4 Things Not to Say to Someone with a Mental Illness

Ever have one of those moments when a friend or family member starts talking about a mental illness that he or she deals with? And you find you don’t know exactly what to say, so you quickly shift to canned, “fallback” statements?

Even your most well-intentioned comments can come across as insensitive and “tone deaf,” and can hurt your loved one more than help. Here are four common conversation blunders followed by suggestions for something a little better you might say.

 

#1 “You don’t look depressed.”

It can be argued that there is no medical condition that brings with it any specific way to “look.” What should someone with cancer look like? How about someone with diabetes? Mental illness will not leave everyone it affects feeling exactly the same. Forget about the stereotype of someone who is depressed sobbing uncontrollably or unable to muster the energy to shower in the morning.

The fact is that most people who suffer from a mental illness go to great lengths to look like nothing is wrong.
What you might say: “Talk to me and help me understand better what you’re experiencing.”

 

#2 “It’s all in your head.”

Few things could feel more diminishing or dehumanizing than being told that what is emotionally very real to your loved one is little more than an insignificant construct of an overly-active imagination. It also downplays actual physiological symptoms such as disturbed sleep, fatigue, gastrointestinal distress, weight fluctuation, and other body aches and pains.

Remember that a mental illness affects all aspects of a human being, and is not merely in “the head.” What you might say: “You seem to be going through something difficult and I’m proud of you for having the guts to work through it.”

 

#3 “A lot of people would love to have your life.”

This may very well be true, but changes nothing about the emotionally-draining experience that the person you’re talking to is trying to cope with. Telling someone with a mental illness that other people have it much worse can only make him or her feel guilty about the associated feelings.

What you might say : “What you’re trying to cope with is real, and you shouldn’t ever feel guilty about it.”

 

#4 “Hey, just stay positive!”

Optimism is a great concept, but being told that an attitude adjustment is all that’s needed to deal with life’s challenges can come across as very trite and ineffectual to someone with a mental illness. Would you tell a friend with a broken arm to try to heal it with positive thoughts? Mental illness can be very serious, requiring professional treatment.

What you might say: “This sounds like a difficult situation for anyone to handle, but you’re going to get through it. What can I do to help?”

Long story short: when in doubt, empathy and real listening are always better than rehearsed platitudes, as well-intentioned as the latter may be. Don’t talk to the person any differently than you normally would, and this will go a long way to establishing consistency in the relationship, and to making him or her feel more valued, supported, and secure.

Having trouble starting a hard conversation about a mental illness condition? If you or someone you love need to talk to someone about mental illness or feelings of being overwhelmed, we’d like to help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About Mental Illness

Mental Illness Stigma

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Myths about mental illness are all too common, and can be burdensome for those who cope with such debilitating mental health concerns. Most individuals have had some experience or other with mental illness, either firsthand themselves or with other people in their lives.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Approximately one in five adults in the U.S. (43.8 million, or 18.5 percent) experiences mental illness in a given year, and one in five youth aged 13 to 18 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point in their life. Regardless, common myths about mental illness create unnecessary misperceptions and stigma, and needless obstacles in interpersonal relationships.

The National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), reports that some of the most popular myths in circulation today as reported by mental health professionals include: propagating the false notion that depression and other mental illnesses are a result of some kind of character flaw; or the false belief that those with mental illnesses are volatile, irrational, and dangerous; or that mental illnesses can be “willed away” with positive thinking.

Let’s debunk some of the more popular mental illness myths.

Myth #1: There is no hope for someone with mental health problems; he or she will never recover. Actually, people frequently can and do recover from mental illnesses of all kinds. With the increasing discovery of new types of treatments and with the wide availability of services and resources, no one ever has to live with the mental anguish, doubt, and confusion brought on by mental illness. People with mental illnesses that continue for long periods of time can learn how to manage their symptoms so they are not impeded from reaching their goals. It is extremely common for those with mental illnesses to function normally, contribute at work, school, or by volunteering, and to be productive and happy. Those who continue to struggle with challenges may require a different approach, treatment, or forms of emotional support.


Myth #2: Mental illness isn’t really an illness in the traditional sense.
The reality is that a mental illness is no less real than having the flu, breaking a leg, or suffering from cancer. While we all go through normal ups and downs as a normal, expected part of life, mental illnesses can create ongoing and sometimes debilitating stress in an individual’s life. Mental illnesses can’t just be “walked off,” and in many instances, require professional treatment, just like a serious case of the flu, a broken bone, or a case of cancer.

Myth #3: People with mental illnesses are violent, unpredictable, and dangerous. The truth is that a majority of researchers agree that a mental illness does not necessarily predict violence, but rather that individuals who live with mental illness are no more violent than those without a mental illness. You might be surprised to learn that people with mental illnesses are more often victims of violence than they are perpetrators.

Myth #4: Individuals who suffer from mental illness are fragile, timid, and can’t hold down a job or cope well with stress. Knowing how to take care of oneself and having the humility to ask for help when needed are indicators of strength and maturity.  While it’s true that stress can have an adverse effect on normal daily functioning, it is worthy to note that this is true for everyone, not just those with mental illnesses. Treatment for mental illness may involve learning coping skills like problem-solving and stress management, and for this reason, those with mental illnesses may be more adept at managing stress levels than many people who have never had to grapple with mental health challenges.

There are countless more myths about people affected by mental illness, many of which may have discouraged you or someone you love from seeking proper treatment needed to learn how to manage and recover. The individual person is more than any mental health disorder he or she may have. The right guidance and help can help anyone get back to enjoying and living life to the fullest.


Are myths about mental illness preventing you from seeking help you may need? If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at
 Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

5 Mental Illness Films that Are Spot-on

Movies about mental illness

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Movies about mental illness have a way of sparking our interest and getting us to ponder on issues related to mental health. Every now and then a film comes along that you feel really speaks to you and that really seems to “get” you. Suddenly the world doesn’t feel as lonely, and you get the feeling that somebody somewhere understands you and what you’re going through. This positive lift may even be described as therapeutic.

If you live with a mental illness, one thing is to understand intellectually that you don’t have any reason to feel ashamed. Another is to really understand and grasp that things are never as bad as they may seem. That feeling of being OK with having to cope with your disorder can go a long way in encouraging you and helping you manage it.

Another benefit of movies about mental illness realistically is to counter any public mental health stigma and general lack of knowledge — they help humanize people that live with mental illness. Though not always easy to watch, and to help you get ready for Mental Health Awareness Month (observed annually in May), below are some of the best movies about mental illness that capture life as seen through the eyes of individuals whom many of us can easily relate to.

“The Hours,” 2002 (Depression)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Michael Cunningham, “The Hours” is a bold, tangible sojourn through common human experiences such as mental anguish, alienation, and the complex interconnectedness between ourselves and others. We follow writer Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) as she delves into the writing of her novel “Mrs. Dalloway,” Laura Brown (Julianne Moore) as a floundering post-World War II housewife as she reads Woolf’s novel and rapidly approaches her own inner collapse.

We also watch Clarissa Vaughan (Meryl Streep) in 2001 New York City plan a party for her friend who is suffering from AIDS along with another writer. Depression, suicide, and their effects touch and pull all three of the women together along with the viewer into a mutual understanding of what these things are, what they mean, and how they affect all of us in some way or other.

“Donnie Darko,” 2001 (Paranoid Schizophrenia)

This science-fiction film has become a cult classic. Donnie Darko, played by a young Jake Gyllenhaal, tries to keep it together amid an ongoing flow of daytime hallucinations that explore the nature of living and loving. Donnie often speaks candidly with his therapist about these perceived visions (often featuring a large and unsettlingly haunting bunny known as Frank), and she subsequently informs his parents that he seems to be manifesting symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia.

The movie, shown through Donnie’s perceptive standpoint, never distinguishes between what is real and what are merely figments of the imagination, which helps drive home the point that those with mental illnesses often can’t make that differentiation. We feel frustrated, confused, and diminished as the protagonist must feel as he experiences this dreamscape life where no one ever believes his warnings and descriptions of what is going on all around him. Though the media typically portrays paranoid schizophrenia as something dangerous, eventually, we the viewers stop having to figure everything out, learn to let go, and surrender to things as they are.

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” 2004 (Mental illness and forgetting about trauma)

“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” blurs the line between romantic comedy/drama and science fiction while telling the story of the relationship between Joel (Jim Carrey) and free-spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet). The central storyline revolves around a fictional procedure that can erase memories. Clementine undergoes the procedure in order to forget about Joel after things start to go awry between them.

Traces of psychosis, depression, bipolar disorder, and the importance of remembering as a component of recovery all emerge for Joel as he desperately continues trying to get Clementine to remember him. The film is an emotive story that you may find very relatable in terms of coming to terms with mental illness.

Say what you will about remembering and forgetting, eventually Joel and Clementine come to the realization they really don’t want to forget one another. Some may advocate for blotting out traumatic memories and “getting on with life,” but “Eternal Sunshine” suggests that remembering the negative is also a surefire way to highlight the positive aspects of our past.

“Melancholia,” 2011 (Depression)

“Melancholia,” an artistically enticing film that gives us a glimpse into depression at a most visceral level. The title makes reference to a newly discovered planet that is deemed to be on a collision course with Earth. Two of the main characters, sisters Justine and Claire, each deal with the news differently.

Justine shows outward signs of depression on her wedding day as her family shows itself to be one big dysfunctional mess. Claire, on the other hand, internalizes all her misgivings about her family and their mass of problems. The planet shows itself to be an outward reflection of Claire’s depression and anxiety over her family and personal life. Claire’s introspection is driven by a growing fear that the planet Melancholia is going to end all life on Earth as we know it.

This visually captivating film speaks not only to mental illness but also to familial relationships and how we cope with life itself.

“Silver Linings Playbook,” 2012 (Bipolar Disorder)

“Silver Linings Playbook” is about Pat (Bradley Cooper), a man compelled to spend some time in a mental hospital after a violent rage-driven outburst sparked by his finding his wife in bed with another man. It turns out he has a serious case of bipolar disorder, and upon his release, he moves back in with his parents (Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver) as he continues to recover. Though his wife has betrayed him and their marriage, he is determined to win back her affections and go back to “the way things once were,” during which time he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Tiffany offers to help Pat in his efforts to win over his wife, as long as he agrees to be her ballroom dance partner for a competition. The film very realistically depicts the wide spectrum of emotions experienced by those with bipolar disorder.

Other honorable mentions include “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), “Fight Club” (1999), and “Shutter Island” (2010) So now you have some binge-worthy movies for this weekend! Did we miss any personal favorites of yours?  Let us know!

Do you or someone you love need help in managing a mental illness? If so, talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming. We can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

Facing Life as an Adult when a Parent has a Mental Illness

Parent with mental illness

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Having a parent with mental illness can be challenging for anyone. If you have a parent with a mental illness, you might have a different sense of what “normal” life at home means, and you’ve most likely already experienced enough to know that life with a mentally ill parent can be filled with anxiety and a heightened sense of vigilance.

You may have grown up becoming used to having some of your needs neglected — you may have had experiences where you felt you needed to compete with your parent’s symptoms to receive needed care. Living with a parent with mental illness can indeed be difficult.

Such dynamics, among others, can exacerbate the risk of issues emerging later in life, including emotional and psychological disturbances, learning challenges, and impaired overall functioning.  Other challenges you may find yourself dealing with might include troubled relationships and marital problems. You may resent, or have other bitter or hard feelings toward your parent.

As an adult, addressing the parent’s mental illness with siblings and other family members can be awkward, at best. Some people prefer to remain quiet about a parent’s diagnosis, while others may need to share their thoughts and experiences more openly.

The following are some suggestions for approaching the situation along with siblings and other family members.

  • Don’t reinforce the stigma with your silence. Remember that the stigma of mental illness is only perpetuated if you choose to avoid discussion of the illness. By openly discussing the illness’ occurrences and influence in your family, you and your siblings are helping yourselves find new creative strategies to cope with the past and to prepare for what the future may bring.
  • Research any relevant diagnoses and share what you know with your siblings. A factual explanation for upsetting behaviors can help you put things in a clearer perspective, and help you better to forgive your parent and let go of any ill feelings you might still harbor.
  • Share your personal story of growing up. Encourage your siblings to share their own story of growing up, and be sure to share your own. Be as objective as possible, and speak in terms of “I used to feel like…,” “It seemed to me that…,” and “this is how I remember it….” Your story is valid, as is your siblings’.  Speaking from your own perspective, and listening to one another’s, can help to piece together the family story more clearly, and make better sense of the overall “profile” of the parent in question.
  • Deepen your relationship with siblings or other family members. Nurturing this kind of open exchange can provide a supportive environment when talking about developing the same or a similar diagnosis through genetics.
  • Help nurture your relationship with your parents. If your parent is still alive and still mentally ill, openly sharing with your siblings or other family members can help you establish a healthier relationship with your still-living parents.

Refusal to acknowledge a parent’s mental illness or pretending that it did/does not affect your adult life will not make lingering issues go away by themselves. Being brutally honest about realities you have faced and may face in the future is uncomfortable and difficult, but it can open up communications, more authenticity, and healthier relationships within your family circle.

You may also find it might be helpful to seek professional help. Your feelings and experience are all valid and real, and a mental health professional and/or a support group can be very helpful in guiding you to seek resolution and peace of mind.

Are you and other family members struggling to come to terms with past or present dynamics dealing with a parent who has a mental illness? Is the stress preventing you from moving forward to manage the challenge? If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about a parent or other family member with mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Doesn’t Reality Feel Real to Me? Depersonalization Disorder

Depersonalization disorder

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What is depersonalization (derealization) disorder? Have you ever experienced segments of time when the world around you felt distinctly surreal? Or detached from your surroundings? Maybe you often find yourself “outside of yourself” and “looking in from outside to observe your own life?” You’re not alone; it very well may not be your imagination. This phenomenon really “is a thing.”

Depersonalization disorder is a type of dissociative disorder that characteristically manifests itself through persistent/recurring feelings of detachment (dissociation) from one’s body and/or cognitive processes, not unlike a psychotic episode.

While that may not seem like the worst thing that could happen to you, some patients find the experience nothing short of terrifying. One such notable case is Adam Duritz of the Counting Crows, who deals with depersonalization disorder on a regular, daily basis.

It’s common for those with the disorder to feel as the world were lifeless, colorless, and even “fake.” They may feel as though they were dreaming, in a fog, or as though a veil or glass wall separated them from their immediate surroundings. A subjective sense of distortion may also occur, e.g. unusually blurry or sharply clear objects, objects that may seem smaller, larger, or visibly “flat.” Often time may seem to be going much slower or faster than usual, and sounds and noises may seem unbearably louder or softer than they actually are.

Such symptoms of depersonalization disorder can typically be distressing, and some patients feel as though they may have irreversible cerebral damage, or even that they are losing their minds. Some patients may obsess over whether or not they really exist, or may compulsively check over and over to verify whether or not their perceptions are for real. Most patients, however, are able to maintain an awareness of the fact that these experiences are unreal, and this is what differentiates the disorder from a psychotic episode, where such an awareness is absent. Memory may frequently lapse, and patients may not be able to feel, identify, or express your emotions.

What are the causes of depersonalization disorder? The disorder is typically triggered by acute stress, and may be accompanied by depression and/or anxiety. Driving stress factors often involve one or more of the following:

  • Losing a close a family member or friend unexpectedly
  • Having a severely impaired or mentally ill parent
  • Emotional or physical abuse or being neglected as a child (probably the most common cause)
  • Exposure to domestic violence

Other triggers include financial, relationship, or job-related stress, the use of illegal drugs such as hallucinogens, marijuana, and ketamine.

A proper diagnosis is driven by certain symptoms, but only after other possible causes are ruled out.

Three of the dynamics that may lead to a clinical diagnosis include: persistent or recurring experiences with depersonalization, an awareness that the depersonalization episodes are only a subjective experience and not real, and symptoms that cause the patient acute distress, or that may greatly impair occupational/social functioning.

If all this seems relatable to you or someone you care about, there is treatment and help. Treatment of depersonalization disorder will typically involve psychotherapy, and possibly medication. Treatment for depression and/or anxiety may also be administered concurrently.

One thing to keep in mind is that depersonalization disorder, though stressful at times, is manageable, and you will still be able to live a normal life.

Are you struggling with feelings of life being surreal? Not to worry, you’re not going crazy, and it is treatable. If you or someone close to you need to talk to someone about mental health issues that seem overwhelming, we can help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Cut Myself: Is that Really a Problem?

Is cutting myself a big deal?

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“Why do I cut myself?” is not a question most people would think of asking themselves, but it is a reality for countless individuals, the vast majority of whom are in their youth. Self-injury is more common than most of us realize.

Self-harm (which occurs when someone cuts, burns, or otherwise hurts him or herself— the condition is clinically known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI)). There is no intention of being suicidal, and the condition involves quite a bit of secrecy, shame, anxiety, and often lying. It may involve mental illness, and is also a very isolating activity, making it more difficult for someone to admit to harming himself or herself.

A common misperception is that young, white females engage the most in NSSI, but studies have shown that at least 35 percent and possibly as many as half of the self-injurers are male. Research indicates that about 15 percent of college students engaged in NSSI at least once and that about 17 percent of adolescents had engaged in NSSI at least once. Reported self-injury is much less common in adults (about a five percent lifetime rate) and in most children. Note that about 1.3 percent of children aged 5 to 10 self-harm, and that rate spikes significantly if the child has a diagnosed anxiety disorder or chronic mental distress.

More often than not, “cutters” work overtime to keep their self-harm in secrecy (covering up cuts, burns, scars, marks, etc.) because they feel ashamed about their covert self-harming activities. Interestingly, research has shown that those that feel higher levels of shame are more than likely to harm themselves.

Why all the secrecy? Frequently, one of the secrets that lead to self-harm is the underlying reason the individual is cutting him or herself, to begin with. The lying and covering up may be an attempt to hide some severe trauma (such as sexual abuse) that the cutter isn’t willing to discuss. Sexual abuse, by the way, makes someone far more likely to self-harm.

Someone who self-harms may continue this lifestyle of secrecy driven by acute stress, guilt, shame, and self-blame (esp. in the case of having been sexually abused). A cutter may feel that he or she needs to be “punished” for being responsible for something so shameful, which can lead to a cycle of self-harm, shame, self-blaming, more self-harm, etc.

Other cutters may feel shame about the self-harming in and of itself. They may often feel “weak” or “foolish” because of their self-harm habits, and that therefore, they feel compelled to keep it all a secret. They may worry about being judged for their self-harming behaviors, about being “looked down” upon, or that others will be shocked and repulsed by their self-harming tendencies.

Whatever the reason for secrecy, this stress-fueled cycle of shame pushes an individual into an isolated world where “no one can know about me cutting myself.”

Other reasons for self-harm include:

  • To distract oneself, focus attention elsewhere, or get control again of one’s mind when being inundated with unavoidable, intrusive, and unsettling thoughts and/or feelings.
  • To “feel something” when day-to-day life becomes associated with a sense of emotional dissociation and “numbness.”
  • To release tension associated with powerful emotions or overwhelming thoughts.
  • To poignantly communicate or express oneself regarding strong emotions that one feels powerless to articulate.
  • To feel a certain kind of passing and intense feeling of euphoria that can be experienced immediately after self-harming.

Most people who harm themselves never have any intention of significantly injuring themselves to the point of being dangerous. Yet self-harm, cutting in particular, poses a lot of health risks, such as serious infection, blood loss, other complications, and even death. Admitting that you harm yourself is nothing to feel shame about. If you are cutting yourself, you’re likely coping with life stresses in the best way that you know how.

Know that by not keeping your self-harm a secret, by confiding in someone you trust (though that may take quite a bit of courage), can help you figure out better ways of dealing with your problems, and the next natural step will be to get professional help if necessary, which will lead to you stopping to hurt yourself. You will feel less isolated, less guilt, and less shame when you realize that you really do have people who care about you and support you regardless of how you feel about yourself.

Do you secretly cut yourself? Are you afraid of what others might think if they were to find out? We’d love to hear from you, even just to talk! If you or someone you love need to talk to someone about self-harm or feelings of being overwhelmed, we want to help. Consider reaching out to our expert team at
Solara Mental Health at 844-600-9747.