Five Reasons to Share Your Mental Health Struggles

By Summer Allen | Greater Good Magazine

Now, more than ever, we need to help people—and particularly young adults—who are struggling with mental health challenges. This will require training more mental health care practitioners and reimagining ways that schools and workplaces can buffer stress rather than promote it. Just as importantly, we need to change the way people talk about mental illness and work to reduce stigma. And one way to do this is to teach people how to talk about their journey through mental illness.

A new qualitative study, published in the Community Mental Health Journal, has found that young adults who share their stories of living with mental illness can increase their well-being and feel less stigmatized.

The Australian nonprofit mental health organization batyr runs preventative education programs in high schools, universities, and workplaces to teach young people and their families about the importance of reaching out for support for mental health challenges. Besides offering basic education about mental health, another essential component of these workshops is 10- to 15-minute stories told by one or two young people about their experiences with mental illness (such as depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and disordered eating), the lessons they have learned, and the skills that have helped them cope.

Before they deliver their stories, speakers are trained in groups of seven to 10 at a two-day “Being Herd” workshop. Workshop facilitators teach participants how to share their stories confidently and constructively to help others struggling with mental health. The workshop is based on research by Patrick Corrigan, professor of psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology, that has found that disclosing our mental health challenges can be empowering, improve our well-being, and reduce internalized feelings of stigma.

Why sharing your story helps

To explore the benefits of sharing your story, researchers Genesis Lindstrom and Ernesta Sofija of Griffith University in Southport, Australia, and Tom Riley of batyr conducted in-depth interviews with 18 speakers who had participated in the program. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 33 and included male, female, and non-binary participants, as well as those who identified as Australian, Indian Australian, Australian Chinese, Sri Lankan, Chinese, Italian Dutch, and Italian Australian.

The researchers identified five key themes in these interviews related to how sharing their stories helped batyr speakers.

1. Getting better at getting better. Participants reported that their role as speakers helped them “get better at getting better” in part because it forced them to reflect on their journey and how they had overcome challenges. They were able to identify strategies that helped them and shift how they viewed mental health. One common thread was seeing recovery from mental illness and the nurturing of mental well-being as constant processes, like tending a garden.

One speaker compared his batyr experience to physical exercise:

Authentically relating the story to 300 people can be quite an intimidating experience and that sense of almost flexing your vulnerability muscles, like doing mental health pushups in front of a crowd. It almost leaves you feeling not drained, not quite shaken, but a little raw but in a good way. It’s kind of like you’ve just climbed a mountain or jumped out of an airplane.

2. Growing toward self-acceptance. Participants also spoke about how sharing their stories changed how they thought of themselves and helped them gain self-acceptance.

For some speakers, sharing their stories helped them separate their identity from their mental illness. “As soon as you say it out loud to someone other than yourself, all of a sudden there is a distance between you and the story. Before I was the only one holding on to that and it was part of my identity,” said a speaker.

The experience also improved people’s sense of well-being and confidence. Sharing their stories made speakers feel empowered and gave them a sense of purpose since they were using their experience to help others.

One speaker noted that her increased self-acceptance made her kinder, too. “I feel like we’re a lot harder on ourselves [than] we are with others. So, if I’m kinder to myself, I feel like that makes me kinder to others as well,” she said. “I think it’s just a natural progression to turn that outward.”

3. Breaking the wall by talking about mental health. Being a batyr speaker also helped participants actively fight against the public stigma associated with mental illness.

“Any stigma is just a lack of understanding, a lack of understanding comes from a lack of knowledge, right?” said a participant. “The more that we go, and we have these conversations with people, we introduce them to new ideas, we challenge their existing ideas.”

The speakers noted that the Being Herd workshop gave them tools to “face the elephant in the room” and to talk about mental illness in a safe way. The workshops included resources for seeking help and advice on how to discuss specific issues such as suicide and trauma. Participants also learned how to share specifics of their stories without generalizing their experience as the only way that people experience mental illness.

The workshop tools empowered participants to voice their opinions and address negative behaviors and language around mental illness in their own social circles. Speakers also said they became more inclusive and empathic with their friends and family members who were struggling and noticed a change in how their loved ones talked about mental illness.

4. Increasing connectedness. Participants reported feeling connected to other participants in their Being Herd workshop, as well as a sense of community with other speakers in the batyr program. Some participants said they felt a sense of common purpose and that connecting with other participants helped them feel less stigma. They also derived meaning from talking to students, knowing that some of them were likely experiencing similar challenges.

“I just love being able to connect with other people on that level and knowing that at least someone in the room will hear what I’m saying, and it will resonate with them,” said a speaker. “I think that too often, we forget that the human experience is a shared one, even if it’s something that is unique and individual to us.”

5. Reaching out for support. Participants noted that since sharing their stories publicly, they had become more willing to seek help when they found themselves struggling with their mental health, were more aware of appropriate places to find support, and were more likely to encourage others to seek support.

Several male participants mentioned that traditional expectations related to masculinity had previously prevented them from talking about their experiences. “It’s interesting because coming out of a mental illness as I did there was a lot of shame about the way you feel, and how that fits with society’s view of how boys should feel,” said a 25-year-old male speaker.

These participants appreciated talking to male students about the barriers that might prevent them from seeking help and encouraged them to be vulnerable and reach out.

Emory University sociologist and psychologist Corey Keyes posit that mental illness and mental health each operate on a separate, yet related, continuum. The batyr researchers suggest that the program works on both these continua—it decreases mental illness by addressing stigma and encouraging people to seek help, and it increases mental health by creating social connectedness, a sense of purpose, and personal growth.

The value of self-disclosure

While this study looked at the subjective experiences of just 18 people, and follow-up studies are needed to quantify these results, other studies also suggest that disclosing our personal experiences with mental illness may be helpful both personally and societally.

Corrigan and others have studied a different peer-led training program called Honest, Open, Proud (HOP). HOP is designed to support people with mental illness in their decisions when and with whom to disclose their mental illness, and it helps them to practice how to tell their story.

Randomized controlled studies find that HOP training reduces stigma-related stress in adultscollege students, and adolescents, although it is not known how long these positive effects last.

HOP is different from the batyr program because it is not designed to train participants to tell their mental illness stories to large groups of people. Instead, it helps participants decide if they want to disclose their history and, if so, to whom. For example, a person may choose to tell their story to a close friend but withhold information from an acquaintance who recently made a disparaging comment about someone with mental illness.

This highlights the complexity of self-disclosure. Disclosing a history of mental illness isn’t without risks—it can lead to labeling and discrimination—but there are also potential benefits—like getting more social support and help, feeling authentic, and being less stressed about keeping it secret.

Similarly, there are risks and benefits to people who hear the stories of other people’s challenges with mental health. If you have a mental illness yourself, listening to such narratives may occasionally worsen your symptoms (such as eating disorder behaviors and self-harm), but it can also be a tool for recovery and dismantling stigma.

In a review of HOP, Nicolas Rüsch and Markus Kösters of Ulm University in Germany wrote that in order to “achieve lasting change in a public health sense, HOP should be combined with programs to reduce public stigma.” They note, “People with mental illness must not be left alone in dealing with a stigma for which they are not responsible . . . only decreased public stigma will lead to a less prejudiced social environment that facilitates disclosure, positive contact, and social inclusion.”

Accurate media portrayals of people with mental illness, public awareness campaigns, celebrity stories, and programs like batyr can all help.

Together, these findings suggest that sharing our experiences around mental
health may be a way to improve our own well-being and gain better self-acceptance, while also combating stigma and teaching others about how they can get help. In this way, our stories have the power to not only help us but also help others and help our society.

About the Author

Summer Allen

Summer Allen, Ph.D., is a Research/Writing Fellow with the Greater Good Science Center. A graduate of Carleton College and Brown University, Summer now writes for a variety of publications including weekly blog posts for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is also very active on Twitter: follow her, or just reach out and say hello!

Middle-Aged Americans in US are Stressed and Struggle with Physical and Mental Health – Other Nations Do Better

Midlife was once considered a time to enjoy the fruits of one’s years of work and parenting. That is no longer true in the U.S.

Deaths of despair and chronic pain among middle-aged adults have been increasing for the past decade. Today’s middle-aged adults – ages 40 to 65 – report more daily stress and poorer physical health and psychological well-being, compared to middle-aged adults during the 1990s. These trends are most pronounced for people who attained fewer years of education.

Although these trends preclude the COVID-19 pandemic, COVID-19’s imprint promises to further exacerbate the suffering. Historical declines in the health and well-being of U.S. middle-aged adults raise two important questions: To what extent is this confined to the U.S., and will COVID-19 impact future trends?

My colleagues and I recently published a cross-national study, which is currently in the press, that provides insights into how U.S. middle-aged adults are currently faring in relation to their counterparts in other nations, and what future generations can expect in the post-COVID-19 world. Our study examined cohort differences in the health, well-being, and memory of U.S. middle-aged adults and whether they differed from middle-aged adults in Australia, Germany, South Korea, and Mexico.

The US is an outlier among rich nations

We compared people who were born in the 1930s through the 1960s in terms of their health and well-being – such as depressive symptoms and life satisfaction – and memory in midlife.

Differences between nations were stark. For the U.S., we found a general pattern of decline. Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s experienced overall declines in well-being and memory in middle age compared to those born in the 1930s and 1940s. A similar pattern was found for Australian middle-aged adults.

In contrast, each successive cohort in Germany, South Korea, and Mexico reported improvements in well-being and memory. Improvements were observed in health for each nation across cohorts but were slowed for Americans born in the 1950s and 1960s, suggesting they improved less rapidly than their counterparts in the countries examined.

Our study finds that middle-aged Americans are experiencing overall declines in key outcomes, whereas other nations are showing general improvements. Our cross-national approach points to policies that could help alleviate the long-term effects arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Will COVID-19 exacerbate troubling trends?

Initial research on the short-term effects of COVID-19 is telling.

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the fragility of life. Seismic shifts have been experienced in every sphere of existence. In the U.S., job loss and instability rose, household financial fragility and lack of emergency savings have been spotlighted, and children fell behind in school.

At the start of the pandemic, the focus was rightly on the safety of older adults. Older adults were most vulnerable to the risks posed by COVID-19, which included mortality, social isolation, and loneliness. Indeed, older adults were at higher risk, but an overlooked component has been how the mental health risks and long-haul effects will likely differ across age groups.

Yet, young adults and middle-aged adults are showing the most vulnerabilities in their well-being. Studies are documenting that they are currently reporting more psychological distress and stressors and poorer well-being, compared to older adults. COVID-19 has been exacerbating inequalities across race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Women are more likely to leave the workforce, which could further strain their well-being.

Changing views and experiences of midlife

The very nature and expectations surrounding midlife are shifting. U.S. middle-aged adults are confronting more parenting pressures than ever before, in the form of engagement in extracurricular activities and pressures for their children to succeed in school. Record numbers of young adults are moving back home with their middle-aged parents due to student loan debt and a historically challenging labor and housing market.

A direct effect of gains in life expectancy is that middle-aged adults are needing to take on more caregiving-related duties for their aging parents and other relatives while continuing with full-time work and taking care of school-aged children. This is complicated by the fact that there is no federally mandated program for paid family leave that could cover instances of caregiving, or the birth or adoption of a child. A recent AARP report estimated that in 2020, there were 53 million caregivers whose unpaid labor was valued at US$470 billion.

The restructuring of corporate America has led to less investment in employee development and destabilization of unions. Employees now have less power and input than ever before. Although health care coverage has risen since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, notable gaps exist. High numbers of people are underinsured, which leads to more out-of-pocket expenses that eat up monthly budgets and financially strain households. President Biden’s executive order for providing a special enrollment period of the health care marketplace exchange until Aug. 15, 2021, promises to bring some relief to those in need.

Promoting a prosperous midlife

Our cross-national approach provides ample opportunities to explore ways to reverse the U.S. disadvantage and promote resilience for middle-aged adults.

The nations we studied vastly differ in their family and work policies. Paid parental leave and subsidized child care help relieve the stress and financial strain of parenting in countries such as Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. Research documents how well-being is higher in both parents and nonparents in nations with more generous family leave policies.

Countries with ample paid sick and vacation days ensure that employees can take time off to care for an ailing family member. Stronger safety nets protect laid-off employees by ensuring that they have the resources available to stay on their feet.

In the U.S., health insurance is typically tied to one’s employment. Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, over 5 million people in the U.S. lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs.

During the pandemic, the U.S. government passed policy measures to aid people and businesses. The U.S. approved measures to stimulate the economy through stimulus checks, payroll protection for small businesses, expansion of unemployment benefits and health care enrollment, child tax credits, and individuals’ ability to claim forbearance for various forms of debt and housing payments. Some of these measures have been beneficial, with recent findings showing that material hardship declined and well-being improved during periods when the stimulus checks were distributed.

I believe these programs are a good start, but they need to be expanded if there is any hope of reversing these troubling trends and promoting resilience in middle-aged Americans. A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation concluded that paid family leave has a wide range of benefits, including, but not limited to, addressing health, racial, and gender inequities; helping women stay in the workforce, and assisting businesses in recruiting skilled workers. Research from Germany and the United Kingdom shows how expansions in family leave policies have lasting effects on well-being, particularly for women.

Middle-aged adults form the backbone of society. They constitute large segments of the workforce while having to simultaneously bridge younger and older generations through caregiving-related duties. Ensuring their success, productivity, health, and well-being through these various programs promises to have cascading effects on their families and society as a whole.

This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: , Associate Professor of Psychology, Arizona State University.

Frank J. Infurna receives funding from the National Institute on Aging and previously from the John Templeton Foundation. The content is solely his responsibility and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

Newly Released Footage Shows Police Shooting 13-Year-Old Autistic Boy 11 Times

police car

By John Vibes |  The Mind Unleashed

A 13-year-old named Linden Cameron was shot 11 times by Salt Lake City police earlier this month, after police were called to his house because he was having a mental breakdown. The body camera videos of the officers involved were posted to YouTube by the Salt Lake City Police Department on Monday. The video shows that the young man was running away from a group of police when one of them opened fire on him, shooting him 11 times.

The officers were called the boy’s home by his mother, Golda Barton, who told officers that her son was on the autism spectrum. She also told them that he doesn’t like police because they killed his grandfather, and also mentioned that he may have been carrying a fake gun. This woman either lives under a rock and is totally unaware of the many fatal encounters that police have with people on the autism spectrum, or she wanted to get her son killed. She says that she called the officers to de-escalate the situation, which was obviously an incredibly naive and foolish thing to do.

One of the female officers on the scene could be heard expressing caution about the situation, and suggesting that maybe this isn’t a job that the police should be handling.

This is a psych problem. I don’t see why we even have to approach. Honestly, we can call sergeant and tell him the situation, because I’m not about to get into a shooting because he’s upset. This is exactly what we talked about last week. If no one’s in the house and no one is in danger, maybe he’s probably breaking stuff but he’s not harming himself. Sorry, I’m not about to get into a shooting,” the officer can be heard saying.

Sadly, the other officers on the scene didn’t take her advice. A few moments later, police went and knocked on the door, causing Cameron to flee through the backyard. After a short chase, Cameron was shot 11 times by one of the officers.

The video ends with Cameron saying “I don’t feel good. Tell my mom I love her,” as he is laying on the ground.

Police handcuffed him first, and then made a half-hearted effort at giving him medical attention. Luckily, Cameron was able to survive but he is still in very serious conditions and will be left with injuries that will be with him fro the rest of his life. When he was taken to the hospital, he was initially in critical condition with bullet wounds to his intestines, bladder, shoulder, and ankles. He is still in the hospital and has been having trouble speaking. He has also lost feeling in one of his arms, and doctors don’t expect him to be able to walk again.

During a press conference, SLCPD Chief Mike Brown admitted that Cameron and many other victims of police violence were not doing anything criminal.

“We are facing a mental health crisis in this country. We want to be partners with those who provide mental health services. As a community, we need to find a way forward. Too often, our officers are called to deal with these difficult problems, which frequently are not criminal in nature,” Brown said during a press conference this week.