5 Ways to Overcome the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

One in five adults in the United States suffer from at least one diagnosed mental health issue every year (Source: National Institute for Mental Health). That’s about 52 million individuals. To put that into perspective, imagine you and your four closest family members or friends are all sitting together around a table. Statistically, one of you will be struggling with at least one mental health issue, whether that be depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD or any number of diagnosable mental health issues. But how many times a year do you have a conversation about mental health with those four people? Your answer is probably zero. Why is that?

There are three categories of mental health stigma. Each one contributes to the barrier between you and your discussion about mental health. So, let’s talk about how to reduce that barrier and overcome each stigma in order to better talk about mental health with not only your loved ones, but also yourself.

Public Stigma

Public stigma surrounding mental health is the negative attitudes or perceptions that the general public has about mental health. The common public belief about mental health is that “people with mental issues are dangerous, incompetent, to blame for their disorder [and] unpredictable” (Source: American Psychiatric Association). 

What can affect public stigma? Movies and television shows like Criminal Minds, Mindhunter, the 2019 film version of the Joker, etc., are all forms of media that represent individuals with mental illness who turn violent. These individuals and their mental health are portrayed in a way that fuels the prejudice and stereotypes the public already believes about mental health – they are dangerous, incompetent and unpredictable.

Personal Stigma

Personal stigma is the negative attitudes or perceptions that an individual has about their own mental health. Individuals with their own prejudices about mental health that are fueled by public stigma believe they are “dangerous, incompetent, [and] to blame [for their condition]” (APA).

What can affect personal stigma? The public perception of mental health is the baseline for how people think about their own mental health. If they are commonly in contact with these negative perceptions and harmful stereotypes about mental health, it is more likely that they are going to turn that stigma towards themselves. In addition, how those in their direct circle talk about mental health can contribute to their beliefs about mental health.

Institutional Stigma

Institutional stigma is how the general public’s belief about mental health affects the system. The government and private organizations may intentionally or unintentionally alter laws and opportunities that directly or indirectly affect those with mental illness based on the prejudices and stereotypes of individuals with mental health (APA).

Again, institutional stigma stems from the public’s beliefs about mental health and how those with mental health are perceived to be dangerous, incompetent, and unpredictable. There are several areas where mental health stigma is purposefully embodied in laws and other institutions – the “insanity defense” in the legal system, mental health coverage not being included in most health care insurance plans, no formal mental health education in schools.

So how can you and your four closest family members or friends reduce the stigma surrounding mental health? Here are five ways to do so:

  1. Acknowledge the harmful effects of stigma

    Common effects fueled by stigma include low self-esteem, difficulty with social relationships, difficulty at work and school and decreased likelihood to seek help at a crucial time. By recognizing the harmful effects that negative stereotypes and prejudices towards mental health affect the public’s perception of mental health, you can easily identify ways to flip the script and change your attitudes and actions towards mental health.

  2. Educate yourself on the topic of mental health

    Learn what mental health disorders look like in real life. What are common symptoms of depression? Anxiety? OCD? What do you look for in yourself? What do you look for in others? Knowing what these disorders look like outside of media portrayals is crucial to understanding the symptoms and what to look for, which makes it easier to know when it is time to get help. Utilize resources like the APA website and local community mental health centers to get an idea.

  3. Educate others on the topic of mental health

    Once you have a decent understanding of mental health yourself, use the opportunity to talk about it openly with others. If you notice a close friend is showing signs of a depressive episode, talk to them about what you have observed and let them know why it is important that they seek help. If you hear classmates or co-workers talking about mental health in a demeaning, stigmatized way, speak up and let them know what the reality is. Don’t be afraid to correct others and push the idea that mental health does not equal dangerousness and incompetence.

  4. Be mindful of your language

    Don’t throw around vocabulary associated with mental health haphazardly. Meaning, don’t use the word “depressed” when you are just having a bad day. Don’t use the word “anxiety” when you are nervous about a test or a presentation. Don’t use “OCD” when you like to keep your room tidy. Throwing around words and phrases meant to define mental health only contribute to the stereotypes and prejudices towards mental health and makes it difficult for people struggling with these disorders to feel comfortable speaking up and seeking help.

  5. Openly discuss your experience with mental health

    Given that one in five individuals struggle with some sort of mental illness, make it a habit to openly talk about your own experience with mental health, if that is something you are comfortable with. Talking about mental health creates a domino effect – once one person speaks out and acknowledges their mental health, another person follows, and then another, and then another. Knowing that someone else is struggling with something similar makes it easier for others to recognize that they may also be struggling. People find comfort in knowing that they are not alone.

So, the next time you are sitting around a table with your family or friends, think about the fact that at that very moment, one of you may very well be struggling with mental health, and don’t be afraid to start up a conversation.

This blog was written by Kayla Pray, Residential Clinician at Community Reach Center.

Psychosis 101: What It Is and How to Get Help

“Schizophrenia.” “Schizophrenic.” “Delusional.” “Hallucinating.” These are words and concepts that are casually thrown around in our society with much stigma attached to them. However, there is little widespread understanding of what schizophrenia actually is. According to NAMI, schizophrenia is described as a “serious mental illness that interferes with a person’s ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. It is a complex, long-term medical illness.” The first symptoms occur “in the late teens and early 20s for men, and the late 20s to early 30s for women.”

Psychosis is a symptom of Schizophrenia (and related disorders), and it is more common than you may think. About 3.2 million people in the United States experience psychosis, and 100,000 people experience their first symptoms of psychosis every year.

Early or first-episode psychosis (FEP) refers to when a person first shows signs of beginning to lose contact with this reality. Acting quickly to connect a person with the right treatment during early psychosis or FEP can be life-changing and radically alter that person’s future.

  • Feelings of paranoia or intense anxiety
    • Feeling like people are following you, always watching you, out to get you, etc.
  • Feelings of disorganization
    • Having trouble understanding other people, feeling confused, and having trouble organizing your thoughts and/or behaviors
  • Experiencing delusions
    • Being super sure that something is real and true, when most other people don’t agree
      • For example: believing you are a God
  • Experiencing hallucinations
    • Seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, tasting things that other people cannot
      • For example: hearing a person say you are in trouble, but no one else can hear them when you can

  • Colorado Crisis Line: 1-844-493-8255
  • Text “TALK” to 38255
  • Crisis Walk-In Centers
    • Adams County Walk-In Center: 2551 W  84th Ave, Westminster, Colorado 80031
  • Get connected with a mental health agency
  • Experiencing psychosis for the first time? Get connected with a FEP team!
    • Community Reach Center’s FEP: 303-853-3831

 

Written by Community Reach Center Therapists Cayla Steffy and Joseph Oria

CRC Staff Presents: Favorite Self-Care Tips

With all the chaos that has been ensuing over the past year, it is more important than ever that we are truly taking care of ourselves. Conversations surrounding mental health and self-care have skyrocketed, with 1 in 4 adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder in 2020 as opposed to 1 in 10 adults pre-pandemic. Unfortunately, these statistics do not come as a surprise – with social distancing, job loss, political issues and a recession all on top of life’s everyday struggles, it more than makes sense that we are feeling this way.

So, what can we do?

What can we do to maintain a healthy mental state of mind when some days it feels like the world is falling apart around us? I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard the term “self-care” about a million times since last March. I think I’ve heard it often enough that I have forgotten the basics of self-care and that simple things like going on walks really do wonders for the brain. It’s so easy to have self-care go out the window when you feel like you barely have a second to breathe each day, but incorporating self-care into your daily routine can be monumental for your mental health.

What even is self-care?

Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular, during periods of stress. Here at Community Reach Center, we have more than 500 employees who each work day in and day out to enhance the health of our community – whether that’s providing therapy services at our outpatient offices, working in our detox or residential facilities, obtaining grants to ensure our doors remain open or spending their days in schools to be accessible to students. I couldn’t think of a better group of people to pick their brains on self-care tips during a pandemic. I enjoyed these tips so much in fact, I had to share with you! Regardless of your age, gender, career, relationship status, etc. – there’s something for everyone on this list. I really hope you find these useful and can implement some of them in your weekly, if not daily, routines. And remember, you are not alone. We are always here to help!

Let’s hear the tips!

Jenna B., Program Manager

  • “I do a lot of puzzles and am currently working on a 4,000 piece one! It completely takes the stress away and helps me focus 100% on something other than work. I think of puzzles as my meditation.”
  • “Video games are a fun way to relax for me! My current favorite is Zelda: Breathe of the Wild. Zelda in particular is nostalgic for me as well, so going back to that franchise over and over brings happiness and good memories.”

Michele W., Therapist

  • “I enjoy yoga, tai chai and hiking. I also spend quality time with my husband and talk to my family and friends.”
  • “I bring a compassionate view toward myself and others. I also read inspiring books, look at history for hope and learn from other hard periods to help with our shared difficulties.”

Ryan B., Program Manager

  • “I do nightly meditation cards with my kids. It keeps it short and light but they are pretty effective.”
  • “I play guitar and just try to focus on the moment.”
  • “I do HIIT workouts. Being in your body makes such a huge difference to my stress levels.”
  • “I practice gratitude and service to others.”

Cameron C., Program Manager

  • “I’m a religious person who enjoys pondering the mysteries of the universe from a Christian perspective. I lean into this often to help me cope stressors, recognizing that I both am part of an amazing redemptive story about love and reconciliation that is bigger than me while also embracing that my role in life is to help that story unfold. It feels cheesy to talk about with people who aren’t also on the religious/spiritual side, but it’s a hugely important aspect of my life and gives me an amazing amount of fuel to push into difficult situations.”
  • “I am constantly trying to get my wife, kids and friends to be more into pc gaming, mountain biking, science fiction or anything that has to do with psychology. Basically, embracing my hobbies while connecting with meaningful people is the best way I cope.”

Andrea P., Law Clerk

  • “My favorite things to do for self-care are yoga and watching cheesy reality shows in my pajamas.”

Vanessa A., Therapist

  • “I set a strong boundary during my lunch hour to not work or check emails to help me disconnect.”
  • “On Sundays, I pick a masterclass (this website where celebrities and well-known thinkers share their specialty) and listen to the entire thing while I meal prep, clean and get ready for the week. It’s a fun way for me to start my week by learning something new about random topics. A few favorites have been voice acting, how to negotiate, economics, writing for television and how to write a film score!”

Jason L., Communication and Design Specialist

  • “I love to work around my house – doing remodeling, landscaping projects, gardening or just going outside and playing ball with my dogs. Any way to refocus my mind and have some mental downtime.”
  • “I love to roller/ice skate to clear my mind and get some physical activity in.”

Evan N., Event and Outreach Specialist

  • “I stretch several times per week.”
  • “When I get stressed, I like to listen to my favorite music (Grateful Dead, Classic Rock, etc.).”

Alexandra P., Marketing Specialist

  • “I like to FaceTime my friends and watch romantic comedies or Friends!”

Common Threads

Here we are at six months into the COVID-19 pandemic and we’re still trying to manage so much uncertainty. Parents, whether your child has started school in-person, online or the hybrid model, just remember that nothing is easy for anyone right now. It can be especially difficult if you’re a parent struggling with anxiety, depression or other conditions that require medical intervention. If you are having difficulty, then your child might be exhibiting social, emotional and behavioral problems, too. When we are experiencing difficult emotional states, we may go into fight, flight or freeze mode. It’s our brain’s survival reaction to highly stressful situations. As a mental health consultant, I am recommending another option:  a “sit” response. It might look like “freeze,” but it includes staying with your or your child’s emotional state and feel the sadness right now, because it’s real.  

First, we will work on sitting while we unravel the complex knots that are creating immediate stress within your/our family circle. Here are some things to do at home with your child to alleviate some of the complicated stress affecting you and your child.  

  • Observe and read your own and your child’s social-emotional state. Adopt the “sit” response by slowing down your reaction to your child’s emotional cues and just sit with your child to quietly observe in the moment as you both self-regulate and calm.  
  • Reign in your “future thinking”, i.e. stop being the doomsday parent.  All the overthinking in the world won’t change that every child in every school all over the country is going through the same thing. Read here about how two kindergarten classrooms are handling their day.
  • Relax your expectations but do your best to maintain routines: Make the simple activities of daily living enjoyable: Check out this dad’s grooming ideas, and watch how to motivate young children to clean-up. Developmentally appropriate chores, or as I like to call them “contributions to the household” help build self-efficacy and respect.  

Now on to unraveling the bigger social connection threads as we seem to be stuck in crisis mode knots. Here are some images to sit with as you go out into the world each day. 

  • Find our common thread: Stress and anxiety were already a chronic problem pre-pandemic. So, one way to approach our new normal is to “normal”ize our fears. Thinking about the global pandemic as a common thread currently woven into everyone’s daily existence. Before you get angry at your child for a behavior that they don’t know how to control, look for that common thread and realize he/she is afraid just like you.  The same grace goes for your child’s teacher, the grocery store cashier, your partner or spouse. We’re all experiencing the same stress together, but in different ways and at unexpected times.  
  • Find your unique thread: Think about your own, and your child’s strengths. Are you calm and compassionate? Brave and resilient?  Spiritual and prayerful or meditative? Look for ways to weave your unique thread into daily life to lessen the fear that gives way to stress and anxiety.   
  • Accept the worn-out thread: This may be the news that seems to play on repeat, the person in our family we don’t agree with and who we think causes our stress and anxiety to escalate. You may ask, “Are you for real?  Shouldn’t we avoid or cut-off these people?” Maybe. Maybe not. Let’s go back to our common thread and practice radical acceptance. Holding on to that common thread that binds our humanity will help us to sit with the experience of empathy.   

Now, I didn’t provide any quick fix to the stress involved in the 2020 back-to-school dilemma, but the hope is to increase our ability to better manage the common stress we are all feeling - because our children are trying to make sense of it all too. Afterall, they’ve only been on this planet for a very short time.  

When anxiety, depression and other emotional states become too debilitating for you or your child, it might be time to connect with a Community Reach Center therapist.  

Jennifer Welton, MA, MS, LPCC, NCC, is an Infant/Early Childhood Mental Health Consultant with Community Reach Center.  She has worked with children and adolescents as an educator and in behavioral health settings. 

A Therapist's Thoughts on Suicide Prevention

Michael Driscoll, LPC

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2020.  Ah, what a year.  It feels like Murphy’s Law has been in full force.  In the midst of a global pandemic of historical proportions, our nation has faced increasing political turmoil, competing ideologies locked in civil conflict, an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression and, of course, murder hornets.  As we do our best to get through these societal and environmental challenges, we must not lose sight that suicide remains the tenth leading cause of death in the United States - seventh in Colorado.  Given the recent and long-term problems faced by our country, this issue may be more prevalent than ever. 

Suicide is a difficult topic to discuss and often related to a mental health issue such as Major Depressive Disorder, unbearable mental anguish and pain.  Depression is a disease like any other.  It can occur with sudden rapid shifts in a person’s life or with a prolonged chronic health condition lasting months or years.  No one chooses to develop a disease, but we attempt to deal with it in the best ways we can.  Depression is no different. People with depression respond well to social connectedness and conversations supported by empathetic understanding.  Loneliness and isolation are common precursors to depression symptoms. 

In an article “The Social Cure” published in Scientific American, one study of some 1400 people indicated that loneliness was often a big predictor of depression, occurring in about one in four older adults.  On the flip side however, depression and anxiety plummeted the more social connectedness the person felt, such as engaging in multiple group activities.  Even better, it didn’t matter what kind of groups the person was involved in … could be sports, birdwatching, painting, behavioral health groups, or just about anything.  The more groups and social connectedness, the better the participants felt.  This speaks strongly to the power of social connection and its healing impact on depression, loneliness, and suicidal thinking.

We need to talk

As friends, co-workers, family-members and as a community, we need to start having weekly, if not daily, conversations with each other about suicide if we are ever to move the needle on suicide prevention and intervention.  We must break through the stigma and discomfort of discussing this topic with others.  The journey out of suicidal thinking can be greatly assisted by a caring person or a group of acquaintances.  Offering a gentle, non-judgmental curiosity to the conversation, as well as just thirty minutes of empathetic listening, can go a long way.  It’s okay to ask even when there is no indication of suicidal thoughts, because contrary to common opinion, asking will not place the idea in their head and will open the door to future conversations.  Starting the conversation is easier than you think.

Try to remain relatively quiet, calm, and non-judgmental for approximately ten minutes, only repeating back what you heard them say in your own words.  Do this several times to help convey that you understand.  It’s critical for the person to feel heard, understood, and validated, as this provides a release for them.  Recommend contact with their therapist, family/friends, or crisis services if indicated, and identify two coping skills they can use to calm down and wait out the ideations, as suicidal thoughts are time limited and usually pass.  Help them to identify their reasons for living, and who would be impacted by their death.  Call 911 or drive them to your nearest behavioral health crisis location if they cannot be safe on their own.  You might not be able to change their mind, and remember the decision is ultimately not yours.  A person must decide to help themselves in a moment of crisis. 

We need to listen

As the listener, reactions to suicidal discussions can feel overwhelming, anxiety producing, and difficult to sit with.  The best advice that I can give is to remain calm and take deep breaths, signaling that it is okay to talk about this subject.  Becoming comfortable with this subject will take time and practice.  Understand there is a significant difference between suicidal thoughts and imminent risk.  If we can help them identify their coping skills for triggers and occurrences of suicidal thoughts, then they take a step toward early intervention, resiliency building and resources at their disposal as well as strengthen their crisis prevention skills for imminent risk.  Finally, as a helper, please do not make the mistake of taking responsibility for someone else’s decision.  Ultimately the individual must make a choice.  Outcomes will vary in all situations. 

Thankfully, around ninety-five percent of suicide survivors report later in life they are glad they lived and that someone was there to listen to them and provide support when it was needed.  They remembered they are never truly alone if they ask for help.  Most survivors have common themes in describing their experience, whether they were interrupted by other persons or lived through the experience, and that is they are incredibly grateful for their connection with another human being during their darkest moments.  Many in this state of mind wished that a stranger on the street had asked them how they were doing.  The innate human need and desire for social connection is powerful - equally incredibly healing and potentially very damaging.  One human connection at the right moment in space and time can alter the life path of an individual forever.  How will you choose to act in that moment?

Finally, many of the previously mentioned issues can generate huge disruptions to people’s lives, creating shifting circumstances suddenly and dramatically, so be on the lookout.  Sadly, suicide is never fully predictable, but the least we can do is ask and check in with our friends, family, and co-workers.  Hindsight provides us data regarding the precursors and indicators of suicidal behavior, so we know what to watch for in people.  Take a few moments right now to research the common symptoms of suicidal behavior, as it just might be that you are in the right place at the right time one day.  If someone you know has had a major life change recently, it doesn’t hurt to ask them how they are doing, and if recent changes have led to recent suicidal thoughts.  And plug 1-844-493-8255 (Colorado Crisis Services) into your phone.

Some resources:

www.NAMI.org  National Alliance on Mental Illness

https://coloradocrisisservices.org/   Colorado Crisis Services

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/    Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Denver based therapist Michael Driscoll is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Supervisor of Staff for the Thornton Outpatient Therapy team of Community Reach Center.  He has been working in the field of mental health for over 16 years, has been an outpatient therapist for more than 10 years and specializes in the treatment of PTSD, Major Depression, Bipolar and Schizophrenia disorders.  Michael is a certified EMDR therapist, a facilitator for Assessing and Managing Suicide Risk (AMSR) trainings and is the lead for Community Reach Center’s Suicide Prevention Committee. 

 

Learn more about suicidal ideation

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. So, as we go into this time period, be ready to learn more about suicide starting with this information provided by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):  

Suicide Awareness

It can be frightening if someone you love talks about suicidal thoughts. It can be even more frightening if you find yourself thinking about dying or giving up on life. Not taking these kinds of thoughts seriously can have devastating outcomes, as suicide is a permanent solution to (often) temporary problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates have increased by 30 percent since 1999. Nearly 45,000 lives were lost to suicide in 2016 alone. Comments or thoughts about suicide — also known as suicidal ideation — can begin small like, “I wish I wasn’t here” or “Nothing matters.” But over time, they can become more explicit and dangerous.

Warning Signs

Here are a few other warning signs of suicide:

  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

Suicidal behaviors are a psychiatric emergency. If you or a loved one starts to take any of these steps, seek immediate help from a health care provider or call 911:

  • Collecting and saving pills or buying a weapon
  • Giving away possessions
  • Tying up loose ends, like organizing personal papers or paying off debts
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family

If you are unsure, a licensed mental health professional can help assess.

Risk Factors

Research has found that 46 percent of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. Several other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:

  • A family history of suicide
  • Substance use. Drugs can create mental highs and lows that worsen suicidal thoughts.
  • Intoxication. More than 1 in 3 people who die from suicide are under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.
  • Access to firearms
  • A serious or chronic medical illness
  • Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly four times more likely to die by suicide.
  • A history of trauma or abuse
  • Prolonged stress
  • A recent tragedy or loss

Support in a Crisis

When a suicide-related crisis occurs, friends and family are often caught off-guard, unprepared and unsure of what to do. The behaviors of a person experiencing a crisis can be unpredictable, changing dramatically without warning.

There are a few ways to approach a suicide-crisis:

  • Talk openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to ask questions like: “Do you have a plan for how you would kill yourself?”
  • Remove means such as guns, knives or stockpiled pills
  • Calmly ask simple and direct questions, like “Can I help you call your psychiatrist?”
  • If there are multiple people around, have one person speak at a time
  • Express support and concern
  • Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice
  • Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong
  • If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace
  • Be patient

Like any other health emergency, it’s important to address a mental health crisis like suicide quickly and effectively. Unlike other health emergencies, mental health crises don’t have instructions or resources on how to help or what to expect (like the Heimlich Maneuver or CPR). That’s why NAMI created Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency, so people experiencing mental health emergencies and their loved ones can have the answers and information they need when they need it.

If your friend or family member struggles with suicidal ideation day-to-day, let them know that they can talk with you about what they’re going through. Make sure that you adopt an open and compassionate mindset when they’re talking. Instead of “arguing” or trying to disprove any negative statements they make (“Your life isn’t that bad!”), try active listening techniques such as reflecting their feelings and summarizing their thoughts. This can help your loved one feel heard and validated.

Let them know that mental health professionals are trained to help people understand their feelings and improve mental wellness and resiliency. Psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help a person with thoughts of suicide recognize ineffective patterns of thinking and behavior, validate their feelings and learn coping skills. Suicidal thoughts are a symptom, just like any other — they can be treated, and they can improve over time.

Always here for you

Thank you for reading this information from NAMI. If you want to speak to someone about mental health, please reach out to us at Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call the free Warm Line at 303-280-6602. Also, remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. Call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.

 

Mental health: How to tap into good online internet habits

Therapist Benjamin Dungan holds “Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids – and How to Break the Trance,” by Nicholas Kardaras. Sign up for his upcoming presentation on internet habits.

 

Online video screens are kind of like windows – as glass rectangles we look through to see the world outside. However, internet screens are not like windows overlooking calming vistas but are more like windows on a fast-moving train. The scenes can change from serene to jarring at a moment’s notice.

Furthermore, online viewers can engage in limitless information, activities and games. Sometimes the hours go by, the days go by, and the engagement becomes compulsive. This behavior is sometimes described as internet addiction.

While excessive internet use has not been recognized as a disorder by the World Health Organization or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), discussion of these conditions and use of the term Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) abounds. Many of us are faced with keeping our online habits in check.

 

Adding it up

So, just how much time do we spend online?

The Digital 2019 report by HootSuite and We Are Social reports consumers in the U.S. are online an average of 6 hours and 31 minutes each day.

Secondly, how much time is too much time?

The short answer is that it depends on how that time is being spent and how it relates to a person’s overall lifestyle balance. This where it gets extremely complicated because for the most part our sources for learning, work, entertainment and recreation are together in one place – on the internet.

 

Compulsivity and addiction

Compulsive behavior can be identified when someone is always looking forward to getting back online, as well as being online constantly. Being compulsive is not uncommon in various ways and can often be corrected with habit improvement efforts. 

With substance use disorders, addictive behaviors include a condition when a person gives up or significantly reduces social, occupational or recreational activities due of substance use. Likewise, it’s easy to see how this parallel to the word “addiction” can be made when a person’s lifestyle and responsibilities unravel due to an excessive amount of time spent on the internet.

 

Taking action

Setting limits is a key component to improving habits. As parents, this might involve technically limiting the capability of computers for children in the home or having the internet connection shut down at specified times. For adults, better habits simply involve a self-accountability effort.

To get a grip on level of use, it may help to:

  • Track the amount of time you are online.
  • Schedule the times of day when you are online and off.
  • Take a digital detox break now and then. Have a friend unplug with you.
  • Don’t use your smartphone when you are lying in bed.
  • Just “let go” in general. Release the urge to keep up with all email and posts instantaneously.

 

Join us for a webcast to learn more

Community Reach Therapist Benjamin Dungan will present “How to Develop Healthy Internet Habits,” online at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27. He will be be available to answer questions from viewers after the presentation. To sign up, please visit the Community Reach Center Facebook link or register to participate via Zoom.

Dungan will explore recent statistics, neurological impacts of internet use, physical and sleep impacts, mental health impacts and signs of problematic use. He will cover how to use internet technology in healthy ways, and he will provide sources to look to if you or a loved one needs to consider professional help. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor who has experience working with children and adults in a variety of therapy, hospital, community and school settings. He developed an interest in helping those with addictions such as substances, food and technology.

Remember the presentation is free. Please join us.

Always here for you

If you want to speak to someone about mental health, please reach out to us at Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call the free Warm Line at 303-280-6602. Also, remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. Call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.

Older adults: How to navigate life transitions

Our lives go through several major transitions over time, including school, work, family life and more. Older adults encounter some impactful life transitions as well: Becoming empty-nesters, retirement, moving or downsizing, health changes, and personal loss are all common life transitions. Some easier to handle than others.

Life changes are sometimes difficult. This can be caused by our fears around change: fear of the loss of control, of losing our independence, fear that life won’t be the same and even a fear of the unknown. Fear of change is a top reason for the resistance to change. It might be helpful to know there are ways to better manage the transitions – even the difficult ones – by addressing these fears.

How to manage your fears

What can we do about fear? Experts tell us there are six ways to manage your fears.

  • You can embrace them, recognize that fear heightens your awareness and gets your adrenaline going.
  • You can take an immediate leap. One way to manage your fears is to just dive in and go for it.
  • Getting real: Remember that fear is rarely based in reality, it’s mostly made up of the stories we tell ourselves.
  • Another way is to cultivate acceptance. Accept that bumps and roadblocks are part of the journey and they will happen.
  • You can face your fear head on.
  • Lastly, remember that your fears aren’t really that scary.

Manage change

Another way to ease life transitions is by becoming better at managing change. How do you manage change? First, understand that if you initiated the change, it becomes a positive act, which can make it easier for you to adapt to the new environment. You might even look forward to the challenges and rewards that come from your change. However, if you’re the object of the change, and it is happening to you without your decision, your reaction may be less positive. You could be experiencing less control, more unknowns about the outcome.

So, you can better manage transitions by trying to anticipate changes and prepare for them, even for the ones like moving, or giving up driving, etc. Anticipating what might be coming and taking steps to prepare could include communicating with family members around what you want to happen, or planning for eventualities like transportation, downsizing, even how you might anticipate and plan for health changes or other major events.

Having the “survivor mindset” can also make you better at adapting to change. This includes having a deep sense of strength in self, taking stock, evaluating what you have and what you need to navigate through the transition. Committing to re-assess as you go will enable you  to adapt and adjust to situational events along the way. Survivors also admit to themselves and others that it isn’t easy, they communicate and ask for (and accept) help and support as needed. This is easier to do if you have support systems (friends, family, caregivers) already in place and active. Overall, preparing yourself for changes to come and communicating with friends and family can really improve your ability to manage changes, even ones that are difficult.

Focus on self-care

Another thing to keep in mind when dealing with change is to take good care of yourself. Keep up your normal routine as best you can, which includes getting adequate sleep and exercise, eating at regular times in normal amounts, and continuing everyday activities and appointments. Keep things simple, participate in activities you enjoy. Being gentle and kind with yourself as you experience the feelings and emotions that come up with adapting to change can really assist in getting through this time of transition. Take time for yourself, nurture your spirit.

Along with good self-care and being gentle with yourself, try to keep your expectations manageable: be realistic about what you can and cannot do. This is a time to pace yourself and organize your time. It might be helpful to make a list and prioritize activities that need to happen throughout the time of change.

Adapting to the changes

Here are three final tips for adapting to change:

  • Let go of the past. Find or create new ways to celebrate in your new environment. Start new traditions to honor things important to you, and mark successes in your transition with new celebrations.
  • Allow yourself to feel the feelings that come up for you along the way. Change isn’t always easy, and there might be times of sadness, loneliness and grieving the loss of the way things were. All these feelings are normal.
  • As you move through a transitional time, having a positive attitude is a way to better manage situations. A focus on what you do have, rather than what you don’t have is a positive way to adapt and manage change, even the changes you didn’t choose yourself.

The only constant in life really is change. As your life transitions, know that your attitude is the key to making a difficult transition more manageable.

Some good reading

Here are a few books on life transitions:

“Making Sense of Life’s Changes” by William Bridges

Pivot: The Art and Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life” by Adam Markel

“The New Old Me,” by Meredith Maran

“Third Calling,” by Dr. Richard Bergstrom and Leona Bergstrom

Here for you

If you want to speak to someone about mental health, please reach out to us at Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call the free Warm Line at 303-280-6602. Also, remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. Call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.

Our experts

This column is written by Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. The Senior Reach provides treatment for depression and trauma, as well as many other mental disorders. As always, we are here to enhance the health of our community. Mental wellness for everyone is our goal.

 

Fathers and mental health measures

Father’s Day is a great reminder of the importance of a mentally healthy dad. A father who makes his mental health a priority is more present with his children, happier at home and a more supportive partner.

Many dads can struggle with mental health issues like depression. The mood disorder can appear with the birth of a new child or emerge later in life. Fortunately, depression is treatable. With the proper help and support, dads can find even more enjoyment in parenting while learning to cope with their feelings of depression or even anxiety.

Statistics

According to a study published in 2015, two in five new dads reported concern about their mental health. Lack of sleep, changes in relationships and lifestyle, and new responsibilities were most often the cause. With ample opportunities for mothers to seek help for mental health issues postpartum, men are sometimes left with fewer resources. Stigma also can be a factor, preventing many men from speaking up and seeking help.

When a dad’s mental illness is untreated, the whole family can suffer. If a man is concerned that he may be struggling with depression, it is important for him to talk about it with his partner and doctor.

Take steps

Acknowledging that there is a problem is a crucial first step. Exercise, eating well, and taking a little time to pursue a hobby can also be helpful. Therapy and medication may be necessary. Finding an effective treatment that works for each person is important.

As a dad’s health improves, so will the health of the family. Dads who are more in tune with their own feelings can help their children do the same. Research shows that when fathers are able to handle their emotions, children have improved social skills and emotional intelligence.

A healthy relationship between the father and child is important too. A study at the University of Maryland School of Medicine concluded that children with fathers actively engaged in their lives learn better, have higher self-esteem, and are less prone to depression than those who don’t.

Take time to acknowledge the dads in your life and be on the watch for any symptoms of depression. Remember a healthy dad helps to make a healthy family.

Here for you

If you want to speak to someone about mental health, please reach out to us at Community Reach Center, a nonprofit mental health center with numerous outpatient offices in north metro Denver, visit www.communityreachcenter.org or call the free Warm Line at 303-280-6602. Also, remember the Behavioral Health Urgent Care (BHUC) center, 2551 W. 84th Ave., in Westminster is open 24 hours. Call 1-844-493-TALK (8255) or text TALK to 38255.

Our experts

This column is written by Wellness and Care Coordinator Nicole Hartog and Program Manager James Kuemmerle with the Senior Reach program at Community Reach Center. If you have any questions about where to turn for help for older adults, please reach out to the Senior Reach team at Community Reach Center at 303-853-3657. The Senior Reach provides treatment for depression and trauma, as well as many other mental disorders. As always, we are here to enhance the health of our community. Mental wellness for everyone is our goal.