infections can activate the immune system. This, in turn, caused certain mental illnesses to set in.

This wasn’t a small study, either – it tracked 1.1 million Denmark children born over a seven year period.

3) Brain inflammation

I’ve actually discussed this one before, but there appears to be a connection between inflammation and depression. As noted in the link above, there is some research to indicate that anti-inflammatory drugs may be able to help reduce symptoms of depression.

Further research and writings have indicated that it is possible that inflammation is at the core of many physical and mental illnesses. As such, treating brain inflammation may be critical to reducing depression, anxiety and a whole array of other psychiatric disorders.

I’d actually argue that the brain inflammation one is the most interesting here. Why? Because the last article highlights just how much we know now compared to what we thought we knew years ago – and, of course, we will likely repeat that observation in the next ten years as well. What else will we learn? Will we be able to specifically engage in gene therapy to fight off mental illnesses? What kinds of treatments will evolve? It’s a fascinating question.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Work, Work Hours & Mental Illness

I have frequently discussed the importance of examining other real-life factors, such as economics and housing, as we discuss reducing mental illness and suicides. Well, here’s a great article on why: A new study directly ties shift work and varying hours to depression. From the article:

In particular, the study found, shift workers were 33% more likely to have depression than people who didn’t work nights or irregular schedules.

Shift workers also had a higher chance of developing anxiety, but in this case the difference was too small to rule out the possibility that it was due to chance.

Women appeared particularly vulnerable to the negative mental health effects of shift work, researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health.

Compared to women who worked consistent weekday schedules, women who worked nights or split shifts were 78% more likely to experience adverse mental health outcomes.

The article was based on a report which examined seven studies, totally 28,438 participants. It specifically blamed this increase in depression and anxiety to a disruption of sleep; the connection between a lack of sleep and mental illness has been well documented.

This, obviously, is not the only study which ties work challenges to mental illness – or economic trouble in general. When unemployment increases, so does depression and suicide. Increases in foreclosures and evictions are directly tied to increases in suicides, and states which increased their minimum wages saw slower growth in suicides than states which held their minimum wages even.

This goes back to one of the points I have hit on this blog and in my advocacy over and over again: Mental illness is not always about mental health. It’s myopic to make such an assumption. As we talk about reducing mental illness, we have to talk about increasing the social safety net, about making sure people can get good jobs for fair wages, about giving people a chance to recover from economic hardship. And yes, this unquestionably informs my politics.

The working poor are not more likely to have mental illness or die by suicide than the economically secure, but suicide increases in both groups when there is a change in economic status. We can’t necessarily stop someone’s economic situation from turning south, but we need to at least make sure that everyone has the resources in place to give them a chance to recover.

 

Stigma, Shame & First Responders

My mental health and legislative worlds frequently come together, but an article and what happened yesterday really made me blink.

First, the good news. At a hearing yesterday, the Pennsylvania House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness committee moved a bill of mine. HB1459 would give first responders more mental health resources. It would require trauma and mental health training, create a peer to peer mentorship program and mandate the creation of a toll-free hotline for first responders who are struggling with mental health issues.

I feel like legislation like this is more important then ever. Why? Stories like this, which report on the NYPD’s ongoing mental health and suicide crisis, and the unwillingness of some police officers to seek mental health help, despite the fact that they feel the need to do so:

In a new report, the Department of Investigation’s Office of the Inspector General surveyed officers who retired in 2016 and found that 25 percent of them reported going through a period of emotional stress, trauma or substance abuse that caused them to consider getting professional help.

But more than a third of those officers did not end up seeking assistance, according to the report.

Half of them expressed fear that the department would find out about their decision to seek support.

So, what do we do here?

First, there are internal things that I think the NYPD can do. Chief among them? Work to change the culture and attack stigma by sharing stories of successful police officers who have experienced mental illness, sought help, and thrived.

Furthermore, the NYPD must do whatever it can to stress the confidential nature of their programs. According to the report, 50% of people surveyed were worried about the department finding out about their illnesses, 45% of negative labels, and 39% afraid of being put on a modified assignment. As the NYPD notes, an “extremely small number” of officers do wind up having their weapons taken away, but they are given those back upon successful treatment. Treatment is confidential, except in cases where the officer in question may present a danger to themselves or others.

The second is broader: We need cultural change at a society wide level. When we discuss the importance of stigma when it comes to mental health, this is why. Stigma is more than just how people look at the mental ill, its how we look at mental illness within ourselves. Clearly, as cases like this demonstrate, a culture of machismo and an overabundance of self-reliance can kill. For reasons like this, we clearly must do a better job of reminding people that there is no shame in seeking help, and that in many cases, its the only way to lead a happy, healthy and productive life.

How To Support A Friend Who Lost Someone To Suicide

It goes without saying that when someone you care about loses a person they love to suicide, you want to do everything you can to support that person. That being said, survivors of suicide loss endure an array of emotions: Guilt and loss, fear and anger, confusion and resentment.

During that experience, you want to do whatever is necessary to help your friend through their trauma. But you want to do so in a way which is most supportive of them and respects their complex emotional needs.

That’s a tough balancing act. On one hand, you want to be there for them – checking in on them, calling/texting, asking if they need anything. On the other the loss can be exceptionally painful, and you want to respect the other person’s space while still making sure they know you’re there.

Walking that line can be difficult. Here are some tips on how to do it.

1) Have realistic expectations: Your friend is undergoing the worst trauma and pain of their life. You cannot make it all better. All you can do is be supportive and caring. Make sure you remember that in all of your interactions with your friend. When my friend lost her husband, I gave myself two goals: Be there for her, and make her laugh with the occasional terrible joke. If you can make a wounded person smile, even for a moment, you’ve done a good deed.

2) Check for professional advice: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a great blog entry on how you can support someone who suffers a suicide loss, and their tips are extremely valuable. Among their advice: Be patient, don’t attempt to empathize (unless you’ve been through a suicide) and read up on suicide loss. Alternatively, if you have access to one, check with a therapist or other professional to get guidance about how to best approach the situation.

3) Follow their lead: The “how” of talking to someone who lost someone to suicide can be difficult. Follow their lead. If they look like they are looking for humor, engage. If they don’t want to talk, but appreciate your calls, tell them about your day. If they are too depressed to move, wrap an arm around them, bake them a cake and watch TV with them. Take your lead from the person in question and understand how emotionally volatile of a time it is for them.

4) Be explicit with your friend: “I will text you every day to say hello, see how you are doing, and ask if you need anything. If you want me to stop, say the word and I will.” Tell your friend anything and everything you are prepared to do. Be specific: Offer to cook meals or do the laundry. Just make sure the person knows you are there. Even if they don’t seem like they appreciate it, I bet they do.

5) Don’t ask questions: “How did they die? Was it suicide? Were they depressed?” It’s a human impulse, but the answer is absolutely, positively none of your damn business, unless your friend decides to tell you what’s happening. Then, and only then, is it appropriate to ask questions, and even then, use restraint and caution. Remember, your goal is to alleviate your friend’s pain, not get your own curiosity satisfied.

6) Don’t spread rumors: Shut. Up. Keep what you learn in confidence. Don’t discuss anything you haven’t been specifically cleared to discuss. In some cases, your friend may want other people to know. In others, they may desire privacy. Whatever your friend wants, respect it. Remember, it’s not your story to tell.

7) Check with people closer: If you’re confused about how to behave – should you call/text, do they want flowers, should you cook a meal, etc – check in with someone closer. There may be closer friends or family in a less emotionally fragile state, and if that’s the case, you can get some additional guidance. When my friend lost her husband, I texted her best friend to ask if it was alright for me to be regularly texting and checking in. The friend confirmed, and I continued.

8) Don’t stop when the immediate crisis is over: In the immediate aftermath of a suicide, the world swarms. Then the funeral happens, and too many people forget. Don’t be that person. The wounds will last a lifetime – don’t let go of your friend. Don’t stop checking in. The pain will remain – make sure your support does as well.

For those of you with additional experience in this realm, I really welcome your feedback for all of us. If you’ve endured such a loss, what did your friends do right? What did they do wrong? What did you want the world to know that they didn’t?

Thanks for reading. I hope if was helpful.

5 Things Every School Should Have to Help Students with Mental Health

The trends are painfully, tragically clear: When it comes to the declining state of mental health in America, it is our youth which is suffering the most. Rates of depression and anxiety are on the rise in a big way. Suicide rates are increasing across the board, and that trend is hitting our youngest the hardest. Suicide is now the 2nd leading death for those aged 10-34.

Clearly, more needs to be done in terms of helping our youngest battle their mental health demons and become strong, resilient adults. I will not pretend to have all the answers. But I think I have some pretty good ideas on how we can do a better job. To that end, here are 5 things every school needs to help their kids be mentally healthy and strong.

Adequate Psychological Services

The number of counselors which are available in our schools is tragically low. Available statistics recommend that there be one counselor for every 250 students. The actual number is more like 1 counselor to every 482 students. Pay and workforce development have a lot to do with it, but this is also reflective of competing priorities at schools, which are forced to spend more money to deal with other pressing issues. Simply put, we need to actually give schools the money to actually deal with these problems and protect and help our students.

Mental Health Education

I mean this in two ways. First is the obvious: All students should be taught more on mental health, recognizing symptoms of mental illness and what mental illness really is. This should go hand in hand with physical health, as far as I’m concerned.

I’d also argue that kids face more pressures and many are becoming less emotionally resilient. This means that they are less able to cope with the pressures of today, and as a result, becoming more mentally ill – and all this at a time when the pressures upon them are dramatically increasing.

So, what does this mean? We have to teach our kids how to cope, build resiliency and support their friends. I also think we have to teach digital education as much as we teach about other social influences, like peer pressure. This means that kids need to understand that what they see in the digital world isn’t what is happening in the real one.

Ways to Report Problems

Too many kids see problems in their friends but don’t know where to turn, particularly if it means getting a friend in trouble. As such, we need more ways – preferably anonymous or digital – which give kids a safe space to send troubled friends.

In Pennsylvania, we recently unrolled the Safe 2 Say text line. This program, run by the State Attorney General, allows for kids to report when there are threats of violence or mental illness among their friends. Even as early as April, the program was an overwhelming success, stopping violent acts and suicides.

Anti-Stigma Campaigns

Anti-Stigma campaigns which encourage kids to seek help and care for themselves are necessary. Younger generations have done better than older ones have at recognizing that mental illness is serious and treatable, but we still have a long way to go. Multi-media campaigns and speeches featuring ordinary Americans can help to address this stigma, and these kind of public awareness campaigns should be conducted in a culturally appropriate way which allows for students to recognize the severity and treatability of mental illness.

Improved Teacher and Staff Training & Resources

Last – I think we need to do a better job of helping teachers recognize the symptoms of mental illness, and then assisting them in handling it or getting kids help. Teachers are often asked to do quite a bit, but aren’t given the time and resources to handle their overwhelming responsibilities.

I’d also argue that all the training in the world won’t mean a thing if we don’t give teachers the resources to prevent mental illness in the first place, or at least create situations which don’t exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness. What does this mean? Easy. Create manageable class sizes. Allow teachers the space and flexibility to teach in a manner which will engage their kids. Stop with this obsession with standardized testing, and allow for kids to learn at their own pace and subject matter which interests them. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it again: All of this stuff is connected. Here are some great examples of how mental illness and education are linked. And if we acknowledge that to be the case, we can try to fix some of the deficiencies within our system.

And, as always, I know I’m missing stuff. But what? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let us know in the comments below!

 

Medication is Not Addiction: A response to a misinformed column

I spent way too much time on Sunday on Twitter, joining a chorus of voices who were yelling at David Lazarus, a columnist or the Los Angeles times. Lazarus wrote a column in which he discusses his own experience at trying to withdraw from anti-depressants. The title of the column? “Hi, I’m David. I’m a drug addict.”

Yep. Only went downhill from there.

Ironically, Lazarus discussed important issues like the over prescribing of medication, failure to adequately warn patients about side effects and discontinuation syndrome. These are real, important issues. They merit serious, thoughtful consideration. Instead, Lazarus decided to call millions of Americans (like me) drug addicts. He esoterically wondered “Who am I, really?” about taking anti-depressants. It’s a tragic, misguided view, one which reinforces stigma and will prevent people from getting help they need. And the language used by Lazarus is just appalling. If I’m a drug addict, so is everyone else who uses medication to survive for any other condition.

Really, this is just an ugly article.

I wrote a response which the Los Angeles Times did not accept, citing their policy to not run op-eds in response to other op-eds. Fair enough. My response, then, is below.

Don’t believe crap like what Lazarus decided to spew. Medication can be a vitally important part of any therapeutic regimen. It has saved thousands of lives.

Let’s say you are a diabetic and require insulin to live. One day, a friend tells you to quit insulin. Stunned, you ask why. Your friend responds: “Well, you can’t live without insulin. That makes you a drug addict.”

That’s absurd, right? Taking a prescribed medication in recommended doses doesn’t make you a drug addict. That makes you a responsible adult.

But the above scenario would never really happen, right? No one would ever claim that taking medication to treat diabetes, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s would make you a drug addict.

But, apparently, such an understanding does not apply to the millions of Americans who take medication to manage mental illnesses. To Americans like me.

For eighteen years, I’ve been diagnosed with a major depressive and generalized anxiety disorder. I’ve been suicidal. The medication which I take, in conjunction with therapy and lifestyle changes, has saved my life.

About five years ago, I made the decision, as a Pennsylvania State Representative, to start discussing my battles with depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. I did so in response to the stigma which surrounds mental illness. Depression isn’t a weakness. It can’t be willed away. Taking medication doesn’t say anything about one’s character any more than having heart disease indicates a moral failure.

That’s why I was so disheartened to read Mr. Lazarus’ column: It took serious issues like over-prescribing  and discontinuation syndrome – issues which deserve thoughtful, reflective discussion – and conflated them with drug addiction. To be sure, medication is not a panacea. It often takes months, if not years, to find appropriate medication and dosage. Prescribers sometimes fail to appropriately monitor their patients. Side effects are real and dangerous. All of these issues demand thoughtful consideration and conversation.

However, such problems exist in virtually all areas of medicine, and no one would reasonably or seriously suggest that we should stop prescribing scientifically proven medication to people in need. Yet, that is exactly what some suggest when it comes to mental health.

Mr. Lazarus refers to himself as a “drug addict” for taking anti-depressants. Yet, he also discusses being a diabetic who takes medication for chronic Type 1 diabetes. Strangely, he declines to refer to himself as a “drug addict” for requiring insulin to manage his blood sugar levels. I wonder why.

We should never, ever be so foolish as to conflate appropriate use of anti-depressants with drug addiction. To do so makes people who take anti-depressants to live sound like sound like a caricature of a drug addict, desperate for their next hit of smack…or, as I like to call it, the pills which help me not want to kill myself every morning.

Contrary to what some believe, anti-depressants are not happy pills which whisk you away on a cotton-candy cloud, carrying you to Lollipop Island to float with gumdrops all day long. What they do is help you control symptoms, improve your mood and make other forms of change – like psychological therapy and lifestyle changes – easier to obtain.

Taking medication for mental illness doesn’t change who you are. It allows you to be who you are.

Far too many Americans have ignored their own minds and medical advice, choosing to try and “tough out” spells of depression, to “man up” or ignore these painful and rehabilitating symptoms. Too many Americans have powerful fears that taking anti-depressants makes you weak. This stigma must be crushed and rebutted in the same way intelligent society has pushed back on those who attack vaccines.

Anti-vaxxers and those who deny the positive impact of anti-depressants are flip sides of the same coin: They seek to use pseudoscience and stigma. Science has given us incredible tools which can be used to our great physical and emotional benefit. To ignore those tools, or to somehow wrap their use in shame, serves only to pull us into a darkness which we should have left behind decades ago.

The nearly 1 in 5 Americans who suffer from mental illness – including me – deserve to have our challenges discussed with respect and a comprehensive understanding of mental health treatment options. This discussion is simply incomplete without discussing the importance, effectiveness and risks of medication. No one who takes an anti-depressant is a drug addict, any more than a person who takes Prilosec for heartburn is addicted to not having their chest feel like is on fire.

The facts are stark. Depression rates are skyrocketing, rising sharpest among today’s youth, who have seen nearly 50% increases in rates of depression. 47,000 Americans – and 2,000 in my home state of Pennsylvania – died by suicide last year, an increase of 34% since 1999.

We need serious, sober conversations about mental illness and how to treat it. There are many concerns with anti-depressants. These are valid, serious concerns which must be addressed. But these conversations must occur using words and arguments which shatter stigma and support science. To do otherwise does an incredible disservice to those of us who suffer.

 

Rural America is in huge trouble when it comes to suicide

This study – and the subsequent reports – paint a stark and brutal picture for rural America. They also paint a devastating picture when it comes to suicide.

First, the study itself, as published by the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study found that suicide rates had increased 41% among those aged 25-64 between 1999-2016. The greatest increase occurred in rural counties.

The abstract of the study attributed the rise to underemployment, poverty, low incomes lack of health insurance and the presence of gun shops. It also noted that less social contact, more single individuals, unmarried individuals and veterans also had higher rates of suicide – and these individuals were more likely to be in rural counties than urban ones.

These numbers are brutal. For the sake of this blog entry, I’ll make two broad comments about addressing these issues, one which deals with public policy and one which deals with our society as a whole.

First and foremost, when it comes to governance. Folks, government needs to do more. We need a more robust, active and flexible government when it comes to preventing mental health, unless we are comfortable with massive spikes in mental illness and suicide. Government needs to do more at providing mental health resources for rural America. We need to make transportation easier, or increase access to mental health help via telemedicine. We need to become more involved in creating a social safety net. And we need to do a better job at limiting access to guns. These are all important things to do. They are also politically difficult. And they still must be done.

Secondly, the broader, societal conversation about this. The study reiterates something which has been discussed before – contentedness leads to a decrease in suicide, and being disconnected from others increases suicidal risk. Rural America, by its very nature, can be socially isolated – and, as such, faces an increased suicide risk.

This speaks to a broader problem. Obviously, there are a slew of governmental and public policy changes I would make if I had the magic wand which would change policy in such a broad way. However, all the pubic policy changes and health insurance in the world will not stop this mental health and suicide crisis we are in. Don’t get me wrong, it can make a major difference, but we can’t truly stop suicides without changing society. Our increased pace of life, less time for actual conversations, economic stress – they are all leading to increases in mental illness and suicides. That’s because human connection and conversation are protective factors – they make us feel better. They make us less likely to die. And I think that’s one of the reasons why urban America does better than rural America when it comes to suicides – urban environments promote more social atmospheres.

As always, this one is above my pay grade. I can make comments about public policy, but changing society is well above what my brain can handle. Your comments and thoughts are appreciated, as always!

 

The news isn’t completely terrible: 3 Reasons to be hopeful in our ongoing mental health crisis

I’ve written a lot about just how bad things are in the universe of mental health. Rates of depression and anxiety illness are rising, particularly among our youngest and college students, and suicide rates are hitting highs which haven’t been seen since World War II. This, of course, is terrible.

Still, life could be a lot worse when it comes to the mental health universe. Here are three reasons to be hopeful in the long-run.

Stigma is decreasing

According to multiple articles, the stigma which surrounds mental health is slow decreasing, but particularly for those who are younger. Many in a younger generation view seeking therapy and getting help as normal – as such, they don’t hesitate to do so. All of these articles note – correctly – that will still have a long way to go before we can consider stigma to be truly “defeated,” but it is worth noting and celebrating that significant progress has been made. Furthermore, the slew of celebrities who have openly discussed their own struggles has furthered humanized the issue and made others realize that suffering from mental illness doesn’t have to hold you back.

The Affordable Care Act is Helping People Get Treatment

The ACA – or Obamacare – has been subjected to no shortage of controversy. However, some things about it are indisputable. One such example is that more people are getting the mental health treatment that they need and deserve – and that they are getting better. ObamaCare required that all individual and small coverage plans offer mental health care, and that the coverage of mental health be similar to what it was for physical coverage. This alone has helped to increase the amount of plans which offer mental health care. The percentage of young people without health insurance dropped from roughly 22% (2013) to 13% (2016), and since young people were more likely to first experience a mental health challenge, this meant that more people had access to the care that they needed.

There’s more, of course. States which expanded Medicaid saw sharper decreases in mental illness than states which hadn’t, resulting in more care, more treatment and a lower financial burden.

There is no doubt: ObamaCcare has helped those with mental illness.

Social Media Has Tremendous Potential For Good

Alright, so I’ve been a bit harsh on social media in my time as a blogger in the mental health world. Just a bit. But it really isn’t all bad. Social media has the potential to be very helpful – and indeed, has been very good for mental illness…if used properly.

Social media, even if it’s just digital, can help promote a sense of connectedness. Sufferers of various mental illnesses can connect with more people and find the assistance that they so desperately need. If it’s users are mature enough, they can provide goals to aspire to and help to push creativity. By keeping users abreast of social opportunities and events, it can help maintain social relationships.

Indeed, for all of the negative press which social media has gotten on mental illness, there is at least one study (which examines adults, not just college or high school students) which shows that it can be positive and result in less psychological distress.

All kidding aside, I think social media can be good for metnal health…but requires literal mental training that I don’t think we possess as of yet. People have to use social media to supplement their social life, not supplant it. They need to recognize that it’s a curated form of life, not real life. And they need to remember that they have plenty of things to feel joyful and proud about, and to not feel jealous of what others put on their newsfeeds. That can be a real challenge, to say the least!

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What else has been good news in the world of mental illness? Let us know in the comments below!