What does peace feel like to you?

I’ve written before about my relatively desperate attempts to meditate. I phrase it that way because it seems like, no matter what happens, my efforts fade away. Then I’m reminded of how important meditation can be for depression at a later date. I start again, I start again, and the cycle continues.

The good news – well, at least for me – is that I am in a cycle now where I am actually meditating. While I haven’t noticed a change in thinking yet, I will say that I always feel better and more peaceful in the immediate aftermath of a meditation session. And, that sense of peace is what I want to discuss in this entry, because I had a genuinely interesting realization while meditating the other day.

The meditation I practice – which, from what I’ve read, is the best kind for a depressed or anxious person to engage in – is mindfulness meditation. It’s a little complicated to explain – mainly because I don’t understand it and I kinda suck at – but the basics is focusing on nothing – and, in so doing, improving your focus.

Like I said, I’m terrible at it. My mind moves at a million miles an hour and I can’t shut it off. That’s one of the many reasons I am meditating: To try to relax and improve my focus.

So, the other day, I’m meditating. I have been sticking with five minute sessions – YouTube videos – and doing so because if I do longer I fall asleep. Anyway, I’m almost done. That realization is met with a degree of happiness and sadness. Happiness because I can get back to work. Sadness because I am at peace. And then I realize something: I’m at peace. Meditating is nice, and when I can actually concentrate enough to do it right, it fills me with peace.

That, then, triggers a question: What does peace feel like to me? There’s an easy answer, too: A fullness. A fullness in my chest which crowds out any negative feelings.

So, here’s my suggestion: Find what peace feels like to you. Because if you do, you can recognize the feeling when you actually experience it. And maybe, from there, learn how to keep it with you, even if it’s only just an extra moment or two.

Anyway, that’s something to think about: What does peace feel like to you? Let us know in the comments below!

How vacation can make you depressed, and what to do about it

One of the issues I have had with my depression is traveling. I go to Harrisburg very frequently as part of my job, and many of those are overnight – I’m probably away from home something like 40-50 nights a year (easily the worst part of my job, and that has nothing to do with depression!). It was hard to get used to. That being said, at this point, I’ve spent so much time in Harrisburg, it’s almost like a second home. I have the same hotel (and usually the same few rooms), same basic routine, and it’s made life relatively easy.
Now, traveling to a new place, particularly when I am alone, remains a struggle. A new routine, a new city, make life very hard. For me, that happens from time to time, usually as part of a convention or hearing. I have found that it’s best for me to keep the same basic routine. I try to be back in my hotel room by 8-9, putz around for a bit, go to sleep by 11 and wake up early enough to get to the gym. Having a standard routine no matter where I go is really helpful, as it gives me a sense of comfort and normalcy, no matter where I am.
While I know I’m not the only one with travel anxiety, the idea that others could share my periodic troubles on family vacations were new to me. But, to my surprise, when I googled “vacation depression,” I found a ton!
Anyway, after doing some research, here are the best tips that I could find, along with some of my own thoughts.
  • First, and this is just me stalking, stick to your routine. Get up around the same time. Keep a normal bedtimes. Try to keep at least one meal you eat similar to what you’d eat at home. A sense of routine can avoid a shock to your body.
  • Go easy on yourself. Remember that vacations aren’t about expectations or THINGS I HAVE TO MUST DO RIGHT NOW NOW NOW – they are about relaxing, unwinding and a break from the stresses of normal life. If you suffer from depression, this may mean that you still suffer – and that’s okay. That’s who you are. Give yourself permission to be in pain and don’t berate yourself for it.
  • Choose a vacation that matches your personality. Placing pressure on yourself to go on a vacation you think you’re “supposed” to go on will only add to the depression you’re feeling. Instead, select a destination that will allow you to get what you want out of the vacation. Going somewhere you can’t fully enjoy or a place that makes you feel inadequate will only make your depression worse (via WikiHow)
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others. Many people with depression fall into the trap of comparing others’ vacations to theirs. You may look at the vacationers around you and wonder why you’re not enjoying yourself as much as they are. Placing pressure on yourself to enjoy what you think you should can make you feel worse. Instead, realize you probably aren’t seeing the bigger picture (via WikiHow)

There’s more out there, and if you have any tips, I’d love to hear them. Leave them in the comments below!

Public spaces and depression may be related!?!?!

So this article popped up in my newsfeed and it blew me away:

In what is perhaps the first scientific study of the effects of public spaces on mental health, a non-profit group in Philadelphia cleaned up trash-filled vacant lots and “greened up” others, primarily in low-income areas, and found that residents reported feeling happier.

The results of the study?

They found that residents of areas that had either the greening or trash removal projects reported a decrease in feelings of depression by about 40 percent. In neighborhoods below the poverty line, the drop was 70 percent. Researchers also found reductions in feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness and overall poor mental health.

What? What?

That being said, the outcomes of this study are very much inline with a perspective I developed after reading Lost Connections by Johanna Hari. I wrote about my feelings on the book here, and while I did have some major concerns with portions of the book, it really opened my eyes to an often unexplored dimension of depression: The social and community one. If everything around us is falling apart, too stressful, too ugly (and I mean that in more ways than one), we’ll be depressed. This study would seem to be a validation of Hari’s theory.

This isn’t the first study which would seem to tie physical environment – and access to a good, healthy, clean environment – to depression. A 2018 study showed that levels of depression for residents at British care homes could be predicted based on whether or not they had easy access to the outdoors, and there is also ample evidence which shows a connection between a physical environment and mental illness.

In a sense, this is an extension of the famed Broken Window theory of urban planning. That theory, in essence, is this: Small neglect (like an unrepaired broken window) leads to larger and larger crimes. The reverse can also be true: Cleaning one section of a neighborhood can lead to the cleaning of others.

My conclusion here is not one that I haven’t said before: More research is needed. But this study is a powerful incentive which captures yet another positive benefit of neighborhood revitalization – it may ease the symptoms of depression.

Redemption and me, live on TV

(Hey, if my titles rhyme more often, will I get more views?)

Anyway, morning, everyone!

As the title said, the good people at WFMZ were kind enough to interview me on Saturday. The topic was Redemption, and here’s the interview.

A sincere thanks to WFMZ for the interview. As always, if you want to purchase the book, you can get it directly from me or on Amazon.

Enjoy!

This is how depression & sleep trouble are related

For me, there have always been two markers that are my “canary in a coal mine” when it comes to depression – the two factors that tell me I’m depressed even when I may not realize it right away. First is eating. Some people eat more, some stop. I’m the later. I drop weight when I am depressed.

The second, and the one I wanted to write about today, is insomnia. Simply put, when I get depressed, I have a huge problem sleeping. When I get to sleep, I usually stay asleep, but the challenge for me is that I can’t sleep when I’m depressed. I’ve never been exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because I cannot shut my mind off, or maybe it’s because there’s some unresolved conflict that is prohibiting me from sleep.

Unfortunately, I’m not the only one who gets these issues. Even more unfortunately is this: When you are depressed, you can’t sleep. And not sleeping may mean more depression.

Alright, first, the evidence. Sleep and depression are strongly connected, and it’s not just me saying that. This comes straight from the DSM-V (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual):

Insomnia (inability to get to sleep or difficulty staying asleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) nearly every day

So, one of the formal criteria for diagnosing a depressive episode or illness is the above. Unfortunately, it’s a two-way street, as not getting enough sleep – or getting a poor quality of sleep – can lead to depression. From The Sleep Foundation:

The link between sleep and mood has been seen over and over by researchers and doctors. For example, people with insomnia have greater levels of depression and anxiety than those who sleep normally. They are 10 times as likely to have clinical depression and 17 times as likely to have clinical anxiety. The more a person experiences insomnia and the more frequently they wake at night as a result, the higher the chances of developing depression.

There’s so much irony in the discussion about depression and sleep it’s ridiculous. What always frustrated me the most, however, was this: When you can’t sleep, and you are having prolonged trouble sleeping, all you can think about is how YOU CAN’T SLEEP, and this will worry you/frustrate you/depress you. This, in turn, will worry/frustrate/depress you even more, and then – you guessed it – you can’t sleep! It creates a vicious lack of sleep cycle.

Do I have any magic cure? No. Heck no. While there is plenty of advice on how to sleep when you can’t, I’ve found that everyone’s experiences are deeply personal. Related to that, I can tell a story about how I broke through my sleep issues when I was depressed. There was a period where I wouldn’t be able to sleep for 3-5 days a week. Not until 3am or so, only to become a sleepy zombie the next day and not be able to sleep at all the following night, and thus, the cycle continues.

One night, I’m in Harrisburg for session. I can’t sleep, it’s 2am and I am miserable. And I remembered something my therapist said a week or so before about how he had patients who had broken through their anxiety and phobias when they accepted the worst. And as I laid there, I said to myself, “You know what? Screw it. I’m done. I’m not gonna sleep, I’m gonna have the worst day of my life tomorrow, and then when I drive back to Allentown, I’m gonna crash the car. It’s over and I accept!!”

I slept that night.

It was an interesting moment for me, so if I have any piece of advice, it is this: When you accept the worst, you can get where you need to be.

Any thoughts, tricks or tips are appreciated! Leave them below!

Depression is on the rise; here are some guesses about why

The news about depression is – well, depressing. According to the most recent information, major depression is on the rise, and that spike is particularly acute among teens and young adults. Meanwhile, a new CDC report shows that suicide is at a twenty year high, having jumped more than 25% across America since 1999. In more than half the states, that rate has increased 30%; in my home state of Pennsylvania, it’s up 34%.

These numbers are not acceptable, they are not healthy, and they are not sustainable. The ugly truth is that we live in a world that seems broken, and we have an obligation to repair it.

Before we can do that, however, we have to ask ourselves this very important question: Why? Why are rates of depression and suicide spiking like this? There are a lot of people smarter than me who have given there reasons, and those are incorporated into my post below.

Please note my usual disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, scientist or researcher. I have some evidence in some of these cases, but by and large, this is all just a gut feeling.

1) The world is more interconnected, and we know how terrible some things are

As this article perfectly demonstrates, the world is more connected than ever before. There are 2.5 billion smartphones in the world. Half of all adults on the planet have access to these devices that can instantaneously connect us with anyone, anywhere, or give us access to news in any corner of the globe.

Ahh, let’s look through our phones, shall we? Check out Twitter. Oh, I see the President is yelling at ::insert race-based insult here::. Right, what else? Thousands of children who are being separated from their parents and may never see them again. Super. What else? Hmm, border patrol is randomly asking people for their papers. Lovely.

Oh, and that’s just America, and that’s just today.

It’s difficult to look at the news and not be depressed, and feel an overwhelming sense of doom. If you are lucky enough to live a life of relative comfort, how do you avoid an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame? My kids are currently sitting on the couch, eating a healthy breakfast and playing a game for the Nintendo Switch I got them yesterday. Thousands of children in America – asylum seekers who fled their homes – will never see their parents again. How do you deal with that guilt? That disconnect?

The world may not, really, be getting worse. But thanks to the availability of information and news, it sure does feel like it is.

2) Technology and social media are bad replacements for real connections

Yes, My favorite topic: Writing about how technology is killing us all.

Seriously, as I have discussed previously, the increasing prevalence of technology and social media are poor replacements for the real connection that we all need and crave. How many times have you turned to the comfort of the soft blue light of the device in your pocket, only to come up empty when it didn’t fill a gap in your heart? In this fantastic article in The Atlantic, Jean Twenge persuasively argues that social media and technology is making our generation less comfortable and more depressed. I completely agree, and I think – and hope – that we realize this more and more in the years to come.

3) We’re busier and feeling the pressure of life more

Of the three causes that I’ve written about, this is arguably the one least supported by the evidence and most supported by a gut feeling. But, if you’re reading this now, I suspect you know exactly what I am talking about, because you feel it too: The pressure. Today, I must go here. I must do this. I must pay the bills. I must make sure that my perfect children remain perfect, walk 10,000 steps, eat all of the right foods, tweet something good, oh, God, the house is a mess, and have I eaten any trans-fats today? CRAP.

You know what I mean here. The pace of life seems to be caught in a constant phase of acceleration. There’s no down time. No rest. And that, combined with the pressure of the real world, leads to more broken minds.

I don’t know – I could completely off here, but I would genuinely love to hear your thoughts. Where do you think I am right? Where am I wrong? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

New study links social media and depression

I’ve written about it before, and now there is even more proof: A new study has linked social media and depression

I caught this article in Forbes, which notes:

The team calculated that for every 10% rise in negative social media interactions a person experienced, their risk of depression rose significantly—by 20%. For every 10% rise in positive experience, risk for depression fell by 4%; but this association was not statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance.

Lovely. In other words, negative experiences on social media can make us depressed, and they far outweigh the positive ones. Why? According to the conclusion of the study, this is because of “negativity bias” – meaning that people are more likely to remember and feel negative experiences, rather than positive ones.

I don’t need to go on too long of a rant, I think, about the serious dangers of social media when it comes to our fragile mental health. The connection is clear, albeit not in a causational way just yet (there needs to be more research to determine if people who are prone to depression are more likely to use social media, if social media really does make people depressed or if there is a third factor linking the two).

That being said, I think it is extremely clear that social media and technology, for all their strengths, can have an absolutely devastating impact on our mental health. I legitimately wonder if, decades from now, we’re going to look back on this period as a turning point in our society, one where we first truly began to deal with the psychological dangers of society, or continued to allow it to eat us alive.

I’m pretty young – only 35 – so it’s not as if I have the memory or expertise to analyze how each technological impact benefited and hurt society. I suspect that the answer is both. However, I think that the reason that these changes seem so much more pronounced and ubiquitous is because the technology has evolved too. Phones never leave our side – they are often the first and last things we touch during the day, and we spend hours staring at their tiny screens, searching for connection and fulfillment that will never really come. They are everywhere, and so is their impact.

That, I think, is why these changes seem so much more widepsread. Rates of depression and suicide are both increasing dramatically, and there is ample evidence which indicates that phone use and social media is playing a role. We need to do more about this issue. What that means, I don’t know yet, but I want to find out.

Sigh. End rant. I miss anything? Anything you want to add? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

Six Questions: Interview with Paula Stokes, author of Girl Against The Universe

Good morning, everyone! Another Six Questions entry for you, and I think this one is particularly interesting. The book is questions is Girl Against The Universe, and the author is Paula Stokes.
From the summary:
From the author of The Art of Lainey and Liars, Inc. comes a fresh, contemporary story about a girl coping with PTSD and the boy who wants to help her move on from the past.  Perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen or Jenny Han.

Sixteen-year-old Maguire knows the universe is against her. No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when she’s around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash–and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch. Despite what her therapist tells her, Maguire thinks it’s best to hide out in her room, far away from anyone she might accidentally hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star who wants to help her break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for him is to stay away, but it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.

1) Being a psychiatric registered nurse must be the perfect background to write a book like this! Can you talk a bit about how that experience informed your writing?
 
I wasn’t a psych nurse when I wrote this book back in 2014, but I was an RN with a BA in Psychology. I enjoyed incorporating some of the psychological theories that have really resonated with me–like selective attention, self-fulfilling prophecies, systematic desensitization, attribution errors, etc.–into the story. In fact, researching for and writing this novel is part of what made me realize I wanted to go back to nursing but pursue a mental health focus. Having a general background in both psychology and nursing helped me know the right questions to ask, and I reached out to a psychologist and to a couple of friends in therapy for advice on some of the scenes.
 
 
2) What kind of feedback did you get from people who have had similar experiences to your main character, or who have PTSD/anxiety disorders?
 
One of the things I did prior to publication was give the manuscript to three people who had talked openly online about having anxiety and/or PTSD to get their feedback. One of them I did not know at all, but she was a well-known blogger in the YA community who I was following on Twitter and I just saw an opening and went for it. It was scary waiting for their thoughts, but all three of them were really positive and thought the book balanced the reality of mental illness with a hopeful outlook for people who are struggling. They felt I did a good job capturing the somatic symptoms and thought processes of someone with anxiety and PTSD. I have a moderate amount of social anxiety myself, and this book was partially inspired by my own illogical thoughts about how I was responsible for a string of bad events that happened on a solo vacation I took, so I definitely modeled Maguire after myself in places. Obviously my own experiences aren’t going to be the same as other people’s, so the portrayal of anxiety and PTSD didn’t work for everyone, but mental illnesses are not monoliths so that’s to be expected. I’m sorry to anyone who I let down because they didn’t see their struggles represented in this story.
After publication, the reviews were mostly positive and several people sent me messages about how the book spoke to them on a personal level, how it made them want to be more brave or to reach out and ask for help. One big YA blogger reviewed the book and said she wished she’d had it when her mother died, because then maybe she would have gotten the help she needed. It’s incredibly rewarding to send a book off into the world and see it have such a positive impact.
 
 
3) One of the concepts I address in my book is that recovery isn’t an end state, it’s a journey – your writing seemed to mirror that concept. What advice to you give for young adults – heck, anyone, really – who are living that reality and frustrated by it?
 
This is hard for me to answer because everything has always been a journey for me. I grew up in a low-income Midwestern household where my parents were always struggling both personally and professionally. At no point ever would I have described my childhood as stable. Ever since I moved out, my life has been a series of trying on careers and relationships and places to live in a quest for a stability that I still haven’t achieved. I’m over 40 now and it still feels normal to me to be a total work-in-progress, so it’s kind of the same with mental health. The idea that you can just make the right choices and put in X amount of effort and then everything will be fine is a fallacy. I don’t think life works like that for most people. Everyone has stressors and if one of your stressors happens to be mental illness then you’ve got to learn how to minimize how disruptive it will be to your life and accept that you may never be totally *cured* but you can still have a full and rewarding existence. In the book, the therapist, Daniel, says that mental health is fluid and that’s true for everyone. Even people who have never met the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness still have their good days and bad days. So I guess my advice would be that everyone needs to stop trying to be perfect and just be open to who we are and make who we are work for us as much as we can. And therapy! I went to therapy last year because my anxiety was starting to negatively impact my personal and professional life and even just six sessions helped me so much.
 
 
4) Did you design your book to be read by the general public or specifically those that can relate to your main characters struggles? I imagine both, and if that’s the case, how did you straddle that line?
 
The straight answer is that my editor would not have approved the book for publication if she didn’t think it would appeal to a general audience, but I had no idea how the book would be received by people who hadn’t struggled with mental illness or couldn’t relate to Maguire’s magical thinking. I don’t ever think about the “business side of things” when I’m drafting. The story needs to be told the way it needs to be told and if I had the Sales/Marketing team in the back of my brain muttering “But will rich readers from Northeastern cities want to read this? Will librarians in Mississippi buy this for schools?” I would never be able to finish a book.
Once I got done with the initial draft, one of my first beta-readers said she thought the book would really resonate with kids who blamed themselves for their parents’ divorces, which was something I hadn’t even considered. Basically I hoped that even if readers couldn’t relate to Maguire feeling like the Universe was against her, that they’d be able to relate to what it’s like to struggle against negative thoughts that hold us back from being the people we want to be. And if they couldn’t do that, well, the book is still a cute romance with some funny moments and a poignant story about finding your place in a blended family.
In the revision process, I focused on making the abridged therapy sessions thought-provoking for everyone and giving the therapist a personality so those chapters didn’t just feel like me as the author telling readers what to think. I also pulled back on some of Maguire’s obsessive thoughts in places where I felt like being in her head might be getting exhausting or overwhelming for readers who had never struggled with anxiety or PTSD. It’s definitely a tricky balance to represent something like anxiety realistically but also doing so in a way that makes people want to keep reading. I think my best suggestion for writers is to spend time getting to know your characters and understanding them as fully fleshed-out people. Readers will be more likely to root for characters who feel real to them, and they’ll also be more willing to struggle alongside them, even when they can’t relate to what the character is going through.
 
5) What’s your advice to authors who want to write credibly about a subject like PTSD or mental illness, but they don’t have the life experience to necessarily do so?
 
My advice for anyone who wants to write outside their own perspective or experiences is first to reflect really hard about *why* they want to write that particular story. I support the #ownvoices movement, but I also think authors should be able to write any story they need to tell. (And if you’re not sure how I can reconcile those two things, it’s simple–I think publishers need to publish the best stories without imposing any kind of cap or quota based on characters’ cultures, races, disabilities, orientations, etc. If you publish thrillers and you receive five thriller manuscripts with gay, disabled, Chinese protagonists and they are all awesome then publish them all–it’s not like those groups haven’t been underpublished in the past.)
But when it comes to writing outside your experience, I think authors need to have a specific reason for doing so, beyond “oh well I saw this article about a person with X disorder and I realized there aren’t many books about X disorder so it seemed like a cool thing to do.” Mental illnesses aren’t “cool things” to be exploited for profit any more than races or cultures are, so my recommendation would be that unless the writer has a strong personal motivation to tell the story, e.g. “Someone I love has panic disorder and I wrote this book both as a tribute to her and a way to better understand her so I can support her when she’s struggling” that they should steer clear.
In order to write convincingly from outside your experiences, especially when representing a marginalized group, you need to be willing to commit at least an hour of research time for every hour of writing time (which is a lot easier to do if you have a strong personal motivation for telling a story). You need to be brave enough to approach multiple members of the group you’re representing to read your manuscript and you need to be open to hearing their honest feedback. You need to be willing to take responsibility and apologize when you mess up. You need to accept the fact that no matter how hard you try, your portrayal won’t work for everyone (see above, not a monolith), and that your good intentions may be interpreted negatively. You may offend some people who might then decide to be very vocal about what they didn’t like about your work. Writing can be terrifying, huh? Good thing we all make millions of dollars. Oh wait… 😉
6) When it comes to mental health, anything you wish authors would do more? Less?
 
Here’s a short list 🙂
 
1. Stop portraying therapists as either lecherous dudes who sexually harass main characters or new-age hippie ladies who mean well but are hilariously bumbling at their jobs and completely hopeless at helping their clients. These portrayals are ubiquitous in movies and books and the overall result is to make people less likely to seek therapy. Therapy isn’t right for everyone, but it’s a powerful tool that can help a lot of people and we need to be encouraging people to seek help, not avoid it.
2. Stop portraying psychiatric medication as some sort of evil force that takes away people’s emotions or turns them into zombies. I work at a psychiatric hospital where 90% of the patients are on some sort of antidepressant, antipsychotic, or mood stabilizer and not a single one of them has turned into a zombie. MEDICINE SAVES LIVES. Also, it’s not 1970 anymore. There are tons of different psychiatric medications and if you try one and don’t like how it makes you feel, you can just tell your provider about the side effects and they can often eliminate them by adjusting the dose, dosing schedule, or medication regimen. Sometimes it is literally as simple as taking your dose at night before you go to sleep instead of in the morning. Like therapy, medication isn’t right for everyone, but no doctor is going to force you to take it unless you are in an inpatient facility under a court-mandated hold and an active danger to yourself or others. So if it *might* help, why wouldn’t you want to give it a try? Again, as writers we should think long and hard before we actively discourage people from pursuing treatment that could change their lives (and the lives of those around them) for the better.
3. Be realistic when combining mental illness and romance in the same book. “Love cured my depression” might make for a great Disney movie, but it’s not at all realistic and perpetuating the “love conquers all” myth can do a lot of harm to people who are actively struggling. Long-term unconditional love, like that of a parent or sibling or best friend can definitely help–people with strong support networks are more likely to reach out for assistance–but in books (and YA in particular) there was a tendency in the past to have a struggling character meet a new romantic prospect and find healing through “new love.” I don’t know about you, but to me new relationships are extremely stressful–there’s this element of crushing uncertainty about who likes who more and whether the other person will leave me if they find someone better or if I confide in them or share too much. They tend to exacerbate, not cure someone’s mental illness. I made a point when writing Girl Against the Universe to have Maguire push Jordy away at first because she knows she can’t handle a relationship, and then later in the book there are examples of where their fledgling romance complicates things for both of them as opposed to being some sort of magical salve.
4. Remember that mental illness is a long-term thing for most people. Authors don’t need to “fix” everything by the end of the book. Even if you want a happily ever after for your main character, keep in mind that plenty of people with mental illness are living rewarding and joyful lives. Having your character make the decision to seek help or having them improve somewhat with therapy but acknowledge they’re still going to struggle is a realistic way to portray mental illness in a novel. You don’t need to come up with some kind of miracle cure by the epilogue.

Op-Ed: Suicides of Bourdain, Spade remind us troubles many face

As last week’s entry showed – and as I know far too many of you can understand – last week’s suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade shook me. Celebrity suicides always do. But, sadly, we know that the suicide contagion effect is real. I wanted to try to do something to stop it.

My local paper, the Morning Call, was kind enough to let me write this op-ed. I’m copying the text below, but if you can click on the link, please do.

We all have to speak up about this issue if we’re going to do anything about it.

When I opened Facebook on Friday morning, there was one sentence that I kept seeing, over and over again: “Not Anthony Bourdain!”

On Tuesday, it was: “Not Kate Spade!”

The death of two people who seemed to have it all was exceptionally tragic in and of itself. Unfortunately, the problem is so much more severe than that.

There is something particularly painful about suicide. Thankfully, most of you cannot fathom how someone could kill themselves, and that is a blessing.

But, please remember: Suicide and mental illness are disconnected from reality. People like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade seemed to have it all. But if you have some sort of mental illness, your brain and your heart may not recognize happiness or joy. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much joy you may seem to have — if you are mentally ill, your brain will not enjoy a life that “should be happy.”

Unfortunately, there is a suicide contagion affect: People are more likely to kill themselves after a high-profile suicide, and that risk is heightened among similar demographic groups. This may be a very dangerous time for people who face an increased risk of suicide.

To those of you who view suicide as an option, allow me a few words. They come from times in my life where I was so depressed I viewed suicide as an option. Give me the chance to talk to you as someone who spent hundreds of hours I’ve spent in therapy and takes anti-depressants to start every morning.

I beg you: Please remember that there is more than the pain of this moment. It’s a cliché, but it’s accurate: Suicide is a permanent end to a temporary problem.

I’ve written about this in The Morning Call before, but it’s worth telling you about my personal story again. My own suicidal moments came in college. I was a new student and scared out of my mind. I barely had any friends and I had been torn from everything I knew and loved. A bad roll of the dice in terms of genetics already predisposed me to depression, and I began to sink. I began to sink so badly that thoughts and plans of suicide began to float around in my battered brain.

Thankfully, I recognized I had a problem. I sought counseling and medication. Depression is part of my story. It always will be. I have struggled, but I have survived.

I am using myself to make a point. I was driving the other day, thoughts wondering, and my mind drifted back to this low point in my life. I was struck by this sudden realization: What would have happened if I had killed myself 17 years ago?

The answer is simple: My family and my closest friends would have been left with a hole in their heart, one which would have never really healed. Meanwhile, someone else would have lived my life, married my wife, had my kids. Someone else would have had the jobs I’ve worked and be representing the people of the 132nd District. Everything that should have been mine would be lived and loved by someone else.

And I was struck by what a waste that would have been. And what a tragedy. Choosing to end my life would have been an especially premature decision. My life is not free of pain, but by and large, it’s a good one. I wake up every day grateful for the decision I didn’t make.

I’ve had access to the treatment that I need. Everyone should be as fortunate.

Suicide is not an isolated problem. There were 45,000 suicides in 2016 in the United States — more than twice the number of homicides. That’s roughly 123 a day. Five an hour. One every 12 minutes.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-34. In Pennsylvania, it’s increased 34 percent since 1999. In Lehigh County, we’re losing roughly one person a week to suicide.

The money we spend in this area means something. Repealing Obamacare would have cut off mental health care access to millions of Americans and unquestionably increased suicide rates. We have a major mental health care practitioner shortage in this country. Millions upon millions of Americans cannot afford their prescription drugs. These things matter.

But I’m tired of hearing elected officials say that mental health matters. Don’t show me your words, show me your budget. Show me what programs you are creating to address suicide. Show me how you are dealing with the suicide among veterans and first responders. Show me what programs you are funding to ensure that we are caring for all Americans, no matter what they look like, where they come from and how wealthy they are.

Don’t give me your thoughts and prayers. Give me the money and the means to actually stop suicide.

To those who are afraid — to those who are anxious, addicted or alone — please know that there is hope. You may not be able to feel it, see it or believe it. But I suppose I am asking you to have faith — faith in yourself, in God, and in those who love you now or will love you in the future. As my own story exemplifies, there is always a reason to live, even if you may not know it at the time. As long as you breathe, you have hope.

Mike Schlossberg of Allentown is state representative from the 132nd District. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255; in Spanish, 888-628-9454; for the deaf and hard of hearing, 800-799-4889; or by text, 741741.

The tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

I just dropped my kids off at school. I swear, I literally just dropped them off at school, and said to myself, “When I get back, I need to write a blog entry about Kate Spade’s suicide.”

I sit down at my computer. I open the internet. And I see this: Anthony Bourdain, CNN host of “Parts Unknown,” killed himself in Paris. He was 61.

I wish I had the adequate words right now to express how I feel. More life lost to an illness that continues to haunt us, and one that far too many cannot fully understand.

A few points, I suppose, as I try to gather my thoughts.

  • If you need help, there are so many resources available to you. Call a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a loved one. And never, ever hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Suicide knows no limits. No boundaries. It doesn’t care who you are or how successful you may be. People like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain seemed to have it all – money, fame, family. They seemed to have access to everything most of us could ever dream of. But the tragic truth is that none of that means a damn thing if you are in pain. The mind and the heart are disconnected from reality in the case of mental illness. That makes their suicide’s all the more shocking and painful to us all.
  • Please, please, watch how you discuss suicide. Avoid phrased like “committed suicide” or “completed suicide” – try to use “killed himself/herself” or “died by suicide.” For my friends in the media, here are some excellent recommendations.
  • The suicide contagion effect is real: A prominent suicide will often serve as a trigger for more, particularly within similar demographic groups. Please, watch your friends.

All of us have a responsibility to watch for each other – to care for each other. If you know someone who is in pain, care for them. Call them. Tell them you love them. The only way any of us survive us with each other. A mere phone has the potential to save a life.

Take care of each other. Today and all days.