Fight Mental Health Stereotypes for a Happier Halloween

pumpkin

Halloween is coming! Children and adults alike are carving pumpkins, dressing in costumes, and getting ready for an exciting evening of trick-or-treating. For those suffering with mental health issues, however, this can be an especially difficult time of year as they are reminded of the heavy stigma associated with their illness. A drive through your city or a stroll down the aisles of your local department store is all it takes to confirm that offensive stereotypes are alive and well when it comes to the mentally ill. Billboards and advertisements depicting “Haunted Asylum” or “Psychopath Sanctuary” attractions are hard to miss. “Mental Patient” costumes, complete with straightjackets, perpetuate the stereotypes further.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an advocacy group that is fighting these stereotypes and pressuring businesses to remove offensive attractions and costumes. “NAMI loves Halloween as much as anyone else,” says Bob Corolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations, in a recent blog. “But would anyone sponsor a haunted attraction based on a cancer ward? How about a veterans’ hospital with ghosts who died from suicide while being treated for posttraumatic stress disorder?”

NAMI encourages its members to help raise awareness about the problem in their own communities. Corolla says that the first step is to personally contact sponsors of “insane asylum” attractions or stores that carry offensive costumes. In some cases, small changes to the attraction or its marketing can make a big difference. Further steps include enlisting others to make calls and write emails of protest. Local television stations and newspapers can be educated about the problem—and many are willing to cover a protest as a news event.

Will it make any difference? In response to protests from mental health advocates, the U.K. superstore Asda (a Wal-Mart company) and major grocery chain Tesco were persuaded to remove offensive costumes from their shelves. Both stores apologized for their insensitivity; Asda called it “a completely unacceptable error” and has donated £25,000 to the U.K. mental health charity Mind.

Corolla cautions that you should be prepared for a backlash when people feel that you are criticizing their fun. But even then, you may be more effective than you know. “Even if it seems that too many people disagree with your position,” he says, “you win simply by raising awareness.”

Visit the NAMI Web site to learn more about what you can do to fight the stigma against mental illness.

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May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

In 1949, Mental Health Month was founded to bring attention to the importance of mental health issues in America.

President Barack Obama issued a decree on April 30 in honor of this month. He stressed the idea that people should reach out if they feel they are in need of help. “For many, getting help starts with a conversation,” he stated. “People who believe they may be suffering from a mental health condition should talk about it with someone they trust and consult a health care provider. As a nation, it is up to all of us to know the signs of mental health issues and lend a hand to those who are struggling. Shame and stigma too often leave people feeling like there is no place to turn. We need to make sure they know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness — it is a sign of strength.”

Furthermore, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius released a statement emphasizing how everyone has a role in building awareness. “All of us – including teachers, parents, neighbors, and friends – have a role to play in helping to increase awareness and breaking down the stigma around mental health. Now is the time to bring conversations about mental health into school auditoriums, community centers, houses of worship, and kitchen tables across the country. Together, we can bring mental illness out of the shadows.”

For more information on how you can build awareness in your community and participate in National Mental Health Month, visit Mental Health America.

How are you honoring Mental Health Awareness Month?

Life with Bipolar Disorder through the Eyes of Dr. Mark Vonnegut

“The reason creativity and craziness go together is that if you’re just plain crazy without being able to sing or dance or write good poems, no one is going to want to have babies with you. Your genes will fall by the wayside. Who but a brazen crazy person would go one-on-one with blank paper or canvas armed with nothing but ideas?”

Author Mark Vonnegut poses this question in the first chapter of his book, Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness Only More So. In this intimate and sometimes comic memoir, Vonnegut goes one-on-one with his past and present struggles with bipolar disorder, his family history, and his qualms with the medical field. His medical background and first-hand experiences provide readers with an eye-opening portrayal of life with mental illness.

In order to understand his own disorder, Vonnegut looks at his family’s history as far back as his paternal great-grandfather. He ventures into his childhood, endearingly poking fun at his not-yet-famous father’s eccentricities and struggles as “the world’s worst car salesman who couldn’t get a job teaching English at Cape Cod Community College.” He also provides honest depictions of his mother’s bouts of depression and paranoia.

“My mother, who was radiant, young, and beautiful even as she lay dying, heard voices and saw visions,” he says, “but she always managed to make friends with them and was much too charming to hospitalize even at her craziest.”

In his twenties, Vonnegut was a self-proclaimed hippie, experimenting with illegal drugs and eventually suffering three psychotic episodes leading to hospitalization. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia, later with bipolar disorder. He found stability in adulthood, graduating from Harvard Medical School, and was eventually named Boston Magazine’s “number one pediatrician.” He was shocked when the voices came back years later, causing his fourth break and ironically leaving him strapped to a bed at the hospital where he works.

Vonnegut’s conversational and often self-deprecating tone has a universal appeal. He shows how mental illness affects the successful and brilliant as well as the poor and disenfranchised. He contends that not any one person is completely sane and that defining insanity is a slippery slope.

“None of us are entirely well, and none of us are irrevocably sick,” he says. “At my best I have islands of being sick entirely. At my worst I had islands of being well…. You either have or don’t have a reluctance to give up on yourself. It helps a lot if others don’t give up on you.”

Vonnegut watched his father use writing as tool to deal with posttraumatic stress disorder following his experiences in World War II.  He believes that art and creativity are excellent outlets for those suffering from bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. When asked about this in an interview with Sliver of Stone magazine last year, he concluded by saying, “Art is a lifeline and a form of insanity.”

Editor’s note: This week, PAR is pleased to welcome guest blogger Grace Gardner. A recent graduate of the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Mass Communication, Grace is working as an editorial assistant this summer in the production department at PAR.

 

PAR Supports Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day

National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, an annual event hosted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 9, 2012.  PAR has always been a strong advocate for children’s mental health, and we are delighted to announce our participation as a “Champion Level”

co-sponsor of this year’s program.

On May 9, PAR will be joining SAMHSA for a special evening program at the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC.  This program will be a tribute to honor children and youth who have demonstrated resilience after traumatic experiences, as well as their “Heroes of Hope,” people in their lives who have helped and inspired them along the way.  The American Art Therapy Association has put together a unique exhibit featuring artwork from students all across the country, which will be displayed during the event.  Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will present a Special Recognition Award to artist, advocate, and Awareness Day Honorary Chairperson Cyndi Lauper, whose work with her True Colors Fund and the True Colors Residence exemplifies the “Hero of Hope” spirit. Live performances by youth from around the country will also honor the young people and their heroes.

Since its inception more than 30 years ago, PAR has been giving back to our community in the form of volunteer time and financial support. We understand the importance of children’s mental health, and we are proud to work with organizations like SAMHSA to promote awareness of this vital issue.  Children and wellness have always been priorities, and through the years we have supported organizations that help families including the United Way, A Brighter Community, the PACE Center for Girls, the Children’s Home of Tampa, and many others.  To learn more about PAR’s community service work, please visit our Community PARtners page.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

The statistics are sobering.  According to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  • approximately 695,000 children were victims of maltreatment in 2010;
  • more than 80% of those victims were maltreated by a parent; and
  • children younger than 1 year had the highest rate of victimization.

Adult survivors of child maltreatment are more likely to have a poor quality of life, with higher levels of chronic diseases and mental health issues, than non-abused adults. “Childhood exposure to abuse and neglect has been linked…to a lifetime trajectory of violence perpetration and victimization,” says Dr. Phaedra Corso of the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health (Prevent Child Abuse America, 2012). Child abuse can be a vicious circle, and some families under stress need support to help break the pattern of abuse.

Now in its 30th year, National Child Abuse Prevention Month is a time to encourage public awareness of child abuse and neglect, recommit resources to the cause, and promote involvement through national, state, and local activities.

Potential Early Indicators

The prevalence of child abuse and its long-term consequences—not only for the child but also for society as a whole—clearly demonstrates why prevention is so important.  An early indicator that a family may be at risk for child abuse is high levels of parenting stress, and research has clearly demonstrated that parenting stress is positively correlated to child abuse potential (Rodriguez & Green, 1997).

“Parenting stress is a universal phenomenon that all parents experience to one degree or another,” explains Dr. Richard Abidin, emeritus professor of clinical and school psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the newly revised Parenting Stress Index™ (PSI™-4). “What we have learned is that high levels of stress relate to a variety of dysfunctional parenting behaviors and negative child outcomes. Screening for and evaluating the sources of parenting stress allow for the implementation of prevention and early intervention in both primary health care and education systems.”

More Resources on Child Abuse Prevention and Parenting

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway is an excellent starting point for information on preventing child abuse and neglect.
  • Prevent Child Abuse America is a nonprofit organization dedicated to building awareness, providing education, and inspiring hope to everyone involved in the effort to prevent the abuse and neglect of children. Information about PCA state chapters, as well as advocacy, research, conferences, and events, can be found on their Web site.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Violence Prevention Web site includes a wealth of information on child maltreatment prevention, including data and statistics, risk and protective factors, and prevention strategies.
  • An excellent source of general parenting information for sharing with families, the Child Development Institute offers strategies and tips on topics such as “Parenting 101,” socialization for kids and teens, parent-child communication, single parenting, divorce, and more.

What special programs or events are happening in your community to recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month? Leave a comment and join the conversation!

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Brain Injury Association of America (BIAA), and partners from all across the healthcare spectrum are working together this month to spread the word about traumatic brain injury prevention, recognition, and response. PAR is proud to join these advocates in recognizing March as National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that disrupts the normal functioning of the brain. Concussion is one of the most common forms of brain injury.

The CDC estimates that 1.7 million Americans sustain a TBI, including concussions, each year. Of those individuals, 52,000 die, 275,000 are hospitalized, and 1.4 million are treated and released from an emergency department.

“Since anyone can sustain a brain injury at any time, it is important for everyone to have access to comprehensive rehabilitation and ongoing disease management,” says Dr. Brent Masel, national medical director for BIAA. “Doing so eases medical complications, permanent disability, family dysfunction, job loss, homelessness, impoverishment, medical indigence, suicide and involvement with the criminal or juvenile justice system.”

Good sources of information about TBI signs and symptoms include the CDC’s Traumatic Brain Injury Web site, as well as their “Heads Up: Concussion in Youth Sports” program.  The BIAA “Anytime, Anywhere, Anyone” awareness campaign site is another excellent resource for understanding and disseminating information about brain injury.

PAR recognizes the importance of brain injury awareness.  To help address this problem, we have partnered with concussion experts from the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC and the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at UNC Chapel Hill to produce two new apps designed to help parents, coaches, athletic trainers, and medical professionals recognize and respond to potential concussions.  The Concussion Recognition & Response™: Parent and Coach Version and the Concussion Assessment & Response™: Sport Version are easy-to-use, inexpensive downloads for Apple® or Android™ smartphones, tablets, and other devices.  Click on the links to learn more—and help spread the word about National Brain Injury Awareness Month.

 

 

 

 

Mental Health Awareness in the Deaf Community

Individuals who are deaf and communicate via American Sign Language are “among the most at-risk segments of the population in terms of mental health knowledge, illness prevalence, and treatment access,” according to Robert Pollard, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Deaf Wellness Center (DWC) at the University of Rochester Medical Center (DWC News and Updates, January 2012). The DWC focuses on clinical services, teaching, and research activities that pertain to mental health, healthcare, sign language interpreting, and other topics that affect the lives of people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.

Pollard asserts that the deaf population is severely underserved in the mental health arena, with only 2% of deaf individuals who need mental health services receiving them. A major factor contributing to this problem is that the deaf population lacks access to mental health information via the mass media—TV, radio, newspapers—and Pollard wants to do something to change that.  In a project sponsored by the American Psychiatric Foundation, he is leading an effort to produce a series of television public service announcements featuring deaf actors who will share mental health awareness information using sign language. The PSAs will be aired in the Rochester region where there is a large deaf population; their effectiveness will be evaluated and results disseminated nationally.

Do you have clients who are deaf or hearing impaired, or do you have another connection to the deaf community? If so, PAR wants to hear from you! In the course of standardizing new assessment instruments for publication, we need to obtain clinical subsamples to determine if there are statistically significant differences between the normal sample and those with specific impairments.  PAR is committed to including the deaf population in our standardization process, and we are currently seeking qualified examiners who work with hearing impaired children ages 5 to 18. To learn more, please contact Sue Trujillo, PAR’s Data Collection Coordinator, at strujillo@parinc.com.  Thank you!