Mental Illness: A Communicable Disease?

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Mental Illness: A Communicable Disease?

There has been an enormous amount of press and publicity about the Ebola virus and the lives this terrible communicable disease has recently claimed. The current statistic reports that presently the Ebola death toll nears 1,000 people worldwide. Thank goodness, steps are being taken to overcome this horrible killer. Lots of discussion, awareness, worry, work, research and medical methodologies are being implemented to find help. Lots of attention, lots of compassion…

What about Mental Illness? The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports the following statistics (brace yourself):

  • One in four adults (61.5 million Americans) experience mental illness in a given year.
  • 14.8 million Americans live with major depression
  • 42 million Americans have anxiety disorders
  • Approximately 60% of those suffering with mental illness do not receive any treatment
  • Individuals with mental illness have an increased risk of having chronic medical conditions
  • Adults with mental illness die on the average, 25 years earlier than other Americans largely do to treatable medical conditions
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America and the 3rd leading cause for ages 15-24

These statistics are based on reported and diagnosed cases. The real numbers are probably much higher. Experts report that mental illness is on the rise.

Research has already suggested that there in an inheritable component to mental illness. But, is mental illness also a “communicable” disease? Are some people carriers of mental illness? Is it being spread around? After 35 years of psychotherapy practice, my opinion on these questions is “probably yes”. If you have mentally ill parents or siblings, live with a mentally ill partner or work/play with mentally ill people, your chances of contracting some form of it probably go up. If you find yourself repetitively in a stress-filled environment, your chances of breathing it in and contracting it probably go up. Everyone is at risk for mental illness. No one is immune to mental illness. No one.

As with any serious disease, the potential outcome for having mental illness is death. Are you concerned about Ebola? Get way more concerned about mental illness. The chances of you or someone you know “catching” it are far greater. What are you willing to do about this epidemic? Can we even begin to talk about it?

RIP Robin Williams

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Compliant Children of Divorce: Unwanted Lessons Learned

It is nothing new to remind the reader that children of divorce are learning some very important lessons through the role modeling of their separating parents. Children of divorce probably watch their parents lead by example more closely than the general population of children. Why? Because they simply do not know what to do, what to say, or how to feel. They may have heard the word “divorce”, but may have very limited internal resources with which they can make sense of the concept. They are in the midst of a family breakdown over which they have no control and no idea of how bad the breakdown might ultimately become.

As a mental health professional, I worry  less about the children who “act-out” during their parents’ divorce. These kids get the attention, albeit negatively, and parents are more likely to recognize the cry for help. I worry much more about children who “act-in” and, as a result, the parents mistakenly think are fine.

Here are some very subtle and unwanted lessons compliant children of divorce are at risk to learn:

“I should contain my upset. My mother/father is really upset and I am afraid that my being mad, sad or scared will be the last straw. If I seem to be fine, my parents won’t be more upset and so I won’t be left.” Children who learn the unwanted lesson of holding in their own feelings are at risk for future depression, anxiety and difficulty in making healthy attachments.

“I should act like nothing is wrong and I am okay. If my parents think it is okay to break up our family and divorce each other, I will just divorce myself.” Some children of divorce go beyond repressing their own legitimate anger and sadness and actually “break away” from or deny their own unique family experience. This sets them up to live in a distorted reality that they can perpetuate into adulthood.

“When they ask me if I am okay, I will just say ‘yes’. When they ask me if anything is wrong, I will just say ‘no’. They hardly pay any attention to how I’m truly feeling anyway. I may not be very important to them.” This unwanted lesson teaches the child that he/she is not very lovable. A wounded self-concept can carry forward into the child’s own adult relationships where they are either neglected or treated poorly.

When children of divorce become tentative and resistant to discuss the pain they feel about the shift in their family, they may be struggling with feeling ashamed that their parents are breaking up. The feeling of shame is an overwhelming emotional burden for a young child to face and resolve. As a result, these kids develop a style of communication that is guarded and limited. This wall of defense temporarily protects the compliant child. The challenge is that deferred feelings are just that. They don’t go away just because the child is denying them. Sooner or later these unpleasant feelings will arise and more than likely, come out “sideways” through other problems: drug and alcohol abuse, insomnia; poor academic performance, running with the wrong crowd, bad love relationships, suicidal thinking, criminal behavior…just to name a few.

Please consider seeking the support of a Collaborative Child Specialist who can offer uncoupling parents valuable insight into the compliant child’s experience. Pay attention to the child of divorce who appears to be and acts like he/she is just fine. They may be learning some unwanted lessons which will not serve them well on their journey through life.

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Holiday Stress: Not Very Merry

The holidays, magically coined to be a time of wonder, joy, and togetherness, are actually not-very-merry for many people. Though we generally struggle to manage stress throughout the year, the holidays can intensify underlying issues and painful emotions. The American Psychological Association conducted a study in 2006 and found that while 78% of respondents reported feeling often happy around the holidays, about two-thirds sometimes or often felt stressed and fatigued.

These have been some tough times with the Great Recession. Couple that with higher rates of depression, anxiety and the commonplace reality of the dysfunctional family; the Currier and Ives winter-wonderland fantasy can quickly melt away into a chilly, greyish slush of stress. What can we do when we feel not-very-merry during the holidays? Here are some tips:

  1. Go back to basics. Stay out of the malls and away from online shopping and create something with your own hands. Cards, cookies, cakes, jam, knit items, seedlings that will grow in the spring…these activities will fire your neurons up and left in your brain, moving away from negative emotions and generating a better feeling outcome.
  2. Think about others who are struggling and do some small act of charity. Whether it is dropping off a toy for a child in the hospital, dropping a dollar in the Salvation Army kettle, cooking a meal for someone who is sick. Engage in random acts of kindness and remain anonymous.
  3. Take care of yourself: get exercise, don’t binge on sweets; and most of all, get plenty of sleep.
  4. Give yourself permission to say “No”.  It is okay to be mindful of what you can realistically fit into your schedule and when you need to do nothing but put your feet up and rest.
  5. Be careful with alcohol use. Even recreational use of alcohol is typically increased during this time of year. Don’t forget that alcohol is a depressant and it interrupts restful sleep patterns.
  6. Ask for help and delegate. Be conscious of your limitations and don’t sacrifice your well-being to please everyone else. That’s no fun for you or them.
  7. Know your triggers. If you are spending time with extended family and friends, remember your hot-buttons with those select few who can be trouble-makers. Keep the conversation light and simple and refuse to get drawn into dysfunctional drama.
  8. Remember the phrase “holy day” as the basis of the word holiday and engage in some form of spiritual practice: meditate, pray, count your blessings (even if on one hand), visit a new house of worship, light candles, hike in nature, listen to music, play games together…whatever resonates for you.

As you move through the holiday season, remember its universal theme on a personal level: envision peace in your inner world and practice good will onto yourself. All the best to you and yours!

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The Precious Spirit of Aloha

I am spending some vacation time on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. This is such a pristine and relaxing environment, one is motivated to literally breathe easy. Breathing easy is actually an alternative phrase for the word aloha.

Aloha is a commonly used word for “hello” and “good-bye” that tourists say when they are visiting the Hawaiian Islands.  However, “Aloha” means much more than hello or good-bye. Aloha is an extension of your loving inner spirit and it leads us to a powerful way to resolve a problem, accomplish a goal, and to reach a peaceful state of mind.

In the Hawaiian language, aloha is actually a compound word which includes both  “the sharing (alo) of joy (oha) and/or being in the present (alo) to exchange life energy (ha).” As you exchange this energy with others you become attuned to the spirituality that the Hawaiians call mana. According to Hawaiian tradition, the loving use of this incredible power is the secret for attaining true health, happiness, prosperity and success.

The way to tune into this energy and have it work for you is so simple that you might pooh-pooh the concept. What do you have to lose? Take the time to try it out. According to Hawaiian culture, this is the most powerful technique in the world. Although it appears to  be extremely simple, it may not prove easy because you must remember to do it and you have to do it a lot.

It is a secret which has been given to humanity over and over again. The secret, according to Shaman Serge Kahili King, is this: “Bless everyone and everything that represents what you want.” He maintains that to bless something means to give recognition or emphasis to a positive quality, characteristic or condition, with the intent that what is recognized or emphasized will increase, endure or come into being.

Blessing is effective in changing your life or getting what you want for three reasons. First of all, the positive focus of your mind stirs up your own positive creativity; secondly it moves this dynamic energy outward; thirdly, when you bless for the benefit of others instead of directly for yourself, you tend to rise above any subconscious fears about what you want for yourself, so that the focus on the blessing acts to increase the same good in your own life. What is so beautiful about this process is that the blessing you do for others is a reciprocal process that helps you as well.

In order to gain the benefit from blessing, you will have to give up or cut way down on the one thing that negates it: negative thinking. This includes criticizing instead of acknowledging; doubting instead of affirming; blaming instead of appreciating; and worrying instead of anticipating with hope and trust. According to the spirit of Aloha, these negative thoughts tend to cancel out some of the effects of blessing. So the more you negate, the harder it will be and the longer it will take to receive the good from a blessing.

Mr. King also shares the technique practiced by Hawaiian shamans which enhances your power to bless by increasing your positive, personal energy. It is a simple way of breathing that is also used for grounding, centering, meditation and healing. It requires no special place or posture, and may be done while moving or still, busy or resting, with eyes open or closed. In Hawaiian the technique is called pikopiko. Piko means both the crown of the head and the navel.

The Technique
1. Become aware of your natural breathing (it might change on its own just because of your awareness).

2. Locate the crown of your head and your navel by awareness and/or touch.

3. Now, as you inhale put your attention on the crown of your head; and as you exhale put your attention on your navel. Keep breathing this way for as long as you like.

4. When you feel relaxed, centered, and/or energized, begin imagining that you are surrounded with an invisible cloud of light or an energy field, and that with each breath the energy of this cloud or field increases.

5. As you bless, imagine that the object of your blessing is surrounded with some of the same energy that surrounds you.

Aloha seems to be indescribable, and undefinable with words alone; to be understood, it must be experienced. Aloha has deeper meaning and sacredness than is inferred by how we tend to use the word. One thing seems to be certain when one delves a bit deeper into what the word “Aloha” represents”; it is an invocation of and a connection to the Divine that dwells within all of us.

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Love and the Long Hot Summer

I live in the desert and have had to endure many long, hot summers; sweltering heat that you can literally see waving within your field of vision. Summer in the desert is not for the faint-hearted: heat so intense that when you open the door, it feels like you are walking into a blow torch. Your car becomes a kiln and you dry up like a prune.

Then, there is the monsoon. Suddenly, a tsunami of dust can envelop you with shearing winds. This is sometimes followed by torrential rains and subsequent flash flooding. If you can’t escape to a more temperate zone, one of the few remaining ways to cope with the intensity of a long hot summer in the desert is to see the meaning in it. So, here goes.

Sometimes our love-relationships are like the long, hot desert summer. Loving someone can be searing with burning passion. Conversely, it can include dry spells that leave us, as partners, quenching for replenishment.  Love can predictably kick up an incredible amount of old dust that overwhelms us and makes it hard to see and even harder to breathe. It can involve the collision of two volatile fronts that create a micro burst of exceptional energy. Loving someone can build-up a climate of thick, soupy emotional pressure that culminates with a torrid thunderstorm of upset, followed by a flood of cleansing tears and a calming, cooling-down.

Seasons of loving someone. Our love-relationships can, at times, be like the desert’s long, hot summer.