Suicide and the Media

**Trigger warning: suicide and its terminology is mentioned in this post. Please use your own discretion in reading this post.**

Just about everyone has access to the Internet these days. If you’re reading this post, you have it, unless someone printed it out for you. The Internet is full of information- some of it is utterly useless, some is great. I’m constantly using it for research for this blog, because I admittedly don’t know everything about the topics I write about. That’s partially why my Resources page exists.

A High-Profile Life, But What Lies Beneath?

I choose topics for certain times for a reason- this is Suicide Prevention Week and I wanted to highlight how the media handles discussing suicide. Over the summer, two very high-profile celebrities, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, completed suicide. Both were well known in their fields. Kate was a very talented fashion designer and Anthony was a chef. It was known that Anthony struggled with substance abuse issues, but Kate was struggling privately. Before her death, she was seeing a mental health provider and taking medication. This does not equal the end of suicidal thoughts and/or ideations, as her death shows.

What does lie beneath?

How does the media handle this?

I read a lot. Some outlets are changing their wording from “committed suicide” to “completed suicide” or other phrases, which is a positive change. This is making suicide look less like a criminal thing (“committed” is usually a term used in criminal circumstances, and suicide is not a crime) and more of a personal term. The media still has a lot of work to do. The community still has a lot of work to do as a whole.

How Can Reporting and Discussing Change?

According to an article on Psychology Today there are ways that the media and community can do better in this discussion.

Leaving out the means or method of suicide. Personally, I think this is deeply disrespectful to speak about. I have been told the entire story of Jake’s death, but I’d never go public with it. He was a private person and I couldn’t do that. Plus, his family would be very upset with me. Many suicides, like Jake’s, aren’t a story that people want to talk about. If there was a note, that is helpful to note, but not to include specific information. That is better left for the family. Basically, report the minimum and leave the deeper knowledge of what happened to the family.

Trying to avoid language that inflates the prevalence of suicide. This is one that I am trying to work on myself, I believe I said in a post that this is a heartbreaking epidemic. I may go back and edit it, but in case I don’t (because many of you know my memory is atrocious) please know that has been noted. I’ll work on that in the future. When reading about suicide, some may think that this is an acceptable option to their issues. I don’t want anyone reading this blog to ever think that, because that’s what I am trying to avoid.

Focus on the deceased’s life- not just their death. I am a huge fan of this. This keeps their memory alive. This way, they are not remembered for how they died, but how they lived. This also means to leave out pictures of visibly upset friends or family, or photos of the scene. (Who does that?)

How Can Individuals Do More?

Continue the conversation. Some are afraid to talk about mental health issues and/or suicide because of the fear of stigma. The real change occurs, however, when people do talk. It makes a more comfortable climate in which to discuss these things and the stigma (hopefully) fades. This can help the discussion keep going after the news cycle ends.

Remember that mental health issues and suicide doesn’t discriminate.

Encourage that anyone that is having suicidal thoughts seek help. Also, if anyone you know needs other mental health assistance, please help them however you can. This may mean help with finding a therapist, transportation, etc.

The Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) is available 24/7

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255 (veterans press 1)

You can also go to a nearby ER or mental health care facility.

It’s a rough world out there, let’s make it a bit easier on each other.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash Pinterest

The Dangers of Ignoring Mental Illness

Mental illness can lead to difficult situations if left untreated, but yet millions do so. Why?

Reasons To Not Find Help

  1. Shame. This leads many to hide symptoms. In many minority communities, mental health issues aren’t discussed very often, if at all. Those who do have issues are made to feel that something is “wrong” with them. You can read about this in Men and Mental Health and Breaking Down while Black.
  2. Poverty. Many don’t have money and/or health insurance to cover the costs of therapy and/or medication. This can be another major stumbling block. I was very lucky in that I had insurance to cover two years of therapy for a very low co-pay. Julian is on state health insurance. It’s hard to get help when you can’t afford it.
  3. Embarrassment. This is still a big reason that people avoid treatment. I’ve been very open about my struggles with mental health, drinking, and loss. Many people, however, want to hide that they have a drinking problem or anxiety. It makes them “look weak”.
  4. Side effects from medications and/or not feeling comfortable with a provider. Side effects from psychiatric medications are less than fun. Some are so bad that people simply stop taking them. It’s recommended that they don’t without speaking to the prescribing doctor, but this is not always done. It also helps if you feel like you can open up to your mental health provider. If you can’t, it makes you less likely to want to go back. It’s okay to want to switch. There’s someone out there for you.

The Dangers Below the Surface

When you leave your mental health unchecked, things can go very bad. The things on this list are possibilities:

  1. Worsening mental health status. As time goes by, your mind can go into some dark places if left unchecked. It may become harder to treat the issues. Longer and more intensive treatment may be needed.
  2. Unexplained physical symptoms. Sometimes our bodies begin to show wear after a certain amount of time of not being cared for. Our muscles stay tense, sleep becomes restless or harder to come by, eating may become irregular.
  3. Job and home instability. During a severe mental health episode, it may become difficult or even impossible to go to work. This can lead to losing a job and/or home.
  4. Incarceration. During episodes, there may be behaviors that lead to arrests, like indecent exposure, assaults, etc. These would not occur otherwise but in an altered state, people may not think clearly. There are millions sitting in jails and prisons with mental illnesses, many with severe mental illness (SMI).
  5. Victimization. Sadly, some with mental illness are more likely to become victims of violence than others due to past incidents and/or altered levels of functioning.
  6. Suicide. Many suicides are attributed to untreated mental illness. It’s not a failure or a lack of coping skills. Sometimes you get stuck in a moment you literally cannot see yourself getting out of. That’s when tragedy strikes.

Mental health treatment is well worth the time and money. You are worth the time and money.

Have you had problems with accessing mental health services?

For more information on accessing online therapy, please see Better Help

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Information courtesy of Psychology Today

Getting Assistance for Your Child: Essential Questions to Ask

It’s Not a Parenting Failure to Get Help

I once told my mother that there is a reason that people spend a long time in school, take really hard tests (in some cases, more than once. I’ve been told the BCBA exam is horribly difficult) and get observed for a lot of hours to become mental health professionals. They are dedicated to what they want to do. They have to continue that education by taking classes and renewing their licenses every so often. States want to make sure these professionals know what they are doing and do so ethically. I also told her that there is only so much that I can do as a parent, even knowing what I do. There are a lot of things that I don’t know, and that’s why I felt that at one point, it was time to get outside help for my kids.

In Lily’s case, there wasn’t much of an option. Her delays were severe and required outside help. She needed help learning how to walk, talk and do other tasks that I couldn’t have taught her on my own. In the beginning, I really did blame myself, but after hearing that there was no way I caused her delays, I felt a lot better.

Julian definitely caused some debate. I knew what I was working with after he was diagnosed, and yes, I could have worked with him on my own. With two other kids and a full-time job, plus not really knowing what to do or how to do it, it really was time for the pros. He’s been to group therapy for social skills, which helped a lot. Every Tuesday for almost his entire third-grade year, he got out of school early to go to group. He learned how to interact with others appropriately, to speak up, along with other things. Julian is a quiet kid by nature, and we’re okay with this.

I just don’t want him to be so quiet that he is ignored or entirely left out. He has also seen a psychiatrist, and we loved her. Unfortunately, she had to stop seeing patients after some post-birth complications, so now he sees a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

It is okay to get outside help. We’re not just parents- we are also humans. We don’t know everything, and that’s okay. Your child will benefit greatly from outside services.

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Finding Assistance

There are many ways to find providers, it mainly depends on what you need and if you already have someone helping you, like a social worker or someone similar. If you’re looking on your own, it always helps to start by asking other parents you know that are in a similar situation. You can also ask your child’s pediatrician.

That’s where we started with both Lily and Julian. We moved around a bit by referral. It just so happens I used to work with the psychiatrist that started the practice that Julian is at now. (He’s absolutely great, but for obvious reasons, he can’t see Julian.) If nothing else, there is always Google. Google is everyone’s friend.

A Few Definitions:

Provider- a professional that provides some sort of service for your child

BCBA- Board Certified Behavior Analyst (these people do great things, lots of behavior modification, addressing challenging behavior, among other things)

DSP- Direct Support Provider (people who come into your home and work with your child on life skills, social skills and other things they may need. I worked as one for about a year and it was a lot of fun.)

Respite Care- to give parents or other caregivers time to care for themselves, run errands, etc while their child is being cared for.

I highly recommend checking with your health insurance carrier/Medicaid to see what is covered. These services can get very expensive, and insurance paperwork can be a huge challenge. Waiting lists are a thing and can be very long. It can be a bit weird seeing people you don’t know in your home and working with your child. This may take a while to adjust, especially if there are multiple people. Lily had three therapists a week at one point and it was a very weird thing. If you need to set limits, set them and be as firm as you need to be.

What You Should Ask

There are some questions that can’t be missed like:

  • What is your availability?
  • What experience do you have with this population?
  • Are there behaviors that you feel are too challenging for you? Everyone has their limits, and this is okay. My personal limit is spitting. Can’t do it.
  • How do you view your relationship with the rest of the family- siblings, parents, etc?
  • Best way to reach you? Phone, email, text?
  • How will you update me on my child’s progress/needs?
  • Emergency preparedness? Most agencies have trained their workers on a plan for this, so make sure to ask. The practice I worked for had a very detailed plan for injuries, weather and other emergencies.
  • References.

Of course, follow your intuition on the people/places you look at. If it doesn’t look right for you, most likely it isn’t. You will know when you find the right place or person for your child. Call those references. Read through the notes you made during the interviews. Do your research. You’ll thank yourself later. If you are looking for your child to be part of a practice, the questions above will be slightly different. Most places will allow a walk-through and give you someone to talk to. They’ll be able to answer questions, give you information to take home, and follow up.

The road of parenting is sometimes a rough and bumpy one. Looking for outside help is just a small speed bump.

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Information courtesy of Seattle Children’s Blog

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Easy Peasy Pleasy

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Twin Mummy and Daddy

Brilliant blog posts on HonestMum.com

Moving Forward: The Last Fifty Years of Psychiatry

I’ve read a lot about the history of psychiatry. It’s interesting. Lately, I’ve taken an interest in reading about how patients were treated in the past in “asylums”, now called mental health facilities.

Most of the treatments would now be considered illegal. Many of those psychiatrists, nurses and “orderlies” (today, they would be called mental health workers) would be fired and probably jailed, among other punishments.

The buildings were in terrible shape, the patients were barely fed, clothed and heavily medicated so they wouldn’t have to be dealt with. When the staff did have to do anything with them, it was far from therapeutic. Many patients were terribly abused- physically, sexually and emotionally. This is a horrifying thing to me, as a person that has spent their career working with patients in various settings. Even if I didn’t, I still have a heart and it’s just wrong. I discussed this a bit in Book Review: “For Their Own Good”

Call me a “psych nerd” if you will, but I didn’t spend 5 years getting a BA for nothing, everyone. I’d go back for a Master’s, but the way my short-term memory is set up, I’d need someone to re-read my notes to me daily. School isn’t an option for me at this point, so therefore I read. A lot. My specialty is not in pharmacology or neurology (that’s why my insurance pays my adorable neurologist to give me shots to prevent migraines every 12 weeks) so I’m going to skip all the great big words today and break it down to the good parts.

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The Progress- Medication Is A Good Thing

Over the last 50 years, medications have been coming out quite often. There are so many commercials for anti-depressants these days, I’ve lost count. The side effects of psychiatric medications started out to be bad ones- for example, tardive dyskensia. This is about the worst side effect I have ever seen in a medication.

It was mainly seen in the very first hardcore medications, like Thorazine, which came out in the 1950s. This affects facial muscles, and they can twitch horribly, on either one side or both sides of the face. It can be stopped if the doctor is told quickly, and the dosage is lowered or medication is stopped completely (another issue within itself) but once it sets in, it is most likely permanent. It can also come in the form of tongue clicking. The patient may not always realize that the movements are going on and that can put off the timing in which the doctor is notified.

These days, this side effect has been greatly lessened thanks to the ability of patients to notify their doctors and the FDA of adverse side effects and the reformulation of this and similar medications. Weight gain has been another big woe for many that take anti-depressants and other psychiatric medications. There are medications currently being released that are weight-neutral so that patients aren’t so afraid to take them. This can be a relief. It’s not fun to take meds when you worry about gaining 15 lbs in 2 months. Some stop taking their meds for this reason.

Another advantage of medication over the years is extended release- patients don’t have to take as many pills during the day. In other medications, this may not be an option, but in many psychiatric medications, including Julian’s ADHD meds, the extended release option can be a great thing. It allows patients to plan their days a bit easier without having to stop and take pills throughout the day. There still may be a need to take night medications, but it’s definitely an improvement.

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The Larger Changes- Treatment As A Whole

Brain imaging has become a way to help with understanding the brain structure regarding mood and psychiatric disorders. This helps with research that will assist future diagnoses and book writing. Genetics are being used to help with diagnosis. It is starting to be seen that many psychiatric disorders are caused by a gene and environment interaction, which again leads to further research. This can help those in the future know signs and how to help others.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a movement to deinstitutionalize patients. Many had been in facilites for years and weren’t prepared for life outside them, so when they were released, many started committing crimes and/or using substances, which led to jail. Currently, there is a movement to avoid jail when possible and move those in this situation towards a rehabilitation facility, mental health facility (in or outpatient) or into another setting. Jail or prison is not a good setting for those with mental health issues.

Many insurance companies only cover so many days of an inpatient stay at a rehabilitation or mental health facility. I’ve seen people leave facilities that I worked in for this reason, even though they were not ready. This usually leads to them coming back because the issue they came in for wasn’t resolved. This leaves me at a loss. Most people cannot afford to cover the days left over after the insurance stops paying but yet need the treatment. What options does one have besides leaving? Many outpatient facilitites do operate on a sliding scale, which is a wonderful thing, but there are a lot of people that need the specialized care that inpatient facilities provide.

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There are now laws and regulations against patient abuse. Thanks to the jobs I’ve had, I have learned a lot about them. Unfortunately, there are people that break them everyday and those people should not be working in this field. There are also a lot of policies out there and whole agencies that make sure mental health facilites are clean, safe and make sure their employees are well-trained. (I seriously hated those inspections. I won’t lie.) Each state has its own set of laws on how to get someone an emergency psychiatric evaluation. It’s not easy or pretty to do so, but it can save a life. These laws have come into focus over the last couple of decades.

Advocacy has also made a huge splash. There are so many groups that have started to advcocate for those with mental illness. NAMI and AFSP are just two groups, but there are many more.

Moving Forward

There is always progress to be made. I’m curious and pretty much don’t stop reading, so I’ll be learning more as this field grows.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Information courtesy of: Health Affairs

A Beginner’s Guide to ADHD

Most kids are not quiet. They tend to be loud, run around and get into things. Some kids are a bit more adventurous than others. They are easier to anger, yell or interrupt us. Maybe all of the above and more. This can go on for years past the “terrible twos”, which is supposed to end by age four at the latest.

The Trip Into the Unknown

There is not a certain day that I knew that something was a bit different with Julian. I just knew. That story can be read in Looking At The Bright Side

It’s incredibly difficult to realize that your child may need to be evaluated for any reason. You may question yourself as a person, as a parent. I did this daily. Matthew did this towards me and things went badly between us after that.

There are many books to help get you through the diagnosis and afterward, but what about the unknown? There are support groups for this. I’m in a couple on Facebook, both local and non-local. They’re helpful for almost any question I’ve had in 6 years.

The unknown is scary. Why didn’t I see this earlier? What’s next? What about when my child is an adult? What about medication? These are just a few questions.

Just about every parent has a moment that snaps them into action- a play date gone bad, daycare/school issues or other similar reasons. I realized things were adding up to not being the way they should be. Julian was still having loud and destructive tantrums, very aggressive and his siblings were scared of him. Plus he had problems sleeping and was very hyper.

Julian and a worm

Julian has always loved bugs..one of many

Looking For The Signs

The signs of ADHD are usually hit-you-in-the-face obvious, at least with boys. With girls, it may be less obvious and diagnosed later. Many boys are diagnosed as early as four or five (Julian was five) but because of personality differences, most girls are diagnosed as late as 10 or 11, if not older.

This information can be found on Additude Magazine

Main Signs of ADHD:

  1. Problems with concentration and/or retaining focus on school work, household chores, etc. This can mean incomplete work, half done chores, missing homework, etc.
  2. Easily sidetracked or loses focus.
  3. Doesn’t seem to listen when being spoken to, like their mind is off somewhere else.
  4. Difficulty keeping belongings organized- school supplies, sports equipment, or even losing clothes, glasses or toys.
  5. Forgetful in daily activities. This can include chores, homework or other things asked of the child.
  6. Often has problems sitting still, staying in one place, seems driven by a motor or “fidgety”.
  7. Talks excessively and/or constantly interrupting others’ conversations.
  8. Difficulty waiting their turn.
  9. Runs and/or climbs in inappropriate situations.
  10. Intrudes on others repeatedly.

There is a timeline that these behaviors have to be observed for, and this leads me to the next step.

What’s Next?

I highly recommend speaking to your child’s pediatrician. They will know how to screen him/her for ADHD and if needed, refer them for testing. Julian was first seen by his pediatrician and then evaluated by a neuropsychologist.

If your pediatrician screens your child for ADHD, they will have you fill out a questionnaire and have your child’s teacher fill one out if that applies. It’s a pretty simple questionnaire. It helps them see what is going on from your perspective and an educational one.

The same will occur if you are sent for an evaluation. The evaluation may be one day or spread out over two. This depends on the testing itself and your child.

Each practice differs on results, so please ask about how long those take when you are setting things up. The wait can be excruciating. Our wait was two weeks but it crept by.

A painting at school

Mother’s Day 2012 at school

Moving Into The Future

Once you have a diagnosis, you will have a better idea of what to do. There are options, depending on what you feel works for your child and family. Medications aren’t for everyone but they definitely help. Julian has been medicated since not long after his diagnosis. It was a difficult decision to medicate a 5-year old that was already small for his age, but I am very glad that I chose that route.

Most kids with ADHD struggle in some way socially, and Julian is one of them. This didn’t surprise me since he also has autism, but it also broke my heart numerous times. He was placed in social skills therapy, as recommended by his former psychiatrist.

This social skills group was great and he went for almost a year. He learned a lot and has made a lot of progress in this area. I will discuss getting outside help for kids with autism and other disabilities in an upcoming post.

The main options include:

  1. Medication
  2. Therapy- occupational, social, physical, and/or for emotional issues
  3. A combination
  4. As recommended by your child’s pediatrician.
All done with group therapy

Finishing group therapy!

ADHD can be a hard diagnosis to figure out, especially in the beginning. There’s still a lot of stigma behind it- if others around understand more, we can help our kids be understood a lot better.

Have you had issues with getting your child screened for ADHD? Are you worried about a child that is showing symptoms? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

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