May is Mental Health Awareness Month and an important time for disseminating information, support and resources to my clients and readers. It is estimated that one in five individuals suffers from some type of mental illness. One in 25 Americans have lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and accounts for the loss of more than 41,000 American lives each year.
This month’s guest blog post is a welcome contribution by Melissa Howard who lost her younger brother to suicide. Melissa felt compelled to create StopSuicide.info to provide a lifeline of information and support to those directly affected by suicide. Thank you Melissa for your contribution on a critically important topic we often don’t want to discuss.
A suicidal person may not ask for help though this doesn’t mean they don’t want to be helped. Suicide is rarely about wanting to die. Suicidal individuals are in great pain and simply want to find a way to make the pain stop. The best way to help a suicidal person is to recognize the signs and signals before it is too late.
Why Are People Suicidal?
For people who have never experienced depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or any other serious condition that leaves a person feeling helpless, the idea of taking one’s own life can seem baffling. According to Dr. Alex Lickerman, a Chicago based Primary Care Physician, there are six main reasons a person commits suicide:
1.) They are severely depressed and suffering from an intense state of hopelessness. Depression can be caused by trauma, genetic vulnerability, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Therapy and medication can help with all of these. Treatments including light box therapy and regular exercise which can help SAD in particular.
2.) A psychotic disorder including schizophrenia.
3.) It may be an impulsive choice spurred by drugs and alcohol.
4.) An attempt at suicide is a cry for help.
5.) Some people facing a painful terminal illness choose suicide out of their philosophical desire to die.
6.) Some suicides are simply accidents.
Recognizing the Signs
Picking up on warning signs isn’t always easy. Some people put a lot of work into hiding their true feelings. However, if you are perceptive, you may notice the following:
What to Do if You Think Someone You Know Is Suicidal
If you are worried somebody you care about may be thinking of suicide, the most important thing you can do is talk to them about it. It’s a myth that talking to someone about suicide will inspire them to do it. The truth is that suicidal people are often motivated by thoughts of “nobody will care if I die.” By speaking up, you are proving them wrong — somebody does care if they die, and they are paying attention.
When a friend or family member admits they are thinking of taking their own life, it is important not to be argumentative or accusatory. Ask them questions about whether they have a plan, a designated time to do it, and the means to carry it out. The more specific they are, the higher their risk.
Supporting a suicidal person is crucial. Help them get in contact with a mental health professional, treatment facility, or take them to their doctor. If you can, remove dangerous things from their house that can be used to facilitate suicide. Then go room to room and help them reorganize their home and try and create a peaceful, stress-free environment. Your proactive support can mean the difference between life and death.
While a person considering suicide may not simply ask for help, they may show signs that people in their life can pick up on. There are many reasons a person may feel suicidal, but often, the individual is severely depression. Look out for signals such as a preoccupation with death, feelings of hopelessness, and a sudden desire to get their affairs in order. Talking to a person who wants to take their own life can provide enough support to get them through the next day so they can talk to a health professional about their thoughts and feelings.
A big “thank you” to Melissa Howard for her contribution to my blog this month.
Be well, safe, and happy,
Linda Cook, LMHC
Another year has come upon us and the first month of 2019 has already passed us by! As we start the New Year off, I think about the lessons learned in the past year, the current status of my life and the goals I want to accomplish in the future. I know I always think about:
-wanting to eat healthier
-wanting to get more exercise (and returning to my yoga class)
-wanting to extend myself to others or do more frequent random acts of kindness
-practicing meditation, prayer, and positivity (in attitude) more regularly
While these are all admirable goals that we could strive toward every day, one change my family decided to make at the beginning of this year was adopting a dog from a dog rescue agency. We had been discussing getting a dog for months and I had a very specific idea of the breed of dog I wanted- a Labradoodle or Goldendoodle. I had seen a few of these dogs recently and I thought, “They look so adorable!” We began to research dogs on-line and then, started to discuss the wisdom of adopting as there are so many just as cute and adorable dogs in various shelters and rescue agencies as there are through breeders. The first Pet Smart we visited, we saw our dog, named Deogo. We looked at other dogs there and even went to another Pet Smart to see what was available there. But we came back to the first dog we saw and were lucky enough that he had not yet been adopted. We felt so lucky and knew we would love him forever. (As he did not respond to his name, we later changed his name to Tobi.)
Since adopting Tobi, I have noticed the benefits for myself of feeling more relaxed and calm, enjoying the atmosphere in the home of having a pet in our family, and always being greeted with such enthusiasm and joy at the end of each day. While there are so many wonderful benefits of dog ownership, I do confess that I notice I must vacuum my house more often, but this is a small price to pay for a loving, affectionate, and always accepting dog.
1.) Allergy fighters: Since we are always disinfecting, we have been exposed to a less diverse combination of germs, our microbes’ genes are confused. Having a dog in the house means more diverse bacteria in the home (and inside of us) and resulting in less sickness in pet owners.
2.) Helping meet new people: A 2015 study in PLOS One found that dogs can be a catalyst for meeting new people and keeping current friendships and social contacts thriving.
3.) More Exercise: Numerous studies have shown that having a dog results in being more active and having a more regular exercise regimen than non-dog owners. Dogs need to be walked and knowing this, we tend to be more active to keep our pet healthy and happy. This alone may lower our risk of cardiovascular disease.
4.) Increased Happiness: A Washington Post article in September of 2016 discussed how dogs help us to feel better. Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, brings his beagle mix, Lily to work with him each day, which helps to calm and relax him. Petting our dogs decrease our anxiety and slow the heart rate, as well as increase our oxytocin levels. Oxytocin is a natural hormone that helps stimulate social bonding, relaxation and trust, and lowers stress.
5.) Companionship: Living alone can be very difficult for some, particularly the elderly. Having a dog provides a sense of companionship, a basic need for connection which promotes both happiness and healthy aging. Two long-term studies (one at Harvard and the other at the California based Longevity Project) that followed Americans from childhood to old age found that social connection can stave off illness and add years to one’s life. These individuals (who were more engaged with both people and animals) were happier and had better longevity.
6.) Teach children responsibility and kindness: having a dog in the family can add to the responsibility for the family but also teaches important and valuable lessons to children. These include lessons such as feeding, playing fetch or training the dog to sit, stay or roll over. Dogs provide a sense of safety, love, and protection while also teaching children responsibility and sometimes, serving as a child’s first friend.
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts on dog ownership and let me say before closing, Tobi is my first pet ever…I wonder why I waited so long?
Earlier this month, we witnessed the intense and passionate testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Brett Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court hearings. The message this event relays to us once again is that women have been taken advantage of, oppressed, and abused by men for years, often men in positions of power and authority. In this case, the allegations are of a sexual nature, leading many to question why Dr. Ford had only now come forward to tell her story. By now, it is hoped that everyone understands that this is more often the typical response from a sexual assault survivor, rather than the exception. We know that victims of sexual assault often do not report their sexual assault due to the fear of not being believed. Victims also have the tendency to blame themselves or to feel guilty or responsible for their assault. Regardless of the circumstances, the victim is never to blame in these situations.
One positive result from these hearings is that many women (and men) have begun to speak up which in combination with the #MeToo movement that erupted last year, have created a wellspring of open discussion that will likely only help women to feel free to speak their truth. It will hopefully encourage women to feel safer to know that they will be believed and to know that the changes in societal perceptions will not necessarily occur quickly but will (and are) shift in the direction of believing the victim.
Some interesting statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC):
1.) 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will experience some form of sexual violence contact at some point in their lives.
2.) Only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to the authorities.
3.) 63% of sexual assaults are not reported to the police.
4.) False reporting of sexual assault is low, 2%-10%.
While it is disheartening to know that a second man accused of inappropriate sexual behavior has now been confirmed to rule on the highest court in the land, this should not deter women from speaking up, being brave, and finding their voice to say, “no more”. It may be yars before the benefit of Dr. Ford’s courageous testimony trickles down to the result of women being believed, but women will continue to tell their stories, to some out from the shadows, and to sepak of their victimization openly. All women need to know, “you are free to speak” and you will be believed.
If you or someone you love has been the victim of sexual assault or abuse, find help for yourself by contacting our local Victim Service center at (407)-500-HEAL. You can also call the Orange County #: (407)-254-9415, the Osceola County #: (407)-483-7386 or Seminole County #: (321)-972-4465. There are local resources that offer free or low cost therapy through the University of Central Florida’s Marriage and Family Research Institute at (407)-823-1748. My office and that of my colleague, Mary Beth Griffis, LMHC also offer psychotherapy services for victims of sexual assault. Feel free to contact us to schedule a consultation.
Linda Cook, LMHC
(Adam Cook started AddictionHub.org after losing a friend to substance abuse and suicide. He is passionate about helping people find the necessary resources to save their lives from addiction. Thank you for this informative and encouraging guest article Adam. 🙂
Are you recovering from a drug or alcohol addiction? If so, you’ve already taken a giant leap into getting your life back on track! But to truly thrive in 2018, you need to take some smalls steps to improve the other areas of your life as well. Below are tips to get you started.
Get Some Fresh Air
If you’re spending your life indoors, you’re really missing out! Studies continue to show that being outside can improve your physical and mental health. Sunshine is essential in producing vitamin D and keeping your mood uplifted, so try to get a few minutes of it each day. Connecting with nature can also help to reduce stress and help you feel more grounded, so find ways to take in the natural world around you. Enjoy a meditation in your garden, and take note of all the wonderful plants and life right in your own backyard. If you’re feeling adventurous, hit some nearby hiking trails and disconnect from the rest of the world for a few hours.
Build Up Your Body
Addiction takes its toll on your body, but you can get your health back by committing to a fitness plan. In addition to contributing to recovery, exercise can prevent disease, promote happiness, and stave off injuries, so make sure you get a few workouts in each week. Go for a brisk walk at least five times a week, or try riding your bike. Looking to lose some weight? Some studies suggest strength training is more effective at keeping excess weight off than cardio. You can get some strength training in at home with a few sets of free weights or even a versatile kettlebell. Don’t forget to clean up your diet and eat the right foods to get the results you want.
Find a New Hobby
If you can find effective ways to relieve stress, you have a better chance of staying sober and staying happy. Hobbies are a good way to pass the time and take your mind off stressors in your life. If you have a lot of time to fill and some outdoor space to spare, consider beginning your own garden. There are so many different gardens to choose from, whether you’d like to grow your own food or attract butterflies. Gardening is a good way to relax and keep yourself from feeling bored. Not the gardening type? Find a hobby that’s better suited to you, such as painting, reading, or even coloring.
Change Up Your Surroundings
You need positivity in your life to truly thrive and beat your addiction, and that includes your home. If you’re in the market for a new house, think about making your move now. Look for an area where you can easily find work, and think about access to healthy activities to keep you busy. Not looking to move anytime soon? Then channel your energy into making over your current home. Paint the walls with soothing colors and throw some new rugs on the floor. Make flea-market finds your own to re-decorate on a budget, and be sure to pay extra attention to making your bedroom a cozy haven of relaxation to help you sleep.
Manage Mental Health Issues
Living with anxiety or depression isn’t easy, but ignoring these issues will only make them worse. In fact, it’s common for unresolved mental health issues to contribute to addiction to drugs and alcohol. So if you want to stay sober, you have to take care of your mental health. Set up an appointment with a mental health professional to discuss what’s bothering you. Establish open communication with your provider and ask for tools to help you manage any issue you may be experiencing. Taking control of your mental health is one of the healthiest things you can do to take charge of your life.
This is your year to thrive! By making the decision to deal with your addiction, you’re already on the right path — you just need a few extra steps to help you along the way. Hopefully, with these tips, 2018 will be your best year yet!
-Adam Cook (Special Contributor)
*hiking trails <https://www.traillink.com/activity/hiking-trails
*contributing to recovery–<https://www.drugrehab.org/inpatient-drug-rehab/#contribute-to-recovery
* Pixabay: Photo Credit<https://pixabay.com/en/water-woman-nature-scenery-1245677/
Ms. Mesing Cook has been a mental health therapist in the Orlando community for over 30 years. She currently manages a private practice in Winter Park where she specializes in working with the Bipolar Disorder population, assists families through family and marital therapy, and works with children as young as three. She is a former member of the Collaborative Family Law Group of Central Florida and serves as a neutral mental health professional in collaborative family law cases. She has years of experience in counseling individuals who are separated or divorced. Read More…
Copyright 2014 – 2019 Linda Mesing Cook
Favicon by Felix Bronnimann from Noun Project