The Healing Power of Storytelling

“The Path to Recovery: One Story at a Time” is the theme of this year’s Annual Depression Conference being held at the Tompkins County Public Library from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, November 28. Open to the public, the conference includes a keynote talk, a panel discussion on mental health recovery, workshops focused on children/adolescents, adults, and older adults, and a book discussion.

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The keynote speaker is Regi Carpenter, an advocate for “narrative medicine,” a medical approach that utilizes patients’ personal stories as part of their healing. She is the author of Snap!, the story of her own severe mental illness as a teenager and her path to recovery, and a memoir, Where There’s Smoke, There’s Dinner: Stories of a Seared Childhood.

Carpenter was 16 years old when she first experienced severe mental illness and was committed to a New York State mental institution. According to the conference organizers:

“After being released she never spoke of it for over thirty years. As a professional storyteller, author and workshop leader, Regi knows the importance of telling one’s story to overcome trauma, ease anxiety, depression and shame. It wasn’t until she told her story of teenage trauma that Regi knew the healing power of stories to restore and heal the battered psyche. In this keynote you’ll hear stories of Regi’s experience as well as how stories can be used as a therapeutic tool to help clients become more resilient and resourceful.”

From Carpenter’s website bio:

“For over 20 years Regi Carpenter has been bringing songs and stories to audiences of all ages throughout the world in school, theaters, libraries, at festivals, conferences and in people’s back yards. An award winning performer, Regi has toured her solo shows and workshops in theaters, festivals and schools, nationally and internationally.

“Regi is the youngest daughter in a family that pulsates with contradictions: religious and raucous, tender but terrible, unfortunate yet irrepressible. These tales celebrate the glorious and gut-wrenching lives of four generations of Carpenter s raised on the Saint Lawrence River in Clayton, New York. Tales of underwater tea parties, drowning lessons and drives to the dump give voice to multi-generations of family life in a small river town with an undercurrent.”

Ithaca’s 24th Annual Depression Conference is sponsored by: the Alcohol and Drug Council of Tompkins County; Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services; Family and Children’s Service of Ithaca; Finger Lakes Independence Center; Ithaca College Gerontology Institute; The Mental Health Association in Tompkins County; Multicultural Resource Center; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Tompkins County Mental Health Department; Tompkins County Office for the Aging; and the Tompkins County Public Library.

Photo Caption: Regi Carpenter

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Prince Harry’s Story

“Once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.” So says Prince Harry, 32, who has opened up in a British newspaper podcast interview about his mental health struggles and how he is dealing with them.

Harry spent 10 years in the British Armed Forces, including two operational tours in Afghanistan where he commanded Apache helicopters, and achieved the rank of captain. None of his military training and experiences, however, prepared him for the severe emotional challenges he faced due to the tragic death of his mother Princess Diana in 1997 when he was just 12 years of age.

In an interview with Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Harry revealed that he sought professional counseling after two years of “total chaos” in his late twenties. He described how he only began to address his grief at age 28 after feeling “on the verge of punching someone” and experiencing anxiety during royal engagements. He says he is now in a “good place.” He credits his elder brother, Prince William, for being a “huge support.”

Excerpts from the interview with Bryony Gordan’s “Mad World” podcast this week:

“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well.

“I have probably been very close to a complete breakdown on numerous occasions when all sorts of grief and sort of lies and misconceptions and everything are coming to you from every angle.

“The experience I have had is that once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.

“My way of dealing with it was sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum, because why would that help?

“[I thought] it’s only going to make you sad, it’s not going to bring her back.

“So from an emotional side, I was like ‘right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’

“So I was a typical 20, 25, 28-year-old running around going ‘life is great,’ or ‘life is fine’ and that was exactly it.

“And then [I] started to have a few conversations and actually all of a sudden, all of this grief that I have never processed started to come to the 
forefront and I was like, there is actually a lot of stuff here that I need to deal with.

“It’s all about timing. And for me personally, my brother, you know, bless him, he was a huge support to me. He kept saying this is not right, this is not normal, you need to talk to [someone] about stuff, it’s OK.

“The timing wasn’t right. You need to feel it in yourself, you need to find the right person to talk to as well.

“I can’t encourage people enough to just have that conversation because you will be surprised firstly, how much support you get and secondly, how many people literally are longing for you to come out.”

British mental health experts praised Harry for speaking up so openly about seeking professional help for his mental health struggles. Sir Simon Wessely, the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, went so far as to say that the prince had achieved more in communicating mental health issues in the 25-minute podcast than Wessely had in a 25-year career.

Since retiring from the armed forces in 2015, Harry devotes much of his time to charity work. He is involved with Heads Together, which brings together The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry in partnership with charities tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing help for people with mental health challenges. He also focuses on the welfare of servicemen and women, championing developmental opportunities for hard to reach children, and African conservation. In 2014, Harry created the Invictus Games, an international adaptive sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women.

Demi Lovato’s Story

“Every one of us can make a difference. By getting educated on this epidemic and its frightening statistics and by breaking the stigma…”

Demi Lovato, the 23-year-old former child actress on Barney & Friends and current pop music sensation, delivered a powerful speech advocating greater mental illness awareness at the Democratic National Convention Monday night.

Lovato, who suffers from bipolar disorder, called on politicians to support laws that provide access to better health care. She said that Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will fight to ensure people living with mental health conditions get the care they need.

Here’s the full text of Lovato’s remarks, after which she broke into her single “Confident.”

Like millions of Americans, I am living with mental illness. But I’m lucky. I had the resources and support to get treatment at a top facility. Unfortunately, too many Americans from all walks of life don’t get help, either because they fear the stigma or cannot afford treatment.

Untreated mental illness can lead to devastating consequences, including suicide, substance abuse, and long-term medical issues.

We can do better.

Every one of us can make a difference. By getting educated on this epidemic and its frightening statistics and by breaking the stigma, I urge every politician to support laws that will provide access to better health care and support for everyone. This is not about politics. It’s simply the right thing to do.

I’m doing my very small part by having the treatment center that saw me through my recovery on tour with me so that at least a small group of people even for a brief moment can have the same support that I received. It may not be a lot but we have to believe every small action counts.

I stand here today as proof that you can live a normal and empowered life with mental illness. I’m proud to support a presidential candidate who will fight to ensure all people living with mental health conditions get the care they need to lead fulfilling lives. That candidate is Hillary Clinton. Let’s make her the next president of the United States of America.

Lovato shared the stage on the first night of the Democratic National Convention with First Lady Michelle Obama, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and U.S. senators Elizabeth Warren and Corey Booker.

Lovato, currently partnering with Nick Jonas in their Future Now tour,  has battled mental illness, bulimia and addiction, and has used her celebrity status to educate and help others.

Advice to teenage girls in Seventeen magazine in April 2011:

If you are going through that dark period, go to your family and closest friends. Don’t put yourself in danger. It’s very crucial that you get your feelings out—but don’t ever inflict harm on your own body because your body is so sacred. I wish I could tell every young girl with an eating disorder, or who has harmed herself in any way, that she’s worthy of life and that her life has meaning. You can overcome and get through anything.

On HuffPost Live in May 2015:

I was dealing with bipolar depression and didn’t know what was wrong with me. Little did I know, there was a chemical imbalance in my brain. Because I didn’t tell people what I need, I ended up self-medicating and coping with very unhealthy behaviors.

 

Facebook’s New Suicide Prevention Tools

Facebook has enhanced and expanded the geographical reach of tools designed to rescue people whose social media behavior signals a possible intention to commit suicide. Facebook users can report a worrying post, receive guidance from trained experts on how to help their friend, and if evaluated as an immediate threat get instructions on how to alert emergency services. If deemed serious, the reporting will also trigger a stream of suggestions for getting help into the distressed person’s Facebook news feed.

Given the intense connection that many people have with social media—Facebook has about 1.4 billion users—some experts believe the new tools can have a tangible impact.

The Mighty has a good illustrated guide on how it works here.

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The New York Times had a story on June 15 explaining how the new tools work.

Also read the report from the website of the University of Washington, whose Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention organization collaborated with Facebook on the tools. The new tools were announced at Compassion Research Day at Facebook headquarters on February 25.

 

Occupational Hazards

A report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists farming, fishing and forestry as professions with the high rates of suicide. The report, released July 1, analyzed 12,312 suicides in 17 states in 2012 by occupation, sex, and age.

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The report found that rates of suicide were highest in farming, fishing, and forestry, with 84.5 suicides per 100,000 persons, compared to only 13.3 per 100,000 in the general population. The next highest group was construction and extraction (53.3); and installation, maintenance, and repair (47.9).

Among females, the report said, the highest suicide rates occurred among persons in protective service occupations such as law enforcement and firefighting (14.1); legal (13.9); and healthcare practitioners and technical (13.3).

The report speculated that the reasons for the higher suicide rates could include “job-related isolation and demands, stressful work environments, and work-home imbalance, as well as socioeconomic inequities, including lower income, lower education level, and lack of access to health services.” The report added that females in protective service occupations might also experience additional stress because they work in traditionally male-dominated occupations.

The CDC report, “Suicide Rates by Occupational Group — 17 States, 2012,” calls for workplace suicide prevention efforts:

Suicide prevention activities directed toward persons aged more than16 years include enhancing connectedness to family and friends, encouraging help-seeking for persons exhibiting signs of distress or suicidality, and supporting efforts to reduce stigma associated with help-seeking and mental illness. Some potential suicide prevention strategies include workplace approaches, such as employee assistance programs, which might serve as gateways to behavioral health treatment. Workplace wellness programs can provide education and training for staff members and supervisors to aid in recognition of suicide warning signs (e.g., withdrawal, increased substance abuse, agitation, and putting affairs in order). Employers also can use technology to provide online mental health screenings, web-based tools for mental health information, and mental health screening kiosks for their employees, as well as ensure that employees are aware of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline; 1-800-273-8255).

The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (NAASP) Workplace Task Force has developed a Comprehensive Blueprint for Workplace Suicide Prevention that addresses suicide prevention strategies, such as screening, mental health services and resources, suicide prevention training, life skills and social network promotion, and education and advocacy.

The NAASP online site has resources targeted specifically to the construction and law enforcement industries. Evidence-based suicide prevention strategies implemented in the workplace have the potential to reduce the number of suicides among all occupational groups.