Getting It Right When It Comes To Mental Health

When was the last time you were completely stumped by a question, a request, or a situation you found yourself in? How did you handle it?

I recently received an email from someone I know only through Twitter, asking for my feedback on the inpatient unit at Forbes Regional Hospital (part of the Allegheny Health System.)

Woah.

So, I write pretty openly about my experiences with the mental health system, even when it feels uncomfortable or scary, because I know it is important for people to be “out” in order to lessen the stigma. Frankly, perjoratives like “cray cray” “unstable” and “die you miserable bitch” have been hurled at me so often for my crime of being a woman with an opinion that it didn’t seem too risky to actually own my diagnosis and experience. It wouldn’t be worse if people knew that, in fact, I am actually crazy by diagnosis not just your ignorant opinion.

Or so I thought.

The question took me aback for several reasons.

First, I didn’t know this individual, especially their age. I wasn’t entirely sure that they are a real person. I googled them and came up with no information. That’s not surprising for someone living with a mental illness. But I was concerned that I might be talking to a teenager which would require a different type of disclosure than talking to another adult.

Second, I’m a little wary since I was TERFd – I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was digging for dirt on me. I realize that seems odd as I have nearly 9 years of “dirt” on this blog that would provide ample fodder to attack me. But still, I was shaken enough by the TERFing to be a little “precautious” one might say.

Third, I’m not sure what to say. Behavioral health units are never a “good experience” but they can be life-saving and incredibly safe for some people. I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from seeking help, but I also want to validate our rather common experiences of being rats in a harsh, broken system. It sucks.

I put together what I hope was a supportive response, but I’ve been pondering this ever since. Sometimes – as awful as it can be – being hospitalized is necessary and essential for our safety and welfare. This holds true for all medical conditions. Sometimes we have to cling to the tools at our disposal and do the best that we can.

I’m not angry or irritated that this person reached out to me at all. I just wanted to get it right.

These are a few tools I use on a regular basis to address the feeling of being so alone, so on my own in this tough journey.

The Mental Illness Happy Hour is a weekly podcast that is “like a waiting room that doesn’t suck.” I find the stories comforting and I like to visit the community forum, too. The host engages with listeners quite a bit. Just be warned that the stories can often be pretty honest and brutal.

MDJunction is a well-managed online meeting place for people living with all sorts of health conditions. There are “groups” for various diagnoses as well as topics like “SSDI” or “Workplace Issues” – and the myriad of options means you can find a group for depression and another for asthma, especially if that helps you sort out side effects.  The groups are well-moderated and rules are strictly enforced which is a good thing.

NAMI – the National Alliance on Mental Illness has both real-time and online resources that can be useful.

Blogs – this is tricky. I have yet to find an excellent blogger covering mental health issues. Typically, I find myself a bit triggered or simply uncomfortable. So I skew more toward the education/informational blogs. I’d love to hear what blogs you are reading.

These are not substitutes for treatment, not in the least. They are tools and how you use them is a big factor in how useful they can be. They can also be helpful if you are a support person or loved one of a person living with mental illness. Compassion often starts with understanding.

If you are in crisis, please contact a crisis resource. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has an online “chat” available 12 hours a day as well as a 24-7 telephone resource at 1-800-273 TALK (8255).

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