Introduction by Annamarie Fernyak
In the following blog post, Erin talks about the stigma of mental health and common biases toward people who may be suffering from mental illness. Before Erin’s thoughtful essay, I never considered that I might have biases. After reflecting on Erin’s words, I came to realize that some biases were just below the surface.
So, what can we do once you know those subconscious inclinations exist? What do I do?
Be mindful, of course! We each have the beautiful ability to tune the dial of awareness onto our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. By paying careful attention, we gain information and uncover unwanted habits and beliefs. The pause taken to tune into awareness provides the opportunity for you to weigh what is happening at any moment against your values; then an action may be chosen. It allows purposeful actions instead of reactions.
Take time to self-reflect. Listen to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Discover if you have habitual ways of thinking or hidden prejudices, and invite yourself to think, act, and exist in a way that positively serves yourself and the world.
Sending a virtual hug!!!
“I heard you were sick the other day. How are you feeling?”
“You had surgery recently, right? How are you recovering?”
“Oh no, you have the flu?? Stay home and take care of yourself!”
All of the above statements are commonly heard among friends and co-workers on a daily basis. We are often able to discuss health issues and illnesses, checking on one another, and making sure physical health issues are addressed. Imagine if the following was overheard:
“I heard you had a manic episode last week. How are you feeling?”
“You had a psychiatric hospitalization recently, right? How are you doing?”
“Oh no, you had a panic attack? Please stay home and take care of yourself!”
If any of the above statements make you uncomfortable, you are not alone.
Except for those who work in the mental health field, the statements above do not roll off the tongue. We are completely comfortable talking about the health ailments of ourselves and our friends, family, and co-workers; however, the stigma around mental health often leaves us speechless and silent, rendering those with mental health symptoms isolated and ostracized.
So why does this occur?
There are a variety of reasons and theories. In the Middle Ages, those with mental health symptoms were thought to be punished by God or possessed by the devil, so they were often imprisoned, burned, or killed. Perhaps the discomfort around mental health stems from the colonial and industrial periods; at this time, women were commonly viewed as property of the fathers and husbands in their lives, and these men could have them “committed” to a sanitarium at any time, with very little evidence. In the days of Nazi Germany, horrible experiments were conducted on those deemed mentally ill because some believed the mentally ill were a disposable population.
In the 1960s and 1970s, deinstitutionalization resulted in the influx of those diagnosed as severely mentally ill as these individuals re-entered local communities to receive treatment. However, this also led to homelessness, and it doubled the number of people identified as mentally ill in the criminal justice system in the following years. Additionally, the media sensationalize acts of violence and attribute them to mental illness, even if there is no evidence of a connection.
In this historical context, all episodes of mental illness get lumped together. Whether the person is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety, the individual is often viewed from the same lens, both internally (view of self) and externally (how others view the person). If one grows up hearing about “crazy” people, who commit acts of violence or who live on the street, and then experiences mental health symptoms, it can be alarming and unsettling. Often, people will not admit to themselves or others what symptoms they experience for fear of being hospitalized, losing their job, or not being able to see or care for their children.
What can the average person do then, to reduce this stigma for oneself and significant others?
Mental health issues are isolating, and lack of connection with others exacerbates these issues. Human connection is the balm that heals. Sometimes, just having someone who is willing to sit with you, even in silence, is the most healing thing of all. Be that connection for someone. There are several things we can do :
1. Educate yourself.
The more you know, the less scary and strange something will be. And then, you can help educate others with facts.
2. Recognize what biases you have.
Examine from where these biases stem, whether from how you were brought up or societal influences.
3. Talk about your own mental health struggles.
Each of us has ups and downs in our moods and emotions; that is very normal. Each of us also has times in our lives when we struggle with difficult situations and circumstances. Talking about these struggles openly makes room and space for others to do so as well.
4. Be aware of language.
Instead of saying words like “crazy” or “nuts” or “cuckoo”, or even saying things like “he’s bipolar” or “she’s depressed”, say things like “he has symptoms of bipolar disorder” or “those who have schizophrenic symptoms”. This begins to identify the person as separate and distinct from the condition.
5. Support people who are struggling.
Reach out to someone you know is having difficulty with anxiety, depression, or even a psychotic episode. Let them know you are there.
*May is Mental Health Month and in support of our community, Mind Body Align is offering several FREE resources! Check it out here!
Erin Schaefer, LPCC-S, IMFT-S, is the Executive Vice President/Executive Director at Catalyst Life Services. She received a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from Pacific Lutheran University in 1997 and a master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy/Counseling in 2002 from the University of Akron. Erin has worked in community mental health for over 20 years. She was also director of Ashland Parenting Plus, a small nonprofit agency focused on teen pregnancy prevention, juvenile diversion, and parent education. She served on the board and as president of the Ohio Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and also on the board of directors of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy from 2011-2013; she currently Treasurer-Elect, starting her term in Jan. 2020. She has been a member of AAMFT since 1997 and is a Clinical Fellow.
Erin has been married to Michael for over 20 years. They have two teenage children. Erin is also a certified running coach with Road Runner Clubs of America. She is an avid marathoner and loves running long distances. Erin believes in the power of exercise to help maintain good mental health!
I invite you to join me in this moment.
Breathing in and breathing out.
Breathing in and breathing out.
One more breath.
In and out.
And, Hello! Welcome to February!
2020 is the year of whole living at Mind Body Align. It’s an entire year of exploration and non-judgemental examination into each area of our lives. We will focus on different topics through our Coffee Talks, podcasts, blogs, and social community. Our intention is that each month’s focus will offer you the possibility of standing confidently in your best life. Some of us may dive deep and others may hover near the surface, and it’s all ok. If you attended our most recent Coffee Talk I’m guessing that you have already put some thought into the topic of wholeness and what it means to you. If the concept is new, I invite you to read Annamarie’s blog post to begin your journey.
What does a “whole life” look like? Creating a life that is whole and fulfilling does not mean perfection. It is not tied to euphoric happiness. It is an underlying feeling of contentment and acceptance. Mindfulness is an awareness and acceptance of what is.
In going through the exercise of examining the whole of your world, there is no expectation or implied striving for balance. Personally, I have never found my life to be in balance. This used to create a lot of mental suffering, guilt, and self-recrimination. Practicing mindfulness has alleviated these feelings and my hope is that you will find transformation through mindfulness as well.
Take the first step.
January’s 10,000 Step Challenge may have been that first step for you. We had an amazing amount of engagement in the community. It has been fabulous to see people moving, connecting, encouraging each other, and forming new friendships through this challenge. I can’t wait to announce the grand prizes and meet everyone in person at our meetup at Phoenix Brewery on Thursday, February 6th between 5:30 & 7:00. P.S. Keep your eye out for some great content and ideas to keep the momentum from the group going!
Perhaps this year you need to focus energy on professional development. LunchWISE Wednesday kicked off the new year in January with the topic of Imposter Syndrome. It really seemed to resonate; I am still receiving emails and comments. We hear you and our planning team is reaching new heights to bring you inspired, relevant topics. Our February LW is featuring Holly Troupe, owner of The Boot Life. Holly is going to talk to us about diversifying and succeeding in your market. If you have been looking for new ways to expand your business or side hustle you will want to check this event out!
I also invite you to check out the events highlighted below, listen to the Second Sip podcast with life coach, Chris Stoner (it’s EPIC), and then meet up with us at the next Coffee Talk featuring accomplished leadership and executive coach, Cindy Biggs as we begin diving into perfectionism and what it means to be perfectly imperfect.
Have a wonderful month!
Jennifer Blue is the Operations Director for Mind Body Align having joined the team in August of 2017. She studied political science at Otterbein College and the University of Louisville. She returned to Mansfield in 2005 and is excited to be a part of the positive changes occuring in our community.
With the hustle and bustle that surround us this time of year, it can feel exhausting to try to cut through the noise and find a moment of calm for ourselves. I love this post
by Lysianne Unruh that asks 5 simple questions meant to help you focus on what matters most during the holidays.
to read Lysianne’s original post and put her wise words to use in the coming weeks.
Mary Kennard is the Creative Director at Mind Body Align. Mary is a native Richland County resident and currently lives in Mansfield with her husband, Blake, and their two sons, Griffin and Phoenix. Mary loves coffee, reading about crystals, and discovering new music. You can follow her family adventures on Instagram at @MaryCabKennard or get fashion + makeup tips from her by following @OhioStyleVibe
Confession time: I used to be kind of a snob about journalism.
When I was earning my degree at The Ohio State University, social media was just beginning to take off. I only made a Twitter account because it was a requirement in one of my journalism classes. We were only just starting to understand the impact of “citizen journalists” with access to post whatever they wanted on their personal profiles and declare it news, and yet we had no idea what was to come (the term “fake news” hadn’t entered the national lexicon yet).
The idea of “citizen journalists” was incredibly offensive to me. Here I was spending thousands of dollars on an education to learn how to practice this craft, and some random person on the street could post a picture and dare to call themselves a journalist, and no one would know the difference.
I’ve had a passion for storytelling since childhood – I can still remember creating “newspapers” on yellow legal pads at my grandma’s house. She worked at a newspaper in her youth, and so did my uncle on the other side of the family. I guess you could say it’s been in my blood. That kind of deep-seated passion can make you pretty defensive.
All that ego led to dreams of being some hotshot writer at a national news organization. I mean, let’s be honest, if I got a call from one of those places I definitely wouldn’t hang up the phone right away. But my journey in life since college has shifted the way I see the world, and my place in this industry.
I still have a fierce passion for journalism. But I no longer believe journalists should live in ivory towers preaching the news to listening ears below. Instead of believing I alone can change the world, I believe in casting a wider net and empowering others to tell their own stories.
The industry as a whole is starting to shift, too. News organizations are starting to realize their audiences don’t need to be preached at, they need to be brought alongside the reporting process. We’ve started to listen more to readers and what they have to say, and we’ve been rewarded with content that our audiences actually care about.
When I think about an individual’s potential for social impact, I’ve stopped thinking about it from the perspective of myself as a superhero saving the world with my words. Real change can only happen when you bring others around you along the same road.
I’ve also stopped thinking I could only make an impact in this world if I rose to a certain station. For a long time, I thought this season of life was only a stepping stone to the next, better opportunity – which is a good way to miss out on the beautiful things happening right now.
I first moved to Richland County in 2012, and the past seven years have cemented my belief that local journalism is perhaps the most important type of journalism. Only your local news organization has its finger on the pulse of the community you live in, reporting on the issues that matter to you in your daily life.
In addition, solutions journalism has really opened my eyes to the possibilities for a local news organization to be a facilitator of that conversation, not just standing on the sidelines. Not to mention it makes my soul a lot happier to report on solutions, not just problems.
I was recently promoted to the position of Engagement & Solutions Editor at Richland Source, and I’ve quickly realized it is truly my dream job to work with our community to make our slice of the world a better place. Not only do I want to tell you all about the amazing things people are doing to find solutions, I want to empower you to be a part of that solution. This isn’t my story – it’s yours.
Gone are my days of scoffing at citizen journalists and pining for a faraway job because of the vague sense it’s what I was obligated to do. I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought possible because I decided to bloom where I was planted. I took a look around and realized the grass under my feet was just as green.
And now, I want to hear from you. If you could affect change in our community, what would you do? What stories do you have to tell about your hometown? Feel free to send them my way at email@example.com.
I’ve always had a passion for storytelling. This is just the beginning.
Brittany Schock is the Engagement & Solutions Editor at Richland Source. Her work with solutions journalism has been nationally recognized, and she’s been invited to represent Richland Source in conversations about journalism all over the country the past three years. She is a native of Dayton and a current resident of Shelby. She enjoys cute dogs, good coffee, and Ohio State football.