Much of the focus worldwide in the last year has been the global Coronavirus pandemic, including guidelines from staying healthy and avoiding contracting COVID-19 or passing the disease to others. And while this is obviously a critical topic, it should not be forgotten that our mental health, especially during the pandemic, is important, too.
May is Mental Health Month, and organizations around the world are sharing information about how to obtain and maintain good mental health.
Each year since 1949, Mental Health America and their affiliates have led observance of Mental Health Month. This includes release of an annual Mental Health Month toolkit, which you can download here. They also have a number of resources available on their Mental Health Month web page, this year focusing on Tools 2 Thrive — practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation. Topics include:
Adapting after trauma and stress
Dealing with anger and frustration
Getting out of thinking traps
Processing big changes
Taking time for yourself
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is focusing on the power of connection and supporting one another, and promoting their core message of eliminating stigma, by sharing the message that those who many be having mental health difficulties or experiencing mental illness are not alone. Mental health conditions affect approximately 1 in 5 individuals during a given year.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has a number of articles and resources available in recognition of Canada’s Mental Health Week (May 3-9) which are available here. CMHA calls attention to the fact that, when asked how they are, people and Canadians in particular often respond with, “I’m fine,” even if they are not. CMHA is promoting more social connection and “getting real about how you feel.”
We hope during this Mental Health Month, our blog readers will take the time to engage with these and other mental health leaders to learn more and promote better mental health for all people, especially in light of the daily stressors and crises we all continue to face due to COVID-19.
Around the nation there are conversations happening about public safety as it pertains to emergency response where it involves situations of mental health crisis. Who are the appropriate entities to respond to 911 calls for someone in a mental health crisis?
Legislation has been introduced in New York State, Daniel’s Law, that would establish both state and regional mental health response councils which would permit mental health professionals to respond to mental health and substance abuse emergencies.
This legislation is modeled after a program in Eugene, Oregon, CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets), developed in 1989, that takes an innovative, community-based public safety approach to provide mental health first response for crises involving mental illness, homelessness, and addiction.
We believe 211s and Crisis Lines are an integral part of this conversation.
We are planning to host a conversation on this topic and would like to hear from you regarding what actions your organizations are currently taking and what kind of additional support iCarol could provide to assist you in responding to 911 calls in these situations.
email us if you are interested in sharing your ideas or plans related to this topic, or if you are simply interested in participating in these conversations.
Wednesday January 28th is a big day for Canadian mental health initiatives: It’s Bell Let’s Talk Day!
This annual event draws attention to the topic of mental health, particularly the stigma attached to mental illness that prevents many from seeking help. The idea is that if we all talk more openly about mental health and are open to conversations about it, it will lessen the shame attached to mental illness. Bell also champions access to care, workplace mental health, and research.
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, people are encouraged to take to social media and discuss the topics of mental health and mental illness. Certain social media activities, such as watching the official Bell Let’s Talk video, using their special profile photo frame in Facebook, or using their special Snapchat filter, will help raise funds for organizations that address Bell Let’s Talk’s initiatives. Bell donates 5¢ to mental health initiatives and programs across Canada (including many services that are part of the iCarol family!). Bell customers can also participate by texting or making calls. Find out more about how to take part.
Bell Let’s Talk has had a profound impact across Canada. Since the campaign began in 2011 there have been over 1 billion interactions around Bell Let’s Talk, with over $100 million donated to mental health initiatives. And 86% of Canadians say they are more aware of mental health issues since Bell Let’s Talk launched.
To learn more about Bell Let’s Talk, check out their website and toolkit that contains everything you need to participate. We hope you’ll follow us on Twitter and Facebook, to join us in raising funds and awareness so we can remove the stigma from the conversation about mental health!
Content warning: This post discusses sensitive topics such as suicide and abuse.
In a year as strange and relentless as 2020, I needed a sense of normalcy more than ever this holiday season, and that came in the form of my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In years’ past, the film’s theme of suicide prevention struck me most. But like a lot of things, the experience of 2020 placed a new filter over the movie for me, and I started noticing elements that, while always there, hadn’t been as noticeable to me before.
The crises of 2020 were relentless. And when the bad news just keeps coming and it feels there’s no end in sight, no clear solution or relief, it can be easy to fall into total despair. George Bailey experiences this very thing in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George passed on his own dreams so the dreams of others could be realized and those he loved could be happy, and for awhile he appears okay with that. Then a series of crises compound, and old trauma and resentments quickly rise to the surface. George, completely devoid of hope and solutions, is now staring into the icy churning waters of a river flowing beneath him. For all his good deeds and sacrifices, look at how bad things are. What was it all for? He contemplates how the world might be better off if he wasn’t here, or if he never existed at all.
George’s scenario got me thinking about the exhaustive work so many people have been doing all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, only to have things stay the same, or get worse, day in and day out, with no relief in sight. When there’s no clear impact or positive change to motivate you, to reassure you that your sacrifices and work matters, how do you keep going? How do you resist despair and hopelessness?
I think the answer is similar to what we see in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George can’t see his positive impact until he’s shown a world without him in it. Perhaps we need to briefly imagine what the world would look like without those forces of good working hard to help others.
What would our world look like now if helplines, contact centers, and other community services didn’t exist?
Contact centers and Information and Referral services like 2-1-1 commonly act as their community’s primary source of information about COVID-19, providing information on everything from common symptoms to look for and where to go to get tested. In many cases 2-1-1 became the official state/provincial source of COVID-19 information. Without that centralized information delivery service, health departments, emergency rooms, and medical offices are overwhelmed with people seeking information. Phone lines jam and human resources are syphoned from direct care treating those who are ill. Fewer people know where to get tested. More people get sick, and more lives are lost as a result.
The economic fallout from the pandemic will be with us for some time. Some say the financial recovery may take longer than public health recovery. Thankfully, people looking for financial assistance for their very survival—help with utilities or food—had places to reach. Places where a compassionate and knowledgeable specialist could, in a single interaction, provide ideas and resources that may help with several needs. Without those contact centers, those in need are left feeling lost and overwhelmed. Already worn down by their situation, they must now spend time and effort navigating the network of community services on their own. They don’t know how the systems work. They are frustrated and even more overwhelmed. It takes longer to access assistance. They miss several meals. They only find out about a fraction of the services for which they were eligible.
Quarantines and stay-at-home orders kept people at home more, and for many the people they live with are a source of comfort. For others, it’s a source of conflict or even danger. Suddenly, vulnerable individuals suffering abuse at the hands of a parent or partner, or LGBTQIA youth living with unsupportive family members, were cut off from their daily escapes and support systems. Without services specializing in providing safety and emotional support, they become more isolated. Tensions in the household rise. Abused partners and Queer youth have no professional confidential counseling to access quietly and privately through chats or text messages. There’s no emergency shelter to escape to.
Viruses and physical health have taken center stage this year, but the mental health toll is undeniable. We’ve been going through a collective, worldwide trauma. Everything familiar was disrupted and the entire concept of “normal” disappeared overnight. Many people are experiencing emotions they aren’t sure what to do with, and they aren’t ready to talk to their friends or loved ones. Others lack those connections and are processing things all on their own. Imagine a world without an outlet to help one cope with those feelings. No warmlines or impartial empathetic listeners, no crisis or suicide prevention services. The emotional suffering deepens and spreads, and we lose even more people to a different type of pandemic—suicide—that was present long before COVID-19.
So yes, 2020 was the worst, filled with more crises happening all at once than many of us could have imagined. And in a seemingly never-ending string of challenges, it may feel at times like your contributions, all your exhaustive efforts, aren’t making a dent. If reassurance and evidence of your impact seems elusive, think back to George Bailey’s tour of seedy Pottersville, the bad place version of Bedford Falls. Close your eyes and take a stroll through that scary, imaginary world without organizations like yours, and see that things could actually be much worse. It’s because of the good work of those who care, like you, that it isn’t.
Crisis Call Centers are no strangers to stressful, high-impact work environments—but what happens when the world as we know it is turned upside down by a global pandemic? Join us as iCarol hosts Travis Atkinson of TBD Solutions to discuss the results of two national surveys administered to behavioral health crisis workers that shed light on the state of crisis services and what communities need to be prepared for to assure people experiencing a psychiatric emergency can access high-quality care.
When: Tuesday, December 8
Time: 2pm EST
After joining the webinar, attendees will:
Understand the function of a healthy crisis continuum and the impact of system capacity issues on overall coordination
Learn the most pressing issues facing crisis service providers of all types during the pandemic
Identify strategies for creatively combating system challenges to achieve the desired goals of timely and accessible crisis services.
Travis Atkinson, MA-LPC
For the past 10 years, Travis has worked in both clinical and managerial roles in behavioral health. Through these experiences, he espouses the value of a healthy and functioning behavioral health care system, the power of data to drive decision‐making, and the importance of asking the right questions. While maintaining a broad vision for excellence and leadership, Travis has sought out best practices for behavioral health care services through research and connecting with fellow providers at a local and national level. He is an excellent training instructor, coach, meeting facilitator, conference presenter, and host of The Crisis Podcast.
One of the things I like most about Halloween is that it offers such a wide range of ways to participate and have fun. Horror movies not your thing? You can stick to fun activities like carving a jack-o-lantern and handing out candy to trick or treaters (in normal, non-pandemic years at least). And then there are the endless costume possibilities. You can be anything from a superhero to your favorite movie character to some very obscure cultural reference or the more traditional choice of ghost or vampire.
So with that range of costume possibilities and ways to have fun in mind, it’s always deeply upsetting to see Halloween become an event where mental illness is misrepresented and stigmatized. Some haunted house attractions are centered around “asylum” themes, or have a “haunted psych ward” component. Actors wearing straight jackets or wielding weapons chase visitors and shout lines about hearing voices. The message is very clear: Mental illness, and people who experience mental illness, are scary, violent, and to be feared.
In recent years, several costumes have been pulled from the shelves following pressure from mental health advocates. Unfortunately every year there are still a few new inappropriate and offensive costumes that pop up and make their way to stores and online retailers, and regrettably they are eventually seen out in public at bars and parties. And each time one is sold and then worn, it perpetuates the stigma and misconceptions around mental illness.
These interjections of mental illness into Halloween are neither fun nor harmless, but keep in place harmful stereotypes. These attractions and costumes continue pushing the idea that a person living with mental illness is violent and should be avoided. Discrimination is still a problem for people living with mental illness, and every day those who experience symptoms choose not to seek help for fear of mistreatment by the public, or that their relationships with family and friends will suffer. These depictions also hurt those who have experienced mental illness, especially those who have been hospitalized. Their deepest fears about what society thinks of them are realized when they see illness become a subject of fear-based entertainment.
It would never be acceptable to have haunted houses set in a hospice or cancer wing of a hospital, nor would we find cancer patient costumes to be appropriate. It’s important that we all speak up when we see mental illness being stigmatized, and stand up for those who have experience with illness and are negatively impacted by the perpetuation of stigma.
President Donald Trump recently signed the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act into law in the United States, a move celebrated by mental health and suicide prevention advocates. The act assigns 9-8-8 as a national, three-digit number dedicated to suicide prevention and mental health crisis response. The number will become active and available in 2022.
This law signals a recognition that mental health crises are just as important and deserve the same emergency response as the medical emergencies which are reported to their own national three-digit number, 9-1-1.
The law does not create a new service, as the US already has a national number for suicide prevention. Instead, this new law creates a the pathway for a new, easier way for people to reach existing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services available through the existing Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a service provided by a network of about 170 local crisis centers around the country.
Once three-digit dialing is activated in 2022, experts anticipate that call volume to the crisis centers will increase. The new law creates funding and resources for local crisis centers that will enable them to meet this demand. And, similar to nominal fees charged that support 9-1-1 services, the law will give states the authority to levy fees on wireless bills to support the 9-8-8 service.
The iCarol team applauds Congress and the President of the United States for making three-digit dialing for suicide prevention a reality after years of advocacy by mental health and suicide prevention experts. We have no doubt that the establishment of 9-8-8 will make it easier for people in crisis to reach assistance and receive help. As the software provider for many of the Lifeline crisis centers, iCarol pledges to monitor the progress of 9-8-8 activation, and provide assistance and support to our customers throughout this process.
Returning to school and beginning a new academic year can cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty in any circumstances, but this year it is extra stressful on students, parents, and educators alike due to COVID-19.
Each year, Mental Health America releases a back to school toolkit aimed at helping people start the new school year right with healthy habits and an awareness of stress and mental health. This year the kit contains materials aimed specifically at coping with the unusual circumstances of beginning school in the midst of a pandemic, with many schools opting for virtual or distance learning, at least for the first semester.
July is recognized as Black, Indigenous People, and People of Color (BIPOC) Mental Health Month. According to Mental Health America, this recognition began in 2008 as Bebe Moore Campbell National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, and has since been observed each July and was created to bring awareness to the unique struggles that underrepresented groups face regarding mental illness in the United States. Its namesake, Bebe Moore Campbell, was an American author, journalist, teacher, and mental health advocate who worked to shed light on the mental health needs of the Black community and other underrepresented communities.
BIPOC Mental Health month aims to draw attention to several key facts:
Trauma can affect the way we think, act, and feel. The impact of trauma on BIPOC has spanned generations due to centuries of systematic oppression.
BIPOC are often faced with years — even generations — of trauma, which translates to socioeconomic disparities and, in turn, is linked to mental health concerns today.
Systemic oppression is directly tied to the mental health of BIPOC. Historical and contemporary injustices continue to perpetuate trauma through generations and into today.
In recognizing and promoting BIPOC Mental Health Month, Mental Health American aims to create an opportunity where people can listen and learn from each other about why it’s important to talk about racism and mental health and how it’s affected them.
This is the second in a series of blogs about practicing self-care in times of high stress, such as what we’re experiencing now with COVID-19. You can read Part 1 here.
Many people—especially those in helping professions—find it hard to practice self-care even if they understand its importance. There are a number of reasons for this. It is difficult to pause and make time for self-care practices when consumed by tasks at home, work, with family, etc. Helpers might feel guilty about taking time for self-care for fear that they are somehow letting down their families, coworkers or clients by pausing, even momentarily, to care for themselves. With these obstacles in play, it’s important to take some actions to make self-care a bit easier to achieve.
Tips to Help Make Self-care Possible
Start short, and work your way up
Sometimes we associate self-care with activities taking a long bubble bath or treating yourself to a professional massage. While either of those can be great for self-care, these two examples involve a level of time and cost commitment that is unrealistic for many people. Instead, we should think of self-care as something that someone only needs to take a few minutes to achieve at first. While it’s ideal to take more than just a few minutes at a time for self-care, associating self-care only with more indulgent, time-consuming activities can easily set a person to give up on the idea without even trying, because it seems too unrealistic to achieve.
Develop strategies for work and home
You’re going to need self-care options for several different environments and circumstances, so it’s a good idea to keep a few ideas in your toolbox that will work for the setting. Taking a half hour to break and read a book or watch a television program might work at home, but in the office self-care may look more like finding a quiet space for a few minutes of deep breathing and recharging. Try to keep an open mind and find multiple activities that work for you so that you can practice self-care as you find time in a variety of environments.
Pursue activities that are therapeutic for you
When deciding how to care for yourself, think about what you enjoy and what kinds of activities give you a deepest sense of peace, relaxation, or accomplishment of self-care. It can be easy to get caught up in what self-care “should” look like through society’s perspective, but effective self-care is very individualized.
Make it a team effort
It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately— “We are all in this together.” But, the saying is particularly true especially for those who are working directly on COVID-19 response. Caring for others is one of those things you’re good at, and you can use that power to take care of your colleagues, and let them take care of you as well. The power and protection of your team is more meaningful now than ever, so rely on one another to help make self-care a priority. For example, help remind one another to take breaks as needed at work, and be there to process difficult calls with one another. If everyone buys in to self-care as an important part of the workplace, you can all help one another be accountable for everyone practicing good self-care.
In the third and final part of this blog series, we’ll share some ideas for self-care activities and why each might be effective for reducing stress.