An Instagram A-Z on Mental Health

We love this Instagram series for mental health awareness by Sonaksha Iyengar, a Bangalore writer, illustrator, and graphic designer.

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Broadly falling between depression and mania, mood disorders go beyond just “a bad day” or a “fabulous day.” Significant fluctuations in a person’s mood with greater intensity and for longer periods end up causing disruptions in daily activities. Please don’t ask anyone with a mood disorder to “get over it.” It doesn’t work that way.

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One of the biggest problems with the way we approach mental health is that we assume the person is lying or faking it. That their pain and struggle is not real because they might not be screaming, or bleeding. Stop. Stop filling our quietness with your erroneous assumptions. Stop thinking that just because we appear calm on the outside, we’re fine on the inside too. Just because we might not have a visible gash, it doesn’t mean that we’re not hurting on the inside. Our heads might be jumbled in a ball of knots, tugging against each other but we may still remain quiet. It doesn’t make our pain any less real.

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“I’m doing everything wrong.”

“Everyone’s laughing at me.”

“I think I left the door open.”

Anxiety comes in different shapes and sizes.

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If you know of someone who has or has had an eating disorder, please do not make fun of it or of them. It’s not “cool.” There are various ways eating disorders manifest and it’s important to address them and know not to take it lightly. Support them, in anyway they might require.

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Bipolar disorder is NOT another way to describe a mood swing or a temper tantrum. So please don’t.

Iyengar’s A-Z project was featured recently on BuzzFeed. Here’s what she had to say:

“I think it’s so important to be sensitive to how another person is feeling and sometimes when it comes to mental illnesses, people can be so harsh.

“‘Get over it’ is not how it works and I think being more aware and acknowledging mental health will help us make a start in the direction towards kindness and empathy.

“It is time to have honest conversations with each other about the importance of mental health. I think the first step is to be more aware, so with the series, I hope to address it.”

 

Amy Dickinson’s Story

Love, loss, and coming home: Our own Amy Dickinson, the Freeville girl who went on to succeed advice-dishing queen Ann Landers as the “Ask Amy” syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune, is on a book tour with her latest memoir, Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things: Love, Loss, and Coming Home.

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Dickinson famously grew up on a Tompkins County dairy farm and traveled the world living in Washington, New York, Chicago, and London before returning home and marrying a local guy she knew from childhood. Some of this adventure was chronicled in The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Story of Surprising Second Chances, a 2009 memoir about being a single mom. “Ask Amy” is a daily advice column carried by 150 newspapers and read by an estimated 22 million people.

NPR’s Scott Simon interviewed Dickinson from Ithaca for  Weekend Edition on March 11 (transcript and audio clip via NPR):

Listen to the interview by clicking above

SCOTT SIMON: So what’s a sophisticated urbanite like you doing in Freeville, New York?

AMY DICKINSON: Oh, not much, you know. I mean, just today I was at the Queen Diner with my aunts because that’s what we do once a week. We meet at the diner. You know, I live in my hometown. It’s—I’m right back where I started surrounded by people I went to high school with. And I don’t know if I could have done this at another phase in my life, but it just feels right.

SCOTT SIMON: It’s interesting reading this book. You learned a lot from the example of both of your parents, but they were substantially different lessons.

AMY DICKINSON: Right. I was very fortunate to have been raised by my mother, Jane, who was a really—just a great parent. She was fun. She was lively, and she really seemed to enjoy being a mother. My father, on the other hand, old Buck, was like a world-class abandoner. He left us. He left subsequent families. He left women. He left people in his wake. And he just—you know, I think of him now as, like, an old restless cowboy.

SCOTT SIMON: That’s being very kind.

AMY DICKINSON: It is being kind, actually.

SCOTT SIMON: With the advantage of a certain amount of hindsight now, did that make love more difficult for you?

AMY DICKINSON: Oh, yeah, definitely. It’s like he was this linchpin I measured all other men against, and I was often overcorrecting, may I say. So, yeah, I veered back and forth. My first husband very, very, very unlike—as unlike my father as I could find, but that also meant that he and I didn’t have a lot in common.

SCOTT SIMON: So you get back home where you started in Freeville, and you meet all over again a guy named Bruno.

AMY DICKINSON: Yeah. You know, I’ve known him most of my life. I think we met when I was 12. Bruno has never lived any more than five miles away from where he was born. And I came home. He is a very well-known local builder, and I came home, and I wanted to renovate my little house. And everybody said, “Oh, you should call Bruno, call Bruno.” And I finally called Bruno, and he came to my house and he opened the door – it was fall. And, Scott, it was just—you know that scene in “The Quiet Man” when John Wayne opens the door to Maureen O’Hara’s little cottage? And he…

SCOTT SIMON: Yeah, hello, Mary Kate.

AMY DICKINSON: Mary Kate Danaher.

SCOTT SIMON: Yeah.

AMY DICKINSON: He filled the door frame and these leaves were kicked up behind him. And it was this incredibly dramatic moment in my life when Bruno blew in, you know, in my door. Yeah, and we fell—we just fell in love immediately.

SCOTT SIMON: In the course of this book, your mother declines and then dies. And that’s very moving the way you trace that in the book. You don’t like this term that we’ve heard so much over the past generation—closure.

AMY DICKINSON: Yeah, really—I mean, do you have it?

SCOTT SIMON: No, no, no, I know exactly what you mean. You don’t close it. You go on.

AMY DICKINSON: Right. If you love someone fiercely, you’re not going to close the book on that. And honestly, I felt that the whole closure concept was really a—you know, just thinking that I might get closure I think delayed my healing from this loss. My mother was frail. She suffered. I was with her. I helped to take care of her. No one could have been more prepared for someone’s death than I was. And I just had no idea that the loss would have such magnitude for me. It was very, very tough.

SCOTT SIMON: You know what I’ve concluded, Amy? And I hope our children don’t hear this. You don’t really grow up until you lose your parents.

AMY DICKINSON: It certainly puts you in a whole other life phase. It’s incredibly profound, and the process—and I know you were with your mother and I was with my mother. And to me, it felt—it really did feel analogous to the birth process, this really potent, very powerful life process. And I was glad that I was there.

SCOTT SIMON: I finished the book and then turned back to the dedication: “This book is dedicated a memory of my mother, Jane Genung Dickinson, who taught me that life is a memory.” Not a cabaret?

AMY DICKINSON: Not quite.

SCOTT SIMON: Why…

AMY DICKINSON: Oh, but I wish, you know?

SCOTT SIMON: Yeah, but why a memory?

AMY DICKINSON: Well, she told me once that she wanted that on her tombstone. My mother had a very dreamy, introspective quality, and I think she always lived in her head to a certain extent. And I loved that about her. We were very different in that regard. But I always really treasured that about her, the idea that there was a lot going on that she wasn’t necessarily revealing. I liked it.

SCOTT SIMON: Do other people’s problems ever—do you carry them home?

AMY DICKINSON: I do. You know, when I run a letter in my column, for instance, about someone who has been sexually assaulted and is suffering or has been abused, say, by a parent, I will then hear from dozens, sometimes over 100, other people who have had a similar experience. And the magnitude of that will really, really weigh me down sometimes. And yet, that’s exactly what this column is all about. It’s just about our commonality. You know, I feel very, very connected to the people who write to me. And yeah, I have to work hard sometimes not to take on the weight of some of this stuff.

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GOP Threat to Mental Health Treatment

Leading health care stakeholders are condemning the Republican health care plan, with some expressing grave concerns about its impact on mental health treatment. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) says the Republican plan puts “millions of Americans with mental illness at risk.”

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Many major organizations immediately rejected the health care plan proposed this week by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Among them: the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, the Association of American Medical Colleges, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, and the Children’s Hospital Association. The AARP, which represents 38 million older Americans, said: “This bill is a $200 billion giveaway to special interests like insurance and drug companies. They make out like bandits while real people are left with higher premiums and less security.”

In a letter to House Republican leaders, AMA CEO James L. Madara criticized the “potentially life altering impact your decisions will have on millions of Americans who may see their public, individual or even employer-provided health care coverage changed or eliminated.” Madara warned that changes to Medicaid could undercut state efforts to cope with increased demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment as a result of the ongoing crisis of opioid abuse and addiction. (An estimated 1.3 million Americans receive treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders covered by Medicaid’s expansion under Obamacare.)

ANA President Pamela F. Cipriano also complained that the Republican plan would eliminate the Prevention and Public Health Fund and cut off critical coverage for millions of Americans with mental health and substance-use disorders.

Here’s NAMI’s statement about the Republican plan’s threat to mental health treatment:

The American Health Care Act (AHCA) would reduce funding for health coverage—from insurance plans to Medicaid—and put mental health care at risk. It caps Medicaid funding, which will lead to deep cuts and jeopardize mental health services.

Congress shouldn’t put millions of Americans with mental illness at risk. Cutting corners in health coverage will keep people from getting the treatment they need and will push people with mental illness into costly emergency rooms, hospitals and jails.

Investing early in affordable, quality mental health care promotes recovery and saves taxpayer dollars in the long term by avoiding disability, criminal justice involvement and frequent hospital stays.

Here are the provisions NAMI says will harm people with mental illness:

Individual and Small Group Health Insurance

Current federal help to buy health insurance would be reduced, leaving millions of people, including people with mental illness, unable to afford mental health care.

Traditional Medicaid

Traditional Medicaid would be converted to a “per capita cap” system, which means states would get a fixed amount of federal funding per person. Instead of flexibility, this would lead to deep cuts over time and jeopardize mental health services.

Federal Medicaid funding would be frozen at current levels, adjusted for inflation. Funding for mental health and substance use services is already inadequate and could not be improved without cutting other needed health care.

Medicaid Expansion

Nearly 1 out of 3 people covered by Medicaid expansion live with a mental health or substance use condition. This bill would end new enrollment in 2020, leaving people with mental health and substance use conditions without the Medicaid services they need to stay in school, on the job and in recovery.

Medicaid expansion plans would no longer have to cover mental health and substance use care, abandoning Congress’ commitment to mental health and substance use coverage.

People covered by Medicaid expansion before 2020 would be dropped from their plan if they have a lapse of coverage of more than a month. For people with mental illness, this is a high price to pay for forgetting to pay a premium while someone is in the hospital or experiencing severe symptoms.

NAMI says that one in five Americans experiences a mental health condition, but only half get needed treatment. It argues that coverage for mental health care helps people get treatment when they need it, helping them to stay in school, on the job and in recovery.

Understanding and Compassion

Suicide is a difficult thing to grasp or absorb. That is partly because of ignorance about suicide, which in turn is driven by the stigma around suicide and mental illness. The truth is that there’s much that every one of us can do to prevent suicide, if we put out hearts and minds into it.

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Many experts agree that fighting stigma has a big role in the effort. Suicide has complex causes, and often mental illness is a big factor. The stigma prevents too many people from seeking help, and prevents others from reaching out or providing appropriate support to people in need. A writer for The Mighty has this advice for us: “Talk about all of those topics that are taboo, get information, make them come alive, so if someone comes to you with a mental condition, they know you will listen.”

A good place to start, if you haven’t done so already, is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Its website provides quick resources about Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs, and how to Find Support if you are having thoughts of suicide or are worried about someone who might be at risk.

Want to help more? AFSP has a Take Action web page with opportunities to get involved in suicide prevention.