National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day
By: Sarah Sanburn, LPC
Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, May 7th this year, was established to bring attention to to the importance of children’s emotional, behavioral and mental health. Children are resilient, we hear this often. While true, it is not the whole story. Building resilience requires supportive and understanding adults. Both children and their caregivers are struggling recently. As research shows us, there has been a consistent decrease in children’s mental health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics declared a national emergency in child and adolescent mental health in 2021 due to the increase in mental illness in children nationwide. Rates of childhood mental health concerns and suicide have been on the rise since 2010 with the pandemic increasing these rates due to the surge in stress and instability.
As the bias around mental health services decreases and awareness is more widely understood parents are seeking therapy at a growing rate. However, there is a lack of resources for children’s mental, emotional and behavioral health. As a child therapist I see daily the impact that a lack of mental health resources has on children and their families. When I first talk to parents it is common to hear about how many calls they made or how many times they were turned away before getting their child into therapy.
I am lucky enough to have two wonderful healthy children, ages 7 and 2. Being a mother is the most amazing and the most challenging thing I have ever done, I am sure most parents feel similarly that showing up for their kiddos emotionally is incredibly rewarding and also difficult. I find that when I make time to care for myself I am able to be more present for my children. Making time to recharge is a huge piece of the challenge to parenting amidst all of the laundry, soccer practices and activities. Reading, especially listening to audiobooks, has given me comfort in the knowledge that I am supporting my kiddos to grow into resilient humans.
Here are a few of my favorite parenting books:
Lessons on Self Harm
By: Angela Kuhns, MA, LPC
I would like to explore something that is both heavy and important to talk about. AND nothing is more important than your safety. If you find discussions of self-harm or references to suicidal ideation activating or overwhelming, do what you need to do to keep yourself safe, including choosing not to read this post.
Self-harm refers to deliberately hurting your own body. This commonly takes the form of, but is not limited to, cutting, bruising, or burning. March is Self-Harm Awareness Month, and I would like to create an opportunity to connect by sharing my own story and what I have learned.
By the middle of high school my depression was in full force with all its attendant sadness, confusion, anger, and feelings of worthlessness. Totally overwhelmed and without access to better tools, I began self-harming. There were times I self-harmed because it all felt like too much to bear. I have learned we all need to be taught to identify and label our emotions. We need emotion regulation/tolerance skills that work for us. There were times it was because I felt nothing, trapped in periods of numbness, suppression, and anhedonia. Self-harm was an attempt to feel something. I have learned we all need ways to safely feel our feelings, strategies to ride out waves of difficult emotions, and to know that it is okay to get treatment for any underlying issues. There were times it was out of anger that I didn’t know how to safely hold or communicate. I have learned we all need to understand that there are no “bad” emotions. Yes, there are painful and difficult emotions, and we need to realize they provide us with valuable information. We need to learn how sit with, listen to, and communicate our feelings. There were times it was because the results of physical self-harm were tangible. I could see it, I knew why it hurt, and I could control how much and when it hurt. I have learned we all need ways to express ourselves. We need insight into our pain and suffering. We need to connect to the agency that we do have in our lives. There were times it was the reflection of the toxic shame that can accompany shoulds, rejection, loss, and disappointment. I have learned we all need to challenge our avoidance, judgements, and harmful ways of thinking. We need to learn good boundaries, to take responsibility for our own feelings and not the feelings of others. There was even one time that self-harm seemed like the only thing between me and suicide. I have learned we all need our self-harm, underlying issues, and any co-occurring suicidal ideation treated. We need love, support, belonging, and as many protective factors as possible. During all this, I would have smiled and told you everything was okay. People around me didn’t know or if they did, they surely didn’t know what to do or say.
There are many reasons someone might self-harm and what leads to harm reduction depends on each individual’s needs. Whatever the reasons, know that THERE ARE THINGS WE CAN DO.
If you have lived experience of self-harm or have thought about self-harming know that you are not alone, you are not inherently flawed, there is help, and it is okay access that help. If none of that seems believable right now---I hear you, there are reasons those blocks are there, and there are people who can help you work through the blocks, self-harm, and whatever is going on in your life.
If you think someone you care about might be self-harming, please don’t ignore it. It is equally important to not overreact, which may require you to address your own needs. A person struggling to manage their emotions doesn’t need high reactivity to also try and manage. If you’re dysregulated, you cannot help coregulate or model emotion regulation. Let the person know you care, work with them towards safety, and help them get connected to as many resources as possible including internal strengths, skills building, and professional support.
When a part of self or a loved one self-harms:
Self-harm is not a suicide attempt. It is often non-lethal AND behaviors can escalate. Suicidal ideation can also co-occur. This should be assessed by a professional who will work on a safety plan and harm reduction.
The Right Therapist Is Out There
By: Michael P. Raymond
A new year means New Year’s Resolutions! We decide to exercise more, declutter our home, read one hundred books, etc. A common resolution – and the point of this blog post – is to get a handle on our mental health. Resolutions can be daunting without a plan. Don’t worry because I am here to help! I am Sandhill’s Practice Manager. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I am passionate and knowledgeable about mental health.
Finding a therapist, especially when amid a mental health crisis, can be overwhelming. Any time I am daunted by a task, I break it down to manageable steps. I find comfort in knowledge. When I do research and am well-informed, I feel prepared for the unknown.
Start by thinking critically. What do you want to get a handle on? Have you experienced trauma? Are you feeling depressed? Maybe you have strained relationships in your life, or experienced a significant loss? Also start to think about what kind of therapist you’d like to see. Someone of the same gender? The same sexuality? Someone who is close to your age? I was a queer, twenty-seven-year-old when I started seeing a therapist. And the most important thing to me was finding someone who could relate.
Armed with my thought exercise, I started the practical part of finding a therapist. Cost was a major factor for me. Therapy can be expensive, but my mental health was a priority, even if it meant curbing my Starbucks habit. I was lucky to have health insurance. So, I figured out what my plan covered, and how I could find an in-network provider. The provider search engine on my insurance website was a lifesaver. It showed me providers who were in-network, where they were located, and their contact information. And then, I Googled, a lot.
Searching online for medical providers is a mixed bag. I’m a Millennial, so if someone doesn’t have an internet presence, I’m going to be hesitant. Psychology Today’s Find a Therapist function was my best discovery. Many therapists have a profile on Psychology Today that includes a bio, as well as, a list of areas and demographics they work with. And if you’re lucky, a picture as well. If you’re really lucky, it will have a link to their personal website. I selected four potential therapists from my research. I contacted them to confirm they took my insurance and if they were taking new clients. Based on timeliness of response and availability of appointments, I setup an appointment!
The first time I saw a therapist, I did not connect with them. I hadn’t thought critically about what I was looking for. I saw them for three months, and then stopped. Two years went by, and I needed to talk to someone. I was wary of going through the process again, but I learned from my previous experience, so I felt more confident. I followed the steps again. I read many bios to get a sense of their energy. I reached out to a therapist for an appointment in August of 2019. It is now January 2022 and I have been seeing him since. He is helping me change my life. Finding a therapist can be a daunting task, and I hope I’ve provided some useful tips to help you find the right therapist for you!
Veterans Mental Health
By Andrea Schramm, MA, LPC
I’ve been thinking about this month’s topic for our November blog as this month, the month of November, is when we honor and celebrate our Veterans who have given so much to all of us through their service to our country, many have given their lives both in and out of conflict. It’s a huge topic.
I am not a Veteran so my experience is uniquely civilian in scope. I am the wife of a prior Senior Master Sergeant and 25-year Veteran of the United States Navy and Air National Guard and the mom of a prior Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. It is from these roles I have come to understand the significant and unique differences between our experience as civilians and those who have served in our military.
I remember when my son returned from serving in the Marine Corps and despite having been in constant contact with him, visiting him at Camp Pendleton may times and meeting his close buddies in the Corps, I realized I struggled to understand the unique experience he had while in the Marine Corps.
Each of us is unique in our experience and although may be common with those close to us, they are our own and this can feel isolating even amongst those we shared our experiences with. One thing I learned which I found helpful is the core purpose of those serving across our military branches is the goal of “Mission Ready.” Our service members train constantly and this is the single experience they have with each other outside of what is uniquely their own. Their training is constant in support of their ability to be ready to engage at any moment with their mission in our defense. It is also a mind set each and every service member internalizes. In order for our service members to do their unique job, they must be mission ready at all times. The United Nations offers this guide for Mission Readiness and Stress Management. I encourage you to take a look at the process of deployment for our service members whether in training missions or in combat missions.
How can we support and understand the mental health needs of our service members and Veterans? I can offer a few experiences of my own having had to adapt to something I had no knowledge of myself.
We can be active participants in helping our Veterans stay in touch with those they have served with. Watching how incredibly important it has been to maintain contact with those they have served with within my own home, this is a significant investment in our Veterans mental health and well-being. If you know a Veteran, take the time to ask them about their buddies they have served with and encourage them to remain in touch. This is an incredibly significant support for our Veterans. Consider involvement with an organization such as Make the Connection that connects Veterans and families through their experiences.
We can ask to hear and listen to our Veterans stories. Not all Veterans want to share their experiences, however, we can still ask and tell them we want to know about their experience serving in our military. Tell them how important they are to you and how much you want to share in their experience. Talking about something can be very helpful for a person’s mental well-being and fosters the very important connection between those who have served and their families and the greater community in which they live.
Listening to Understand
By Allie Lehr, MA, PLMFT
Have you ever been in a “discussion” with someone (a partner, a parent, a sibling or friend) where you feel like you are both talking and listening, yet you are still going around in circles? You are both actively trying to listen and share your perspective, but you are both left feeling unheard and frustrated. As humans, we all want to feel seen and heard.
Whether I am working with couples, families, or friends, this is one of the most common communication patterns I see. The reason this pattern is so frustrating is because both parties are listening, but they are listening to defend their point, rather than listening to hear and understand the other person. Listening to understand the other person’s point can feel really scary because we believe if we don’t share our point right away, it won’t be heard. The irony is, when we feel heard and validated, we are much more open to hearing the other side than when we are shut down.
Below is an example of *discussion* my fiancé and I frequently have and two ways it has gone:
Listening to Defend:
Zach: I told you the dishwasher was clean 2 days ago. Why haven’t you unloaded it?
Allie: Gosh why are you always nagging me? I’ve been really busy with work an haven’t had two second to myself. I don’t understand why you can’t just do it if it bugs you so much.
Zach: Are you kidding me? I do so much in this house. You don’t appreciate me. I asked you to do one thing,
Allie: I do a lot too. You never notice anything I do. You just criticize me.
Insert the rest of a fight here.
Listening to Hear:
Zach: Can you please unload the dishwasher? I told you it was clean 2 days ago and it’s really frustrating that it hasn’t been done.
Allie: I am sorry it’s been frustrating. I have been really overwhelmed with work and keep forgetting.
Zach: You have definitely been busy and it makes sense that you’ve been forgetting. What can I do to help remind you when you are busy so that I don’t feel frustrated and you don’t feel nagged.
Allie: Let’s get a magnet that tells me if it’s clean or dirty to help me keep track. I will work on getting it done within a day. Does that work?
Zach: Thanks for making the effort. I think I can live with that.
In the second example, we are working together to come to a conclusion and hear why the other person is frustrated. When I felt validated in how hard I was working, it was easier to understand his frustration. When he felt validated, in his frustration he was able to have empathy for me. We both still got our points across, but were able to do it in a much kinder way.
Next time you feel yourself going around in circles, ask yourself if you are listening to defend. If you are, try to repeat back what they said and validate before you share your perspective. Who knows, maybe you will both get to feel heard.
Suicide Prevention Month: How to have a conversation and keep yourself or someone else safe. #BEThe1to
By Andrea Schramm, MA, LPC
September is National Suicide Prevention month. Here is some information on how to recognize and support yourself or someone else if you or someone else may be thinking about or contemplating suicide. How do we know what another person is feeling? What might we hear in conversation or see in their behavior?
Feelings of hopelessness and an inability to see one’s self through a problem can distort a person’s view of their situation and lead to feeling there is no way out of what is troubling them. An increase in isolation and disengagement from normal activities of interest can also indicate a person is struggling with feeling worthless or hopeless. People will often think, “I can’t live with this anymore, I would be better off not here anymore, this is so painful” or “I am the cause of other’s problems, and they would be better off if I wasn’t here.” If you or someone you know is experiencing these thoughts, a safety plan can help support efforts to redirect suicidal thoughts. Safety plans include who you will reach out to when you feel suicidal, ways you can redirect your thoughts and change your view by engaging in activities and who your support people are when you feel hopeless or have suicidal thoughts. It is important to listen for and respond to thoughts and feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and feeling trapped with no identifiable way out of what is troubling you or someone else.
How can we listen and recognize when someone close to us is have suicidal thoughts? Don’t be afraid to: ASK if you suspect someone might be considering suicide. Listen for those feelings of not being able to solve their problem, feeling hopeless, worthless, and stuck. People can experience feelings of relief when asked about their troubling thoughts.
BE THERE. Don’t engage in problem solving or minimize their problem and resist giving advice, listen without judgement, as this approach can increase hopefulness and decrease suicidal thoughts.
KEEP THEM SAFE. Reduce any lethal means such as firearms or medications as this can reduce suicide attempts.
HELP THEM STAY CONNECTED. Help them create a simple safety plan with people they can reach out to, places they can redirect their feelings in positive ways and things they can focus on to experience positive feelings and hopefulness.
FOLLOW UP with the person as this basic level of ongoing support can be an important part of suicide prevention.
LEARN MORE. Here is a link to the 5 action steps to helping someone who may be suicidal. https://www.bethe1to.com/bethe1to-steps-evidence/
Let’s all have a conversation about Suicide Prevention.
Transitioning Back to School
By Andrea Schramm, MA, LPC
Whether you are beginning school for the first time as a new kindergartner or heading off to a new role as an adult learner, going back to school is one big transition. Like all transitions, it’s change. Change from what was, summer vacation, life as it is, to new opportunities, change can feel uncomfortable or be downright hard to make. Change as a transition often involves some of the unknown. Will I know anyone in my class? Will I have anyone I like to sit with during lunch? Will my PE teacher be a nice person and understand I hate running? Will I be able to get to my own class on time after getting the kids off to school?
Change involves energy. Positive change like making a new friend who likes the same books as I do and read the same ones over the summer can create energy, fueling us to do more and increase our motivation to keep growing and expand on what we are doing. Having a negative experience with change can have the opposite affect and zap our energy like finding out we have nobody we know in our lunch hour. This experience with change can decrease our energy and our motivation.
Positive change through transition can feel awesome. How do we keep this going on the inside? Something like this way of thinking can help us stay motivated through change; how we think about something affects how we feel about it. Keeping our thoughts neutral to positive protects us from the energy zapping negative thoughts that make change and transitions difficult. Positive thoughts protect our energy and can increase our motivation resulting in more positive experiences.
What does this look like in practice? Here are some self-care ideas: taking a brief walk, taking a shower, reading a magazine or book for a few minutes. Engage in down time doing something we like: watching content we enjoy to decompress, talking with friends and family. Protecting what gets our attention (this is mindfulness): staying in the moment and not dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Resist over committing and inviting stress and negative thoughts into your daily experiences.
What do we do when negative thoughts bring us down, change our feelings and make change difficult if not anxiety provoking? Make a list of your negative thoughts and an opposing positive thought to go along. Changing negative thoughts to neutral/positive thoughts is something we learn as our negative thoughts are often part of our brain’s job of protecting us and keeping us safe.
Have a plan for returning to school. Wear comfortable clothes you feel good in. Bring something to keep you hydrated, have a favorite “something” in your backpack or locker to keep you oriented emotionally and present. Learn to recognize negative emotional reactions and consider taking a few deep breathes when you feel them. Learn to practice good sleep/wake behaviors as you move through the transition and change of going back to school.
Most of all, try to have fun! Change is a constant part of our lives and something we will always go through as we grow and change ourselves. Learn to take deep breathes and tell yourself it will be okay when change seems hard to overcome. You can do it!
Planes, Trains, & Automobiles - Self-Care Tips for Travel during Covid-19
By Andrea Schramm, MA, LPC
During this Covid-19 pandemic one of the biggest changes in our life has been the ability to just pick up and go places. Whether you prefer a jet setting to faraway places or simply getting out and about in your own neighborhood or community, restrictions, mandates, and the need to protect each other and our own health and well-being has made travel unavailable, dangerous, or inconvenient.
Whether you have plans to hit the runway, ride the rails or simply explore your local community by car, bike or on foot, here are some basic tips to get you out and about.
If you haven’t flown recently, take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with your airline’s rules and regulations on mask wearing. This information is readily available on their website. Most airlines require masks worn during the entire flight upon boarding and after exiting the plane. Terminals and shuttles may also require masks to be worn for the duration of your travel or while in the terminal. This can result in having to wear a mask for an extended period of time across the duration of your trip. Amtrak also requires masks to be worn at all times while traveling by train. Plan your trip by car and consider using an app for trip planning such as TripIt to stay informed on the road. Depending on your local neighborhood and community, mask restrictions may be lower or not at all and outdoor spaces which allow for social distancing may be a great choice for traveling away from home.
Plan for waiting or restricted access to amenities:
Bring snacks and drinks to stay hydrated while traveling. Traveling by plane or train could be more stressful during the pandemic than in past times. Restaurants can have limited access or be closed all together. Wait times may be excessive.
Managing anxiety associated with travel:
Consider comfortable and familiar clothing you will feel relaxed wearing. Bring a favorite book, magazine, and snack food. Basically, bring the comforts of home along as best you can. Your favorite stuffy can share your boarding pass and provide emotional support and soothing. Take deep breathes when you feel anxious. Stay in touch with family and friends for support. Bring your favorite playlist to soothe your nerves during long waits, long periods of time wearing your mask, and the unknown of pandemic travel.
Plan to have fun where ever you go or however you get there! Travel can be fun, exciting and bring us to restful and regenerative places and experiences. Travel is beneficial to your mental health in a number of important ways. Getting away can help you relieve the stress of daily life and let you relax your mind and experience calm. Regular get-aways can have lasting positive benefits to your mental health for weeks after you have returned home. Vacations can improve your mental power by giving your brain a rest. We can increase our empathy when we go places we have never been before and have new and different experiences.
So, feel better in a plane, on a train, or in the family car on the way to the park. With a bit of planning, travel is still a huge benefit even during a pandemic. Find your fit and pack your bags!
Pride Is A Verb
By Angela Summers, MA, LPC
A couple of weeks ago the rainbows started to pop, and it seemed like every commercial was trying to sell me something using actors portraying non-heterosexual couples. I scream for my wife to come look when LGBTQ+ people are depicted in commercials. We literally pause and rewind to watch them. So what is this feeling inside? What is this dead spot around the edge that turns to rage as I move in closer? Why does every slogan, every good intention, every product wrapped in a rainbow make my chest tighten, and my jaw clench?
I practice this for a living- reminding others and myself to notice what is happening in our bodies, name the sensations and any emotional quality, ask the part if it has any information for us. And still sometimes I walk around a couple of weeks being annoyed I feel a particular way when I “should” be feeling something else. Anger is uncomfortable AND it often knows the way to the places that need our attention, the places that are hurting.
Every LGBTQIA+ person we meet is carrying heartache from direct and collective experiences of harm inflicted when individuals, families, cultures, governments, religions, or other institutions invalidate, pathologize (looking at us mental health community), demonize, criminalize, shame, discriminate, torture, and murder based on LGBTQIA+ identity. A rainbow band-aid does not make the bleeding stop. It is only through acknowledging how we, systems, and institutions are causing harm, immediately followed by corrective action that has any chance. For those that are already lost through hate crimes and suicides, nothing brings them back.
Pride was born out of the necessity of LGBTQIA+ people to protect their lives, create safe spaces, and secure basic human rights. Pride is dismantling oppressive systems that have and continue to terrorize LGBTQIA+ people. Pride is seeking the liberation of all LGBTQIA+ people along with every oppressed and marginalized group of people because LGBTQIA+ people are also part of those groups (and it is just the right thing to do). Pride is actively unearthing the ways in which LGBTQIA+ people and their history, struggles, and contributions were and continue to be erased. Pride is asserting there is no wrong or right way to be non-heterosexual, trans, non-binary, or queer as these false narratives further oppression. Pride is searching for any place you have internalized harmful messages about yourself or any member of the LGBTQIA+ community and choosing to do the work to be a safe person. Pride is caring for ourselves because self-preservation is an act of political warfare, thank you, Audre Lorde. Pride is radical self-love, thank you, Sonya Renee Taylor, and a love for ALL those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Pride is knowing none of this happens without BIPOC, especially Trans Women of Color, who despite being the most targeted because of the intersectionality of their identities, have and continue to show up in ways no one else can nor dares to. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
When we are having all the feels, may we make time to be with them, listen deeply, and receive their offerings. When we are hurting, may our truest selves and community reconnect us to our inherent worthiness, our healing, our Pride. When we are celebrating, may we honor those who came before us, embody the radicalness of our joy, and fiercely fight to make it safe for all to come out.
Resources for education & support:
Mental Health Awareness Month
By Andrea Schramm, MA, LPC
The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month and two of the most prominent organizations, Mental Health America and National Alliance on Mental Illness have wonderful tools for living with and sharing with each other the importance of our mental health.
This year Mental Health America is recognizing Mental Health Awareness Month with their “Tools 2 Thrive” downloadable toolkit which contains all kinds of wonderful tools for engaging organizationally, socially and individually with the importance of our mental health. Check out the Fast Facts and Tips for Success in this amazing toolkit! https://mhanational.org/mental-health-month-2021-toolkit-download.
National Alliance on Mental Illness has identified the month of May with the words “You Are Not Alone” and the opportunity for each of us to tell our own unique experience with mental health through video, picture or story. What a wonderful way for all of us to connect on the topic of our mental health and well-being! https://notalone.nami.org/
Remember we all come into this world with the best of intentions and do the best we know how. Our mental health is a fluid concept and mental illness is an experience many, if not all of us will have at some place across our life span. Treat each other and yourself with kindness and learn to accept yourself and others where we are. We are all on a journey through life and all our roads are different and unique to each of us. Practice keeping curiosity in your mind for times when your own thoughts and feelings and the actions of others are challenging. Consider exploring the tools provided above as an investment of your time and attention on the subject of your mental health and the mental health of those you know and love. If you think you need support for your mental health, reach out to your primary care physician, counseling services or a trusted friend or family member for support. If you are experiencing suicidal ideations or feeling worthless, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!
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