Mental Health Wellness Tips for Quarantine

Sharing these tips from Dr. Eileen Feliciano, a doctoral level Psychologist in NYS with a Psy.D. in the specialties of School and Clinical Psychology.

After having thirty-one sessions this week with patients where the singular focus was COVID-19 and how to cope, I decided to consolidate my advice and make a list that I hope is helpful to all. I can’t control a lot of what is going on right now, but I can contribute this.

MENTAL HEALTH WELLNESS TIPS FOR QUARANTINE

  1. Stick to a routine. Go to sleep and wake up at a reasonable time, write a schedule that is varied and includes time for work as well as self-care.
  2. Dress for the social life you want, not the social life you have. Get showered and dressed in comfortable clothes, wash your face, brush your teeth. Take the time to do a bath or a facial. Put on some bright colors. It is amazing how our dress can impact our mood.
  3. Get out at least once a day, for at least thirty minutes. If you are concerned of contact, try first thing in the morning, or later in the evening, and try less traveled streets and avenues. If you are high risk or living with those who are high risk, open the windows and blast the fan. It is amazing how much fresh air can do for spirits.
  4. Find some time to move each day, again daily for at least thirty minutes. If you don’t feel comfortable going outside, there are many YouTube videos that offer free movement classes, and if all else fails, turn on the music and have a dance party!
  5. Reach out to others, you guessed it, at least once daily for thirty minutes. Try to do FaceTime, Skype, phone calls, texting—connect with other people to seek and provide support. Don’t forget to do this for your children as well. Set up virtual playdates with friends daily via FaceTime, Facebook Messenger Kids, Zoom, etc—your kids miss their friends, too!
  6. Stay hydrated and eat well. This one may seem obvious, but stress and eating often don’t mix well, and we find ourselves over-indulging, forgetting to eat, and avoiding food. Drink plenty of water, eat some good and nutritious foods, and challenge yourself to learn how to cook something new!
  7. Develop a self-care toolkit. This can look different for everyone. A lot of successful self-care strategies involve a sensory component (seven senses: touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell, vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (comforting pressure). An idea for each: a soft blanket or stuffed animal, a hot chocolate, photos of vacations, comforting music, lavender or eucalyptus oil, a small swing or rocking chair, a weighted blanket. A journal, an inspirational book, or a mandala coloring book is wonderful, bubbles to blow or blowing watercolor on paper through a straw are visually appealing as well as work on controlled breath. Mint gum, Listerine strips, ginger ale, frozen Starburst, ice packs, and cold are also good for anxiety regulation. For children, it is great to help them create a self-regulation comfort box (often a shoe-box or bin they can decorate) that they can use on the ready for first-aid when overwhelmed.
  8. Spend extra time playing with children. Children will rarely communicate how they are feeling, but will often make a bid for attention and communication through play. Don’t be surprised to see therapeutic themes of illness, doctor visits, and isolation play through. Understand that play is cathartic and helpful for children—it is how they process their world and problem solve, and there’s a lot they are seeing and experiencing in the now.
  9. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and a wide berth. A lot of cooped up time can bring out the worst in everyone. Each person will have moments when they will not be at their best. It is important to move with grace through blowups, to not show up to every argument you are invited to, and to not hold grudges and continue disagreements. Everyone is doing the best they can to make it through this.
  10. Everyone find their own retreat space. Space is at a premium, particularly with city living. It is important that people think through their own separate space for work and for relaxation. For children, help them identify a place where they can go to retreat when stressed. You can make this place cozy by using blankets, pillows, cushions, scarves, beanbags, tents, and “forts”. It is good to know that even when we are on top of each other, we have our own special place to go to be alone.
  11. Expect behavioral issues in children, and respond gently. We are all struggling with disruption in routine, none more than children, who rely on routines constructed by others to make them feel safe and to know what comes next. Expect increased anxiety, worries and fears, nightmares, difficulty separating or sleeping, testing limits, and meltdowns. Do not introduce major behavioral plans or consequences at this time—hold stable and focus on emotional connection.
  12. Focus on safety and attachment. We are going to be living for a bit with the unprecedented demand of meeting all work deadlines, homeschooling children, running a sterile household, and making a whole lot of entertainment in confinement. We can get wrapped up in meeting expectations in all domains, but we must remember that these are scary and unpredictable times for children. Focus on strengthening the connection through time spent following their lead, through physical touch, through play, through therapeutic books, and via verbal reassurances that you will be there for them in this time.
  13. Lower expectations and practice radical self-acceptance. This idea is connected with #12. We are doing too many things in this moment, under fear and stress. This does not make a formula for excellence. Instead, give yourself what psychologists call “radical self acceptance”: accepting everything about yourself, your current situation, and your life without question, blame, or pushback. You cannot fail at this—there is no roadmap, no precedent for this, and we are all truly doing the best we can in an impossible situation.
  14. Limit social media and COVID conversation, especially around children. One can find tons of information on COVID-19 to consume, and it changes minute to minute. The information is often sensationalized, negatively skewed, and alarmist. Find a few trusted sources that you can check in with consistently, limit it to a few times a day, and set a time limit for yourself on how much you consume (again 30 minutes tops, 2-3 times daily). Keep news and alarming conversations out of earshot from children—they see and hear everything, and can become very frightened by what they hear.
  15. Notice the good in the world, the helpers. There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information to take in regarding this pandemic. There are also a ton of stories of people sacrificing, donating, and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counter-balance the heavy information with the hopeful information.
  16. Help others. Find ways, big and small, to give back to others. Support restaurants, offer to grocery shop, check in with elderly neighbors, write psychological wellness tips for others—helping others gives us a sense of agency when things seem out of control.
  17. 17. Find something you can control, and control the heck out of it. In moments of big uncertainty and overwhelm, control your little corner of the world. Organize your bookshelf, purge your closet, put together that furniture, group your toys. It helps to anchor and ground us when the bigger things are chaotic.
  18. Find a long-term project to dive into. Now is the time to learn how to play the keyboard, put together a huge jigsaw puzzle, start a 15 hour game of Risk, paint a picture, read the Harry Potter series, binge watch an 8-season show, crochet a blanket, solve a Rubix cube, or develop a new town in Animal Crossing. Find something that will keep you busy, distracted, and engaged to take breaks from what is going on in the outside world.
  19. Engage in repetitive movements and left-right movements. Research has shown that repetitive movement (knitting, coloring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping etc) especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping) can be effective at self-soothing and maintaining self-regulation in moments of distress.
  20. Find an expressive art and go for it. Our emotional brain is very receptive to the creative arts, and it is a direct portal for release of feeling. Find something that is creative (sculpting, drawing, dancing, music, singing, playing) and give it your all. See how relieved you can feel. It is a very effective way of helping kids to emote and communicate as well!
  21. Find lightness and humor in each day. There is a lot to be worried about, and with good reason. Counterbalance this heaviness with something funny each day: cat videos on YouTube, a stand-up show on Netflix, a funny movie—we all need a little comedic relief in our day, every day.
  22. Reach out for help—your team is there for you. If you have a therapist or psychiatrist, they are available to you, even at a distance. Keep up your medications and your therapy sessions the best you can. If you are having difficulty coping, seek out help for the first time. There are mental health people on the ready to help you through this crisis. Your children’s teachers and related service providers will do anything within their power to help, especially for those parents tasked with the difficult task of being a whole treatment team to their child with special challenges. Seek support groups of fellow home-schoolers, parents, and neighbors to feel connected. There is help and support out there, any time of the day—although we are physically distant, we can always connect virtually.
  23. “Chunk” your quarantine, take it moment by moment. We have no road map for this. We don’t know what this will look like in 1 day, 1 week, or 1 month from now. Often, when I work with patients who have anxiety around overwhelming issues, I suggest that they engage in a strategy called “chunking”—focusing on whatever bite-sized piece of a challenge that feels manageable. Whether that be 5 minutes, a day, or a week at a time—find what feels doable for you, and set a time stamp for how far ahead in the future you will let yourself worry. Take each chunk one at a time, and move through stress in pieces.
  24. Remind yourself daily that this is temporary. It seems in the midst of this quarantine that it will never end. It is terrifying to think of the road stretching ahead of us. Please take time to remind yourself that although this is very scary and difficult, and will go on for an undetermined amount of time, it is a season of life and it will pass. We will return to feeing free, safe, busy, and connected in the days ahead.
  25. Find the lesson. This whole crisis can seem sad, senseless, and at times, avoidable. When psychologists work with trauma, a key feature to helping someone work through said trauma is to help them find their agency, the potential positive outcomes they can effect, the meaning and construction that can come out of destruction. What can each of us learn here, in big and small ways, from this crisis? What needs to change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world?

 

I Am Our Faith, As Is Everyone

By Henry Katzman, Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Network Board Member

The divinity of my experience is inarguable, as it is inarguable in all. To deny the “Worth and Dignity” of anyone based on the divergence of mind, is sacrilegious to our faith. Unitarian Universalism is a faith of devotional welcoming, claiming inclusivity of “All Creeds.” But I ask, can radical inclusivity exist when those we deem mentally ill are wrapped in a blanket of savior-like protection.

Within our congregations some feel the need to save, heal and ultimately perpetuate an idealism of health so undefinable we categorize it by what it is not. My illness (a word I’ve beginning to reject), has indisputably brought suffering in my life; changing my concurrent perspective. My “illness” although not all my conception of self, is part of who and why I am.

To be “cured” of my chronic condition is admittedly impossible and after years within the medical realm of invasive treatment, the consensus that this is true stands. So, I ask, how can I be faithful in a world where I am told my reality is one that is delusional, in contrast to what I experience? How can I be faithful, when those who, deemed sane, fix me and tell me what my faith ought to be.

Naturally I believe in my own divinity “created in their image” and as a theist, I believe that to hold true for all creation. To try to save me from my own divinity seems to defeat the purpose of acknowledging such. Marginalizing differential experience in the Unitarian Universalist faith must be looked upon and fought as if it is (and it very well may be) antithetical to the seven Principles and the six Sources.

I spread this condemnation of saviorhood to all peoples that are asked to assimilate to the “just and logical.” I have witnessed this in our siblings of faith facing other marginalizations. Often our community asks, “Change so we, may be feel at ease, unchallenged in our sense of self.” When directing this at those who are neurodivergent, not only is this adjustment asked, but an impossible task of moral consideration and reconciliation is imposed. For the “healthy” assume the experience of the unhealthy by knowing what it is not.

The divinity of my experience is inarguable. Truly I find myself challenged by my faithful communities, but because of my faith in right relations and the intrinsic power of systemic change, I stay. The divinity of my experience is inarguable, as is the divinity of others, knowing that intention to protect comes from an intention to progress towards what others see as “health”.

Along my journey I have learned that intention cannot always be trusted. Instead I trust in the divine source of creation, asking them for trust. Trust that I am human, not a patient who must be eradicated or a sad story to weep for. I trust that I am created in their image; that although I suffer, uniquely, I have been exposed to unique lessons that transcend the marginalization of staying in community that asks for me to colonize my experience.

I once thought that I was too ill to live and now I think I am too ill to die. The faith of Unitarian Universalism is mine; I claim a spot in the circle of life, with dignity afforded to my fellow worshipers. I love our faith; I feel anger towards our faith; I feel everything towards our faith. The dialectics flow, but what I do know is this: I am our faith, as is everyone.

I am Severely Mentally Ill, and I am Unitarian Universalist.

You Were an Interesting Case, poetry by Ellie White

 

About the author: Ellie White holds an MFA from Old Dominion University. She writes poetry and nonfiction. She has won an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, and has been nominated for both Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Breakwater Review, SLANT, The Columbia Review, Foundry and many other journals. Ellie’s second chapbook, Drift, was recently published by Dancing Girl Press. Her first full-length collection will be released by Unsolicited Press on December 31st, 2019. She is a social media editor and reader for Muzzle Magazine. Ellie currently rents a basement in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia.  To read more of her work, visit her website: elliewhitewrites.com

Ellie White,  is a relative of current UU Mental Health Network board member, Erin White. 

Content Warning:  This poem discusses the experience of being hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.  

You Were an Interesting Case

i. Going In

The day you looked Death in the face and told it
to fuck all the way off,
a pretty counselor walked beside you through the student center.
The police kindly kept their distance until you arrived
at the car, where the older one helped you fasten your seatbelt
across the gray plastic seat. It was so low,
you barely had to scrunch down.
At the hospital, a nurse took your vitals, and then led you
through a series of push-button doors.
On opening, each one leaned awkwardly away from its partner.
The nurse left you in the observation area and after a while,
the counselor left, too.
A new nurse came and drew your blood. Then, a different one came
with pizza and French fries. The dessert, of course,
was unidentifiable and your roommate laughed at it when he popped by
to say hello. The food nurse wanted a urine sample.
Though you’d never been arrested,
the bathroom reminded you of jail. The steel toilet was smeared
with shit. The handicap rails sported brown handprints.
You thought it best not to complain.
Like a good student, you answered every question, called your family, even emailed
your study partner. Angry and rejected, Death looked on.
You both cried a little bit.
Eventually, you were taken upstairs.

 

ii The Red Woman

Long before Death came into the picture, she was there. The Red Woman: a pure and vivacious rage. On a long and drunken walk home last April, she slipped into your shoe like a pebble from the riverbank. Your mind slid into her like a warm bath. She said Break the mirror. Punch the wall. and your body obeyed. The next morning, you could only finger the bruises as you watched the coffee brew. Summer was a blur. She’d show up, sometimes empty-handed, sometimes with a bottle of cheap Pinot, and the world was only corners. Only knives, and walls, and mirrors, and morning after morning with dried blood and Mr. Coffee. You didn’t bother with band aids or explanations. In late July, you finally let her move in, even got a new tattoo to mark the occasion: a keyhole on your ribs, so she could see out. But when she invited Death into your bed last night, you knew they both had to go. You didn’t know she was here at the hospital until a disheveled woman in a blue nightgown wandered into your supposedly safe room at 5 a.m. Under a blanket that reeked of sour spit, greasy scalps, and piss, you pretended to be asleep. She muttered White bitches. Why are all these white bitches lying in these beds? Just lying. I will set this whole place on fire. I’ll burn every last one of these white bitches up.     

 

iii. Humor

In the event you should like to make a joke,
ask to borrow the red marker. Use it to carefully color in
the letters on your milk carton. Try to imagine you are climbing
the hills of the M, or perhaps they are sand dunes,
or snow drifts. You haven’t been outside
in four days. It’s meditation hour,
so the television screen in the activity room is taunting you
with piney forests, austere mountain lakes, fields of wildflowers, and random deer.
The accompanying music is of the “serene” variety
usually reserved for acupuncturist’s offices.
Speaking of needles, you got this milk carton from an addict.
He drinks at least three milks with every meal,
but has no teeth so it’s hard to tell if he’s absorbing the calcium.
In his honor, and the Red Woman’s too, if you’re being honest, you add
a festive drop of blood just beneath
the straddled legs of the K. You show it first
to the friendly old man who almost killed his brother-in-law last week.
You tell him Hey look, it’s milk for vampires.
Then, you turn to the bearded woman coloring a butterfly who recently mistook her chest
for a knife block and say Got any Kotex?
I think the K sprung a leak.
On the screen, an unidentifiable farm animal (goat? sheep?) grazes
near the base of an oak tree. Behind it, gray mountains rise
like the constant prayers of the pregnant sex worker sitting one table over.
Nobody laughs. It’s not that kind of joke.

 

iv. Valium/Atarax

The Lord doesn’t speak to you like he did to your cousin. Instead, you watch from the flooded floor of the shower room as the Red Woman slithers aboard the dark ship, the one that carried Tennyson’s good King Arthur away. She is a serpent with an apple in her belly. Or maybe she is a ghost like the king. The king is still here somewhere, though poor Sir Bedivere has long since gone home to his grief. The Red Woman rocks with the ship; the night and the water indistinguishable from sleep. She once said she was heartless, so you lent her yours. She returned it seemingly intact save for a single splinter, bright and growing like winter’s dawn. In the galley, the Red Woman taps her foot on a rotting floor, and somehow, this translates as a pulse. She begins to dance a waltz, her bare blue feet finding every corner, brown toenails snapping off one by one, and your mind becomes the air in a car speeding past a country graveyard, prickly and full of gasps.  

 

v. Diagnosis and Discharge

Praise the three wise doctors,
for they have given it a name,
and that name has been fruitful
and multiplied. Now, there’s a word
for the days you spent drifting in and out
on the couch, binge-watching BBC period dramas
and forgetting to eat. A word
for the first two weeks of every quarter
in junior year when you never stopped.
Best of all, a pair of words for the intolerable sharpness,
the screaming thoughts and tapping fingers,
the toe-stubbing agony of sitting through lecture classes.
With this new vocabulary came little white pills,
each one a pure and perfect prayer to stop
the swinging. This is what they sent you home with.
Your mother met you on the other side of the doors,
and you let her hug you, let her see
her youngest and most difficult child
still intact. Your apartment looked like it did
five days ago. True to their nature, the cats purred
as they wound their steadfast and thready love around your feet.
The nose ring they made you take out
slid back in with minimal fuss.
You took a long shower,
conditioned your hair, put on nice deodorant.
You’d missed yourself too much to put on clothes,
so you crawled into bed naked. While you lay there
watching Girl, Interrupted and realizing no one
would believe any of this happened,
Death and the Red Woman sat in your kitchen.

* This poem originally appeared in Barely South Review

Even U.U.s need learning.

by Tim Fromla

I read a post on Facebook and am glad that a member of our group pointed this out

I’m at GA. I just attended UUA GA 2019 Workshop “Combatting Destructive Behavior and White Supremacy Culture”. When a speaker segued from the behaviors to discussion on “destructive behavior policy development”, she inferred some ‘behaviors’ as “… people not taking their meds”.

That did not sit well with me.

During Q/A (just minutes later) I called them on the ableism. The speaker apologized. Another thanked me (that she learned something) and another said MH is a sticky subject for POC.

I get all of that.

I fear, however, that by limiting discussion to racism, ableism is now alive and well.

I do experience mental health issues, am on medication, and a PoC myself. My mental health is the opposite of those mentioned by the speaker. I am, by many, appear to be an introvert and my illness has hindered many opportunities in my life. Most of my work was hard labor, as my anxiety failed me to get that proverbial cushy job. I was in all intent and purpose, a victim of ableism. Even with an MBA, I could not go past the interview phase of any job. Being a PoC did not help much either. So I remained to do the construction job and nearly destroyed my body.

I then decided to return to school and start a new career. I am now majoring in Marriage and Family Therapy. Besides a better paying career, the hiring process is a lot easier as those who do the hiring tend to be more empathetic to those with disabilities.

Not every person who has a mental health issue is an extrovert. There are people who think I’m an introvert when I am a chatty extrovert. When my world collapse around me, I don’t want anyone to know. In class, I can keep my mouth shut and not participate. If I do, I would have an anxiety attack and shut down.

The good thing was, the person I’m quoting brought up the faux pas and the speaker apologized. It’s great to know that our G.A. recognizes mental health issues, but I would hope that our regional and local churches recognize this organization.

I also found out that we have new members too.  The messaging, I hope, will change when someone who is schizophrenic or experience depression would be treated like someone who has the flu or cold and not typecasted like a gun-toting maniac.

It’s great to meet new members and I hope this group expands too.

 

 

Our Covenant

The following is a covenant that the early participants in the UU Mental Health Network created to govern their relationships with each other and those outside the group.  The intent is to have all members of the UU Mental Health agree to abide by it.  Comments and reflections are welcome 

UU Mental Health Network Covenant

Keeping a covenant requires commitment, and work, and includes promise-making, promise-breaking, forgiveness and reconciliation. A covenant means walking together in this process of being human. 

As leaders of the UU Mental Health Network, we covenant to:

  • Offer support to each other, to the UU community, and society at large on mental health-related issues
    • We will be respectful of each other and of UUs and other people who we interface with.
    • If we have differing views we will seek to discuss them peacefully and respectfully keeping the goal of being helpful to and serving individuals with mental health difficulties and their loved ones in congregations and in the wider society.  
    • We will seek to understand problems that people in congregations are living with mental health challenges, and become a voice for them in the denomination and beyond.
    • We will be attentive to mental health-related problems of people of differing ethnicities, people born in different cultures, and people with differing sexualities and gender identities.
    • We will accept that each person’s experience and perception is valid.
    • We will do our best to speak and write openly, honestly, and respectfully, with clarity, and tact, practicing compassion towards ourselves and others.
    • We will do our best to listen carefully, with an open mind and open heart, to what others say.
    • We will do our best to assume good intentions in others.
    • We may talk honestly about our own mental health experience, but we won’t give other people advice on medical or alternative treatments.  
    • We will respect confidentiality.
    • We will highlight problem areas with suggested changes for improvement and for seeking justice.
    • We will look for the ethical/moral/religious aspect in the issues we are addressing, relating them to UU Principles when appropriate.
  • Keep a list of resources available in our local communities and beyond
    • We will give support and use our knowledge of options and resources available.  To give options, we will cultivate a network of referrals to organizations.
    • We will continue learning about the field of mental health, both its history and the new researches in the field.
    • We will reflect on our own accomplishments

 

  • When the covenant has been broken, that is, when one of these promises isn’t kept, we will figure out how to get back into covenant. The person who has broken the covenant will work with others in the covenanted community to determine what needs to be done in terms of forgiveness and reconciliation to get back into covenant.

 

Listening as a Sacred Art

By Alice A. Holstein, Ed.D.

aholstein@centurytel.net  www.aliceholstein.net

The fact that I was asked  to say a few brief words in April about my experience with mental illness to hospital clinicians where I am on an advisory board to the Behavioral Health unit, prompts me to share several of my experiences where the fact that someone listened to me was life-giving if not life-saving.  Listening is such a simple thing, you say?  My experience is otherwise. Instead, we are full of advice, argument and judgment. When we are truly listened to, however, from the heart and sometimes with the specific skills of “active listening,” profound healing is possible. Newfound strength and empowerment can occur.

My experiences suffering with bipolar mood disorder include some dramatic examples, partly because I lived sometimes on the streets when I was really sick (not because I was truly homeless but because I was either separated from my assets or too paranoid to tap them).  One of those times was after I had been released from the hospital after a manic episode. Upon discharge, they did not ask me where I would be staying, and I was still somewhat delusional, so I did not have the capacity to think clearly for myself.  I was on foot, without such things as credit cards or money.

The night (in La Crosse, WI) was chilly and rainy.  I knew I needed help, but newly arrived in my hometown after 40 years absence, did not know how to meet that need. After stopping at one place where there was “no room at the inn,” I was referred down the street to St. Rose convent late in the evening. Fortunately, they let me in through their locked door and then they called one of the Franciscan sisters to the receiving room.  Immediately I told her that I thought I was going to die and needed some help to arrange for some of my possessions, such as valuable jewelry, to be sent back to my Tucson home and the executor of my estate. I think the sense that I was going to die came from two sources; one was that I had been off my thyroid meds for some 5 months, which is life-threatening, and the other was that being back in my hometown signaled the fact that I was dying to an old, sick self that had finally found some safety in this place that had been the last one I had ever wanted to live.

The nun just listened to me.  She did not try to talk me out of that story, nor to give advice.  She merely listened with careful attention, holding my hand at one point and praying with me. She had no solution to my dilemma of a place to stay, but I was somehow strengthened enough to go back out into the rainy night and make my way to a Catholic Worker house nearby.  It was closed, but there was a small children’s playhouse in the backyard where I curled up and fell asleep. The next morning, when they opened, I proceeded to use their phone to begin making arrangements for temporary housing.  I was restored enough to health to begin making rational decisions about how to help myself.

Another time a nurse who knew how to listen silently, with great compassion, made a huge difference to my well-being.  I was in the hospital on a Chapter 51 commitment (where you are judged a danger to yourself or others), dealing with an authoritarian doctor who would NOT listen to me about how sensitive I am to medications, which he was prescribing in heavy doses. He proceeded to threaten me with sentencing to the state mental institution for several months, which would have been a disaster since I lived alone without anyone I could ask to run my life while I would be gone.  Besides that, I felt as though I did not need his solution. I asked for a change in doctors, but he denied the request.

 I ended up sobbing in utter despair at the nurse’s station. The nurse did not speak one word to me. She too just held my hand and merely, but hugely just listened. There was no advice nor direction given, but I could feel and almost taste her compassion. Eventually I was able to return to my room where I had the strength to call for the patient advocate.

With the advocate’s help I was then able to document my situation and the course of these patient-doctor conversations strongly enough that the lawyer who was to assist with the Chapter 51 hearing put me on the stand in my own defense. The judge subsequently ruled that the doctor-patient relationship was broken; I was awarded the opportunity for a new psychiatrist. That nurse saved me from a traumatic, costly, demeaning and unmanageable situation.  I can remember us sitting in the nursing station as if it was yesterday.

Both of these situations speak for themselves.  Listening, without judgement, with compassion and love, is a sacred art. I think it is rare in this world, but whenever I was just listened to in such a way, I was validated and able to “return to my normal self” more quickly. I think we have hundreds of opportunities to listen effectively in a day or a week, but seldom do we realize how healing and life-giving that can be.  Such listening with full presence is somewhat of an invisible thing, and we seldom get thanked for it, yet we usually feel enlivened and understood at new levels when deep listening happens. That requires suspending your own opinions while you are fully “with” another.  It takes discipline, skill, practice and loving intention. When have you been the recipient of such a gift?  How well do you give it to others?

Privileged Kids Fake Disability

By Tim Fromla

As a person who suffers from mental health issues, I am glad I live in California so that when I take a test, I can have extra time or even after I graduate, jobs are required to provide reasonable accommodations for my disability. In school, for example, there is extra time as well as breaks to allay my anxiety. When I do presentations, I can’t get dinged for stuttering or stammering.

Sadly, there are those who take advantage of the ADA (Americans with Disability Act) so that they can excel in school. According to the Hollywood Reporter, “Everybody’s Doing It”: Cheating Scandal Shows How Privileged Kids Fake Disability” is disturbing.

Going back to college, I had to request reasonable accommodation like longer test time or a day extra to turn my assignments in. Also, I had to seek approval to take breaks so that I do not become anxious, and not get dinged for stuttering or stammering while making a presentation. I had to get a note from my psychiatrist, submit it to the disability advocate, and waited for a letter so I can show my professors that I needed help. My anxiety and OCD were going haywire because I thought they would have denied me the accommodation, but I received it, and all is going well.

Today though, after the testing scandal from coast to coast, there are those who fake disabilities to get an upper-hand, thus creating a more massive stigma for those who need assistance. Many of us who do have mental health issues, tend not to want to share their plight with anyone but have resigned to the fact that we do need help.

More than 40 years I kept my illness to myself. I failed because I felt that I did not deserve the help. The failure resulted in me not doing so well in college in the past and going back today; I can make it up by going back to school. Yes, I do need help, and I promise to contribute to society, but at the same time, when those who don’t feel the humiliation as those who have various issues, it takes away the importance of accommodation so that I nor anyone else would rely on others for support.

I prefer not to get on disability and do well like any other student, but because I need the extra help, it can seem kind of embarrassing, but achieving the level playing field is all we ask. When wealthy folks who are lazy take advantage of the system, this can adversely affect our chance in succeeding in life. So what can we do? Go after those who take advantage of the system. I had to go through therapy for six months before seeing a psychiatrist. From there, the psychotherapist had to diagnose me, record my progress and keep a record of everything we did. I did not use my primary physician to write a note asking for an excuse; I had to open myself up to a stranger and explain why I am the way I am.

My therapy session can be prying, and my anxiety and OCD, as well as depression, made me struggle, but because of this, I can say without a doubt that I do need help so that I can be a contributing member to society. I don’t want help, but I realize that I need the support so that I can function in life. Taking advantage of the system though is a detriment to those who need the assistance. 

Stricter regulation must happen so that those who are wealthy enough to bypass the stringent requirements, don’t.   With stricter regulation, I suspect that folks like me will be under the microscope because of the acts of the few, thus creating more anxiety for us.

 

The Unitarian Effort in Helping to Reform Minnesota’s Mental Institutions 1946-1954

by Rev. Barbara F. Meyers

I have recently read a fabulous book that shows what committed religious people can do to reform mental health practices.  It is The Crusade for Forgotten Souls – Reforming Minnesota’s Mental Institutions 1946-1954, by Susan Bartlett Foote, university of Minnesota Press, 2018. 

It tells the fabulous story of how Unitarians in Minnesota helped to reform mental institutions in the mid-1900’s.  After pioneering work for documenting what was happening in Minnesota’s mental hospitals by members of his congregation who were horrified by snake-pit like conditions, the Rev. Arthur Foote minister of the Unity Unitarian Church in St. Paul, Minnesota was able to get the ear and the trust of the governor of Minnesota, Luther Youngdahl, and mental health reform became Youngdahl’s most important political policies.  

The reforms dealt with more funding, lower case loads, better training for workers in the hospitals, getting rid of restraints, better food and more social programs.  The reforms also involved people from the public visiting patients at the hospitals and bringing the true stories of what was happening into the public view – speaking truth to power.  Rev. Foote was very involved in all of the presentations to the governor and legislature to get these reforms identified and passed.

However, many of these reforms were later overturned by tightfisted conservative politicians and bureaucrats after Youngdahl left office.  But, as Susan Bartlett Foote points out, many important lessons emerged and live on:

  • it gave voice to the voiceless;
  • it helped define a modern mental health system to deliver care;
  • it showed what principled advocates could accomplish. 

Important considerations for success were:

  • effective political leadership is essential;
  • realize that the policy process is fickle;
  • trusted voices of citizen advocates are important;
  • the press can play an important and constructive role in shaping public discourse. 

The book’s most important conclusion is a quote from Luther Youngdahl: “The protection of the patient depends on our eternal vigilance.” 

This book should be required reading for all who are interested in mental health reform, and especially for Unitarian Universalists.

I have written to the author and hope to talk with her about the importance of this book to our future.   As a side note, Arthur Foote was the former father-in-law of Susan Bartlett Foote and she came by most of the information in the book from notes that she found in a closet of her house that he had left there.  She also did masterful research on the issue in many archives.  A first class book! 

I wish to thank Janet Holden for pointing me at this book.  I notice that there is a review of the book in the March 2019 issue of The UU World.

A Tragedy in the Family – My journey as a mental health advocate

by Steve Boczenowski

Early last year, my wife of 40 years, Deb, & I, who have lived our entire lives in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, moved to New Hampshire.  After taking some time to set up our new home and get acclimated to the neighborhood, I started to venture out to make connections into my new state’s mental health community.  Last month, I found myself testifying to the state Senate Health and Human Services Committee in support of legislation which would increase access to mobile response and stabilization services.  Here is how I began my testimony: “My name is Steve Boczenowski and I’m a regular guy.  I love the Patriots and the Red Sox.  I love my wife and children and grandchildren.  I go to church most Sundays, exercise regularly, and love to work in my yard.  I’m just a regular guy.  But this regular guy’s life changed very dramatically on December 1st, 2009.  On that day, my 21-year-old son, Jeffrey, took his own life.”

This is just the latest step on my journey as a mental health advocate.  I was reminded recently of the first step that I took on that journey.  It was an evening in May, just six months after Jeffrey had died, when Deb & I and a group of friends organized a forum as a community response to the tragedy that had befallen us.  Jeffrey’s death was still very fresh to us that night and this is how Deb & I chose to describe our beloved son in that moment:

As a child, Jeffrey was full of life.  He had a mind of his own and a jolly laugh that just made you smile.  He could be intense, or he could be pensive, but he could also seize moments with a sense of joy and wonder.  He was always an independent thinker and exhibited true bravado, but he also always deferred to the wishes of his older sister.  Jeff was a sensitive soul, a bit quirky, but was a very charming young lad.

As Jeff grew older, he kept these same traits, but his sensitivity proved to make his life painful at times.  In the 3rd and 4th grades, despite being a good student he would ask repeatedly if he were going to pass or be kept back.  As a ten-year-old on his first real baseball team, his coaches thought he showed promise so they batted him lead-off in the first game; but after striking out four times, he was devastated and didn’t swing the bat again for many games thereafter.  He hated family disagreements, and worked hard to please his parents.

As he entered puberty, his moods turned darker.  He dressed in black and brown, grew his hair long, and his moodiness increased.  Always a shy boy, Jeff turned even more inward; he lost his love of sports and would frequently question the motives of his teachers.

Throughout all this, we, his parents, stayed involved in his life: Deb led a Camp Fire group and taught Sunday School classes; Steve coached him year after year in basketball and soccer.  We had dinner together most nights, helped Jeff with his homework, and always stayed in touch with Jeff and his friends.  We participated in many family activities including church, visits to grandparents, and family vacations.

Despite our best effort, Jeffrey took his own life late last year.  And we are left to ask ourselves why.

We mourn the loss of our son.  We have many unanswered questions.  But in the final analysis, the answers to those questions will not bring Jeff back to us.  And while we miss him terribly, it is our hope that Jeff’s death will not be in vain.  We hope to use his story to help to educate parents and their children so that they might pursue appropriate treatment if they experience mental illness.  That’s what tonight is all about.

The goal of that well-attended forum was to provide useful, practical guidance for parents.  We spent a lot of time figuring out how to best meet that goal and we decided that Deb & I would share anecdotes from our experiences with Jeffrey to identify obstacles that we encountered in getting Jeff the treatment he needed.  We also recruited two local treatment providers who discussed the obstacles we described and then proposed solutions that parents could employ.

Our group of organizers got together a few days after the forum to debrief and we were all quite enthused at what we were able to accomplish.  We decided to keep working together and we named ourselves Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions (TADS).  All of our group had some connection to mental health: some as parents, some as school guidance counselors, first responders, an emergency room mental health triage, and a clinician in private practice.

Meanwhile, Deb & I were doing the work of managing our grief.  We attended suicide loss support groups and did some reading.  We also reached out to the Massachusetts suicide prevention community, the Massachusetts Suicide Prevention Coalition (MCSP), which provided us with a good deal of education and support.  Through our participation with MCSP, we were able to make very good connections, which informed our work with TADS.  Nine years later, I realize that my work with TADS was an important part of working through the grief of losing my son.

But in those early days, we needed to figure out how to shape our work with TADS.  (We also took the necessary steps of becoming a 501(c)3 non-profit organization so that we could raise funds.)  We knew we wanted to leverage our story to help people, but I felt strongly that just telling my story was not enough.  Sharing a story raises awareness, which is helpful, but there is more to addressing the problem than just raising awareness.  From my perspective, parents are largely ignorant about mental health issues.  What does depression and anxiety look like?  What are symptoms that we can observe?  What’s important and what’s not?  So, beyond raising awareness, from the beginning I felt that it was important to help educate parents.  For several years, I would insist on sharing my story only when accompanied by a mental health professional.  (After listening to experts for a few years and attending several seminars on mental health, a widely-respected clinician assured me that I had developed sufficient background to provide the education piece myself.)

Also, from the beginning, Deb, an 8th grade math teacher, felt strongly that we needed to help middle schools and high schools educate their students about the perils of mental illness, including (but not limited to) suicide.  In those first few months of participation within MCSP, we encountered an organization called Screening for Mental Health which had developed an evidence-based suicide prevention curriculum for middle schools and high schools known as Signs of Suicide (SOS).  (Screening for Mental Health has recently been renamed to MindWise Innovations.)  Beginning in September, 2010, TADS annually hosted free one-day suicide prevention training for educators by hiring trainers from Screening from Mental Health.  More recently, Deb & I have received training to become certified trainers for the SOS curriculum and provide the training ourselves.  Over the past nine years, we have trained over 500 educators.

But awareness and education were still not enough.  The message that I would provide parents went something like this: Here’s what happened to our family; if you see these signs in your child go and get help!  But go and get help is a really difficult task for parents.  Because of the stigma associated with mental illness, it is not part of our public discourse.  I would tell people, if my son had a knee injury from soccer, I could go to the school bus stop and ask for recommendations for a good orthopedist; but when your son has depression, you don’t feel comfortable asking other parents for a recommendation for a good therapist.  Consequently, we struggle.  I remember accessing my insurance company’s list of therapists – names and contact info for local therapists, but with no other information or details.  As I stared at the computer screen, I wondered if I could trust any of these individuals, unknown-to-me, with the health of my child.  Recognizing this shortcoming, the newly formed TADS board started to discuss the best way to compile our own list of local therapists.  We were aware that compiling such a list would be difficult and it would soon fall out of date.  And we wondered if such a list would be sufficient – would it aid parents in finding a good match for their child, which is critically important in providing quality mental health care.

Then one afternoon, Deb & I were helping out at a local mental health fair and we encountered an organization that had already performed much of this difficult work and provided a telephone service to make quality mental health care referrals.  This service, INTERFACE, was provided by William James College, a graduate school for psychology majors and used graduate students to staff the telephones.  (INTERFACE is available only in Massachusetts.)  In a nutshell, the INTERFACE Referral Service provides personalized counseling referrals matched for location, specialty and insurance.  No fee is charged to the individual making the call, but the community licenses with William James College to provide this service for their residents.  Over the next few years, TADS raised funds to pay for this service for several area towns, and then convinced the local municipalities to pay the annual service fee with public funds.  We also advocated on behalf of INTERFACE to other cities and towns in Massachusetts.

Thus, our mission was complete: TADS addresses mental health issues, especially among young people, by raising awareness, providing education, and enabling access to care.

In subsequent blog posts I will describe some of the highlights of our work with TADS and where our journey has led us.

 

Getting Serious About Mental Health in California

By Rev. Barbara F. Meyers 

California’s new governor Gavin Newsom has pledged to get serious about addressing mental health needs in the state.  You can read his full statement at: https://medium.com/@GavinNewsom/getting-serious-about-mental-health-8c09ad95a5ae

Here are some highlights:

  • We know how to deliver wraparound services on the back end of care that can transform lives. And — more importantly — we know how to deliver intensive services on the front-end, treatment that can stem the course of serious brain illness, including schizophrenia, before it becomes disabling. 
  • My administration will prioritize prevention and early intervention, and pursue a system of care in which the goal is to identify and intervene in brain illness at Stage 1, just as we do for cancer or heart disease.
  • We will scale up alternative sentencing options, including successful models of mental health and drug courts. And we will increase resources for specialized mental health units in our prisons and jails, as well as transitional housing that provides support and treatment upon release.

He has appointed a consumer-friendly adviser to help implement this vision.  It is probably going to be harder than it looks right now, but I applaud the effort and the tenacity it will take to make it happen. 

I especially like the fact that this initiative was one of the ones announced in his first speech on what he will do as governor. 

I view this all as positive and I hope that as it succeeds, it catches on elsewhere.