News for May 2012

Dismantling the Social Welfare System a Recipe for Increased Mental Health Problems

Note: This post is modified from the original version found on my political blog. I have attempted to make it more ‘neutral’ in tone. If you want to view the original post, please email me at info@rising-phoenix.us for the link. As a rule, I keep my political and mental health blogs separate.

As if there are not enough people suffering from mental health problems here in the United States, in 2004 50% of Americans reported having a mental illness within their lifetime and 25% of Americans reported having a mental illness in the past year, policies advanced by the Republican party the past few years increase the risk of mental health disorders if implemented.

Why? As you may have seen, recent reports large portion of American’s live in a state of poverty. In the US poverty line for 2011 was defined as $22,350 for a family of four. This saving grace for people living in poverty is the strong social welfare system the US has. Programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, unemployment, and section 8 housing, to name just a few, have helped millions of American’s survive in these difficult times. These programs also have allowed the poorest citizens to have access to medical care.

A number of studies, both in the US and other first world nations, have proved that a strong link between poverty and mental health problems exist. Given this fact, it is reckless to dismantle social welfare programs.

Not only would these policies destroy our social welfare system, they would to put tens of thousands of Americans out of work, by eliminating large portions of the federal government. Republican governors are doing the same thing at the state level. Not only does this immediately put people out of work during a difficult time, where reports show that for every one position available four people are applying for the job, it has an effect on other members of the community.

In the Washington, D.C. area many businesses thrive and survive solely because of federal employees and federal contractors. Budget cuts, downsizing and shut downs of the government put these businesses at risk and take food out of the mouths of small business owners.

On top of this first level impact to small business owners, fewer people would have money to spend on non-essential items. This would lead to a decrease in retail sales and more layoffs due to poor sales, companies would also order less goods from distribution centers and manufacturers. This in turn would lead to more layoffs, including those who transport the goods to the stores. By now you can see how severe this problem would become.

As I pointed out at the beginning of this article, there is a strong link between poverty and mental illnesses. Even without detailed studies, this link should be obvious to anyone willing to think. As people lose their jobs, they begin to struggle to make ends meet and provide for their family.

The longer people are out of work, the more the feeling of helplessness and failure increases, and the more severe it becomes.

No one wants to be poor. No one wants to let their family down by not being able to provide for their family.

So as more people would become unemployed the number of people experiencing mental health problems would drastically increase. While the social welfare programs we have in place these days do not eliminate poverty, they do help mitigate the problems – some. Without these programs, even more people would live in poverty and would have no access to health care, including mental health services.

While we now have many people suffering from mental health problems, the effects of the problem and the number of people suffering would increase without these social programs. These programs are meant to help those who are struggling.

We cannot dismantle our social welfare structure or kill jobs. If we do, even more people will begin to suffer from mental health problems and the severity of the problems would increase as the poor would not be able to get treatment for their mental health problems.

References:

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/09/03/cdc-statistics-mental-illness-in-the-us/

http://money.cnn.com/2011/09/13/news/economy/poverty_rate_income/index.htm

http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/poverty/about/overview/index.html

http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/11poverty.shtml

http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/04/04/poor-mental-illness-and-suicide-linked/25013.html

http://www.thenews-messenger.com/article/20111209/NEWS01/112090315/Poverty-mental-illness-linked

http://instructional1.calstatela.edu/bberk/SOC427/Class%20Relations,%20Economic%20Inequality%20and%20Mental%20Health%20Why%20Social%20Class%20Matters%20to%20the%20Sociology%20of%20Mental%20Health(2007).pdf

http://apt.rcpsych.org/content/10/3/216.full

Edited: May 30th, 2012

Stigma and the Individual

Stigma is many things. It is wrong. It is hurtful. It is cruel. It is unethical. It is amoral. It is counterproductive. It is plain stupid. It is bigoted. And at its worst, it is deadly.

This is a difficult topic for me to write about without getting worked up. At this point in our evolution as a species there is no room and no excuse for stigma in the world. Even though there is still a lot we need to learn, we know too much these days to excuse stigma.

Recent studies have shown that over half of Americans will show signs of mental health problems within their lifetime, with a third of Americans reporting them within the previous twelve month period. If you ask me, that is a very serious problem and it affects a lot of people.

Mental health problems, including mental illnesses, range in severity and impact. Even in the most severe cases, the person affected is not a bad person. They are just like everyone else, a person who wants to live a happy life, free of pain and suffering.

Stigma prevents these people, people like me, from being able to achieve this goal. It takes this fundamental human right away from us. It drives us to hide our problems. It leaves us suffering in silence and suffering alone.

How does it do these things?

It does these things, and much more, by intimidation. It stops us from saying anything, lest we get shunned. We keep quiet because we do not want to be alienated from everyone else. We do not want people to abandon us because we are not “normal”. We fear getting that look of disgust from people when they find out.

Society, through stigma, teaches us we should be embarrassed because of our challenges. It teaches us that we are weak because we cannot ‘get over it’ or because we are “so dramatic all the  time”. It teaches us we are defective. It teaches us we are “bad people”.

The things that stigma teaches us are all lies. We are good, kind and living people. We want the same things as everyone else. We have as much right to things like happiness and love as anyone else.

To repeat what I said at the start of this article, stigma is many things. It is wrong. It is hurtful. It is cruel. It is unethical. It is amoral. It is counterproductive. It is plain stupid. It is bigoted. And at its worst, it is deadly.

Edited: May 30th, 2012

The War within Me

There are times, like the last few days when I am waging a war within my mind. A war between my logical/intellectual mind and my emotional mind. The problem with this is that my emotional mind is not always very ‘friendly’ to me.

My  mind is a bit irrational at times. Unfortunately, when my emotional mind becomes irrational, it sometimes begins to overwhelm my intellectual mind. This is in part due to the fact that I have trouble regulating my emotions.  The problems regulating my emotions have caused me more problems that most of my other symptoms.

The last few days have been difficult for me on this front. My wife has struggled emotionally. This has left me feeling a bit powerless since there is only so much I can do. Nothing I can do seems to help much, or at all.

While I accept that there is only so much I can do and that I cannot ‘make it all better’, it is still proving to be a problematic situation. You see, there is a part of my mind that keeps whispering to me that I am failing my wife. It keeps trying to get me to believe that everything is my fault.

I know what my mind is whispering is a steaming load of bull and I reject that lie totally. Yet it still brings me down some. No matter what I seem to do, it will not go away. I am struggling to banish the thought from my mind. I accept that I will struggle and have times like this. It comes with the territory of being me.

Part of the problem is that the other day I dropped my barriers and my boundaries to open myself up to her pain. I dropped to try to absorb some of her hurt in the hopes that it would help her. I also hoped that I could safely handle it and process it. You see, I have had friends in the past tell me they believe I am an empath, so I  have to be very careful when I do things like this. I do not know if they are right or not, but I do know that at the very least I am very empathetic.

That one afternoon of dropping my barriers almost overwhelmed me. Dark visions flashed through my mind in vivid images at times. The good thing though, is that I did not accept them or even consider them as viable or desirable actions. It took me about a day and half to ‘recover’ from the barrage of emotions.

Edited: May 25th, 2012

A Few Words that Impacted My Life

In an earlier article, I wrote about the impact words can have on people. This article provides a few examples of words that had a huge impact on me. In both cases, the words were from the same person.

I was going through files on my laptop today and came across a text file name “excerpt”. When I opened it, I found the following part of a conversation I had with someone special to me a few years ago. I have modified the names to provide them more privacy.

a: you helped me get here. without you i never would have survived last year

a: can you believe it was only a litle more than a year ago we met?

me: *S*..I was wondering if you still felt that way…I still don’t know why you think it was bc of me you got through it…

me: I know I was thinking that the other day…

a: because you belived in me when no one else did

me: sometimes it feels like yesterday..other times a million lifes

me: *S*..well I am glad I was able to help at all…There is so much good in you and so much to believe in..it is very easy

a: and right now Jason i’m believing in you – i believe you will come through this depression with a better understanding of yourself and the world. i believe you will find healing and security within yourself, i belive you will be a different person in a years time too

me: *smiles*..thank you anne…you have no idea how much that you believing in me means…we seem to fade in and out of each others lives at just the right time dont we?

a: we’re connected

a: we always will be

me: yes you are indeed right 🙂

I read this and I remember that period, I remember the conversation and I remember how much those words in bold meant to me. I remember how much a difference they made in my life. I needed to hear them that night.

This was not the only time that this person’s words made a difference in my life. On another occasion, she left a comment in one of my journals in response to something I wrote. I was feeling invisible and like no one noticed me in life, so I posted a quote from the show House to sum up my feelings.

House episode 201
“Dr. Cameron: When a good person dies, there should be an impact on the world. Somebody should notice. Somebody should be upset.”

This is exactly what I wrote, minus a profanity edit, in my journal at the time…

Well I do know one thing…no one will notice my death when the time comes. no one will notice or give a f***….

My friend “a”, from above, read that entry not long after. She had just three simple words for me: “I’ll notice“, when I read those three words I just broke down into tears. Those three little words meant everything to me. I do not think any three words have ever had such an amazing impact on my life. Even now remembering those words and that night, I cry all over again.

Edited: May 19th, 2012

Words and Their Impact

There is an old saying that kids always say: “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” To this, I say simply BULLSHIT! If we talk about the physical body only then yes that is very true. Words in of themselves do not damage our bodies, as they have no mass; however, the hurt they cause is much worse. Words can damage us worse than any “sticks or stones.” Physical injuries while very painful at times heal. They heal relatively quickly and once the wound is healed, it is healed. It does not come back unless we reinjure ourselves.

Wounds caused by words on the other hand do not usually heal so quickly. Why?  Because they do not harm our body, which easily heals, but rather their harm is to our hearts, our minds and our very souls. As with physical injuries, not all words cause the same degree of harm. Some cause a little sadness while others devastate us. Many factors determine how badly they hurt us and how long it takes us to “heal.” If the person is a stranger to us or someone we only know casually their words have considerably less impact because we can shrug it off and say, “They do not really know me,” so their words mean less to us. The more we know a person, the more we love a person, the more important to us they are, the more harsh and/or negative words about us or to us hurt. Why? Because we need their love and approval. Now some people will say, I do not care what anyone thinks about me. This is another load of bullshit. All but the most cynical and heartless people care what SOMEONE thinks about them. The more compassionate we are, the more we love people, the more we care about people, the more we care what people think of us.

I like to think of myself as a very loving and compassionate person. I like to think of myself as a person who cares deeply for people around me.  I hate to see others suffer and want to help them as best I can. I do not this for some promise of reward in the future, but because everyone deserves certain things in this world, love, happiness, a roof over their head, food in the stomach and to be treated as a human being with the respect and dignity that comes with that.

There is no one in the world that does not deserve these things at a minimum, nor is there anyone out there that does not want them. For me, I do not care much about what people think of me as a general rule of thumb, but I do care greatly about those close to me. I do care about my good friends and the people that I love. The closer the person is to me, the more I care, the more I need their approval.

That is why when someone close to me says something harsh or negative to me it is so painful for me. I know I am not alone in this; we ALL hurt in these cases. Negative words from someone we care about and love dig deep into us. They can make us hate ourselves, and doubt ourselves amongst a host of other things. Negative words can easily “knock the wind out of our sails,” drain us of our focus and energy in other words.

Now let us look at the good side of things.

Not all words cause us harm. There are “neutral’ words that neither cause harm nor joy. These are most of the words we hear all the time so there is nothing really to say about them.

Positive words, words of love, devotion, praise etc, can have a profound positive impact on us. They make us feel loved and accepted. They show us the approval of others. They feel that deep need in us for that approval. They make us feel better about ourselves. They remind us that we are good people even when we make mistakes. That is why words of forgiveness are so important to us. We need to know that even though we fucked up that people still love us and believe in us. That they do not think we are failures or bad people. Now sometimes these words are not enough to heal a deep wound, but they are a big help to us and set us on the right path, especially when they are reinforced with actions that show that the words are sincere and when both words and actions are repeated.

The right words can elevate our hearts to new levels of joy and happiness, especially from the right people. To hear that someone we love still loves us after a bad fight for example is blissful and can reduce a person to tears of joy at hearing that; especially if we were the ones at fault. It makes us so grateful that they will not abandon us just because of our mistakes.

Words of praise also make our hearts sing. They show us that others around us see that we are doing our best and a good job. They show us that we are visible and help to validate us. These are especially important in times of self-doubt or self-hate.

Positive words help to rebuild us. They give back what was taken away or lost for some reason. As with negative words, the more we care about a person, the more we love them, the greater the impact of these positive words on us. With people that do not know us, or do not know us well positive words have greater impact than negative ones from the same person. Why? Because it shows us that, our own light shines so bright that even those we do not know us can see it. It is a great boost to our self-esteem. It shows that we truly are a good person if a stranger can see it in us. The difference is , that if we don’t know the person and they DON’T have positive words about us it does not matter as much to us; whereas, if the person we love doesn’t have something positive to say about us, at least at times, it has a tremendous impact because we start wondering if we are failures in their eyes. Just a few small words of approval or encouragement from someone we love can make all the difference in our world.

Not only do positive words show us approval of others but also they show us that others care about us. They show us that we matter.

Life is a constant battle between positive and negative forces in our lives. The negative trying to consume us and drive us into depression and despair, the positive, fighting to not only keep the negative away from us, but to show us the way through life, to show us happiness and joy. The negative try to cast us into darkness, the light fights against it.

At times in our lives, the negative seems to win. That is only because we welcome it and let it win. It is so much easier to let the pain take control of us than to fight it. So easy to say “I give up” then it is to say,” I will fight this with everything I have.” It is easier because it does not require anything of us other than to give up. To fight takes not only our will but also energy. It takes energy to fight anything. It requires us to do SOMETHING for ourselves. Hell, it just requires us to do SOMETHING, period.

We cannot allow any negative to consume us, be it words, be it actions, and be it anything. We have to keep fighting the darkness lest it consume us and destroy us. Life demands balance, we can choose to find this balance by fighting the darkness or we can let the darkness win and send us into the abyss of depression. The choice is ours and ours alone. No one can force us to make either choice.

To take a quote from Goodkinds novels:

Your life is yours alone, rise up and live it!

Look at the impact of just those few words. Those words spoken with authority and conviction can open eyes and motivate people to fight back and take their lives back!

Words are powerful in good and bad ways. Choose them carefully and calmly. Do not choose them in haste or when angered or in pain. Life is about choices and each choice we make defines our lives, but not just ours, the lives of those around us. We are all interconnected in this world; none of us are an island unto ourselves. Anyone that believes they are needs to open their eyes, mind and heart to those around them. Even a stranger can be touched and influenced by our words and deeds. You never know when your words can change the course of a person’s life. When they can bring a person back from despair and remind them they have something to live for, or when they can push the person over the edge into suicide or depression.

Always think before you speak. Once the words leave your mouth, they cannot be unheard. They cannot be erased from our minds, our hearts and our souls. We can only fight to overcome them.

Edited: May 19th, 2012

Stigma and Society – Family and Friends

Stigma is dangerous. It is cruel. It is amoral. It needs to stop. Stigma does not benefit anyone.

In earlier articles I have talked about the impact of stigma on the person and the economic damage it can cause. In this article I will outline the harm it can cause to the family and friends of a person with a mental illness.

People with mental illnesses never suffer alone. When they suffer it affects those around them. I know this first hand. I have seen the impact my suffering has had on those around me, both my family and my friends. I also have family, loved ones and friends with mental illnesses, so I know first hand the impact another person’s mental health problems have on others.

When you stigmatize someone, you drive them to hide their problems. You drive them to ‘cope’ on their own. They try to do this because no one wants to be treated like they are lepers. No one wants to be shunned.

Have you ever been around a family member or a friend that had just lost a loved one? Do you remember what it felt like trying to comfort them, but not being able to take away their pain? Do you remember how much it hurt you not being able to do more for them? Do you remember what it felt like feeling helpless and powerless to ‘make it all better’? Do you remember how the feeling got worse with each day that went by and your hands were still tied? Now, remember the day that the person ‘turned the corner’ and started feeling better and how much it helped how you felt.

Now imagine what that must feel like if that sense of hopelessness never went away. Imagine what it must feel like to have that sense of hopelessness turn into frustration or a sense of failure. Imagine what that does to a person and how much that person suffers along with the person who has the mental health problems.

It tears them apart. It can lead to problems within the family. It can lead to broken homes. It strains relationships. Stigma is dangerous. It is cruel. It is amoral. It needs to stop. Stigma does not benefit anyone.

Friends and families do not get the help they need to learn how to cope with and support their loved ones who are suffering. They are afraid or ashamed to admit that someone close to them has a mental illness because they too are afraid of the stigma. They do not want to be looked down on because someone on their family isn’t “normal”.

These kind of problems could be drastically reduced if we just put an end to stigma. Stigma can tear apart families and communities.

Always,
J.

Edited: May 9th, 2012

Stigma and Society – Economic Impacts

We know that stigma negatively affects those of us with mental illnesses. There is no doubt or question about that at all, and I will talk about that more in a different article. But the effects of stigma have a more far-reaching negative impact, as they also negatively impacts society as a whole.

One of the impacts of stigma is that people who suffer do not get the help they need because of how society might treat them. So these people suffer silently, hiding their challenges, pretending that nothing is wrong, and all too often not even getting diagnosed.

So how does this affect society as a whole?

When people are untreated, they have to try to deal with things on their own. Often times these people tend to “deal” and “cope” with things in destructive manners because they do not know what is going on or how to cope in a safe and productive way. These destructive ways can take a lot of forms, ranging from substance abuse (both liquor and drugs), violent outbursts and actions, self-harm, and reckless actions to name just a few.

All of these behaviors limit a person’s ability to take part in society in a productive way. They reduce the person’s productivity at work. They lead to an increase in days missed from work. This in turn can lead to increased stress on the members of the team. This in turn leads to increased risk of illnesses of the body. Around and around she goes.

All this can lead to missed deadlines, delayed projects, and cost overrun. This means that companies either need to raise prices or risk lower revenue. Lower revenue leads to reductions in the work force, which means more people struggling to make ends meet. This leads to an increase in the number of people who will suffer from depression. Once again, around and around she goes.

This of course is an over simplification of things, but I think it illustrates a very real concern. Stigma is not only damaging to the people it targets, but it is damaging to society as a whole

Edited: May 9th, 2012

Soothing ‘Business’ Cards

A few years ago I had business cards made up with two calming quotes. On the front side I have the following quote from His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

If there is a solution, there is no need to worry. If there is not a solution, there is no point to worry

On the back of the card I have the “Litany Against Fear” from Frank Herbert’s novel Dune

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Both sides of the card have the same soothing, calming background image, a sailboat on calm waters on a sunny day.

Edited: May 9th, 2012

Thoughts from the Road & the Trip So Far

Yesterday my wife and I left Virginia to head to Connecticut for the annual NEA-BPD conference on Borderline Personality Disorder.  The drive up to Connecticut was really a mixed bag. It started out a bit rough. By the time we left, it was late at night, ugly, and rainy. I was very exhausted and falling asleep, so we had to stop at one of the rest areas and take a nap for a few hours. We got up and started to drive again; however, it started raining hard so we did not get much further until we had to pull off again.  This time we stopped at a Denny’s and grabbed a bite to eat and relax for a while.

At this point, it was almost 6am and I was still exhausted so we decided to get a room and crash for a few hours. We slept until about noon and checked out to continue our trip to Connecticut. It was while we were here that I realized that I might have forgotten one of my wife’s medications. Interestingly, while I was concerned about it, I did not panic or freak out. I thought about it and realized we can probably go to a local CVS and buy a few pills and that insurance may even cover them in this case since we lost them on vacation.

We drove most of the way without incident. The burger I had for lunch tasted like cardboard, the tolls were more expensive than I realized they would be, apparently it costs almost 15$ to travel the length of the NJ Turnpike and another 12$ for the George Washington Bridge. There was a little traffic in New York, but it was not too bad. Then we hit Connecticut. We had over 20 miles of delays. What should have been about a 30-minute ride, took closer to about two hours. Even that stressor, traffic being a major stress point for me, did not rile me up. It was even more shocking since people were cutting me off left and right, which is also a major stressor. Both traffic and people cutting me off risk triggering me at any given time.

At times, my wife got grumpy because she was starting to hurt a lot from the trip. It has been rough on her at times.

We finally got to the hotel, yeah, and checked-in. We get up to our room and find out that they gave us the wrong room. Apparently, the website I booked through forgot to check that I needed a handicap accessible room. We were worried that she would not be able to shower or safely use the bathroom because of the configuration. I went downstairs and stopped at the front desk and explained the situation to them calmly, which after a long trip, a lot of traffic, and a grumpy wife, was amazing. They gave us a new room that met our needs and everything turned out OK.

We are settled and almost ready for bed.

Edited: May 3rd, 2012

Body Blow, Body Blow

The last two days have been ‘interesting’. They have not been bad, just long, draining and frustrating. I have been trying to clear all my open tasks before I leave for a short vacation, so there was a lot to do.

Right now I am supporting three projects that are active, plus one that is under customer review. One of the others requires a lot of prep time and institutional knowledge, that only I have, so while this is supposed to be the one with the smallest allocation of my time, it has turned into the exact opposite.

The are where the frustration comes in had been the last two days of meetings. In that time I have run three meetings for the project, two internal with my team and one with the customer. The one with the customer was with a group that I had trouble reaching, from the very start I could tell it was going to be rough. Several people I the group sat with their arms crossed, a sign of being closed off and aggressive. As the meeting progressed, you could tell that the standard interpretation of that body language was accurate.

The other two meetings were the bigger ‘issue’, they both came across as bordering on direct and personal attacks against one of my teammates and I. The word frustrating also comes screaming to mind. At one point, one of the people in the meeting walked out and slammed the door behind him. That whole meeting, I had to keep repeating to myself “It’s not personal, it’s not personal”. It was that rough a meeting.

It just seemed like blow after blow.

Ugh.

Edited: May 2nd, 2012

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