8 Frequently Asked Questions On Mental Health

As someone who frequents mental health forums with the intent of helping people out who are in crisis, you’d be amazed at how many of the same questions we get, questions which can only be answered a certain number of ways. I’m not complaining, I understand completely, people are in crisis, they want help for their issue, it’s only natural.

However, it takes time for people to reply, and that’s precious time where a person is suffering behind a computer screen, waiting to hear what they should do about their issue. That’s a problem. To try to come up with a solution for this problem, I created a list of frequently asked questions, which I will share with you now.

  1. Should I Get Help?

Ironically, the only person who can really answer this is the person you’d get help FROM. The basic answer is, if it’s bothering you, then yes, you should seek help. If you feel you are a threat to yourself or others, please seek help immediately by either dialing your country’s emergency number or going to the ER! There’s a lot of stigma surrounding seeking help for mental issues, so it’s only natural to ask this question to see if you actually need help before subjecting yourself to that stigma. However, plenty of “normal” people see psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists, so please don’t let the stigma surrounding it hold you back from getting better.

2. Someone I Know Has A Mental Illness And Won’t Get Help…

This is a tough situation, and it really depends on where you live. If a person is a threat to themselves or others, they can be hospitalized against their will. In many places, a person can also be hospitalized if it is clear they cannot care for themselves. Please research the laws in your state, province, or country to see what can be done to get them help. In the meantime, all you can do is be supportive, and be there for them when/if they finally decide to get help.

3. Can You Diagnose Me? 

It is impossible for anyone, let alone an untrained person, to diagnose a person without an intense interview completed by a trained professional. So, in short, only a trained professional (usually a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist) can diagnose you. If you feel you have something that needs diagnosing, please see one of the professionals listed above to get help. Diagnosing anyone over the internet with nothing more than a couple paragraphs of text to go by is unethical and wrong.

4. I Feel Like I Can’t Go On…

I’m immensely sorry that you’re suffering so, I’ve been there, and I can only sympathize with how horrible being at the bottom of that well is. If you haven’t already, please reach out for help, or, if you have, please schedule an appointment with your mental health professional ASAP. If you feel you’re a threat to yourself or others, dial your country’s emergency number or go to the emergency room.

5. What Mental Health Professional Should I See?

This really depends. For most people I recommend seeing a psychologist or therapist first, because generally the wait times are lesser, and they will be able to gauge whether or not you need a psychiatrist, and refer you to a good one if necessary. Keep in mind that psychologists and therapists do talk therapy, including specialized therapies such as DBT, CBT, and others. Most all psychiatrists give out medications, and not much else.

6. I Don’t Want Medication, But…

 It’s your right to refuse medication, however, I would evaluate why you don’t want medication before outright refusing. Mental illness has been proven in countless studies to be an issue linked to brain chemicals and tissues, it isn’t just “all in your head”, this is something physical going on in your brain. Medication helps correct what’s going wrong, reducing symptoms. There’ s a lot of stigma surrounding psychiatric medications, I myself struggled with that stigma when I was first put on medication, but the benefits you might reap from it are worth it, I promise you. Keep in mind you may also have to try a few different medications until you find one that’s right for you, so please don’t give up if the first try goes awry! Medication can be a lifesaver; it was for me.

7. I Want/Have To Quit My Medication

First off, whatever you do don’t quit cold turkey, it can wreak havoc on your body and your mental health. Always consult with a mental health professional before quitting any psychiatric medication. If you are quitting because you want to, please consider that there may be other medications out there for you, don’t give up just because the first couple don’t work for you!

8. I Can’t Afford To Get Help

This is a tricky one. If you’re in college, your university probably already has free counseling services available for you. If you’re not in college, please look into places that offer sliding scale payment (you pay based on your income) and community mental health centers. Research to see if there’s a solution near to you. If you just want to talk to someone, even if they aren’t a trained professional, check out 7 Cups of Tea a free website (with options to upgrade) that offers compassionate listening and even a lesson plan to improve your mental health! If you can’t afford your medication, try calling around to different pharmacies to get their price for the medication. You’d be surprised the price change from pharmacy to pharmacy. The price of my meds went down by half when I switched pharmacies! Also ask your doctor if they have a coupon card for the medication. When Abilify was only available brand name, their coupon card made my $1,000 medication $15.

Note: If you frequent reddit on /r/mentalhealth you may recognize this list. That is because I posted a similar list there first. If you’d like to see the original, here it is

 

 

Get Mad

Last weekend, I got to go to one of my favorite places, Universal Studios, with one of my favorite people, my dear friend Thomas. We had a great time, we rode all of our favorite rides, ate turkey legs, and drank butterbeer. Well, it was great except for one part.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s Halloween season down here in Orlando, and Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights is in full swing. Halloween Horror Nights is essentially a nightly event where the entire park is shut down, and zombies, serial killers, and other frightening characters take the street. Not for the faint of hearted.

We were at the park before Horror Nights started, as I’m not much for scary stuff, and we’d just gotten off our favorite rollercoaster, The Mummy (I can recite all the lines to the ride, but I digress). After we got off we started walking towards Diagon Alley when I saw a bus “crashed” on the side of the street.

Of course, it was a decoration for Halloween Horror Nights, but being the intrinsically curious person that I am I went ahead and read the side of the bus. It read “Shadyrooms Sanitorium”.  And that’s the moment that my day took a turn for the south.

I knew I shouldn’t have let it get to me, but it did, and the rest of the day I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t believe that Universal, a company that I had come to adore over the years, would allow a prop (and I assume accompanying strait-jacket costumes) that is so offensive and stigmatizing to so many people.

Last month I wrote this article about how offensive and stigmatizing mental patient costumes really are. Let me be abundantly clear, that article wasn’t just about stopping those costumes because they were offensive, and this article isn’t just about a bus being offensive, it’s more than that. This is about saving lives, and this is about improving the lives of those living with mental illness.

Strait-jacket costumes and buses to mental hospitals being used as Halloween props perpetuates the idea that those with mental illness are violent, “crazy” individuals. That is stigma. The worse stigma gets, the less people who need help want to get it. Think, if you knew you would be viewed as violent and untrustworthy for having a mental illness, would you seek help?

And then there’s the people who have already been diagnosed, but must live in shame and fear because of the label cast on them by society. Afraid to reveal their diagnosis or venture outside the realm of “normalcy”, they are relegated to hiding their illness, and any signs of it, or else be viewed as a violent monster.

The less people get help, the more people end up in crisis, the more people die from their illness. All because we want to use mental illness as part of our horror shows. So don’t let it happen, don’t let stigma be perpetuated in a world where it is already bad enough to begin with. We should be up in arms over stuff like this, things that are so wrong and offensive and stigmatizing. We shouldn’t let the people running the show get away from this. We should get mad.

UPDATE: Mental Health America has started a petition to stop the sale of the children’s “Gone Mental” costume. I encourage you all to sign it here.

On Human Decency

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Photo by Steven Depolo. Creative License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode Link: https://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/4630736058

The other day I was browsing through mental health blogs and reading posts when I saw something that made me stop in my tracks. It was this article.  The article is about a woman’s fight to stop the sale of a rather offensive “mental patient” costume.

At first I didn’t know what to think. Thoughts came and went, I wondered who in the hell would buy a costume of a “mental patient”, a costume so offensive and cruel. What exactly is funny or cute about mental illness? Then it hit me, hard. People actually bought these costumes, this is many people’s view of mentally ill people.

As someone with prodromal schizophrenia, I am acutely aware of the enormous stigma that surrounds mental illness, especially more severe illnesses. Still, the fact that someone would make such an offensive costume, and that people would buy it, shocked me.

After the initial surprise, I began to think back over the course of my own illness. I thought of the hours I spent in a trance, unable to move or think. I thought of the voices, screaming at me and frightening me. I thought of the first time I was able to talk to them, and how much it scared me. I thought of the struggle I went through in University, unable to add two numbers or read a book. I thought of the immense pain I went through during that time, the near constant thoughts of suicide, the painful wait for my medications to kick in. I thought of how close I was to being in a mental hospital. Or dead.

Is this what the costumes are making fun of? Is the suffering of millions amusing? Surely, if they knew the suffering that comes with mental illness, this costume would be history. But they don’t know, to them mental illness is either a joke or a headline, and so the costume stays.

I titled this post On Human Decency, and I did so for a reason. Human decency is something every marginalized group strives for, to be treated as equal, to be seen as human. Not to be mocked, not to be a joke, not to be feared, that is not human decency, that is cruelty. Within this very century, beatings, restraints, and other cruel methods were commonplace in mental hospitals. While we are past that now, we have a new form of cruelty to deal with, and that comes from stigma.

Stigma, the great divider which keeps those with mental illness separated from society. A glass wall, nay, a one-way mirror. For we see society, yet society does not see us, not as who we truly are. No, society does not see us, society sees  a costume.

Stigma can be defeated, but doing so will require a movement beyond the scope of what has been done before. But for now, we must stick with small steps. Getting the stores currently carrying this outrageous costume to drop it is one of them.

I encourage you all to do what you can, call, leave reviews, email, even snail mail, do anything you can to get these horrendous costumes off shelves. All the info you need to help this cause can be found hereIf you’re a blogger, feel free to reblog this post or write your own.  Make sure to tell your friends. Stopping the sale of this costume won’t end stigma, but it’s one small step towards an unimaginable goal.

A Different Kind of Video Game and Mental Health Article

With the recent controversial study linking video games to violence, and the media’s usual shock-and-awe reporting on video games being (dubiously) a trigger for mass murders, one might expect this article to take some shot at the issue of video games and violence. However, I will make no such attempt although I could say much. I was once an avid gamer, and although more recently I have been forced to focus my attention solely to my schoolwork, I still have a deep respect for the hobby that gave me so much.

Over the recent summer break, I purchased a game called Witcher III, mostly to pass the time, but also because it seemed like a genuinely good game. Video games are amazing things, they take you to places that could not exist, to do things you could not possibly do, and meet people that could only be in your dreams. Most importantly, video games transform you into a person you are not, they allow you to see things from someone else’s eyes. Nothing is more valuable than being able to see something from someone else’s point of view, to experience what they experience.

In Witcher III, however, I found myself not in someone else’s shoes, but in my own. For you see in Witcher III, you play a mutant, a freak, an outcast from society. You are a witcher, a mutated human reviled by many. It may sound silly, but as someone with a mental illness I knew exactly how my character felt, I had an intimate connection, I knew what it felt like to be an outcast. When people in the game called me a freak, it was as if they were calling me a freak. It is a strange and lonely feeling to be unwanted, in a game surely, but more so in real life.

That game reminded me, severely, that stigma towards those with a mental illness is alive and well in the world. It reminded me that the world saw me as dangerous, that most of the world wouldn’t want to be neighbor to me.  If this stigma were getting better, that would be one thing, but it’s not. Mental health stigma is increasing, and often it seems as if no one cares that an entire segment of our population is being cast out.

It was just a game. But the way I felt after playing it was real. It was the same way I felt when I read or heard hateful comments about people with mental illness. It’s the same way I feel right after I tell a close friend about my illness; that time between telling them and their reaction that will tell you if you’re still friends. It’s the same way I feel when I remember I have to hide my illness when at all possible, or else be known as “the crazy one”.

Unlike other forms of discrimination, racism, sexism, what have you, mental illness has no overt public face. The media and public go into a frenzy when a person of color is killed by police, yet a person undergoing a mental breakdown is killed by police every 36 hours. Where is the outrage? Where are the marches?  The truth is that until we put ourselves out there (myself included), until we force the public to look at us and acknowledge us, we will get nowhere in terms of reducing stigma. We need publicity, someone, something to stand up for us. We need our MLK.