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A Grandmother’s Plea

A Grandmother’s Plea

Written by: Alan Johnson

Julie fears her grandson is lost, the victim of a mental health system that repeatedly failed him for years.

Jacob, Julie’s 21-year-old grandson, has multiple mental health diagnoses, triggered in infancy when his mother abducted and took him out of state where she frequented crack drug houses. He developed what is known as “reactive attachment disorder,” which occurs when very young, abused, and neglected children have no feeling of safety and security. Jacob’s reaction to a crisis is fight or flight.

“He’s going to be a statistic,” said Julie, who now works in a long-term care facility after previously being employed at a hospital. “I think the health care system, the mental health system, and the schools all failed him. He was a child left behind,” she said.

Jacob’s story is all too common in a fragmented and underfunded mental health system that focuses on what services are available and not what the person needs.

After being abducted to Colorado, Jacob ended up in foster care before Julie and her husband brought him back to Ohio. The problems started almost immediately. She took him to counseling and Jacob was placed on medication at a young age.

Jacob moved to live with his father at age 10, but things just got worse, with the boy ending up at a juvenile facility after police came and picked him up at his elementary school. “I never send them this young, but I don’t know what else to do,” Julie remembered the judge saying in court.

Since then, Jacob has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals, has been arrested frequently, and spends most days in adult care facilities. But he runs away often, and sometimes walks down the middle of the highway, and has said he wants to die – “to be smashed on the road like a deer.”

When the police come, Jacob often resists and throws rocks and bottles at them, his fight or flight response from childhood kicking in.

At one point, when Jacob was being dropped at a hospital for psychiatric treatment, a police officer told him he faced four criminal charges when he got out. That made things worse for the troubled young man.

Through it all, in 18 years since coming back to Ohio, Jacob has not received the consistent mental health treatment he so desperately needs.

Julie has not given up on Jacob, and never will. But, she said she has run out of options.

‘I have taken him to counseling for years. It’s emotionally and physically draining to go through this over and over again. We’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do.”

She continued, “I love him. He’s innocent. He did not ask to be like this.”

“I feel scared for his future. I feel there’s no way he can have any sense of normalcy in this life. He’s not a criminal. He just needs help.”

Learn Something New

Learn Something New

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” Albert Einstein

Have you ever felt like you are operating on autopilot? So often we establish our daily routines and find ourselves doing the same things over and over again, often without even thinking too much about it. While there is certainly comfort and stability in routine, it can also make us feel like life has become too predictable and a little boring. One of the best ways to both exercise your brain and challenge yourself is to commit to learning something new. It can be something small and relatively easy to do, like reading an article about a topic that interests you, or it can be something large and may require a significant commitment, like growing a garden. Either way, there are many benefits that can be felt by learning something new. Research has shown that ‘mental sweat’ helps your brain build new cells and strengthen connections between the cells; specifically, when you learn something new you are exercising your brain, which can help improve cognitive functions such as concentration, attention to detail, memory recall and problem-solving, and also reduce the chance of developing dementia1. Additionally, learning something new can create a sense of achievement; specifically, setting yourself a goal to learn something new, then achieving it, is super rewarding and gives you a sense of accomplishment1. Finally, learning something new can be a lot of fun and you may find it really enjoyable to be pushed out of your comfort zone when you try something new1.

The sky is truly the limit when it comes to finding new and interesting things to learn. There are many lists available online and talking with friends or family is sure to also help brainstorm some things you have always wanted to try.

Here are some ideas of new things that you can try to not only build your knowledge but also increase your feelings of accomplishment:
• Learn a new language (or at least a few phrases)
• Learn to play a new game (board, card, or video)
• Learn about a foreign place (watch a documentary or do online research)
• Learn to play an instrument (take private lessons or watch tutorials)
• Learn to build something (it can be big or small, for use or decoration)

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels
https://www.healthnavigator.org.nz/healthy-living/l/learning-new-things-the-benefits

The Importance of Staying Hydrated

The Importance of Staying Hydrated

“Drinking water is essential to a healthy lifestyle.” Stephen Curry

We hear it all the time: drink more water! Sure, it does not have caffeine or sugar, but what is the big deal about this clear drink? According to experts, there is a lot of positives to drinking enough water each day and staying hydrated. Perhaps the most well-known purpose of staying hydrated is that water helps the body to excrete waste through perspiration, urination, and defecation1. It helps fight off illness and can help prevent certain medical conditions such as kidney stones, exercise-induced asthma, urinary tract infections, and hypertension(1). Staying hydrated also helps to create saliva and prevent constipation, as well as aids in digestion, nutrient absorption, and weight loss(1). Drinking enough water each day maximizes physical performance, improves blood oxygen circulation, keeps skin bright, and regulates body temperature in addition to protecting your tissues, spinal cord, and joints(1). Your water intake is also linked to boosting energy, improving mood, and increasing cognitive function(1).

Clearly drinking enough water is linked to a multitude of physical and mental health benefits, so how can you make sure you are getting enough? Research has shown that most people get about 20% of their daily water intake from food so ideally, you would need to consume between about 73 ounces (2.12 liters) to about 100 ounces (3.0 liters) of water and water-based beverages daily to ensure proper hydration(1).

Below are some tips to help increase your water intake each day(2):

  • Add some flavor: steeping fresh fruit (grapefruit, strawberries, lemon), veggie slices (cucumber, ginger, celery), and herbs (basil, mint, lavender) in your carafe can make consuming your daily ounces a little more exciting
  • Connect drinking water to daily activities: making morning coffee? Drink a glass of water while you wait. Taking a bathroom break? Drink a glass of water after you finish. Making dinner at home or waiting at a restaurant? Drink a glass of water while cooking or waiting.
  • Keep water bottles everywhere: having water readily accessible can make a huge impact on what we reach for when we are thirsty, so keep full water bottles in your most trafficked places as well as in bags and in your car. There’s no bad place to keep a full water bottle!
  • Monitor your water intake each day: this both serves to keep you on track and lets you be proud of reaching your goal. You can use a water bottle that is marked to show progress, check in at scheduled times each day to evaluate progress, or use an app on your phone that will monitor your intake.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels
1 https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/why-is-water-important#saliva
2 https://www.self.com/story/how-to-drink-more-water

Women and Mental Health

Women and Mental Health

Happy Women’s History month! Since 1982, the United States has designated March as Women’s History month to annually acknowledge and celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women in addition to raising awareness about continued gender inequalities being faced still today.

One of the greatest inequalities women face is in healthcare, as, historically, nearly all research (including clinical studies and drug studies) was based on the experiences and symptoms of (white, cisgender) men; because of this, many women went undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for hundreds of years despite advancements in medical science. It was not until 1993 when The National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act began to require research studies and other clinical trials to enroll numbers of women and minority subjects representative of their numbers in society; this requirement heralded the era of government-sponsored, gender-based studies in medicine(1).

Mental illness and mental health treatment has been no different for women. For hundreds of years, doctors were diagnosing women with “hysteria” to explain away symptoms of other disorders, from endometriosis to mental health issues(2). It wasn’t until the late 20th century that people began to recognize and validate women’s mental health issues; as women began to challenge societal norms and centuries-old gender roles, women’s mental health awareness became a global talking point and physicians began to diagnose and treat these conditions with various therapies and medications(2). But progress certainly has been slow: it was not until 1980 that the American Psychological Association changed the diagnosis from “hysteria” to “conversion disorder”(2). Currently, it is estimated that 1 in 5 women has a mental health diagnosis and, while research shows that women and men have similar rates of mental illness, the types of mental health diagnoses are typically much different3. Depression is the most commonly diagnosed mental illness in women, with twice as many women experiencing depression than men(3). Generalized anxiety disorder is also twice as likely to be diagnosed in women as men, as is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)(3). Women also overwhelming make up the majority of individuals diagnosed with an eating disorder (e.g., anorexia nervosa or bulimia), with some estimates being as high as 95%(3).

Many women face unique challenges that impact their mental health and their ability to access appropriate mental health treatment. The American Psychiatric Association found the following to be risk factors and barriers for women(3):

  • Women earn less than men: women who are full-time workers earn about one-fourth less than male counterparts in a given year; the poverty rate for women aged 18 to 64 is 14.2% compared with 10.5% for men. For women aged 65 and older the poverty rate is 10.3%, while the poverty rate for men aged 65 and older is 7.0%
  • Women face gendered and intimate partner violence: about 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime
  • Women are primary caregivers to both minor children and dependent adults: about 65% of caregivers are women and female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers
  • Women often face economic barriers, such as lack of insurance or inability to pay for services (including premiums and copays)
  • Women often face time/related support barriers, such as not being able to take time off work, find reliable child care, or have access to dependable transportation
  • Women often struggle with lack of awareness about mental health issues, treatment options, and available services as well as struggle with stigma

For more women-centered mental health information and resources, check out the Office on Women’s Health at https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/good-mental-health or call their helpline at 1-800-994-9662 (M-F 9am-6pm EST).

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels
1https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/education/best-practice-highlights/working-with-women-patients
2https://www.rtor.org/2021/03/08/the-history-of-womens-mental-health-awareness/
3 https://www.psychiatry.org/psychiatrists/cultural-competency/education/mental-health-facts

The Joy of Singing

The Joy of Singing

“I don’t sing because I’m happy, I’m happy because I sing” William James

When is the last time you belted out your favorite tune? Singing, even when off-key, is one of the easiest and quickest ways to perform self-care. Scientists have found that singing can have a calming but energizing effect on people; it can also help tame stress, lift the spirits, improve concentration, increase memory recollection, improve mental alertness, as well as alleviate anxiety and stress1. You can sing new songs, old songs, songs in your primary language, songs in a foreign language, funny songs, or sad songs: the important thing is just to sing.

Below are a few links to spark some vocal inspiration:

50 Songs for Parents and Kids

The 51 Best Kids’ Songs Almost Any Parent Can Sing

50 Best Karaoke Songs
https://www.timeout.com/newyork/music/the-50-best-karaoke-songs-ever

Online Choir Performances
https://blog.chorusconnection.com/virtual-choirs-in-2020

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

1 https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/advertising/todayshealthywoman/ct-ss-thw-health-benefits-of-singing-a-tune-20180314dto-story.html

Healthy Communication

Healthy Communication

Perhaps one of the most well-known quotes in modern cinema is uttered in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke: what we’ve got here is failure to communicate. This classic line resonates with so many people because of the shared human experience of the struggle to not only communicate our own thoughts and feelings but the difficulty in trying to understand the thoughts and feelings being communicated by others. Communication can be viewed as one of the pillars of not only interpersonal communication but society and civilization as a whole. Without being able to effectively share our ideas, needs, and worries with others, many of us see our relationships struggle and our self-confidence plummet. So, if communication is so essential to our lives, why do nearly all of us find it so hard to master? We have all been in situations where we feel that we are just not being understood by the other person despite our best efforts. And we have all experienced conflict because we have failed to understand what a friend or loved one is trying to tell us. Is there a way to become better communicators?

One of the most basic ways to break down communication styles is through the “aggressive-assertive-passive” continuum. Identifying these differences both within ourselves as well as others can help us start to ensure that we are communicating efficiently and effectively with others. Aggressive communicators express their emotions and opinions in a way that hurts other people; they may use physical or verbal assaults, will try and dominate others, using humiliation, blame or attacks to control them, which can lead to these individuals alienating others or themselves, being hated or feared, and unable to identify or conquer their issues1. The opposite of aggressive communicators are passive communicators, who tend to be quiet, speak softly, and allow others to infringe on their space, time, and even rights; they often have issues with a low sense of self-worth, low self-respect, and don’t think that their own needs have importance1. The final communication type, and the one that is most effective in communicating with others, is the assertive individual; specifically, they clearly state their opinions and feelings, advocate for themselves and their needs appropriately, create an environment of respect, set healthy boundaries, and are direct about their wants and needs while being considerate of the rights, needs, and wants of others1. It is important to work towards developing a greater understanding of how to identify each communication type and how they impact the quality of communication between people.

There are many skills that you can practice which may help you communicate better with the people around you as well as help you to increase your confidence in your communication abilities. Utilize active listening, which is a technique where you focus on listening more than talking, remain engaged and interested in what is being said, limit interruptions, and reflect back what you have heard2. Clarify, summarize, and ask questions about the information the other person is sharing; this not only demonstrates your commitment to the conversations, this also allows you to gain more information and reach a mutual understnading2. Be aware of your non-verbal communication signals, such as eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, and body posture, as all of these factors influence the ways you are perceived by others2. Finally, remember to approach communication with empathy and a genuine interest to learn about the other person’s perspective2. Remember to practice these skills as often as possible, as repetition helps to develop habits and good communication skills will certainly have a positive influence in your life.

Photo by RF._.studio from Pexels
1 https://betterandbetterer.com/passive-vs-aggressive-vs-assertive/
2 https://www.habitsforwellbeing.com/9-effective-communication-skills/