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. 

New Effort in Suicide Prevention Announced

By Rev. Barbara F. Meyers 

I have learned of a new effort in suicide prevention that needs to become well-known.  It is called Project 2025 and is a nationwide initiative to reduce the annual rate of suicide in the U.S. 20 percent by 2025.  The organization sponsoring it is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

This is the most comprehensive, multi-organizational approach to suicide prevention I have seen.  And, I applaud their efforts.

Here is some of their material explaining Project 2025:

Despite the fact that more is being done today to prevent suicide than at any other time in history, the rate of suicide continues to rise in the United States. Led by the largest suicide prevention organization in the United States, with guidance from the top minds in the field and dynamic data modeling, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has determined the programs, policies and interventions that will prevent as many suicides as possible. Project 2025 is the collaborative effort to implement and scale these strategies nationwide.  

Four critical areas have been identified to save the most lives in the shortest amount of time:

  1. Firearms: More than half of all gun deaths in the United States are by firearm.  By working with key partners, we can educate the range, retail, and broader firearms-owning communities on how to spot suicide risk, and know what steps they can take to save lives.  If half the people who purchase firearms are exposed to suicide prevention education, we can expect an estimated 9,500 lives saved through 2025.
  2. Healthcare Systems: Project 2025 is collaborating with the country’s largest healthcare systems and accrediting organizations to accelerate the acceptance and adoption of risk identification and suicide prevention strategies we know work.  By identifying one out of every five at-risk people in large healthcare systems – such as during primary care and behavioral health visits – and providing them with short-term intervention and better follow-up care, we can expect an estimated 9,200 lives saved through 2025.
  3. Emergency Departments: Basic screening and interventions can provide a safety net for at-risk patients seen in emergency departments.  Project 2025 is educating emergency medicine providers, and collaborating with key accrediting and professional organizations to improve the acceptance and adoption of suicide screening and preventative intervention as the standard in emergency care.  By screening one out of five people seen in ERs, and providing short-term interventions such as Safety Planning and follow-up care, we can expect an estimated 1,100 lives saved through 2025.
  4. Corrections Systems: We need to change the culture of suicide prevention in our country’s jails and prisons.  By screening for and identifying 50% of at-risk individuals at key points within the corrections system, such as at times of entry and exit, and delivering comprehensive care that addresses both physical and mental health, we can expect an estimated 1,100 lives saved through 2025.

 By partnering with organizations in these four areas, we CAN achieve our goal of reducing the annual suicide rate 20 percent by 2025 making it the lowest it’s been in 30 years.

Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Network

By Rev. Barbara F. Meyers

The time has come to start a Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Network.  In the past several months I have been independently contacted by a number of people interested in doing some form of mental health ministry in a UU context.  After having conversations with these interested folks, we have collectively decided that we should band together and start an organization that will promote the inclusion of people affected by mental health issues in the life and work of our congregations, and by extension in society at large.

We have created a mission statement for our endeavor:

The UU Mental Health Network promotes inclusion of people affected by mental health issues in the life and work of our congregations and in the society at large.

We seek to do this by creating a network that is:

  • a supportive community of people affected by mental health issues
  • recognized as an identity group whose opinion is sought out when issues about mental health in congregations come up
  • a repository of information and resources about mental health
  • an advocacy organization when the rights of people with mental health issues are under attack or when discrimination and prejudice is occurring
  • an organization that will advocate to improve access in the United States to adequate, appropriate and compassionate treatment.
  • an advocate for needed resources that are NOT available, and to the appropriate resources intact during budget cuts
  • an advocate which seeks to remove the profit motive from the healthcare industry
  • an advocate for mental health consumers being fully informed and full participants in their own treatment
  • a vehicle for publishing views on mental health issues from different points of view
  • a way to purposefully address unique mental health issues in marginalized populations: ex: people of color, LGBTQIA, prisoners, co-occurring disorders…
  • a source for providing and encouraging education about congregational mental health issues to UU congregations
  • a resource for congregations when a mental health-related issue arises
  • a partner with mental health networks of other faith traditions, to share ideas and work together on our common goals

We are still in formation and have not yet decided on organizational and governance issues.  We welcome participation by others who are interested in helping us create this organization and get it off the ground.  If you are interested, you can send an email to admin at uumentalhealth.org.

Mental Health and Public Accommodation

By Tim Fromla

The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA is a good friend for people who need accommodation in everyday life. A person in a wheelchair would need doors that open easily or a visually impaired person may need a dog to guide them. These accommodations are requirements by the EEOC (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) to make a disabled person part of everyday life. What about the person who is not blind or in a wheelchair but needs accommodations? They too are afforded the same rights. Sometimes, they don’t get it though.

I was at the gym, and I experienced this. Nine months after New Years, I decided to join and gym. I needed to do so to lose weight and for my mental health. The workout and sore muscles are making my mental health issue vanish. Combining my medication, therapy, and sweat is giving me the happiness I haven’t felt in a long time. I enjoy the feeling and would recommend people to try and workout. I guess for me; exercise allays my anxiety. Today though, I felt my anxiety perk up.

After my workout, I needed to use the restroom. The restroom I use is gender neutral, and it’s one person per use. This form of privacy is what I wish. As I approached the front desk, I asked the person if I could use the restroom. The person apologized and said it was for employees and disabled people. I asked what about people who are mentally disabled or have mental health issues? He said no and apologized.

Instead of getting mad, I texted my trainer, and he said that he would speak to his manager. After looking up the definition, the gender-neutral bathroom in a private gym does not have to accommodate the public, unlike like a theater, mall, doctors’ office, but since I am a member, and the restroom is for transgender folks and physically disabled members, mental health folks need accommodation too. So what is my disability? Anxiety. I panic in public restrooms. If there is accommodation, I would use it, unless there isn’t, so I would wait until I got home.

The issue is, many can’t tell I am disabled and I am required by law to say I have mental health issues. Without mentioning this, they need not accommodate me. I spoke to the person, but that person, unbeknownst to him did not realize that mental health issue is part of the ADA.

When I get back to the gym on Monday, I’m going to find out if I could use the private restroom. If I could, then there would be no issue. The manager knows about my mental health. If they refuse my request, I would have no choice but to file a complaint. The purpose is not to sue for money but to educate the corporation about rights as a disabled person.

Mental Health Issues Or An Excuse?

By Tim Fromla

Mental illness is often the reason behind any violent act.  Here are some recent examples:

A Vietnam Veteran who visited Uganda as a missionary was taken into custody by law enforcement for assault after attacking a hotel employee. The man blamed mental illness for his outburst according to the U.K.s Daily Mail. According to the Daily Mail, the man was drunk.

Yes, racism played a role, and if it were me, as an atheist, I would probably have been a victim. If I lied and said I am a Christian, I would probably have been left alone. Mental issues and not alcohol is the excuse the missionary used for his action. Kampala Metropolitan Police reported in a Friday post on Facebook that it has arrested the U.S. citizen, Jimmy L. Taylor, after security cameras showed him punching and cursing at an employee at Grand Imperial Hotel.

Back in Florida, according to the Independent, a U.K. News organization, “The suspected gunman behind America’s latest mass shooting had a history of mental illness and was prescribed anti-psychotic medicine, court records revealed.” Once again, a mentally ill person was responsible for the massacre and not a firearm. The shooter, David Katz legally bought the guns legally according to the ABC affiliate in Chicago.  It was his poor mental health and not the availability of pistols nor the stress of a painful divorce of his parents that was cited by ABC as the cause that led to this tragedy.

But, are all, or even many violent incidents due to mental health problems?  What do mental health experts say?  According to the New York Times,

“Overall, mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent 1 percent of all gun homicides each year, according to the book “Gun Violence and Mental Illness‘ published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2016.”

Or in 2017, with 345 cases of the mass shooting  (three or more victims) nationwide, about 3 of these cases were committed by mentally ill folks. Now, if anyone went through treatment or if there was a ban on purchasing firearms, then 342 people will still be killed because 99 percent of all shooters are not ill.

As a person with mental health issues, the last thing any of us want is to be a part of any stigma. More than 99 percent of us are not violent nor do we wish to hurt anyone. As a person with a disability, it sickens me when the media, our elected officials or even the public blame the illness on a massacre, but even more disheartening is the stigma that maybe leaving people like us alone is the better path to take than addressing our issues head-on.

My Therapeutic Journey

Hello, my name is Tim, and I have mental health issues. I would never have written something like this because of the stigma associated with mental health. Today, I am writing what I want to say, as verbally speaking my truth and experience is still hard. Many believe that issues with the mind are just that, mental and by picking yourself up from the bootstrap and being responsible would be the panacea needed to quell my anxiety. It isn’t. It’s like me telling someone to buck up and get off your rear end, even though you have stage four cancer and in hospice.

Makes no sense, does it?

The same makes no sense when a person returns from war and is suffering from PTSD, or when a victim of a sex crime survives their ordeal, or even a child separated from their parents because the government says they are illegal to buck up.  An illness is an illness and must have treatment to get better.

So I’ve been going through therapy for more than a year, and it’s a learning process. I am getting treated by a psychiatrist, but I am also going through cognitive behavior therapy too. I am learning to unlearn what was a norm or cultural experience in my life. What I have done to myself was based on years of cultural norms, but my environment, being born and raised in the U.S. can counter each other.

As I mentioned in my previous blog, I am an atheist, a recovering Christian; jokes aside, my family and culture cling to religion as a norm. And deviation would cause shame in the family but discovering that the faith is racist, I could not be a part of this culture. My church or conference was not racist, my denomination was. Becoming an atheist in the Japanese Christian culture is disgraceful. I could not find peace though, so I sought therapy.

My current therapist told me that after speaking to me, he says that I have an analytical mind. I keep asking why and would not be satisfied with,”Because God said so.” Add racism, and one becomes a nonbeliever. I continued to search and became a U.U. PoC. To me, the Bible, Torah, Quran, and so on to me is merely text. Some call it Holy book, while others call it fiction. Regardless of the documents, it’s something important to someone.

Regardless, asking questions is an integral part of mental health, and my therapy consists of searching. In all honesty, I may not find all the answers, but the searching never ends. When I was  young, I was always a curious person, and as a child, I was fascinated by a spider making a web. Why are a spider’s web sticky, and what is its substance?

Spider Silk
The protein in dragline silk is fibroin (Mr 200,000-300,000) which is a combination of the proteins spidroin 1 and spidroin 2. The exact composition of these proteins depends on factors including species and diet. Fibroin consists of approximately 42% glycine and 25% alanine as the major amino acids.

I was not satisfied with God did it, but the above answer should suffice. It doesn’t. As society compounds us to believe in one thing, that is where the problem lies. My therapist explained that there is nothing wrong with being curious about any subject but to seek answers and sharing it is a lot harder than one thinks. I can’t change my family’s especially the adult’s mind, so I have to explore this journey by myself.

Therefore.

My and many other’s mental health issues are what it is, a health issue and all, in all, ask is to have a little understanding, not sympathy as some of us cannot change a culture that has been in our genetic code for several thousand years. I guess the next step is to express what I am blogging by word of mouth. I can’t right now and…

That’s why I am going to therapy.