This blog is part of a series from our Stand Together team to bring to light our experiences with depression and anxiety. May is Mental Health Month and it’s as good of a time as ever to end stigma by talking about our experiences and spreading awareness. You are not alone-we’re with you. We’re in this together.
I knew something was different about me from a very young age; I distinctively remember not feeling loved as a child-and that’s not a typical experience. It wasn’t long before my mental health conditions (MHC) emerged. Multiple mental health conditions frequently occur at once (co-morbidity) and can overlap in different ways; psychologists have recently discovered that all MHC are more connected than we ever thought.
Although I have bipolar disorder, I also have symptoms of both anxiety and depression. Depression is a phase of bipolar disorder, but the anxiety that accompanies it-and the in-between, baseline times-can be overwhelming. The important thing for me was not the diagnosis or the label, but discovering how to manage it and cope with my MHC on a personal-level. It took a while to find what works for me and sometimes I have to change my strategies, but as long as I stay aware and mindful of my feelings and their effects on my thoughts, I can minimize my struggle. You wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I have to put a lot of effort forth every day to manage my health holistically, whether it’s attending therapy to talk through my emotions and experiences, exercise to promote the ‘good chemicals’ in my brain, or support from family and friends, I work hard to stay in balance. But it’s always worth it. I live with a mental health condition-but it doesn’t define who I am.
I am a person-first: a wife, lover of Mister Rogers, cat-mom, mental health advocate, friend, Christian, adventurer, foodie, and a person with a purpose. We’re all people-first – let’s start believing and treating each other like it; it makes all the difference.
Propel: Braddock Hills High School continues to show-up for the Stand Together program-it’s their 7th year! They’ve been with us since the beginning. This year is no different-well, maybe a little different: they have a larger group of student participants! Kudos to past ST teams for paving the way with your previous events!
Returning and new members alike took part in two days of anti-stigma training. Participants asked probing questions about mental and substance use disorders and held in-depth discussions about seeking therapy, stigma, and the barriers students may face when it comes to asking for help and being taken seriously.
The first training workshop was more informal. Students got the facts and de-bunked the myths about mental illness and substance use disorders. They also participated in team-building activities and review games. Not only did this group learn the signs and symptoms of mental and substance use disorders, but they also discussed ways to provide support, hope, and encouragement (‘S.H.E.‘) to their peers.
The second workshop is when the real fun took place. After an intense morning of review, the team revealed what they’d like their peers and staff to know regarding mental and substance use disorders. The group really wants to focus on raising awareness in their school and letting their peers and staff know that it’s okay to talk about mental health (#talkaboutit), #itsokaytonotbeokay, and it’s important to feel comfortable and know where to go to get help (#itsokaytogethelp). Some Seniors in the group are also working on projects that specifically focus on mental health in the Black community and shared their research findings. These Seniors are enthusiastic about using what they learned in Stand Together to aid their projects outside the program.
Propel BHHS never shies away from a grand idea when it comes to project planning! This year is no different. Students really got down to the details of their ideas in small planning groups. Taking what they learned and the experiences they shared, the group presented their ‘Glow Out Stigma‘ week of events to ‘glow up’ support so much that stigma is no where to be found. Another project idea had tacos as a reward for learning about mental health and testing the students’ knowledge: Let’s Taco ’bout Mental Health. In addition, the group is looking forward to more food stands and dress-down days. Raising awareness is the key to eliminating stigma and this group plans on doing just that.
Propel BHHS-your projects never cease to amaze us! Keep up the great work and we’re excited to see your projects in action soon!
Today is the fifth-annual World Bipolar Day, an annual global campaign to raise awareness about bipolar disorder and eliminate stigma. It is celebrated every year on the birthday of artist Vincent van Gogh, a famous Dutch painter diagnoses with bipolar disorder that died by suicide after struggling with psychosis. Bipolar disorder affects around 3.4 million children and adolescents. Although mood swings are typical in adolescence, when these start to affect the individual’s life on a daily basis, this can be cause for concern. Famous recording artist Demi Lovato has also become a strong public advocate as well.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by period of mania (hyperactivity, impulsivity, reckless behavior, high energy, lack of sleep) and depression (little activity, anxiety, potentially suicidal thoughts/self-harm, low energy, and often increased sleep). Some forms of bipolar disorder also include psychotic episodes, when people can experience hallucinations, delusions, and odd thoughts/ideas. As you can imagine, this is a complex and difficult disorder for youth to experience, especially if they’re experiencing these symptoms for the first time on adolescence. (Click the roller coaster below!)
There is a lot of stigma associated with bipolar disorder. How many times have you heard the word bipolar used as an adjective to describe someone that changes their mind often or when the weather is unpredictable? Using these words can be offensive to individuals that are affected by BD (bipolar disorder). Although known for their rapid changes in mood, mania and depression typically change only several times a year or at most a month. These transitions can be exceptionally difficult and confusing.
The good news is-like most mental health disorders-bipolar disorder can be treated and recovery is possible. For most individuals, a combination of medication and therapy is the most effective. Medicines may include things like mood stabilizers to help even things out and anti-depressants to help with the lows that can be more difficult. The medication isn’t a ‘magic pill;’ the individual may still experience symptoms, but it helps them become more manageable. Therapy includes cognitive behavioral interventions that may help manage the individual’s thoughts, moods, and behaviors. These types of therapies help the individuals cope with the changes and intense feelings that they experience and help them to challenge their thoughts, which, in turn, impacts their moods and behaviors.
I myself have been diagnoses with bipolar disorder. As a teenager and young adult, I was afraid to seek help; I was scared that everyone was going to think I was ‘crazy‘ and getting help was a sign of weakness in my family. A lot of that was from stigma. Even though I was clearly suffering, I was unable to get the help I needed until much later in life. Now, despite these challenges, I am a successful adult. I have a job I love, I’m getting married in December, and I frequently share my story to help decrease the stigma associated with this and other mental health conditions. Sometimes I still struggle, but I have a great support system, I can always reach out to my therapist and psychiatrist, and have the tools and coping skills I need to overcome the bumps that come along the way. There may be potholes, but I can dig myself out.