Beyond the call

December 12, 2018

The warmth of hugs, hot chocolate and nuzzling between blankets come to mind for many as the holiday season draws near. Family members and joyous spirits fill the air, stores become crowded spaces with bargain hungry shoppers and carols are being sung far and near.

However, especially those dealing with mental illness, high expectations, loneliness and stress, can bring on the “Holiday Blues”. While most people experience this short term, some holiday blues can last for an extended period, leading to chronic depression.  Dealing with a loss, mental health or financial instability can consume a lot of energy, making it difficult to reciprocate the merry and cheer. Having to fabricate these emotions often leads to feeling powerless and overwhelmed when faced with adversities, but one thing that is important to remember is that you are never alone and there is always someone willing to lend a listening ear.

Caregivers in particular are at risk for heightened stress and anxiety during the holidays. Many caregivers express feelings of helplessness and are consumed by guilt at the thought of putting their mental health first. However, it is important to take the initiative to ensure the health of your own first in order to better your ability to support your children, loved ones or elderly in your life. Issues or feelings left unresolved pose risk of resurfacing in an intensified manner, something that can effect more than just one individual within the family unit. It is okay not to have all of the answers and it is certainly encouraged to seek assistance if needed.

According to a survey reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, during the holidays, participants reported, “66% loneliness, 63% increased pressure and 57% felt unrealistic expectations”.  There are certain things you can do to minimize these feelings, check out some ways you can manage – mentally and psychically – during the holidays:

 -  Decision-Making is not only liberating in its concept, but also a key aspect to increasing productivity and feeling in control of your life. Making the choice to attend the office party or take some time off could be the difference between mental chaos and clarity.

 -  The Power of No. Although it is the season of giving, do not feel obligated to take on more than you can  chew. Overwhelming yourself with favors and additional responsibilities is an easy way to promote additional stress. Think twice before saying yes and know it is okay to say no.

 -  Create New Memories. For some, the holidays may have been a joyous time, but the loss of a loved one or an experienced tragedy can taint those memories. Instead of setting yourself up for sadness, create new  traditions and memories.

 -  Just Breathe. Are you scrambling to get gifts together? Perhaps you’re picking up additional shifts? Or  maybe you are dreading the chaos of visiting family?  Take the time out to breathe. Breathing exercises are  designed to help us increase oxygen intake, attain clarity, and feel grounded and productive. Stepping back  from the fast pace for 30 seconds to establish a sense of position and purpose within your present moment  can help ease feelings of being overwhelmed or distracted. The Nourished Life blog offers many helpful tips  for practicing effective breathing exercises, promoting overall mental and physical health.

 -  Exercise. A short walk can do wonders.

 -  Identify your favorite downtime activities and find time to do them. Pick up that book you have been putting off, play your favorite game or instrument, watch a movie and unwind.

Your local 2-1-1 is open 24/7, offering supportive and crisis counseling. If feelings of loneliness arise, please know you are not alone; dial 2-1-1 to speak with non-judgmental hotline counselor. WE ARE HERE.

                                                  Call 2-1-1 or (850) 617-6333 for our free, confidential hotline services.

December 12, 2018

This post is presented in collaboration with 2-1-1 Big Bend Hotline Counselors, Hotline Supervisors, and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Trainers, devoted to speaking openly about mental health and providing empowerment through hope and help.

If we consider suicide for a moment as a play, there are several roles involved: The living, the lost, and the survived.

Each role has their script and they are directed, with interpretation, on how to execute their role. Feelings of suicide are experienced differently and unique to the individual. These feelings might include being overwhelmed by negative thoughts, hopelessness, numbness, or perhaps that others may be better off without them. What about the feelings and conversations of the survivors who have lost a loved one to suicide? What is their role?

No one is prepared to lose a loved one to suicide and yet, that is the reality for many. The purpose of this piece is to present a platform for those voices, give solos to the supporting roles, and emphasize that suicide does not end with the conclusion of one’s life, but rather transcends through the lives of those deeply affected by suicide. We hope to strengthen the conversation around the struggle and the strength experienced from those coping with suicide loss. As this is their new reality, we want survivors to know, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Death by suicide is known to rip apart lives and set survivors on a long, devastating journey. It is not uncommon for survivors to experience feelings of  guilt, blame, and wishing that they could of done more. In the grieving process and for some time to come, it is vital to protect your health, not isolate yourself, join a survivors support group, and if available to you, consider a therapist, take care of your family, and most important, you will prevail and above all else, seek information. Michael F Myers, M.D., Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York shares some vital basics for those coping with the loss of a loved one by suicide:

We have come to find, many who have lost a loved one to suicide focus their energy in ways that can positively affect oneself and surrounding communities. Through their personal loss and grief, their survival story becomes a guiding light for those with similar struggles.

“Knowing that my brother left this world feeling that level of pain and despair caused so much agony and anxiety in me that I had to do something to honor him and his life.” - Anonymous Survivor. An individual, who we will call Sienna, recounts her struggle grappling with the newfound reality her and her family must continue without the presence of their brother/son/father/uncle. She shares the emotional adversities survivors are left to endure while coping, “The stigma around mental illness and specifically the shame that is sometimes placed on those that suicide for being “‘selfish’” plays a huge role in the  grieving process. There is so much I want to say to my brother, did he not think we were there for him? Did he know we loved him? Why didn’t he come to us? I just want one more hug.” Continuous thoughts and questions swarm the mourning and nothing makes sense. In those moments, it was important for Sienna and many, to do more than mourn the loss of life by embracing the lost life itself. “I made bandanas for his closest riding buddies so my brother would ride on through them….always reminded that he is there with them”. It is gestures such as this that propel us, give us purpose, and continue to strengthen the bond that we have with our lost loved ones.

Furthermore, many wonderful organizations have taken a similar approach. Jason Foundation, Brookie B Fund, and Yellow Ribbon, who all have several things in common outside of the fact that they advocate for suicide prevention and awareness, are carried out by the families and friends of those who have experienced a loss by suicide. These organizations understand the importance of having someone to turn to who truly understands the depth of their loss.  They all have an underlying goal to add value and support by acknowledging the irreversible situation and cultivating further growth by reaching as many other survivors as possible. We encourage any loss by suicide survivors to visit their pages (links above) to read their stories and reach out. Always know, we are here, 24/7, just dial 2-1-1.

                                                  Call 2-1-1 or (850) 617-6333 for our free, confidential hotline services.

September 11, 2018

This post is presented in collaboration with 2-1-1 Big Bend Hotline Counselors, Hotline Supervisors, and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Trainers, devoted to speaking openly about mental health and providing empowerment through hope and help.

                                                                   I work at a Suicide Prevention Hotline.

Every struggle is different. Every experience is unique. Stories of people like you and how they overcame crisis to find hope and recovery resonate deeply with each hotline counselor.

Available 24/7 for supportive, suicide, and crisis counseling, working at a suicide prevention hotline allows for individual growth like no other experience on earth. As a hotline counselor, I establish my mark of making a difference by contributing my skills to saving a life, and that is powerful. While most people may never step into the phone room of a suicide hotline, hearing the perspectives from those that answer the call in crisis can be enlightening and hopeful.

In addition to the 75 hours of initial phone room training in order to answer suicide prevention calls on Helpline 2-1-1 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Lifeline) for the northwest Florida region, hotline counselors are required to complete the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST). ASIST gives valuable tools to fully understand the mindset of someone who is considering suicide and focuses heavily on working to ensure that the caller is safe before the call is over.

                                What Steps Do You Take When Receiving Calls Regarding Suicide?

"I always think it's important to drop everything from my mind when I see a Lifeline call come in on the phone. I want to make sure I am ready to be attentive to the needs of the caller. After the call starts I stick to the procedure we have in place, but I always make sure to be patient and reassuring with callers." -Stephen S., Lifeline Hotline Counselor

"Answering suicide calls can be challenging and intense, but extremely rewarding. Finding the right words to say and reacting appropriately to someone expressing these thoughts creates a great amount of pressure, but with the help of the ASIST I feel a sense of relief knowing I am a positive outlet for someone. From my experience, people call the suicide hotline because they ultimately do NOT want to kill themselves. Lifeline callers are looking for someone to hear them, to understand, to empathize, and to give them a safe space to express their thoughts." -Carlee Myers, Lifeline Hotline Counselor

                                              How Do You Feel After A Call Regarding Suicide?

In one of her first calls over 18 years ago, Carrie T., Director of Hotline Programs, received a Lifeline call from a college student which lasted over two hours. The caller had been considering suicide after struggling to adjust to the stress brought on by college and his family. The call ended positively, and the student was able to receive the help he needed.

"With these calls, I understand that as counselors we aren’t allowed to make decisions for the callers. Thoughts of self harm are a daily occurrence, so I feel proud that I'm able to do enough to keep them alive for at least another day." -Carrie T., Director of Hotline Programs

Hotline counselors are often speaking with callers at their lowest point, which is why the counselors’ empathy skills are engaged at all times, providing hope, help and a non-judgmental listening ear.

"Feelings vary following a call. Usually, I feel helpful and thankful that I was able to assist the person. Even with a call that has a "good" outcome, I find myself worrying about the caller." -Katie Kliner, Hotline Supervisor

While the length of Lifeline and Helpline 2-1-1 calls varies tremendously and can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours, hotline counselors feel a sense of accomplishment in providing hope to callers in crisis.

                                                                      Suicide Prevention Awareness

2-1-1 has seen a 47% increase in calls related to suicide in just the last year. Creating a dialogue about suicide prevention and bringing it to the forefront of conversation is crucial. When is the last time you spoke about suicide prevention? Every single human has an amazing story to share and at 2-1-1, our mission is to provide empowerment through hope and help so those stories can be shared for years to come. To anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts, we are here for you.

                                                 Call 2-1-1 or (850) 617-6333 for our free, confidential hotline services.

August 16, 2018

This post is presented in collaboration with Hotline Counselors, Mental Health Navigator, and ASIST Trainer of 2-1-1 Big Bend, devoted to speaking openly about mental health and providing empowerment through hope and help.    

At the root of the mental health community is compassion and passion. Usually the passion comes from having a personal connection to mental health issues. Whether we struggle personally, are caregivers, or have family/friends who’ve sought help, we are connected to the needs of the people we strive to help.However, that personal connection often means that mental health issues are present even when we’re not at home. Listening to others’ stories about their journey towards recovery can be difficult when it mirrors your own. Even counselors without personal experiences can be affected: secondary trauma can creep into a person’s life without them realizing.

It’s important to remember that you are just as human as your client/friend/partner and that you “can’t pour from an empty cup.” This is something I consciously work on every day. Take care of yourself. Self-care isn’t all 2 hour bubble baths and $10 cupcakes. Self-care is taking a (sometimes much needed) shower. It’s stepping away from responsibilities for 5 minutes to just breathe. It’s having a good cry. It’s jamming out to a high energy playlist. It’s whatever you need at the moment. My husband has bipolar disorder – it takes most of its toll on him, obviously. But being his caregiver is a 24/7 job; sometimes I’m too busy helping him with his Activities of Daily Living to do them myself. Sometimes I also need a reminder to eat or take a shower and that’s okay.

I’m a firm believer in mental health care workers at any level participating in the field as clients too. Crisis lines like Helpline 2-1-1, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Crisis Text Line are all great, free resources. If you can afford it, establish a relationship with a long-term therapist. Sometimes your needs are just another thing on your lengthy to-do list but they should be at the top. ~ Paulina Lewis, Mental Health Advocate  

Over the past year, I’ve been able to talk about the importance of breaking stigma of mental health and opening dialogue about the need for greater awareness through 2-1-1 Big Bend Facebook Live chats.

In one of the sessions, you might have heard me share my struggle with mental health in relation to my cancer diagnosis. This past May, as the anniversary of my diagnosis was inching closer and closer, I found myself having difficulty in numerous ways. I found it difficult to sleep at night, listening to certain songs and driving by locations would bring out emotions of anxiety and fear. At first I didn’t think much about it because it was light and I could handle it. Then I decided to take my own advice and talk to someone about it. I found a social worker and had a few talks about the thoughts and emotions that were coming up and how to get through it.

I realized that even though I’m a mental health professional and advocate, I need to practice what I preach. When you fight for a cause, it’s important to heed your own advice if you need it. Everyone is worth it, especially those helping to fight for the cause. I’m thrilled to see so many helping to break down walls and open up conversations, it’s important to also take care of yourself when you need it! ~ James Smith, Mental Health Advocate

If you’re in the business of helping other people, chances are that you’re an emotional person. But really, let’s break this down. Those of us in the helping professions, caregiving roles, supportive friendships, have heard the realities of how we need to do our best to separate our feelings from what we’re working to do for other people, in order to avoid burnout. After all, substance abuse, adverse childhood experiences, mental illness, and the judicial system aren’t usually prescribed topics of interest for those of us who are dealing with issues of our own.

However, this doesn’t always have to mean creating detachment from our feelings and slapping chocolate cake and a hot bath over them. (Still delicious and wonderful things to do anyway, but that’s beside the point!)

The point is that when we’re in the thick of helping our loved one through a panic attack, driving our brother to the only other local detox clinic he hasn’t already been to, sitting down with a new client who just escaped a household of abuse – how do we carry that weight, in the moment, without sinking deeper into the hole we might already find ourselves in?

I challenge you to embrace the purpose that you serve for those who you are advocating for. What fires you up? What makes you angry? What breaks your heart? Not only might our answers to these questions be amazingly unique (i.e. Believe it or not, not everyone might say ‘mental health stigma’ like you or me), but they serve as the fire that supplies us with the very fuel that we need to deal with the next problem.

Remember that it is not your job to be everything to everyone. It’s not about fixing or forcing, so take the pressure off of you! It’s just about making the choice to get up, step up, and be present with an empathetic ear. For every negative word you think, speak out two truths about who you are to somebody else. Don’t waste suffering, don’t waste failure, don’t waste illness – recycle those things and use them for fuel and, ultimately, for good. ~ Grace Garratt, Mental Health Advocate

August 16, 2018

It’s easy to recognize bleeding, broken bones, fevers, or other physical ailments your child might experience, and you know exactly what to do when you see the symptoms. But when you see symptoms of mental illness in a child, then what?

This can feel somewhat personal and may tempt you to question your parenting skills. Mental health, however, is significantly more complex than direct cause-and-effect. While parenting may not have caused the problem, it plays a crucial role in the solution.

Warning SignsIf you notice the sudden or gradual development of an explosive nature, social withdrawal or fearful behavior towards something your child is normally not afraid of, being upset or sad all the time, or changes in appetite or sleep, you are witnessing potential warning signs.

Having a Discussion – Fighting StigmaCaretakers should be mindful of what the child is going through first and foremost. The best way to help is to talk about what's going on. Many caretakers avoid this at first, but keep in mind that half of all cases of mental illness begin by age 14*. Starting intervention early can significantly reduce future complications.

It is important to remember what biases, judgments, assumptions, and/or stereotypes you and your child have been exposed to. Children will often be afraid of having done something wrong, or finding out something is “wrong” with them. It’s important to relate mental health to general health. There is no shame in having mental health concerns; they are just as valid as physical concerns!

Seeking Professional HelpMental health disorders vary in their symptoms and best treatment methods. If you have any concerns about mental health, it is best to seek professional help to ensure you know what exactly is going on and the best way to address it. Think about it just like taking your child to the doctor – it’s no different! There’s no shame in bringing professionals into the conversation to help determine the best treatment methods.

Seeking SupportIt can be tough for a caretaker to learn about and handle mental health issues – but you are not alone! You need just as much support and validation as your child does. Depending on what is available and appropriate for your circumstances:

•  Communicate with friends or family about what is going on, and keep them informed about any difficulties you may be having personally with the process.
•  Find other parents who are also going through similar experiences.
•  Seek comfort from social groups, such as churches, schools, coworkers, etc.

How 2-1-1 Big Bend Can HelpFeeling a little overwhelmed? Need someone to talk to?
Dial 2-1-1 any day, at any hour for free and confidential supportive, crisis, & suicide prevention counseling. Your child is also more than welcome to call in.

Are you a caretaker of a child aged 0-8?Dial 2-1-1 and ask for Help Me Grow! We offer free developmental screenings (over the phone and online) to assess your child’s behavioral and emotional development. Our Care Coordinator will follow up with you to go over the results, and if any concerns come up help connect you to free or low-cost community programs and services to help your child get back on track.

References*Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.(More sources?)