Change our thoughts improve our moods

For many years people who ran the mile believed no one could break the 4 minute mile mark. Then, in 1954 British miler Roger Banister believed if he could change some of his techniques he could break 4 minutes and he did.

As a result of his accomplishment other mile runners around the world began to consistently break the 4 minute mile mark. Of course it took more than “thinking” they could do it. There was effort involved and they had to work at it. But it all started with a thought.

Yesterday I participated in a Zoom call with Oprah. I was 1 of 40,000 people around the world participating. It was really cool.

Anyhow, Oprah shared how the two most powerful words are I am … and what follows I am will hunt you down and show up in your life.

For example, if everyday I wake up and my first thought is “I am frustrated. I am depressed. I am never going to rebound from this pandemic.” My mood will be impacted by what I think.

On the other hand, if I think “I am blessed. I am strong. I am resilient and I will make it through this,” it will set the tone for my entire day. My mood will be uplifted. I’ll start looking for opportunities. What you seek you will find.

I realize a number of people are really struggling right now. Many have lost their job, maybe isolated or possibly have extreme stress from work. If you’re one of those people I am truly sorry. I want to encourage you that now more than ever it’s important to pay attention to what you are thinking.

Thoughts have power. Mood follows thought.

I want to encourage everyone reading to make it a habit to “check-in” with what your thinking. Instead of saying, “I am never going to get through this,” we tell ourselves, “This is a hard time. I am going to make it through this.”

This pandemic is a hard time, but a good time to raise our consciousness and try out some healthy coping strategies.

Hang in there…we will get through this.

Amy Gamble

When we bend, we don’t break!

I never understood how people could consider a mental illness a “gift.” The very idea of having a disability be a gift made me cringe with disgust. How could anything that caused so much pain, disappointment, embarrassing situations, and extensive losses ever be anything but a freaking curse?

And then 2020 arrived and here we all are in the middle of a dramatic, traumatic worldwide pandemic. Ironically for me to change my perspective about bipolar disorder being a gift, it had to be an earth shattering situation. A metaphoric tsunami.

At last I see the gift.

I’ve seen many articles written about how hard of a time this is for especially people who have serious mental illness. I’m not in that statistic. This time, while not easy for me, this situation I’ve used as a personal growth and reflection opportunity. That is my secret to surviving.

Here is how I see my gift working for me.

Everyday I wake up starts with a mental health check-in. How did I sleep? How are my thoughts? Am I groggy or do I have lots of energy? Do I feel depressed? Am I hopeful? Optimistic? Or do I just feel like going back to bed and sleeping away the blues? I accept whatever I feel. I don’t resist it.

I’ve learned how to manage a mental health condition by monitoring my thinking, emotions and behavior. I watch and reflect on how my brain functions.

Sounds exhausting. But when your brain never shuts off it must be occupied with something productive. So I give it tasks.

When I can’t slow my thoughts down I read to focus. I read and read and read because it’s productive and it helps me to apply my gift.

And as quickly as I can hone in on structure, tasks and discipline it’s as if a switch turns off in my brain and all I want to do is feel the breeze on my cheeks. I drift off in a free wheeling creative space that allows me to relax and dream and just be.

I never really understood how bipolar disorder affected me because it’s simply always been a part of me. Intense focus and goal driven behaviors, high achievement, and a level of empathy that hards to find. Followed sometimes in a flashing moment with a pensive subdued mood, without a care for consequences.

As I’ve learned to successfully manage bipolar disorder I’ve been given many insights to human behavior. Mostly my own. But I understand and grasp mental health to a degree I never would have if it weren’t for this great challenge in life I’ve been given.

The beauty of the gift is being able to share these insights and accumulated knowledge.

This time we are living in is best managed like a tree that is bending in the midst of a tornado. When we bend we don’t break.

Traumatic events can feel like they go on forever and continue to repeat. We are living daily in a real time traumatic event. But it doesn’t have to go on forever, nor does it have to repeat in our minds.

Staying in the present moment is a healthy coping strategy in handling everyday stress and in managing traumatic events. Bipolar disorder and all the subsequent related events around it gave me the gift of knowing and feeling how powerful the present really is.

It’s savoring all the little things in the moment. Simple things. Your child’s smile. The scoop of ice cream you put in your bowl anticipating the cool sweetness you are about to taste. For me it’s putting up a bird feeder and watching all the beautiful birds have a feeding party among different colors, shapes and sizes of nature’s gifts.

Sometimes when we are going through tough times it’s hard to see the good in that situation. Negatives don’t suddenly turn into positives. But what can happen is realizing our brains are built to bend in difficult circumstances. And when we bend we don’t break.

Because of bipolar disorder, my new found gift, I share these insights with you, because without it I might have broken long ago.

Be safe friends. There are hidden gifts in every circumstance.

Amy Gamble

Perfection is hard on our mental health

As hard as I try to hold myself to high standards, I’ve discovered I’m not a machine. I still look in the mirror and find a human being looking back at me, with all of my flaws, faults and positives as well.

Sometimes I expect so much from myself, when I make a mistake or say something wrong I ruminate over it. I’m terribly hard on myself, especially when I make mistakes or hurt someone’s feelings. Perfection, as we all know, is impossible. Yet, it’s something I’ve had to fight through most of my life.

A lot of people I’m sure can relate to what it’s like to strive for perfection. When you’re an Olympic athlete, high standards, drive, determination and – yes – sometimes even perfection helps us land on the world stage.

Then, the game is over and real life begins.

I’ve spent much time and resources in therapy over the years learning how to not ruminate over mistakes and learn how to give myself a break. I practice forgiveness of self and others. When I make mistakes I try to learn from it and quickly pick up the pieces and move forward.

Every now and then I hit a bump in the road. My healthy coping strategies go out the window and I land myself back into the swirl of playing the mistakes over and over and over again. Why did I do that? Why did I say that? How could I have done this better?

~sigh~

What I have learned is – there is really a tremendous amount of freedom in owning our truths. I own my perfectionism. I let it play out a little. I give myself a break. I learn from my mistakes. I might get frustrated. I might cry (much more rare for me). I shake my head. I smile. I laugh at myself.

And then…

I move on.

Because I have learned over the years if we hold on to perfection for too long and let it rule our lives, it will really take a dent in our mental health. It can trigger obsessive thinking, interupt sleep with thoughts that won’t stop and the list is goes on and on.

I’m very quick to forgive other people when they have wronged me. I’m learning it’s okay to quickly forgive myself too.

Here’s to recognizing our human imperfection! It’s okay not to be perfect. 🙂

Amy Gamble

 

 

When depression comes all I ask for is “just one more day!”

I’ve been speaking and teaching about Mental Health and Mental Illness for the past five years and writing about my own personal experience for six years. The line from one of my talks that rings in my head is, “Physical illness makes mental health worse and mental illness makes physical health worse.” It seems rather intuitive to think of it in those terms.  Of course when you have a cold or flu you aren’t ready to change the world. You want to curl up on the couch while you feel miserable and hope the symptoms go away as soon as possible.

In my efforts to learn about how best to manage my own bipolar disorder I discovered almost every single time I got bronchitis, a cold, pneumonia – a depressive episode was getting triggered. It may last for weeks or months. But the episode, as you may expect, would drag my mood further down and in one big cycle my physical symptoms would feel worse.

After years of dealing with this episodic condition I’d happily admit I’ve gotten a bit paranoid about depression. Why happily admit? Because for so many years this cycle would happen and I’d have no idea what was happening or why or what I could do to fight it. I simply muddled my way through and struggled.

On January 2 when I got pneumonia/bronchitis and was told I had a nodule on my lung, my spirits were naturally disappointed. And then this massive cloud of paranoia swept over me about whether or not depression would follow. Was I going to get over my physical illness and then have to deal with a long, tiresome struggle of depression? I worried. I cried. I pouted. I probably even muttered a few “it’s just not fair” comments in there.

Then, I got some good news about the lung nodule–only scar tissue. Relief. Check that worry filled box off. Certainly good for the mental health to get some positive news about your physical health.

Over the weekend my friend Margaret called and invited me to come visit her in Florida. I told her I was sick, tired, frustrated and depressed. She said, “I know. I can tell.” It made me feel really good to know someone cared about me that much to reach out and pick up the phone and invite me into her home knowing I was not in the best of spirits. I was touched. Having a friend is so important. Someone who cares and understands the battle of mental health conditions. Priceless.

Margaret suggested that night I take out a notebook and write down my thoughts. They could even be one word. Write my feelings. I did it the next day. As she mentioned I did feel a little better after getting everything down on paper. But there were words and phrases I picked up on that I knew signaled depression had reared it’s head.

It was actually kind of a relief. Recognizing and differentiating the physical blahs with the depressive filter. Realizing I was sliding down a bit gave me a chance to fight back. What were some things I could do to make sure I didn’t slide further into a dark abyss or as an old friend Julie used to say, “Gamble went to her cave.” The cave was code word for depression isolation.

As much as I’d like to will my chronic bronchitis cough away after six weeks, I can’t. As much as I’d like not to have the flu thrown on top of the cough, I can’t control it. But when it comes to the depression there are some things I can do to fight back. I can balance taking care of myself physically with completely isolating myself. I can listen to meditation and piano music that soothes my soul. I can try not to solve all my challenges and over think everything since I have so much time on my hands. I can burn my clove candle. I can read my BP Magazine and look for other tips. I can keep a positive attitude.

And still…it doesn’t make it fun, easy, or any less difficult to have to deal with a mental and a physical health issue all at one time. I do find value in knowing what is happening to me. I do find relief believing the way I’m feeling will get better. The cough will go away, the flu will reside, I’ll get my energy back and my spirits will lift.

Soon, I’ll be out of my cave and among the living again.

For those of you reading who struggle with bipolar or depression know you are not alone in the battle. Your feelings are valid. Your battle is real. I suggest accepting how you feel and then taking control of the things you know you can do.

I will tell all of you what I tell myself, never give up fighting.

When I was struggling with very severe depression years ago, I wrote a song on the piano. I never wrote a lot of music but I did write a few original songs. The title of the song was “God give me just one more day.”

Here’s to one more day.

Wishing you well,

Amy Gamble

 

A story of bipolar disorder and courage

Courage

It takes courage to pick yourself up after any kind of loss or hardship.  But the kind of courage I’ve seen from my friend, Hunter has been filled with real live parallels and life lessons.  Hunter is a 27 year old who has bipolar disorder.  And he is currently staying in a state mental hospital as a result of a psychotic episode.

Hunter is a brilliant young man who had his first psychotic episode while he was in college at the University of Colorado.  He was quickly diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but like me and many other people, he didn’t realize how serious one must get about learning how to manage the condition.

From the time of his first episode about four years passed.  He struggled with inpatient hospital stays and never really got stabilized.  After a manic and psychotic episode Hunter had the misfortune of being arrested and charged for running into people in the drive through lane at a McDonalds.  He wasn’t thinking clearly, got scared and ran into the car in front and the car behind him.  No one was hurt.

But…

Hunter was thrust into the criminal justice system.  After nearly two years in jail his case finally made it into court.  He pled not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent to Patton State Hospital in California.  A year has already passed since he has been there.

Even though he has been through so much and doesn’t really know when he will be released, he maintains a positive attitude.  Yesterday he talked about the possibility of him getting a job in the hospital and perhaps taking a class.  Some days he finds it difficult to get out of bed and go to his video class.  He struggles with coming to terms with why he didn’t get the help he needed.  He wants to release his emotions, but he’s just been through so much it’s very difficult.

Although I haven’t been institutionalized for more than three weeks, I can relate to Hunter.  It wasn’t that many years ago that I struggled to get out of bed.  The grief process I went through over the losses I experienced was intensely consuming.  And sometimes the loss of my very promising business career and lifestyle that matched haunts me.  But it also gives me the wisdom to share in real time with Hunter authentic emotions.  It gives me the ability to simply say, “I understand.”

Experiences and stories don’t have to be the same to touch upon a deep level of compassion that exists for one another.  There is no one with bipolar disorder who has not struggled.  It’s a very difficult illness to manage.  Some people deal with it by harnessing the positive extra energy one can have while hypomanic.  Others try to make sense of their psychosis experiences.  Some people paint it as a gift.  Personally, I choose to call it a worthy opponent.  Something I must continually work at to beat.

Those of us who live with bipolar disorder all have one thing in common:  we all have the courage to get out of bed in the morning.  It gives us the ability to face the fear of experiencing sometimes disabling symptoms.  It challenges us to remake our lives and deal with disappointments.

It takes courage to not give up trying, even though it may be hard to keep on going.  Hunter is one of the most courageous people I know and one of the most important people in my life.  He encourages me, inspires me and fuels my passion for mental health advocacy.  He is my example of a person who forges ahead even though he doesn’t know what the future may hold.

I hope I can do the same thing.

“Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.”  ~John Wayne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Letter To All The Bipolar Warriors

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Every so often I take a look at the blogs I have written over the past four years and see which ones people view the most.  Tonight I noticed one of the most popular was “Rebuilding a Bipolar Life.”  It was written almost four years ago.  It had to do with my quest to work on my spiritual self.

Another blog that has been very popular has been “Bipolar Disorder Destroys Life and then what’s next?”  It was written a little over three years ago.  If you’ve been following my blog or Facebook page you probably know I have found my “what’s next.”

After reading the blogs and comments I’m inspired to write a letter to my fellow bipolar warriors about some of the things I’ve learned from reflecting back in time.

Dear Bipolar Warriors,

I’m not sure where you are in the journey of living with bipolar disorder.  You may be newly diagnosed and confused as heck about this illness.  You might still be struggling trying to find the right combinations of medications.  Like me, you may have experienced a significant amount of loss because of bipolar disorder.  Maybe you’re kicking it and have mastered how to live well with bipolar.  Wherever you are on the journey here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Living with a chronic mental illness is challenging.  Okay.  That’s clearly an understatement.  There are challenges with people who are close to you understanding the illness, accepting that sometimes you’re not always going to feel well and giving you a chance to live to your potential when you are well.  There are complications with relationships.  It all gets better over time.

Some days it gets frustrating to have to fill pill boxes (I fill three weeks at a time).  But looking back I can tell you there was a time when I would sit on the edge of my bed, dump the pills in my hand and begrudge having to take them.  I would think, “I’m sick.  Why me?”  Then I would swallow them and go to bed feeling “less than.”  Fast forward over three years, it’s just part of my every day habit.  The pill boxes make it easy.  It’s a habit and I rarely ever forget to take the medications.  That’s what has been keeping me healthy.

But.  It doesn’t mean I have to like the whole process.  I don’t like having to call in the pharmacy for all my meds.  It’s a pain.  Some days I wish I didn’t have to do this, but it’s all part of managing the illness.  Without meds I have no idea where I’d be and I’m not ever going to take that chance to find out.  One could say, “Been there, done that.”  If you’re curious about that journey you can find my book  “Bipolar Disorder, My Biggest Competitor” on Amazon.

I am a strong proponent of finding the right combination of medications.  Besides my own story, I have my mother and sister’s examples and almost all the people who I have met needed medications to deal with this very tricky illness.  But it’s a bear finding the right ones.  Don’t give up.  Keep trying.  If you don’t like the doctor you are seeing, find a new one.  Learn about the medications for bipolar disorder.  Click here to find information on medications.

I can also share with you that recovery is possible and very likely if you have the knowledge, determination and access to care necessary.  But it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.  For those who don’t know, I’m an Olympic athlete and that was pretty darn challenging.  Recovery makes training for the Olympics seem easy.  And let’s not forget recovery does not mean “cured.”  It means different things to different people.  For me, it means I can use my talents and skills and contribute to my community.  It means I live a peaceful existence.  And I mange my illness to the best of my ability.

But.  There are other warriors out there who are in pain.  They’re having a frustrating time with dealing with bipolar.  Medications are causing bad side effects.  I understand.  What I can tell you from experience is don’t give up.

I’m gonna sum it all up and say what has worked for me might not work for you.  But I can tell you that you must have a desire to get well, dedication to find a successful treatment plan, discipline to stick with the treatment plan and the determination to beat this very challenging competitor.

Good luck warriors.  You are not alone.

Amy

Brave souls change hearts and minds!

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Photo: “This is My Brave” cast in Wheeling, West Virginia 

There’s a special feeling when we can be a part of something far bigger than we could ever accomplish alone.  This is my overwhelming feeling of having participated in Youth Services System and NAMI Greater Wheeling’s “This is My Brave Show,” which was held last night at the historic Capitol Theatre in Wheeling.

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Photo:  The Experience Church Worship Team & Audience

If you aren’t familiar with “This is My Brave” let me shed some light on it for you.  It’s a national non-profit organization co-founded by the amazing Jennifer Marshall.  The purpose of the show is to allow those who live with mental health conditions (mental illness & substance use disorders) to share their stories through creative expression-poetry, original music, essay.  The intent is to impact the stigma of mental illness through story telling.

The sixteen cast members in our show inspired the audience and made a lasting impression on all those who attended.  Those who shared struggle with and persevere daily through challenges related to depression, anxiety, panic attacks, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, binge eating disorder, suicide attempts and alcoholism.  Our show had an added bonus with the Experience Church Worship Team (aka-the band), kicking off the show with their inspiring and impactful musical talents.

The audience feedback has been nothing but positive.

Many people have said the IQ on that stage was beyond impressive.  Translation – people with mental illness can be smart.  Multiple people said, “it was fascinating to see the broad range of socio-economic levels and diversity of those impacted by mental illness.  Translation – mental illness does not discriminate.   One gentleman said, “I’m not affected by mental illness and I never realized what people go through.  This show helped me understand what others deal with.  I’m so grateful to be here tonight.”

And…the overwhelming comment by numerous people, “This show is inspiring.”

This morning I received this amazing quote from one of our cast members, Mr. Bill Hogan.  Bill writes,

“I have been involved in a bunch of stuff in my almost 90 years but never have I been so “electrified” by a group or an event as I was last night.  I love the word mystery and last night the wonder of it all, that unidentifiable power that charged the people on the stage as a group and as individuals was wonderful and gave everyone in that theater, on stage and off , a sense of joyful peace.  Everything was lined up the way it is supposed to be.
I am thinking of a quote  by W.B. Yeats  “ Go forth teller of tales. And seize whatever prey your heart desires.  Have no fear. Everything exists.  And everything is
True. And the earth is but dust under our feet.”  I am truly blessed to have been fortunate enough to have been part of a great happening.”

And that my friends sums up my feelings of being a part of something greater than myself.  Being part of a movement to shed light on mental illness, one person and one story at a time.  As Jennifer Marshall says, “Storytelling saves lives!”  Indeed it does.

Jennifer Marshall and Cast Photo:  Jennifer Marshall speaking to the cast of “This is My Brave” Wheeling, West Virginia

10 ways to stay mentally healthy in a crazy world!

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As a person who lives with bipolar disorder, I’ve had to learn how to manage my illness and how to stay mentally healthy.  My experience as a college basketball player playing for the legendary coach Pat Summitt and my days of striving to become an Olympic athlete helped shape how I deal with surviving in this crazy world.

Here’s my top 10 list of how to stay mentally healthy in a crazy world!

1) Know what you’re thinking

When you live with bipolar disorder and learn how to manage it, you quickly learn about racing thoughts.  But the truth is lot’s of people have anxiety and that can also cause thoughts to race from one subject to the next, making it difficult to concentrate.  If the thoughts are negative it can turn a good day bad in a heart beat.

What I’ve found helpful is to pay attention to what you’re thinking.  I check in to see what my thoughts are telling me.  Am I saying, “I’m not worth anything.” Am I telling myself, “I’m a failure.”  Whatever negative thing you are telling yourself effects everything you do in your day.

My old coach Pat Summitt used to always tell me, “Amy, you’re your own worst enemy.  You’re too hard on yourself.”  I would sit across from her desk and nod.  I knew she was right, but I didn’t know how to fix the problem.  I was striving to be perfect, beating myself up when I made mistakes and torturing myself mentally with repetitive thoughts.

So, if you’re going to stay mentally healthy, take time out during the day or in the moment and think about the things you’re telling yourself.  Learn to replace those negative thoughts and it will change your day for the better.

2)  Keep the negative news in perspective

Every night my 82 year old mother can’t wait to turn on NBC news and watch Lester Holt.  In fact she’ll turn on the television and say, “Gotta watch Lester.”  I roll my eyes and laugh.  If I don’t have anything else to do I’ll sit and watch the news with her.

But what I’ve found is that almost every news story is filled with negativity.  We get told over and over again everything that is wrong with humanity.  If we watch the local news it can be worse.  One station spends about 15 minutes going through all the people who went to court for the day.

It makes people look bad.  But in my 20 year career working for Fortune 500 companies, traveling all around the world with my sports teams and for personal fun, and working with an advocacy group–I have found most people are good.  Most people care about others and want to live a peaceful and happy life.

I like learning about what’s going on in the world, but I’d rather not be inundated with negativity.  Watch the news, but realize the whole world isn’t going to hell.

3)  Focus on what you can control

We have become a fear based culture.  Almost to the point we are paranoid about where we go and what we do for fear of running into someone who wishes to do us harm.  Paralyzing fear keeps people from venturing out and living life in a carefree way.

The truth is we can’t control what happens. In fact, we have little control over few things.  I’ve found the key to stay healthy is to find the things I can control and focus on those things.  It’s much more pleasant than worrying about all the things that could happen. 

I’ve also noticed that trying to change someone else’s views or opinions is like walking up the Rocky Mountains with no shoes on.  I can’t control the fact that some people refuse to listen to an opposing viewpoint.  It’s hard to do.  But in finding the best solutions to challenges or problems it’s great to have different perspectives and experiences at the table.  We just can’t control who is willing to listen and who is not.

I practice taking a deep breath and keeping things in perspective, realizing there is very little I can control.  But how I look at things is one of them.  I choose compassion and empathy, it’s something I can control and it makes me feel good.

4)  Balance social media

I was having a conversation with my friend Betsy.  We were talking about how important it is to balance how we use social media.  She said, “I’ve disconnected–deleted all my social media accounts.  I was spending sometimes 8 hours a day on social media.  Almost addicted to Facebook and Instagram likes.”

I thought about what she was saying and then ask myself the question, “How much time am I spending on social media?”  The answer was it ebs and flows.  I’m not addicted to it, but I try to use it constructively.  I don’t allow myself to compare my life to others, especially because I know people often portray their lives as perfect on social media.

Balance is the key.  And remember there was a day when counting the number of “likes” just didn’t matter.  I find it helpful to simply disconnect at times.  It helps me stay grounded in what’s most important.

5)  Learn how to stay present

There is no greater joy to me than having an intimate conversation with someone who is fully present.  We can all sense when someone is paying attention to us and when they are not.

It’s a discipline to learn how to stay in the present.  But I’ve found it to be the most helpful way I can live.  Sometimes my past has been painful and staying in the present keeps me far away from reliving the pain all over again.

6)  Surround yourself with positive people

There are a few people in my life I can’t avoid, but I cringe when they get on a negative roll and don’t stop.  It’s as if the world is coming to an end and every human being in it are evil.  Well, I’m exaggerating-but sadly only a little bit.

But seriously I’ve learned the more I’m around positive people we lift each other up.  We focus on the positive experiences and share those with each other.

When I have a depressive episode it’s even more important to be around someone who is positive.  They always Life my spirits and help me keep on fighting.

7)  Check your attitude

Oh…this is an important one.  Attitude is everything.  How we approach challenges and problems.  How we feel with agree and disappointments.  Having a positive attitude even in the darkest of times fuels the fight for survival.

8)  Practice gratefulness

One of the things that helps me in my continuing recovery journey is being grateful.  The little reminders of things and people I’m grateful fills up my heart.  I take a deep breath and thank God for giving me my new day.  I’m grateful for all the people who have crossed my path.  I’m grateful for the ability to put things in perspective.  Honestly, when I feel gratitude it makes me happy.

9)  Learn to say “no”

The is a tough one for me.  I like to help people, but have realized I can’t do everything.  I have to set limits to stay healthy.  I have to know my boundaries.  And above all I’ve learned that it’s okay to say “no.”

10)  Don’t be afraid to get professional help

Staying mentally healthy is critically important to everyone.  But sometimes we need a little bit of extra help.  Some days it’s just nice to talk to a therapist who is completely removed from the situation.

Sometimes people need a little extra help with medications to get through some tough times, difficult and overwhelming anxiety, depression etc.  And for those of us with chronic mental health conditions it’s imperative we stay with our treatment plan especially if it’s working well.

If you had cardiovascular, respiratory, or digestive problems would you seek professional help?  Things that effect our thinking, emotions and behavior-our mental health-sometimes need professional help too.  Don’t be ashamed to get the help you need.

Hoping my top 10 list helps somebody today.  Wishing peace.  Amy

When do we talk about mental health?

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I had the opportunity to speak with a small group of people today about mental health and mental illness.  After I was done speaking one gentleman in the room spoke and said, “With everything I learned today, I don’t understand why we aren’t talking about mental health everyday.  I mean–I never hear about the things you were talking about on TV.  When the hospital does a Health & Wellness Program it’s always about physical health.  Never about mental health.  And this is a public health crisis!”

He was astonished.  I smiled and said, “That’s why more people need to hear about mental health and mental illness.  Everybody has mental health.  Not everyone has mental illness.  But to stay mentally healthy we’ve got to talk about it more.”

When do we really talk about mental health?  Well, it depends upon what you’re calling mental health.  Some people are more comfortable saying mental health problem than mental illness.  I use both words.  But health implies without illness.  But for the sake of the conversation I’m going to talk about both.

Mental Health is discussed when tragedy strikes

About the only time we talk about mental health/illness is when there is a mental health crisis and someone either dies by suicide, is shot and killed by police or if a person with mental illness kills other people.  The news runs 24/7 when something terrible happens.

When the Las Vegas shooting happened, all the news media were posing the question about this evil man’s mental health.  Did he have a mental illness?  Was there a history?  Which all the evidence came back and said he had no history of mental illness, no official diagnosis.

It is true there have been situations where the person who was violent had an untreated mental illness.  But the fact is most people with mental illness are more likely to be the victim of crime than the perpetrator.

Celebrity disclosures stimulate a conversation–but it’s not enough 

On the rare occasions a celebrity comes forward and discloses their mental health struggles, the story usually gets some national exposure.  But it’s a shared secret and then it dies.  It never continues the conversation about how to stay mentally healthy, why it’s important to get treatment early, how it’s imperative to learn about your illness, how mental illness affects everyone differently, how there is a shortage of inpatient hospital beds, etc. The information the public needs is abundant.  But what we get is often misleading and not very helpful, with the exception of knowing if you have a mental illness you are not alone.  And that is pretty powerful.

Employers don’t talk about it

And then of course there are many different situations where our lack of understanding plays its’ way out.  Most people are not comfortable disclosing to an employer they are experiencing a mental health problem/mental illness.  But the number one disability in the world is depression.  Who knew?  Which has significantly high numbers on loss of productivity and loss of work days.  Every employer should be talking about how to stay mentally healthy and how to recognize the early signs and symptoms of mental illness.  And the necessity for getting treatment early.

I’m talking about it every chance I get

Each time I have gone out into the public and had a conversation about mental health/mental illness people come up to me, make eye contact and thank me profusely for starting the conversation.  I remember the first talk I gave to a group of students.  They were relieved I brought the topic up.  They wanted to know if their parents had a mental illness would they get one too.  That gave me an opportunity to explain risk factors, of which genetics is a factor.  Everyone should know mental illness runs in the family just like any other illness.

The statistics tell us 1 in 5 people live with a mental illness.  It’s common.  Anxiety and depression rank highest on the chart effecting a large amount of people.  Everyone should know how to recognize the signs and symptoms, so they can see it in themselves and with loved ones.

When do we talk about mental health?  Not until it’s a public health crisis.  Guess what?  It is.

If you’d like for me to come and talk at your organization or school, please contact me at Amy Gamble Contact

 

 

 

It’s not sexy to be a mental health advocate

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October is breast cancer awareness month.  I didn’t know that until eight days into October.  My realization started when I went to the local grocery store and every other cashier light (you know the one that tells you when their open) was pink.  And they were asking for donations at the register for breast cancer research dollars.  Still didn’t realize it, because people ask for money for everything now.

Then, I went shopping.  Pink shirts for sale everywhere.  I was so impressed.  Everyone, unless of course you’ve been living under a rock, knows pink is the color for breast cancer.  It’s a highly successful awareness campaign that started in full force over twenty years ago.  Heck, even the NFL is “pinked out” in October.  As a mental health advocate I dream about the day when everyone knows mental health awareness is green and guys like Brandon Marshall (click here for Brandon’s mental health advocacy organization) don’t get fined $10,000 dollars by the NFL for wearing green cleats.

But when something is successful it warrants looking at their model and learning from all the good things breast cancer awareness advocacy organizations have done.  In fact, it all peaked my interest in finding out just how much money is spent annually on breast cancer research.

The answer-cloudy.  Mmmm….what do I mean by that?

Well, turns out that breast cancer awareness and research are lumped into one big estimated sum of $6 billion a year.  Of course there are critics who think all money should be research money.  But you don’t get research donations without awareness.

Why is this important to mental health advocacy?  Because the National Institute of Mental Health has an annual budget of only $1.5 billion.  The National Institute of Mental Health funds research for mental illness and neurological conditions (brain illnesses), like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, depression, etc.  All of these illnesses have a fraction of money spent on research.

I compared the annual budget of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast cancer advocacy organization based in Texas, (well known for the trademarked tagline “Race for the Cure”) to that of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the largest mental health advocacy organization in the country.  I found the Komen foundation listed as #54 on the Forbes list of U.S. most wealthy charities with $250 million in annual revenue in 2016.  That’s for one year folks.  On the other hand, NAMI based in Arlington, VA has a little over $10 million in revenue.

In all fairness, NAMI has affiliaties in all 50 states who also have revenue, but I doubt even including all of them would break a $50 million in total revenue.

What’s my point?

How are we going to make sizable contributions as mental health advocates when the largest organization of advocacy only nets $10 million a year?  So many diseases to lobby for research on-so few dollars.  So many issues to battle, so few people to do the work.

And then there’s this…

#1)  STIGMA. It’s not cool to be a mental health advocate.

#2)  STIGMA. It’s not sexy to go out and raise money for people who have a mental illness.

#3) STIGMA. These illnesses are misunderstood.  They are often not looked at as an illness.

#4) STIGMA.  People are ashamed to come out and say they are living with a mental illness.

#5)  STIGMA. Policy makers don’t understand it, unless it effects them.

#6) STIGMA.  Family members don’t want people to know their loved ones live with a mental illness.

And…

I could go on and on.  You get the point.  We have limited resources for a very complex problem that most people don’t understand and many fear and are afraid to talk about.

So..if you’re reading this please pick up an advocacy banner.  There’s an enormous amount of work that needs done.  The Susan G. Komen Foundation started with raising awareness for breast cancer.  Mental Health Adovocates have to do the same thing.  We have to help one another do this work.

If you’re local to the Wheeling area you can start your advocacy work by showing up at the NAMI Greater Wheeling Walk on October 21 @Wheeling Park.  Registration starts at 10am.

And…

We even have cool tee-shirts.