World Mental Health Day

“World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. The Day provides an opportunity for all stakeholders working on mental health issues to talk about their work, and what more needs to be done to make mental health care a reality for people worldwide.” https://www.who.int/mental_health/world-mental-health-day/en/

The work I do is good. 

My work is about helping people understand and manage their feelings and behaviors. It’s about helping people process their grief, traumatic past, anxiety, shame, guilt, remorse, and confusion. It’s about building a trusting relationship with my clients. I provide a sounding board for their lives in a space where they can feel relief, knowing that I have no stake in their lives, no opinion, and no judgement. I provide a neutral space for them to explore their past and imagine new ways of being. My work is about listening. It’s about listening carefully so clients feel understood. Sometimes I point out patterns in their feelings, behaviors, or stories and I often cry, laugh, and learn with them. 

I love what I do. I love how I do it. I love my clients and the surprises and “ah-ha!” moments that unfold organically before our eyes. I love learning more ways to help others and myself as therapeutic models evolve and science reveals new information about how our brains and bodies work to make us who we are. I love practicing what I learn with my clients and colleagues. I am passionate about helping others and society at-large.

“How do we make mental health care a reality for people worldwide?” So much. So very much. However, we’ve already come a very long way:

When I think generationally, I consider the changing attitude towards mental health care in my own family. My grandparents did not talk about negative feelings, did not process grief, did NOT go to therapy. My parents sometimes talked about negative feelings, did not process grief, and did NOT go to therapy. My sister and I sometimes talk about negative feelings, process grief a little, and go to therapy occasionally. My children ALL feel free to talk about negative feelings, are learning to process grief, and DO go to therapy.

In America, we recognize that talking about our negative feelings and experiences helps us feel better and do better. We know now that processing grief in a healthy, proactive way helps us feel happier and more connected to others. We know now that going to therapy is not for “crazy” people. It’s for regular people with regular challenges that need or want some direction in their lives. There are also plenty of people who have severe depression, anxiety, panic, and addiction who got to that severe place because there was not early intervention.

I think one of the most helpful areas of mental health care where we could make the biggest impact worldwide is early intervention. When we validate a child’s negative feelings, help them process grief, or teach them to ask for help, we empower them to take control of their feelings instead of being a victim to them. We can build a trusting relationship with them that allows them to explore their world without shame and guilt. We can teach them early in life to choose what they believe about themselves. We can teach them they can trust themselves to move their feelings if and when they want. We can help them make good decisions based on rational thinking. 

How would you be different today if you had grown up with these resources? How would the world be a different place if every child could learn to control their feelings by recognizing, acknowledging, choosing, and moving them? I think it would be pretty magical.

And that’s what I see in my office every day. I see the magic that happens inside people and between people when I explain they are not crazy, broken, “the” problem, or stupid. Witnessing the magic that occurs when I give people the space to be themselves and explore the dark corners of their minds is wonderful. I see the behavior of children change with only a few minor tweaks to their parents’ words or actions. 

What I do is amazing to me. I’m thrilled by the possibilities for better mental health care and the improvements being made every day. Let’s keep up the good work. 

Holiday Blues


The holiday season is, unfortunately, one of the busiest times of the year for counselors. During this time when we’re “supposed” to be cheerful and bright, we miss those we’ve lost. It’s a time of year when we feel the absence of loved ones the most.

For others, the issue is less about missing a loved one and more about the simple wish to feel loved – or at least wanted. If you’re already depressed, if you feel like you’re alone in the world, or if you feel like no one cares, then the holiday season amplifies these feelings and you feel worse, not better. And it certainly doesn’t help when everyone around you seems to be happy. What’s worse is when they tell you to smile or begin a sentence with “why don’t you…” and end their question with some platitude that only confirms that nobody gets what you’re going through. Ugh!

the holiday bluesWe want you to know you’re not alone. In fact, A LOT of people feel crappy during the holidays. We don’t mean to be unprofessional by using a word like “crappy,” but, honestly, it really is the best adjective in this case, don’t you think? After all, no one feels the exact same as you, and it would be wrong for us to cram everyone into the same emotional box. Yet it’s true that you’re not alone and many people just wish the holidays could be over already. The holiday blues strike many more people than you would guess, based on their outward demeanor. However, the unfortunate truth is that many, many people struggle with their feelings during this time of year.

Some people even feel so bad that they think of hurting themselves. If this is you, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Don’t even finish reading this post! Just click on the phone number and talk to someone who’s prepared to help you right now.

If you’re not one of the people who feel like the world would be better off without them (trust us, that’s never true!) and you’re just trying to figure out what you can do to make it through the holiday blues without hating yourself or everyone around you, then give us a call. We get it. Really, we do. And we know it sucks. We won’t judge you or tell you that you have to change. Because your feelings are real, and they’re part of you, and you don’t have to change if you don’t want to. But, with that said, it might be time to figure out a healthier way of facing the holidays, and that is what we’re best at.

holiday blues - a soldier alone during the holidaysWe can help you learn to cope. We can help you learn to manage your holiday blues and other emotions. We can help you learn to function, even in the face of feelings that used to leave you feeling broken and alone and unwilling to even breathe. … Grief, depression, trauma, and anxiety are all big deals. They can all make normal days feel unbearable, and they definitely don’t get any easier to deal with during the holidays.

Coping with the holiday blues is never easy, but there are a few things you can do to alleviate the loneliness, depression, anxiety, or other emotions you might be feeling.

The first thing to do is give yourself permission to feel the way you do. It’s OK. It’s also normal. So, be gentle with yourself.

The second thing to do is try to understand where your thoughts and feelings originate. This task can be very difficult, and it’s where a good counselor can help you the most. When we learn to think about our emotions, we can cope with them more effectively. If thinking about and understanding the source of your thoughts and feelings seems like an impossible task, then begin by trying to put labels on your emotions. Try to be more specific than, “I feel lonely” or “I am sad” by adding the word “because” to the end. This process will help you because it acknowledges that the things you feel are real in addition to helping you understand why you feel the way you do.

Putting a label on the things you feel is like attaching a handle to them, and it allows you to carry them as well as decide when and where to put them down. You are in control, and you can make the decision to carry your emotions or not. Sometimes we need to carry them, and the only person who can determine what’s most appropriate for you is you.

The third thing to do is explore new ways of being. If the things you’ve been doing aren’t working for you, then it might be time to switch things up a little bit. If you’re spending a lot of time alone, try finding someone to hang out with. If your faith is important to you but you haven’t been attending services lately, then try going to church. If you miss exercising, then try to get back into a routine of working out. But, whatever you do, don’t expect to be “better” after just one time of doing something different than you’ve been doing. It’s going to take time, and you’re going to need to experiment a little before you figure out what works and what doesn’t.

A lot of the process can be done without help from us or any other counselor. We understand that fact. However, the counseling process works remarkably well, and sometimes it’s just nice to know someone is working through the issues with you, even when you’re pretty sure you can do it on your own. So, with that said, we hope you’ll reach out to us and ask for help. But even if don’t, we wish you health and peace during this holiday season.

 

Response to Georgia Tech “Suicide by Cop”

The death of Georgia Tech engineering major and Pride Alliance president, Scout Schultz, last week at the hands of police was tragic and unnecessary.  Family, friends, and schoolmates reported that Scout was loved, respected, admired, good-natured, smart, and well-grounded.  What can we learn from Scout’s succumbing to suicide by cop?  Who is at risk of overwhelming depression or anxiety and how do we keep them safe?

I have worked with children and adolescents who suffer with overwhelming anxiety and depression for years, many of whom consider self-harm or thoughts of suicide as a coping mechanism for their negative symptoms.  In every case, the client did not want to die.  They wanted the pain, exhaustion, sadness, racing thoughts, and lack of support to stop.  They wanted to feel “not crazy” and feel like someone understood them without judging them.

The National Institute of Mental Health reported that in 2015 suicide was the third leading cause of death for children aged 10-14 and the second leading cause of death for young adults aged 15-24 and for those aged 25-34.  These numbers are staggering and bring unimaginable grief to the families of those affected.  NIMH also reported for that same year that 12.5% of adolescents aged 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode in 12 months.  For ages 18-25, the prevelence was 10.3%.

In our small-town high school, we had four teen suicides last year.  By all accounts, each of the students were loved in a way similar to Scout.  They were involved, had friends, passions, and their faith.  But my guess is that they did not feel like they could talk about depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts.  Our society has relegated these conditions to “crazy” people, and just the mere thought of mentioning a suicidal thought to someone fills those effected with fear of incarceration, involuntary commitment, social isolation, or exposure to ridicule or misunderstanding from family, friends, or the church.

Through Scout, we can learn that suicide is a coping mechanism to deal with depression.  We can learn that we should talk about suicidal thoughts more openly and with less judgement.  We can learn to listen to those who are in pain and help them feel understood and accepted.  We can be a rest stop for those whose journey is difficult and fraught with darkness.

We can also acknowledge that suicide is major killer of our youth and it is preventable.  Lets start talking about depression, anxiety, suicide, and self-harm in much the same way that we talk about diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure.  Lets see these mental health issues as preventable, treatable, and manageable.  Lets keep our young people safe by keeping our young people heard.