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Anxiety

Changing Colors

By | Blog Post, Community Blog, Uncategorized

As supple greens turn to mesmerizing golds, the changing of colors and seasons can also bring a change in people’s moods and emotions. Some look forward to autumn and welcome the cool weather with a smile and a cozy sweater. But for others, their pumpkin spiced beverages are topped with a sense of anxiety.

These anxious thoughts and feelings can arise from shorter days and longer lists of what needs to be accomplished. Or, a sense of loneliness may begin to build due to less time scheduled to see friends. Perhaps there is a realization of the ceasing time to go on summer adventures. Others may have an unwavering discomfort and distaste for change altogether. No matter what an individual’s reason may be, anxiety can begin to take its toll this time of year. It can be easy to miss the true bliss and beauty of the season.

To keep thoughts focused and controlled, try taking a moment to identify what and why something is triggering anxiety. In anxious ridden moments, acknowledge those feelings. However, be careful not to let the anxiety take control. Get to the root and face it head on. Be gentle with yourself. Give yourself a break and realize these thoughts and feelings are valid. Being anxious can be the body’s way of signaling that something may not be quite right. It is important to pay attention. Once the reasons become a little clearer behind why anxiety rears its head, it may allow for better preparedness the next time an attack begins.

If anxiety attacks become debilitating, perhaps reaching out to a professional or another trusted individual may help ease some of the suffering. Sometimes, it takes a little more than internal reflection to find a way to cope and overcome. It may be helpful and beneficial to speak about the anxiety. Saying the words out loud, even if it is difficult to identify the reason, could lead to some relief. This method may help in dealing with those anxious moments. With the help of another, there could be guidance and coping mechanisms which were not obvious alone.

The Take Away

The most important thing to remember is that support is available. Take a deep, steady breath. Be forgiving. Show patience to yourself and others during this beautiful, autumn season. Acknowledge thoughts and feelings to see if finding the root of anxious moments is possible – this may lead to an unforeseen solution. Reach out to a trusted individual if feelings of anxiety become overwhelming and incapacitating. Anxiety doesn’t have to be something someone must suffer alone. Even if anxiety is not personally familiar, there are sufferers all around. So it is important remember that a kind smile every season can make a difference.

Follow this link for additional help or for more information about services that are available www.centermh.org/services/

If you are interested in a self-screening regarding mental wellness, please follow this link www.centermh.org/services/self-screening/

If you, or someone you know, is suffering from a mental health crisis, please call 970.252.6220 or visit this link www.centermh.org/services/crisis/

Here’s to a happy and healthy autumn,

Ashley

Suicidal Thoughts

20 Things Suicidal People Wish They Could Tell You

By | Blog Post, Community Blog, Uncategorized

Suicidal Thoughts

Having suicidal thoughts can be a scary and lonely experience, especially if you’re afraid of being honest with others about how you’re really feeling. But it’s important to talk about and get support for suicidal thoughts — even passive ones. Because although it’s scary, it shouldn’t be shameful, and it’s certainly not something we should hide.

To get a conversation started, we asked our mental health community to share with us one thing they wish others knew about their suicidal thoughts. For those of you who may be feeling this way, know you are not alone.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Just because I’m feeling suicidal doesn’t mean I’m planning to take my life. I just need help.” — Morgan S.

2. “Understand selfishness isn’t what drives those thoughts.” — Marjorie R.

3. “The difference between passive and active suicidal ideation… I don’t want to end my life, I just have moments where the exhaustion is too much.” — Erin N.

4. “The biggest misconception about suicidal thoughts is that people do it for attention.” — Melanie B.

5. “It’s not something I can just snap out of.” — Valerie R.

6. “I am not the boy who cried wolf. These thoughts and feelings are real each and every time.” — Stevie S.

7. “It hurts to feel this way, I don’t enjoy it.” — Olivia R.

8. “The thoughts exploit every weakness, every argument, even every triumph to make it something it shouldn’t be. The intrusive thoughts torment you until all you can think about is silencing them and that thought is quickly consumed by suicidal ideation.” — Abby W.

9. “It’s so much more common than people realize. Suicide doesn’t have a face. It can be anyone.” –Kellyn R

10. “What I truly want is to be saved — to not feel like suicide is the only option I have.” — Abi T.

11. “If we could use a switch to turn [off] the unwanted suicidal thoughts, we would.” — Natalie M.

12. “My thoughts aren’t caused by others. It’s not their fault.” — Wesley C.

13. “Suicidal thoughts aren’t [confined] to a specific time of when they start and end. [For me,] they are a constant feeling that never leaves.” — Emma J.

14. “ It’s not something I can control. The thoughts come from nowhere and are nearly impossible to will away.” — Christina L.

15. “ Just because I smile and laugh doesn’t mean my suicidal thoughts are me being silly… My smiling is for your benefit so you can’t see how much it’s hurting me to simply exist on a daily basis.” — Monica E.

16. “It’s not about dying, it’s about escaping the noise in my head at the time.” — Meghan B.

17. “I wish people knew that when I seem distracted or in my own world, I’m fighting an internal battle. Some days it takes every fiber of my being to keep going and a kind word can make all the difference.” — Sean H.

18. “Working through these thoughts and feelings is hard, be patient with me.” — Becky B.

19. “I’m torn between wanting to end the pain and not wanting to hurt my loved ones.” — Wade D.

20. “I wish others knew that sometimes these thoughts are just as scary and frustrating to me as they are to you.” — Jessica L.

By Juliette Virzi via https://themighty.com/2017/03/suicidal-thoughts-what-i-wish-i-could-tell-you/ 

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Seasonal Affective Disorder

By | Blog Post

It is winter yet again. The beautiful colors of the autumn leaves have disappeared and have been replaced by barren tree limbs and icicles sharp and brittle. The harsh winds rattle the window frames and the cold air seems to sing a cruel song that frightens away birds to warmer climates. The daytime gives way to the moon, and darkness sets in way before supper. So, you see, while some perceive winter as a festive time when their worlds are blanketed by the purity of snow, others feel that they are being suffocated by a literally colorless existence.

It is estimated that half a million Americans are negatively affected by the changing seasons and darkening of the summer light. They feel depressed, irritable, and tired. Their activity levels decrease, and they find themselves in bed more often. This depression disorder not only affects their health, but it also affects their everyday life, including their job performance and friendships. This disorder is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriately acronym-ed, SAD.

What is SAD Exactly?

SAD is a mood disorder that affects an individual the same time each year, usually starting when the weather becomes colder in September or October, and ends in April or May when the weather becomes warmer. People with SAD feel depressed during the shorter days of winter, and more cheerful and energetic during the brightness of spring and summer.

“Hey, Einstein! I knew that already! Tell me something I don’t know!”

Jeez, okay, okay. Irritability is a sign of SAD, so I understand your bitterness, Crankypants. Here are—

10 Things You May Not Have Known About SAD

1. Did you know that between 60% and 90% of people with SAD are women? It’s true. If you are a female between 15 and 55, you are more likely to develop SAD. Great, so not only do women have PMS, Menopause, and child labor to worry about, add SAD to the list, too.

2. Even though the harsh chill in the air might bring you down, SAD is believed to relate more to daylight, not the temperature. Some experts believe that a lack of sunlight increases the body’s production of a body chemical called melatonin. Melatonin is what helps regulate sleep and can cause symptoms of depression.

3. SAD can be treated. If your symptoms are mild, meaning, if they do not interfere in and completely ruin your daily life, light therapy may help you beat SAD. Using light therapy has shown highly effective. Studies prove that between 50% and 80% of light therapy users have complete remissions of symptoms. However, light therapy must be used for a certain amount of time daily and continue throughout the dark, winter months.

4. Some say that light therapy has no side effects, but others disagree. We think it simply depends on the person. Some people experience mild side effects, such as headaches, eyestrain, or nausea. However, these light therapy users say that the side effects are temporary and subside with time or reduced light exposure. Most scientists agree that there are no long-term side effects, but remember to consult your physician before any treatment decisions are made.

5. There are some things to consider if you want to try light therapy in your home, otherwise you will not receive all the benefits that this type of therapy offers.

When purchasing a light box, do not skimp as far as money is concerned. Buy a larger one so that you will receive enough light to be beneficial.
The best time for light therapy is in the early morning. (If used late at night, it could cause insomnia.) So, even if it means waking up earlier, set aside some morning time to relax and use your light box.
Many people are not aware of this, but you must have your eyes open and face the light during therapy. Do not stare at the light. That would be silly. Simply face the light, eyes open.

6. It takes more than just one winter depression to be diagnosed with SAD. Individuals must meet certain criteria:

The symptoms and remission of the systems must have occurred during the last two consecutive years.
The seasonal depressive episodes must outnumber the non-seasonal depressive episodes in one’s lifetime.

7. SAD can be treated with certain medications that increase serotonin levels in the brain. Such medications include antidepressants, such as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft.

8. There is actually a device that conducts light therapy and allows you to walk around while treated. The device is called a light visor. Just wear the light visor around your head and complete your daily chores and rituals. A light visor still can potentially have the same side effects as the standard forms of light therapy, so only simple activities, such as watching television, walking, or preparing meals is advised. We do not recommend you operate heavy machinery while wearing a light visor. (You would look pretty silly with it on out in public, anyway.)

9. If you have a friend or loved one who suffers from SAD, you can help them tremendously.

Try to spend more time with the person, even though they may not seem to want any company.
Help them with their treatment plan.
Remind them often that summer is only a season away. Tell them that their sad feelings are only temporary, and they will feel better in no time.
Go outside and do something together. Take a walk, or exercise. Get them to spend some time outside in the natural sunlight. Just remember to bundle up!

10. Although not as common, a second type of seasonal affective disorder known as summer depression can occur in individuals who live in warmer climates. Their depression is related to heat and humidity, rather than light. Winter depression does cause petulance in many cases, but summer depression is known to cause severe violence. So, it could be worse.

There are times in this article, in which I seem a bit blithe. However, please, do not take my somewhat lighthearted approach to SAD the wrong way. SAD is a serious disorder that disrupts the lives of many people, worldwide. It is nothing to laugh at. Sneeze at, perhaps—it is winter, after all. But laugh at? No, not at all.

The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

By | Blog Post

Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body. But exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. No matter your age or fitness level, you can learn to use exercise as a powerful tool to feel better.

What you can do
1. Learn how physical activity can improve your mental health
2. Discover how reaping the benefits takes less time and effort than you think
3. Learn how to overcome the barriers to exercise
4. Plan to take the first step to a more active lifestyle
5 Find ways to stay motivated—even if you’re anxious or depressed

What are the mental health benefits of exercise?
Exercise is not just about aerobic capacity and muscle size. Sure, exercise can improve your physical health and your physique, trim your waistline, improve your sex life, and even add years to your life. But that’s not what motivates most people to stay active.

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives. And it’s also powerful medicine for many common mental health challenges.

Exercise and depression

Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication—but without the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.

Exercise is a powerful depression fighter for several reasons. Most importantly, it promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.

Exercise and anxiety

Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins. Anything that gets you moving can help, but you’ll get a bigger benefit if you pay attention instead of zoning out.

Try to notice the sensation of your feet hitting the ground, for example, or the rhythm of your breathing, or the feeling of the wind on your skin. By adding this mindfulness element—really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise—you’ll not only improve your physical condition faster, but you may also be able to interrupt the flow of constant worries running through your head.

Exercise and stress

Ever noticed how your body feels when you’re under stress? Your muscles may be tense, especially in your face, neck, and shoulders, leaving you with back or neck pain, or painful headaches. You may feel a tightness in your chest, a pounding pulse, or muscle cramps. You may also experience problems such as insomnia, heartburn, stomachache, diarrhea, or frequent urination. The worry and discomfort of all these physical symptoms can in turn lead to even more stress, creating a vicious cycle between your mind and body.

Exercising is an effective way to break this cycle. As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body. Since the body and mind are so closely linked, when your body feels better so, too, will your mind.

Exercise and ADHD

Exercising regularly is one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce the symptoms of ADHD and improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention. In this way, exercise works in much the same way as ADHD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Exercise and PTSD and trauma

Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma. Instead of thinking about other things, pay close attention to the physical sensations in your joints and muscles, even your insides as your body moves. Exercises that involve cross movement and that engage both arms and legs—such as walking (especially in sand), running, swimming, weight training, or dancing—are some of your best choices.

Outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater rafting, and skiing (downhill and cross-country) have also been shown to reduce the symptoms of PTSD.

To My Newly-Diagnosed Friend

By | Blog Post, Community Blog, Uncategorized

You’re allowed to be scared. Finding out you have a disease that has no cure is scary. Finding out that you will be living with this for the rest of your life is scary. Finding out that you may get worse is scary. Having to explain to your family and friends that you’re never going to just get better is scary, but you can do it. Because you’ve survived this long. You’ve survived all the months and months of appointments and tests searching for answers and maybe it’s not the answer you were hoping for, but it’s an answer.

Yes, this is going to change your life. You may not be able to do all the things you had planned. You’ll probably end up spending a lot more time at the hospital and in doctor’s offices than you do out with friends. But it can also make your life fuller. Every time you are able to go out and spend time with friends you will appreciate it more. You gain this deep appreciation for very little things in life, like being able to go for a walk with your love or cuddling up with a child or a pet. Somehow I think being sick seems to make you love deeper. You may appreciate the little things you used to take for granted, like being able to cook a meal or read a book or take a nap or simply spend an hour laughing with a friend.

Yes, you may lose some friends. Some people just do not understand or become too overwhelmed with all your medical stuff, but that’s OK. Because the friends who stay, the friends who keep texting you even when you don’t answer for days, the friends who want to know all about your life and don’t mind listening to you vent, the people who don’t care that you can’t come hang out with them because that’s what text messages and FaceTime are for, the friends who when you tell them what illnesses you have Google it and find out as much as they can about it because they care about you and want to know, the friends who refuse to let you push them out — they are the ones who matter. They are the ones who will still be there when the dust settles.

I’ve honestly been amazed at the support I’ve gotten from people in my life. My friendships have become so much more important and special. I’ve truly learned that I have been blessed with so many amazing people in my life. Getting diagnosed with rare diseases isn’t really the easiest way to find out who your true friends are, but it’s certainly effective.

Having a rare disease gives you a chance to make new friends, too. There’s this whole world out there of people just like you who are living life with rare diseases. Literally a whole world at your fingertips thanks to social media. In the last two years since being diagnosed I have made some of the best friends I’ve had in my life. I’ve made friends from all over the world. People who understand me and what I’m going through on a daily basis. People who aren’t ashamed to talk about all the embarrassing parts of being sick. People who will make you feel normal. People who will make you laugh at the fact that you fell asleep on the bathroom floor for a few hours. People who also have painsomnia so they are always up for late night chats. I’ve learned so much about other cultures and other countries during those late night chats. I’ve also learned how badly I need to go visit New Zealand.

You might see the people in your life so much differently and appreciate the little things they do for you so much more. You may realize there are so many wonderful people in this world who want to help you, people who want nothing in return but a smile and gratitude. It can be hard at first to accept the help if you’re so used to being independent and doing things for yourself, but let them help. The people that know you and love you are feeling just as helpless as you are right now. They want to help you but they have no idea how. They hate seeing you suffer and wish they could take it away. So let them help. Let them come over and clean for you or come make dinner for your family. Let them take your kids for awhile so you can take a much needed nap. Because these people love you and they may need to feel like they can make a difference in how you feel. Plus, that’s one less thing you need to spend your limited energy on, so you can have a little more time you can spend snuggling with your kids or a chance to go on a date with your love.

Never lose faith. This one can be hard on the days when you are so sick and see no end in sight but I think it’s extremely important. When you are living in a body that’s constantly battling against you it’s so important you don’t allow yourself to get stuck in your own head. It’s not easy. It’s probably going to be really, really hard and you aren’t expected to stay positive every single day, but I think trying to find a small blessing in each day is so important. Before you go to sleep just think of one thing that was great about that day. Maybe it was just that you had some really good food or something your child said or did. Just find it.

Always look for the light because it’s always there, sometimes it’s just a little harder to find. To quote one of my favorite book series and favorite characters ever: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, If one only remembers to turn on the light.” – Albus Dumbledore

You might have some crappy doctors, but don’t keep them. If you feel like the doctor you are seeing isn’t helping you, find a new one. If you feel like your doctor isn’t listening, find a new one. The relationship you have with your doctors is going to be so important in your life now. So don’t waste your time on ones who aren’t concerned about your well being. Make sure you have an open-minded doctor. You need to have a long relationship with this person and the best ones are the ones who are willing to look outside the box. The ones who aren’t afraid of you because you have a condition but instead are interested in you and want to make your life as good as possible.

Do your own research. Don’t just trust your doctors to know what’s best for you. Join online support groups for people with your illness and learn as much as you can. Research the medicines they suggest. You may find information about treatments for your illness that your doctors haven’t heard of yet.

Most of all, just remember this is an unexpected detour and you’re allowed to mourn the life you planned. That’s normal. That’s healthy. But eventually you will have to get up, dust yourself off and start to live again. Your life will never be the same but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be amazing. On the days it becomes too overwhelming and you aren’t sure what to do, reach out to those who love you. Or find a therapist. Many spoonies see a therapist to help them deal with the loss of the life they planned and the stress of life as a chronically ill person.

But please, never forget that I’m here. I understand. I’ve been exactly where you are now and even if I can’t physically be with you, I’m always just a text message, phone call or a video chat away. If you need someone to vent to, cry to or simply to yell about how unfair life feels.. I’m here. I love you and I’m not going anywhere because when I was in your shoes, you never left me.

When It’s Easier to Hide in the Shadows Than Face the Light

By | Blog Post, Community Blog

When you hear people talk about how to feel better when you have clinical depression and anxiety, the suggestions are enumerable:

Go take a walk.

Go do something fun.

Call a friend.

Distract yourself.

Exercise.

The idea is that perhaps if you get your mind off of your worries for a little while, you won’t feel depressed anymore. For me, it’s much easier to hide in the shadows than face the light of day where others might see me for who I am. I don’t want to go outside. I don’t want to talk to people. I don’t want to even exist most of the time. All that said, I often find myself forcing myself out “for my own good,” and because of my continuous struggle to become the happy person everyone needs me to be, the following is a run-down of thoughts I have when I do force myself out into the light.

When I go out in public, I just wind up ducking my head down and avoiding eye contact. I’m terrified that people will see my pain and try to talk to me. Or worse, that they’ll try to talk to me and not even notice what I’m hiding on the inside. Small talk feels fraudulent, but I’m terrified of saying what I’m really thinking. I can make it in the outside world, but I just don’t feel right when I do.

Smiling feels unnatural. I worry that as I get older, I’ll be one of those people with permanent frown lines etched into their faces. It’s the old adage that “if you keep making that face, it’ll get stuck like that” that I think about all the time. But a smile just doesn’t feel right. I see pictures of myself smiling and still can’t identify with the person in the photo. Who is she? I don’t know that smiling person. It feels unreal. It feels wrong. But I do wish I could be the happy person I see in the photos.

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Going for a walk sometimes does help some. During the walk, if I have someone to talk to who will really listen, the openness feels liberating. Often, though, I spend the time doing more stewing instead of feeling the endorphin release I’m supposed to feel from the exercise. My body doesn’t feel like moving, and I feel like a sloth. I trudge along, but I don’t feel strong.

When someone wants to spend time with me, I have to weigh out the decision. Honestly, in the moment, when I’m doing something else, I feel a bit better. But in the back of my mind, I’m thinking about how the fun won’t really last and I’ll have to go back to my own misery later. I would like to say that going out and having fun gets rid of the depression, but it doesn’t. I guess the momentary reprieve is somewhat worthwhile. I mean, any break from the doom and gloom is better than feeling it all the time. I just wish it could last forever.
Inside, it’s like I’m actively fighting against happiness most of the time. I don’t want to do it, but I can’t seem to help myself. I wonder about what people must think when I’m out having fun and smiling. Those who know what I’m going through might think that I’m all better because I had some fun. I just wish they knew that I need more than just a day outside of the house to fix what feels broken inside.

All in all, I just don’t feel up to life, which feels even more awful when I think about how my mood disorder must make my kids feel. I can only hope that they know I’m not said because of them, and I try my hardest to show them my love for them. I know that if I could just pretend a little while longer that I’m happy and I don’t worry all the time, I could be a “better person.”

And that’s the real tragedy of depression and anxiety. You’re too tired to move and too anxious to reach out to people. Hiding in the shadows keeps me away from being hurt in the long run, because, you know, what if people hate the person I really am? I can avoid rejection and disappointment if I never expect anything. So here I hide, only reaching out to the online community, hoping to get better, but not really counting on it happening. While none of this inspires hope in others, it is, for once, real and maybe that’s OK. So if you’re feeling hopeless and helpless like me, maybe we can at least commiserate with one another. I don’t promise happiness, but at least bringing out what I’m feeling might make someone else feel validated, and, to be really honest, a validation of my feelings is all I really wanted all along. It might not stop the private hell I’m feeling inside, but it at least makes me feel less alone.

Mental Health In Schools: A Hidden Crisis Affecting Millions Of Students

By | Blog Post, Community Blog

You might call it a silent epidemic.

Up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year.

So in a school classroom of 25 students, five of them may be struggling with the same issues many adults deal with: depression, anxiety, substance abuse.

And yet most children — nearly 80 percent — who need mental health services won’t get them.

Whether treated or not, the children do go to school. And the problems they face can tie into major problems found in schools: chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out.

Experts say schools could play a role in identifying students with problems and helping them succeed. Yet it’s a role many schools are not prepared for.

Educators face the simple fact that, often because of a lack of resources, there just aren’t enough people to tackle the job. And the ones who are working on it are often drowning in huge caseloads. Kids in need can fall through the cracks.

Grief In The Classroom: ‘Saying Nothing Says A Lot’
NPR ED
Grief In The Classroom: ‘Saying Nothing Says A Lot’
“No one ever asked me”

Katie is one of those kids.

She’s 18 now. Back when she was 8, she had to transfer to a different school in Prince George’s County, Md., in the middle of the year.

“At recess, I didn’t have friends to play with,” she recalls. “I would make an excuse to stay inside with the teachers and finish extra work or do extra credit.”

We’re not using Katie’s last name to protect her privacy. She’s been diagnosed with bulimia and depression.

She says that in the span of a few months, she went from honor roll to failing. She put on weight; other kids called her “fat.” She began cutting herself with a razor every day. And she missed a ton of school.

“I felt like every single day was a bad day,” she says. “I felt like nobody wanted to help me.”

Katie says teachers acted like she didn’t care about her schoolwork. “I was so invisible to them.”

Every year of high school, she says, was “horrible.” She told her therapist she wanted to die and was admitted into the hospital.

During all this time, she says, not a single principal or teacher or counselor ever asked her one simple question: “What’s wrong?”

3 Things People Can Do In The Classroom That Robots Can’t
NPR ED
3 Things People Can Do In The Classroom That Robots Can’t
If someone had asked, she says, she would have told them.

Who should have asked?

We talked to educators, advocates, teachers and parents across the country. Here’s what they say a comprehensive approach to mental health and education would look like.

The family

The role: The first place to spot trouble is in the home, whether that trouble is substance abuse, slipping grades or a child who sleeps too much. Adults at home — parents, siblings, other relatives — are often the first to notice something going on.

The reality: Many families do not know what to look for. Sometimes a serious problem can be overlooked as “just a phase.” But it’s those sudden changes — angry outbursts, declining grades, changes in sleeping or eating — that can signal problems. When something unusual crops up, families can keep in close touch with the school.

Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As The ABCs
NPR ED
Why Emotional Learning May Be As Important As The ABCs
The teacher

The role: During the week, many students see their teachers even more than their own families. Teachers are in a prime spot to notice changes in behavior. They read essays, see how students relate with other kids and notice when they aren’t paying attention.

The reality: Teachers already have a ton on their plates. They’re pressured to get test scores up, on top of preparing lessons and grading assignments. Plus, many teachers receive minimal training in mental health issues. But when they do see something concerning, they can raise a flag.

The social worker

The role: Social workers act like a bridge. If teachers come to them with a concern — maybe a child is acting withdrawn — one of the first things they’ll do is call home. They see each child through the lens of their family, school and community. They might learn that a family is going through a divorce or homelessness.

The reality: There aren’t enough of them. According to one model, every school should have one social worker for every 250 students. The reality is that in some schools, social workers are responsible for many more.

The counselor

The role: In some schools, counselors focus solely on academics: helping students pick classes and apply to college. But in others, they also act a lot like social workers, serving as a link to families and working with students who need support.

The reality: Like school social workers, there just aren’t enough counselors. On average nationwide, each counselor is responsible for nearly 500 students. The American School Counselor Association recommends a caseload nearly half that size.

The special education teacher

The Role: Special education teachers may start working with students when a mental health problem affects the ability to do school work. They are primarily responsible for working on academic skills.

The reality: Again, there aren’t enough of them. Nearly every state has reported a shortage of special education teachers. Half of all school districts say they have trouble recruiting highly qualified candidates.

The school psychologist

The Role: Here’s one job that, on paper, is truly dedicated to student mental health. School psychologists are key players when it comes to crisis intervention and can refer students to outside help, such as a psychiatrist.

The reality: If you sense a pattern here, you’re right. In the U.S., there is just one school psychologist for every 1,400 students, according to the most recent data available from the National Association of School Psychologists.

The school nurse

The role: Most any school nurse will tell you, physical and mental health are tough to separate. That puts nurses in a prime spot to catch problems early. For example: A kid who comes into the nurse’s office a lot, complaining of headaches or stomach problems? That could be a sign of anxiety, a strategy to avoid a bully, or a sign of troubles at home.

The reality: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least one nurse for every 750 students, but the actual ratio across the country can be much higher.

The principal

The role: As the top dogs in schools, principals make the big decisions about priorities. They can bring in social-emotional, anti-bullying and suicide-prevention programs.

The reality: Principals also have a lot on their plates: the day-to-day management of student behavior, school culture and teacher support.

Getting help, and “excited for life”

Katie says things started to turn around for her when she met a nurse at the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., who finally showed interest in what was wrong.

Now, she’s begun college and wants to be a pediatric nurse.

“I’m doing a lot better now” she says. ” Obviously, I mean, I’m a lot happier. I’m excited for school. I’m excited to graduate. I’m excited for life.”

Unspoken

How Mindfulness Helps You Find Your Way Through Difficulty

By | Blog Post, Community Blog

It was about a dozen years ago and I was going through a rough bout of depression. I convinced myself there must be some ready cure I could find, and I embarked on a frantic tour of the therapeutic merry-go-round to relieve my pain. I desperately reached for any doctor, therapist, or support group. I gobbled up whatever advice or pills they offered, but nothing changed. I was still in pain.

Eventually I came to mindfulness. At first, I approached it with the same demand for instant relief. But then something unexpected happened. I saw that it was impossible to really follow the instructions for mindfulness meditation—gently paying attention to the flow of breath, allowing things to be just as they are—and strive for results at the same time. So I stopped looking for cures and results, and to my surprise, some helpful openness and clarity began to arise in my mind. I came to know my depression differently. I began to notice its textures and contours, its causes and its effects. I became familiar with its landscape.

As I continued to meditate over the following months, my stressful struggle to fix and change things faded little by little.
The difference was this: now I could observe my thoughts and feelings without identifying with them so much. As I continued to meditate over the following months, my stressful struggle to fix and change things faded little by little. A subtle and profound transformation occurred as I allowed myself to rest in the experience of just being. I became more willing to experience all the energy of my emotions and feelings—even the unpleasant ones. I stopped fighting with myself so much, and with that, ironically, came the very relief I was seeking.

Mindfulness these days is strongly associated with stress reduction, and for very good reasons. Mindfulness reduces stress. Full stop. Reducing stress is a great goal. Another full stop.

But mindfulness practice can be so much more than stress reduction. Certainly I am less anxious and stressed today than I was a decade ago. But my difficulties haven’t gone away, and neither have my habitual ways of reacting to them. And yet things are better. From what I have seen in myself—and the people I teach mindfulness to—the biggest changes come from letting go of our goals, struggles, and hopes for a cure. At a certain point, focusing our mindfulness practice too much on stress reduction—or any goal—can limit its benefit to us. Real change comes from learning to make a different relationship with our stresses and difficulties.

As I discovered during my early days of practice, mindfulness meditation has built-in mechanisms that free us from the trap of instant salvation. Our goal-oriented mind-set is deeply ingrained and persistent, and we need all the help we can get to reorient ourselves to a new way of being—so that we are less eager to run away from where we are in the moment.

That’s why it is helpful to settle in for the mindfulness journey, so we can appreciate its rich view and interesting ride, even—especially—when it doesn’t seem beautiful or smooth. The formal practice of meditation helps us navigate the route, and so do the attitudes we take as we travel. By gently cultivating certain qualities, we create the conditions for a shift in perspective, so in time our goals may no longer seem that relevant, even when, as if by magic, they are achieved. Here are seven qualities we can cultivate in our mindfulness practice that will bring benefit to ourselves and others.

Acceptance

Like any skill, mindfulness needs effort. But many of us have been told—or tell ourselves—that we don’t try hard enough, haven’t got it in us, or fail because we’re lazy. So we may try too hard, thinking we have to do everything perfectly.

This makes the whole business of effort a bit tricky. The commitment we cultivate in mindfulness practice is nonjudgmental. We’re loyal to the present moment, which takes the form of a willingness to gently come back from distraction again and again. It also includes compassionate acceptance when our mind wanders off.

When we notice how we judge ourselves for not being good enough, or our meditation for “not working,” it helps to remember that each moment starts fresh. We are never damned; we can renew our commitment in every moment. In fact, every time we notice distraction, we have already come back to awareness. Noticing our distraction is a cause for celebration, not recrimination.

How?

It’s helpful to plan a time and space to practice regular meditation and stick with that plan. Make a commitment that feels manageable. Notice if you’re driving yourself too hard or selling yourself short. Let go of these thoughts.

Tenderness

Many forms of training focus on getting us “in shape.” Mindfulness is different. By letting go of pushing, pulling, remonstrating, and ruminating, we go easier on ourselves. If we feel sad, we can allow that sadness. If we feel judgmental, we can allow for that without having to buy into it (or judge ourselves for being judgmental). If we feel angry, instead of seeing it as a solid unchangeable mass, we can see that it comes and goes a little. There are actually spaces in the midst of the intensity. That’s why it can still be possible to make someone laugh even when they’re angry.

Mindfulness means “to pay attention.” But this can carry connotations of harshness— the critical schoolteacher or bellowing drill sergeant—so it helps to remember that paying attention in this case really means “to tend,” to care for something in a warm and supportive way. We can become our own kind parent, nurturing ourselves with unconditional caring. Then the challenges of life won’t hit us quite so hard.

How?

Practice opening to parts of yourself you’d rather reject. Notice how they respond to compassion rather than condemnation.

Inquisitiveness

Taking what some psychologists call an “approach” mentality to life is a key marker of well-being: being curious about the world, interested in new people and experiences, even when they scare us. Avoidance, by contrast, means letting fear control us, not going to new places, trying new activities, or exploring ideas that don’t fit our existing mind-set.

Mindfulness—noticing events in a warm, open, and inquisitive manner—develops the courage to meet our lives with genuine interest. It doesn’t mean there’s no discomfort when we dare to be curious. It means we’re willing to tolerate not knowing what might be around the next corner. In return, we experience the delight of being able to look, listen, taste, touch, feel, and learn from our environment. We may not know all the answers, but we don’t limit our perspective.

How?

Be a scientist in the laboratory of your world. Pause before making assumptions. Hear the feedback from your mind, body, environment, and other people. Give those around you space to express their views, especially if they are different from your own. Can you walk in their shoes for a moment, seeing from their perspective? Ask yourself: “What’s actually going on here?” and be open to the information that comes back.

Body Awareness

Where is your mind? Most of us point to our head. The word mindfulness can suggest cognition—something to do with thinking and the brain. But mindfulness means bringing awareness to our whole experience, not just from the neck up. By acknowledging our bodies in meditation, we synchronize mind and body and experience ourselves as an integrated whole. When we experience an emotion, we notice how it feels in different parts of our body. That helps when it comes to acting on our feelings. Dismissing our feelings leads us to live out of step with our hearts, and by increasing our body awareness, we have a chance to redress this imbalance.

How?

Slowly scan your body from toe to head, noticing each part and where the tension lies. A practice like this tunes you into the pulses and rhythms of your body a little more. Long-distance runners do this to be aware of how different parts of their body are responding to the effort they’re expending. In everyday life, pausing several times a day to feel what’s going on in our bodies can free us from being caught up in the speed and importance of our thoughts.

Appreciation

It’s easy to focus on the negative too much. On the other hand, self-help-style positive thinking can end up as a superficial pep talk. In contrast, simple appreciation means taking a bit more time to allow things to be just the way they are, without wanting them to change so much to suit us. If someone is being cold toward us, we see that for what it is, without trying to push it away too hard or sugarcoat it.

With this kind of attitude, we can appreciate beauty, warmth, friendship, and joy, but also sadness and anger, loss and illness, difficulty and disappointment. It may go against our conditioning, but in embracing what’s difficult we hold the key to not letting negative thoughts overwhelm us. Pushing them away just fuels their power.

How?

Sit up and take an uplifted, open, and relaxed posture. Even that little gesture of not slumping and shirking helps us embrace life with more equanimity. We can savor the good things and meet our problems without trying so hard to get rid of, fight, or deny them. What would happen if we cracked a smile when we were depressed? It’s not just a way to grin and bear it but a step toward appreciating the inevitable ups and downs of existence.

Being Generous

Every act of mindfulness contains a bit of generosity already. When we choose to escort our wandering attention home, it’s as if we’re reaching out a hand to a child who is lost in a crowd and struggling to get to the safety of their parents.

We start by lending a hand to ourselves. After giving the gift to ourselves of letting our emotions come and go without being so harsh about it, we can start to become more generous with others and their states of mind. As we become less caught up in our own little dramas, we discover that other people, with their own struggles and challenges, are really not so different from us. We start giving them the room to be themselves.

How?

Meditation is most beneficial when it’s not just a solo sport. See if you can find some other people to practice meditation with, people with whom you can share the experience of being more open and the challenges that can go along with that. Openness can be contagious, and the tendency to hold back from being free and generous with others can be worn away.

Sticking to it

The mindfulness road can be rocky. It takes guts to return again and again to the present moment, especially when our impulse is to run away, attack, or hide. And we will regularly fail.

When the novelty has worn off, when we’re doing the spadework of meditation and what we excavate is smelly, dark, irritating, boring, or frightening, this is a chance to work on being steadfast. Can we trust that the plummeting self-esteem we’re feeling right now is okay? Can we patiently let our thoughts and emotions run their course? Can we return to the now when it’s not where we’d like it to be? Can we return to our mindfulness when our minds aren’t calm and we feel like we’re getting nowhere? The reward for sticking to it is the deeper confidence that develops—the feeling in our bones that we can handle whatever life throws our way.

How?

Using breath as an anchor, we can be with whatever presents itself. Knowing that this moment is already here—and that the only sensible thing is to be with it—we can ride the waves of difficulty with dignity and poise, like a good rider on a spirited horse. We can still seek the support we need, make changes we need to make, or let someone know they need to stop hurting us. In doing so, though, we use the wisdom of mindfulness as our guide, drawing on deep inner resources to negotiate the journey with gentleness and skill.

This article also appeared in the June 2013 issue of Mindful magazine.

Five Tips to Managing Stress and Anxiety

By | Blog Post

My name is Katie Buckingham and at the age of ten, I developed a series of anxiety disorders. These caused problems for me for many years and because of the stigma attached to mental health problems, I was afraid to disclose what I was experiencing for fear of what people would think of me. It was because of this stigma that I was unable to get the support I needed early.

Once I finally recovered at 17, I made it my mission to raise awareness of stress and anxiety and to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems so that others won’t have to go through what I went through. I began delivering mental health awareness workshops in schools and colleges and developed educational resources for teachers. I attended the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and this is where set up Altruist Enterprises, an award-winning company which provides training to help organisations prevent and identify the early signs of stress in the workplace and help support staff more effectively.

Over the years, I have learnt many techniques in order to help manage my stress and anxiety levels. I would like to share them with you.

1) Talk About Problems

After all, a problem shared is a problem halved, right? We can get so caught up with our own worried thoughts that we start to become irrational. I often find that worries that seem rational in my head sound silly when I say them out loud. Talking helps you to share your thoughts and clarify what you are going through. Gaining an outside perspective can help you think about things differently – they may offer a solution that you hadn’t even thought of.

2) Exercise

Exercise releases endorphins and helps relieve feelings of stress with regular physical activity being associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety. Exercise is actually just as effective for mild depression as anti-depressants are.

For me, football has really helped maintain positive well-being, it helps clear my mind and let go of negative feelings. There is also a social aspect to this too – I’ve often found that going out and socialising really helps decrease stress levels.

3) Help Others

Starting a mental health project in order to help others really supported me through my recovery from anxiety. I found that helping others gave me a purpose, increased my self-confidence and generally made me feel good about myself.

There’s science behind it too. Being kind can actually reduce stress and make us healthier. The emotional warmth associated with kindness can produce the hormones oxytocin and dopamine, which reduce blood pressure and make us feel euphoric.

4) Put Things Into Perspective

You may think that the current situation that you are in is the end of the world; however, in the grand scheme of things, is it that bad? I often think, I am one of 7 billion people on this earth, there are 365 days in the year. Is what I am worrying about on this one particular day in the whole of my life really that worth worrying about?

There’s a great song called Sunscreen which says: ‘know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum’. I think about this line every time I am worrying too much about something. Yes, not worrying is easier said than done, but examine the evidence and try to put things into perspective.

5) Be Mindful/Thankful

I practice Mindfulness meditation which is proven to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, but it’s not all of what I mean when I say be mindful. It’s about being aware of the current moment, accepting it and being grateful of it. We often plough through our lives on auto pilot without really stopping to think about the things we have.

I am currently part of a growth accelerator based in the centre of Birmingham. I get free office space, free wifi, free teas and coffees, free printing and free meeting space. It’s in a great location and has a great view of the cathedral and park in front of it, particularly in the autumn. I realise that I am not going to be on this programme forever, but I accept that and am grateful for the opportunity now. Just stopping to take notice of things and savouring the moment can really help support positive well-being.

3 Mindfulness Exercises You Can Try with Your Kids

By | Blog Post

If it feels like a lesson, children won’t be interested. If it’s a game, they’ll love it.

That’s what Alfred James says about mindfulness for kids. The author of Pocket Mindfulness and its accompanying blog suggests that parents come up with mindfulness exercises they and their children can do together. It’s about finding ways to be truly present with your children, rather than mutually distracted.

Here are a few of his ideas:

Roar into the wind together: Out on a windy day, maybe at the beach? Bust your kids out of quiet time and roar into the wind. James says it’s about celebrating our interconnection with nature. (And yelling just feels good.)

Look at ants: We know kids like to use magnifying glasses to turn the sun’s rays into laser beams of destruction. They might be surprised to learn they can also be used to observe interesting things. Look at ants. See how much they can carry. How they navigate giant obstacles. How they work as a team. (Just make sure not to fry them.)

Watch plants grow: Choose a plant—outdoors or indoors—and take time to notice its growth. You can record the changes by taking photos and comparing them.

What could be better than sharing a little aha moment with a child?

This article also appeared in the August 2013 issue of Mindful magazine.