This is a useful, practical article on five strategies for working with those negative thought loops we all can get caught up in. And, good news is these strategies really do work! Click on the link to read the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/renee-jain/negative-thoughts-throw-them-out-and-four-other-ideas_b_6308030.html
No matter what tradition you are celebrating, it's easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle this time of year. This link to an article by Ed Halliwell gives you five ways to slow down and appreciate what's going on around you. Click on the link to open the article: http://www.mindful.org/mindful-voices/the-examined-life/five-ways-to-slow-down-and-appreciate-the-season
Emotions Are a Strength, Not a Design Flaw By Joanna Warwick (orginal blog post link:) http://tinybuddha.com/blog/emotions-strength-not-design-flaw/
Eyes that do not cry, do not see.” ~Swedish Proverb
Just get over it; don’t be so sensitive. You should toughen up and grow a thicker skin…
I’ve heard this advice so much over my life, but I’ve never seen it make anyone happy.
Advised to toughen up with thicker skins so we can protect ourselves, we end up just bottling it up inside and pushing away how we feel, hoping it looks like we’re strong.
It’s like trying to avoid our own shadow; believing it’s gone because it’s behind us, but it’s totally visible to anyone else who cares to look.
Instead of becoming stronger, this denying and rejecting behavior makes us more susceptible to danger, more fearful and wary, resulting in confusion and unhappiness, because we’ve thrown away the information we need to survive and thrive.
The Rhino’s Lesson While I was volunteering in South Africa for an animal conversation charity, I found myself in close proximity to a wild rhino in the early hours of the morning.
She was beautiful.
With only a few feet between us, and little shrub to block her path, she did not seek to fight or flee; she just stood there.
Although rhinos are quite blind, they have other strong senses, including smell, hearing, taste, external touch, and instinctual felt sense (internal and external nervous systems).
They have thick, layered, armored skin that protects them from sharp, thorny bushes, but they are not insensitive and tough.
In fact, their survival and ability to thrive is wholly dependent on their sensitivity.
She didn’t run or charge because she didn’t feel I was a threat.
Sensitivity Is Power Sensitivity means to be connected and aware of all our senses.
Our bodies are descendants of mammals, so we’re sensory beings.
This means, like the rhino, we are designed to use sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and felt sense to navigate the world around us and survive.
This sensory information creates an internal response to everything, including danger and safety, separation and bonding, otherwise known as emotions.
It’s a fact: we’re all emotional, male and female!
Unlike our animal cousins, though, we have an evolved conscious awareness to this emotional information, so they become defined as feelings—the language of emotions to which we attach judgment.
Instead of responding naturally and appropriately to this navigation system, we stress ourselves out, worry, shame, analyze, get embarrassed, get scared, get stuck, don’t act, ignore, or do the total opposite of what our body tells us to do.
The rhino does not question the sensory information the brain collects, it just acts appropriately either by running away and avoiding the danger, or standing still to assess and inquire.
Or, by running toward it, threatening with their full force of size, strength, weight, and their strong, sharp horn, not because they are bad tempered, but because they must still protect their well-being, even though they are naturally shy, curious, and non-predatory.
Confusing Safety and Danger Our brain continually processes sensory information to inform our responses to a situation or person by encouraging slowing down, moving toward or further away.
Teaching us to ignore, shame, disregard, and disconnect from this emotional sensory information leaves us unarmed, unprotected, and unsafe. It’s like being in conversation but only talking, never listening, and assuming what the other person thinks and feels.
How A War Zone Becomes Your Norm This behavior is most obvious in adults who experienced abusive childhoods or were parented inconsistently by alcoholics, drug addicts, or the mentally unstable, and if they were conditioned to be good girls and boys and shamed for expressing anger, desire, or tears.
In these environments, a child absorbs the message “Don’t express how you truly feel.”
If they accepted the sensory information they received, they would have had to accept that their home environment, where they needed to be cared and protected for survival, actually felt unsafe and rejecting to live in.
It’s unimaginable for a child to acknowledge that the parents who they love might not be safe, even if they come to see a difference in other families.
They learn not to respond appropriately, as it would result in possible physical danger, punishment and abandonment, so they disconnect, desensitize, do as they are told, try to please to make it safer, and stop trusting their feelings, because they lie and let them down.
If they continue this behavior into adulthood, they will keep seeking out the familiar—hurtful, disappointing, painful, unstable, rejecting, or even dangerous relationships and circumstances, to mirror the feelings of childhood.
Getting Emotionally Reconnected I used think women who cried were pathetic. I thought they should just get over it and pull themselves together, as this was how I saw my own emotions.
Every feeling I had was buried away, unspoken, and unshared, branded as either a sign of weakness, as regards to crying, or unacceptable, if it was anger. I considered every other feeling bad and dangerous.
My exterior had toughened up until I was cold and as hard as an ice queen.
I chose abusive lovers, friends, and bosses over and over again, even though when I met them all I had the same uncomfortable, sickie, withdrawing feelings. I just ignored them and believed I must be wrong; and I jumped into, at worst, dangerous and, at best, rejecting and unloving environments.
Part of my self-discovery was learning to get out of my judgmental head and back into my body; and trusting its natural ability to know my boundaries and how to protect myself, so I could begin to make the right choices for my health, well-being, and happiness.
I sought people who showed me how to demonstrate my emotions openly and gave me permission to feel angry and cry. I came to understand my body’s language, so, if I felt something, I got real and responded appropriately.
If I felt happy and safe, I smiled.
If I felt safe and laughed, I opened my mouth wide and laughed wholeheartedly from my belly.
If someone tried to disrespect me, I called them on it or walked away.
If I felt desire to touch and be touch, I trusted my intuition.
No longer confused and distrusting of my sensitivity, I didn’t need to waste my energy fighting and denying how I felt.
I was now open to love and intimacy, no longer terrified of it as dangerous, or afraid of rejection, because I felt safe in my ability to know and accept the truth.
I was now listening to the whole conversation and all the information I was receiving, so that like the beautiful rhino I could own our greatest strength of all: our emotional instinct to navigate the wilderness and know who is part of our herd.
By Joanna Warwick http://tinybuddha.com/blog/emotions-strength-not-design-flaw/
Beautiful quote by Ram Dass on acceptance:
When you go out into the woods and you look at trees, you see all these different trees. And some of them are bent, and some of them are straight, and some of them are evergreens, and some of them are whatever. And you look at the tree and you allow it. You appreciate it. You see why it is the way it is. You sort of understand that it didn’t get enough light, and so it turned that way. And you don’t get all emotional about it. You just allow it. You appreciate the tree.
The minute you get near humans, you lose all that. And you are constantly saying “You’re too this, or I’m too this.” That judging mind comes in. And so I practice turning people into trees. Which means appreciating them just the way they are.
~ Ram Dass
Following up on yesterday's R.A.I.N post; here is "See, Touch, Go".....R.A.I.N and See, Touch, Go are both simple, yet effective ways to work with emotions through a more accepting, compassionate stance. "If all you did was put your hand on your heart, and wish yourself well, it would be a moment well spent" ~ Elisha Goldstein. His article, published in mindful.org, is below. (Link to original article is at the end.)
3 Ways to Train the Compassionate Brain ~ Elisha Goldstein, Phd
When you’re focused on any activity, whether it’s your email, listening to a friend, or sitting in a formal meditation practice, your mind is bound to wander. In The Now Effect, I introduce the phrase “See, Touch, Go” as a way to remember how to work with the wandering mind. When it wanders we “See” that it wandered, then we “Touch” or spend a moment with the thought, and “Gently Go” back to the initial intention. Recently, a friend opened my eyes to how this phrase can be adapted to be a simple and practical way to strengthen a more compassionate brain.
I can’t wait to share it with you.
One day my friend Robin and I were discussing the power of “See, Touch, Go” to help stay focused on what matters. We talked about how it’s made us better listeners, more focused at work and less judgmental of ourselves when we veer from our intentions. She also told me that the other night she had an idea that adapted it for compassion. She said that the other night she was having a particularly difficult conversation with a friend and in that moment was able to See her own frustration arising and because she was aware of this she took an opportunity to Touch her heart to ignite a more loving awareness and decided to Go from there.
This transformed the moment from a battle to seeing the person in front of her as a woman with her own moment of struggling and that behind her eyes she had the same needs of wanting to feel understand and cared about. Wanting to feel accepted and have a sense of belonging.
With this compassionate awareness, Robin dropped down from her mental chatter and decided to listen to her friend and try and understand what she needed. The conversation went a whole lot better from there.
We can use this version of “See, Touch, Go” with self-compassion too. In a moment we that the volume in our minds is turned up with self-criticism and self-judgment, we can See what is happening, Touch our hearts as a gesture of self-kindness, maybe even asking what we actually need in that moment and Go from there. Instead of allowing the ruminative mind to spiral, maybe we step into a loving kindness practice to connect deeper to our hearts, or maybe a forgiveness practice to practice letting go. Or maybe what we need is to connect with another person so we call a friend, or get some space by taking a walk outside.
This reminds me of a saying in The Now Effect:
If all you did was put your hand on your heart and wish yourself well, it would be a moment well spent.
Here is the compassionate version of “See, Touch, Go” spelled out:
• See the struggle that is there, within you or within the relationship in the moment.
• Touch your heart either mentally or physically. Sensing into this area of the body is likely turn the volume down on the chatter and connect you to what really matters in the moment.
• Go from there, Go from the heart. Ask yourself, what do I need in this moment? What really matters? What action will align with what I need or what matters? Then do it.
It’s easy to see where this can come into play with ourselves, in parenting, at work, or in many of our relationships. Play with this practice with yourself and with others in the days to come and fine tune the skill of self-compassion and compassion. Allow your experience to enlighten you.
If we set the intention to practice the compassionate version of “See, Touch, Go” throughout the day I guarantee you that not only will you find more moments of love and joy, but the world would be a better place.
Elisha Goldstein, PhD
Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. He is author of book The Now Effect (Atria Books, 2012), Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler (Atria Books, 2013), and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, 2010).
Learning how to manage emotions, so they don't manage you. Let it R.A.I.N....R = Recognize, A = Accept (Allow), I = Investigate (Inquire), N = Not-identify (Not-self). R.A.I.N. and related practices of spacious awareness can sometimes enable painful or challenging contents of mind to dissipate and pass away" ~ Rick Hanson, PhD and his "Just One Thing" e-newsletters - (sign up, they are free!) Learning how to be with "what is" rather than push away "what is" is an important skill in learning to manage emotions, especially the ones we would rather not have. Below is Rick Hanson's original post, link included at the end as well.
By Rick Hanson, PhD.
Can you be with the whole of your psyche?
Let it R.A.I.N.
When you're young, the territory of the psyche is like a vast estate, with rolling hills, forests and plains, swamps and meadows. So many things can be experienced, expressed, wanted, and loved.
But as life goes along, most people pull back from major parts of their psyche. Perhaps a swamp of sadness was painful, or fumes of toxic wishes were alarming, or jumping exuberantly in a meadow of joy irritated a parent into a scolding. Or maybe you saw someone else get in trouble for feeling, saying, or doing something and you resolved, consciously or unconsciously, to Stay Away From That Place Forever.
In whatever way it happens, most of us end up by mid-adulthood living in the gate house, venturing out a bit, but lacking much sense of the whole estate, the great endowment of the whole psyche. Emotions are shut down, energetic and erotic wellsprings of vitality are capped, deep longings are set aside, sub-personalities are shackled and silenced, old pain and troubles are buried, the roots of reactions - hurt, anger, feelings of inadequacy - are veiled so we can't get at
them, and we live at odds with both Nature and our own nature.
Sure, the processes of the psyche need some regulation. Not all thoughts should be spoken, and not all desires should be acted upon! But if you suppress, disown, push away, recoil from, or deny major parts of yourself, then you feel cut off, alienated from yourself, lacking vital information about what is really going on inside, no longer at home in your own skin or your own mind - which feels bad, lowers effectiveness at home and work, fuels interpersonal issues, and contributes to health problems.
So what can we do? How can we reclaim, use, enjoy, and be at peace with our whole estate - without being overwhelmed by its occasional swamps and fumes?
This is where R.A.I.N. comes in.
R.A.I.N. is an acronym developed by Michelle McDonald, a senior mindfulness teacher, to summarize a powerful way to expand self-awareness. (I've adapted it a bit below, and any flaws in the adaptation are my own, not Michelle's.)
R = Recognize: Notice that you are experiencing something, such as irritation at the tone of voice used by your partner, child, or co-worker. Step back into observation rather than reaction. Without getting into story, simply name what is present, such as "annoyance," "thoughts of being mistreated," "body firing up," "hurt," "wanting to cry."
A = Accept (Allow): Acknowledge that your experience is what it is, even if it's unpleasant. Be with it without attempting to change it. Try to have self-compassion instead of self-criticism. Don't add to the difficulty by being hard on yourself.
I = Investigate (Inquire): Try to find an attitude of interest, curiosity, and openness. Not detached intellectual analysis but a gently engaged exploration, often with a sense of tenderness or friendliness toward what it finds. Open to other aspects of the experience, such as softer feelings of hurt under the brittle armor of anger. It's OK for your inquiry to be guided by a bit of insight into your own history and personality, but try to stay close to the raw experience and out of psychoanalyzing yourself.
N = Not-identify (Not-self): Have a feeling/thought/etc., instead of being it. Disentangle yourself from the various parts of the experience, knowing that they are small, fleeting aspects of the totality you are. See the streaming nature of sights, sounds, thoughts, and other contents of mind, arising and passing away due mainly to causes that have nothing to do with you, that are impersonal. Feel the contraction, stress, and pain that comes from claiming any part of this stream as "I," or "me," or "mine" - and sense the spaciousness and peace that comes when experiences simply flow.
* * *
R.A.I.N. and related practices of spacious awareness are fundamental to mental health, and always worth doing in their own right. Additionally, sometimes they alone enable painful or challenging contents of mind to dissipate and pass away.
But often it is not enough to simply be with the mind, even in as profound a way as R.A.I.N. Then we need to work with the mind, by reducing what's negative and increasing what's positive. (It's also necessary to work with the mind to build up the inner resources needed to be with it; being with and working with the mind are not at odds with each other as some say, but in fact support each other.)
And whatever ways we work with the garden of the mind - pulling weeds and planting flowers - will be more successful after it R.A.I.N.s.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (in 13 languages), Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 25 languages), Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 13 languages), and Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and on the Advisory Board of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, his work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, CBC, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report,and O Magazine and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter – Just One Thing – has over 100,000 subscribers, and also appears on Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and other major websites.
For more information, please see his full profile at www.RickHanson.net.
Many challenging feelings and moods, not only depression, respond to empathy.....from others, and from ourselves. This is wonderful blog post by Seth Adam Smith on empathy and depression. "My heart softened, and suddenly, the sadness didn't feel as strong. You see, depression thrives in secrecy but shrinks in empathy...." Check out Seth's blog post on Huffington Post (click on link below) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seth-adam-smith/depression_b_5169620.html
MIndfulness: is it a fad or a powerful life-changing coping skill. A look at the science ~ Amanda Mascarelli, washington Post, HEalth, Science and the Environment
This article is written by Amanda Mascarelli and appeared in the Washington Post, Mar 1oth, 2014. Original link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/mindfulness-is-it-a-fad-or-a-powerful-life-changing-coping-skill-a-look-at-the-science/2014/03/07/a43d36f4-a2ed-11e3-8466-d34c451760b9_story.html
Imagine this scenario: You come home from work tired and frazzled, and your little kids are running wild. Perhaps this doesn’t require much imagination. People in such situations might find solace in a popular meditative practice called mindfulness. With mindfulness, you train your mind to focus on the present and respond with reason before emotion. It’s about taking a pause and guiding yourself to become “aware enough in the moment so that before you react, you’re aware of how you’re responding to a situation,” says Ronald Epstein, a professor of family medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. “That gives you the choice to blow up or not to blow up. You recognize and say, ‘I’m about to lose my temper,’ rather than losing your temper.”
In our high-stress culture, the idea has caught on. Mindfulness is being practiced not just by New Age-types, celebrities and executives. Education leaders in many states have received training for how to incorporate mindfulness into K-12 curricula. Most medical schools now offer an elective in mindfulness in medicine, Epstein says.
For the rest of us, a popular way to learn the technique is through eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) courses, says Kirk Warren Brown, a psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who has been studying and practicing mindfulness for more than 20 years. MBSR courses are often held in churches, schools, hospitals and community centers. A typical course in the Washington area costs about $550. For faster, less expensive options, you can find mindfulness courses online and tutorials on apps such as Buddhify.
Popularity is not necessarily a gauge of effectiveness, of course. So what’s the science behind mindfulness: Is it really a powerful life-coping skill?
“It’s not a cure-all; it doesn’t take all the problems away,” says Luke Fortney, a family medicine doctor in Madison, Wis., who has conducted clinical studies on the practice. “But it can help reframe our focus around how we approach these stresses.”
Research shows that being mindful can have tangible benefits, such as alleviating chronic pain and helping to curb depression and anxiety. Various studies have linked mindfulness practice to improvements in attention, eating and sleeping habits, weight management, and recovery from substance abuse. Research also suggests that mindfulness can help people cope better with heart disease, breast cancer, fibromyalgia, asthma and other conditions.
One way to assess the validity of studies is to do a meta-analysis, a comprehensive review of multiple studies. One such analysis published this year in JAMA Internal Medicine found “moderate evidence” that mindfulness meditation programs can have small but significant effects on anxiety, depression and pain. But the review did not find sufficient evidence that mindfulness could help with other health problems.
This doesn’t mean that mindfulness can’t help people with other conditions, but just that stronger study designs are needed to know whether it is effective, says Madhav Goyal, an assistant professor of general internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and lead author of the meta-analysis. The important message from the study, he says, is that after evaluating thousands of people, including patients with anxiety, fibromyalgia, low back pain, HIV and heart disease who underwent approximately eight weeks of mindfulness training, “we were seeing a fairly consistent but small effect of improvement in all of those populations for anxiety, depression and pain.”
Brown points out that these moderate reductions are “nothing to sneeze at.” The meta-analysis demonstrates “that the average person may be able to cut back on anti-anxiety, antidepressant or other medications they are taking, which is not insignificant given the side effects and other issues such as tolerance that many psychotropic medications have,” he says. And as the authors note in their paper: “these small effects are comparable with what would be expected from the use of an antidepressant in a primary care population but without the associated toxicities.”
Last year, Brown published one of the first studies to look at how mindfulness practice affects the early unfolding of emotional reactions. By studying how brain waves change in response to emotional stimuli such as unpleasant images, he and his colleagues found that individuals deemed to be more mindful had lower stress responses than less-mindful individuals.
Mindfulness practice seems to alter how emotional centers in the brain are activated, Brown says. “Rather than simply helping people cope better with negative emotions and stress — which is certainly important — mindfulness seems to help inoculate against the arising of stress in the first place.”
The beauty of mindfulness is that once it’s learned, it can be done easily, while doing other things. “It’s something that can be applied under any kind of circumstance: washing the dishes, doing child care, driving, sitting in front of the computer,” Brown says.
As the mother of three young children, I find this to be perhaps its greatest appeal. It’s empowering to be able to step back, pause to assess the situation — however stressful it is — and recognize what I’m feeling. Then I can choose how to respond rather than letting my response happen to me.
Author: Amanda Mascarelli
Let's help to de-stigmatize and bring awareness and compassion to discrimination and other issues folks with mental health issues face. There is no shame in having to struggle and figure out how to live with strong emotions. We all have feelings, and some folks have bigger, more complicated feelings to figure out and manage than others. And that's not wrong....it simply is. The blog post reprinted below is from the TED blog and Thu-Huong Ha is the author. Here is the link to the original post: http://blog.ted.com/2013/12/18/how-should-we-talk-about-mental-health/
TED Blog Post:
Mental health suffers from a major image problem. One in every four people experiences mental health issues — yet more than 40 percent of countries worldwide have no mental health policy. Across the board it seems like we have no idea how to talk about it respectfully and responsibly.
Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to a productive public dialogue about mental health; indeed, the problem seems to be largely one of communication. So we asked seven mental health experts: How should we talk about mental health? How can informed and sensitive people do it right – and how can the media do it responsibly?
End the stigma
Easier said than done, of course. Says journalist Andrew Solomon, whose tear-inducing talk about depression was published today: “People still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness. They think it shows personal weakness. They think it shows a failing. If it’s their children who have mental illness, they think it reflects their failure as parents.” This self-inflicted stigma can make it difficult for people to speak about even their own mental health problems. According to neuroscientist Sarah Caddick, this is because when someone points to his wrist to tell you it’s broken, you can easily understand the problem, but that’s not the case when the issue is with the three-pound mass hidden inside someone’s skull. “The minute you start talking about your mind, people get very anxious, because we associate that with being who we are, fundamentally with ‘us’ — us as a person, us as an individual, our thoughts, our fears, our hopes, our aspirations, our everything.” Says mental health care advocate Vikram Patel, “Feeling miserable could in fact be seen as part of you or an extension of your social world, and applying a biomedical label is not always something that everyone with depression, for example, is comfortable with.” Banishing the stigma attached to mental health issues can go a long way to facilitating genuinely useful conversations.
Avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness
People are too quick to dole out judgments on people who experience mental health problems, grouping them together when isolated incidents of violence or crime occur. Says Caddick, “You get a major incident like Columbine or Virginia Tech and then the media asks, ‘Why didn’t people know that he was bipolar?’ ‘Was he schizophrenic?’ From there, some people think, ‘Well, everybody with bipolar disease is likely to go out and shoot down a whole bunch of people in a school,’ or, ‘People who are schizophrenics shouldn’t be out on the street.’” Solomon agrees that this correlation works against a productive conversation about mental health: “The tendency to connect people’s crimes to mental illness diagnoses that are not in fact associated with criminality needs to go away. ‘This person murdered everyone because he was depressed.’ You think, yes, you could sort of indicate here this person was depressed and he murdered everyone, but most people who are depressed do not murder everyone.”
But do correlate more between mental illness and suicide
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or other mental disorders, or substance-abuse disorders in conjunction with other mental disorders. Yet we don’t give this link its due. Says Solomon, “Just as the association between mental illness and crime is too strong, the connection between mental illness and suicide is too weak. So I feel like what I constantly read in the articles is that ‘so-and-so killed himself because his business had gone bankrupt and his wife had left him.’ And I think, okay, those were the triggering circumstances, but he killed himself because he suffered from a mental illness that drove him to kill himself. He was terribly depressed.”
Avoid words like “crazy” or “psycho”
Not surprisingly, nearly all the mental health experts we consulted were quick to decry playground slang like “mental,” “schizo,” “crazy,” “loonie,” or “nutter,” stigmatizing words that become embedded in people’s minds from a young age. NIMH Director Thomas Insel takes that one step further — he doesn’t like the category of “mental health problems” in general. He says, “Should we call cancer a ‘cell cycle problem’? Calling serious mental illness a ‘behavioral health problem’ is like calling cancer a ‘pain problem.’” Comedian Ruby Wax, however, has a different point of view: “I call people that are mentally disturbed, you know, I say they’re crazy. I think in the right tone, that’s not the problem. Let’s not get caught in the minutiae of it.”
If you feel comfortable talking about your own experience with mental health, by all means, do so
Self-advocacy can be very powerful. It reaches people who are going through similar experiences as well as the general public. Solomon believes that people equipped to share their experiences should do so: “The most moving letter I ever received in a way was one that was only a sentence long, and it came from someone who didn’t sign his name. He just wrote me a postcard and said, ‘I was going to kill myself, but I read your book and changed my mind.’ And really, I thought, okay, if nobody else ever reads anything I’ve written, I’ve done some good in the world. It’s very important just to keep writing about these things, because I think there’s a trickle-down effect, and that the vocabulary that goes into serious books actually makes its way into the common experience — at least a little bit of it does — and makes it easier to talk about all of these things.” Solomon, Wax, as well as Temple Grandin, below, have all become public figures for mental health advocacy through sharing their own experiences.
Don’t define a person by his/her mental illnesses
Just as a tumor need not define a person, the same goes for mental illness. Although the line between mental health and the “rest” of a person is somewhat blurry, experts say the distinction is necessary. Says Insel: “We need to talk about mental disorders the way we talk about other medical disorders. We generally don’t let having a medical illness define a person’s identity, yet we are very cautious about revealing mental illness because it will somehow define a person’s competence or even suggest dangerousness.” Caddick agrees: “There’s a lot of things that go on in the brain, and just because one thing goes wrong doesn’t mean that everything’s going wrong.”
Separate the person from the problem
Continuing from the last, Insel and Patel both recommend avoiding language that identifies people only by their mental health problems. Says Insel, speak of “someone with schizophrenia,” not “the schizophrenic.” (Although, he points out, people with autism do often ask to be referred to as “autistic.”) Making this distinction clear, says Patel, honors and respects the individual. “What you’re really saying is, this is something that’s not part of a person; it’s something the person is suffering from or is living with, and it’s a different thing from the person.”
Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, but that we’re not talking at all
Sometimes it just starts with speaking up. In Solomon’s words: “Wittgenstein said, ‘All I know is what I have words for.’ And I think that if you don’t have the words for it, you can’t explain to somebody else what your need is. To some degree, you can’t even explain to yourself what your need is. And so you can’t get better.” But, as suicide prevention advocate Chris Le knows well, there are challenges to talking about suicide and depression. Organizations aiming to raise awareness about depression and suicide have to wrangle with suicide contagion, or copycat suicides that can be sparked by media attention, especially in young people. Le, though, feels strongly that promoting dialogue ultimately helps. One simple solution, he says, is to keep it personal: “Reach out to your friends. If you’re down, talk to somebody, because remember that one time that your friend was down, and you talked to them, and they felt a little better? So reach out, support people, talk about your emotions and get comfortable with them.”
Recognize the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences
Says autism activist Temple Grandin: “If it weren’t for a little bit of autism, we wouldn’t have any phones to talk on.” She describes the tech community as filled with autistic pioneers. “Einstein definitely was; he had no language until age three. How about Steve Jobs? I’ll only mention the dead ones by name. The live ones, you’ll have to look them up on the Internet.” Of depression, Grandin says: “The organizations involved with depression need to be emphasizing how many really creative people, people whose books we love, whose movies we love, their arts, have had a lot of problems with depression. See, a little bit of those genetics makes you sensitive, makes you emotional, makes you sensitive — and that makes you creative in a certain way.”
Humor, some say, is the best medicine for your brain. Says comedian Wax: “If you surround [your message] with comedy, you have an entrée into their psyche. People love novelty, so for me it’s sort of foreplay: I’m softening them up, and then you can deliver as dark as you want. But if you whine, if you whine about being a woman or being black, good luck. Everybody smells it. But it’s true. People are liberated by laughing at themselves.”