Active Minds Blog » eating disorders http://activemindsblog.org Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 25 May 2016 12:46:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.11 Emerging Scholars Fellowship: Meet Cai Guo’s Mentors http://activemindsblog.org/emerging-scholars-fellowship-meet-cai-guos-mentors/ http://activemindsblog.org/emerging-scholars-fellowship-meet-cai-guos-mentors/#comments Fri, 11 Mar 2016 15:26:26 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4487 Cai is a researcher in the 2016 class of the Emerging Scholars Fellowship. Read blog updates from Cai and his fellow scholars here.

Hello again! I’m a few days late, but Happy International Women’s Day!

In honor and celebration of this day, I would like to introduce my two mentors, Dr. Suman Ambwani and Dr. Rebecca Pearl, who have made great contributions to mental health issues that are particularly prevalent among women. Specifically, both of them are experts in the field of weight- and eating-related mental health.

cai advisorDr. Suman Ambwani is my On-Campus Advisor. She is now Associate Professor of Psychology at Dickinson College. She received her B.A. at Macalester College and her PhD from Texas A&M University. Dr. Suman Ambwani is particularly interested in eating disorder and how personality, interpersonal interactions, and social cognition are related to eating disorder. More recently, Dr. Ambwani has also become interested in weight stigma and the means by which we transmit the stigma.

I first heard of Dr. Ambwani from my friends who had taken her Psychopathology class and were all talking about how awesome she was. Later, I heard from another professor that Dr. Ambwani was known as one of the most popular psychology professors at Dickinson, and at that time her lab had the largest number of research assistants on campus.

Since so many people were talking about the awesomeness of Dr. Ambwani and so many students were working with her, she must be a really great person and teacher. Out of curiosity, I started digging more into Dr. Ambwani’s work, and I got more and more interested in her research.

At the end of my Sophomore year, I expressed my interest in working with her as a research assistant in her lab and she accepted me even though she did not need any new assistants at that time (I felt very honored). Since then, I have worked closely with her on a project on college women’s reactions to fat talk and developed the current project on internalization of weight bias.

cai mentorDr. Rebecca Pearl is my National Mentor. She is now Post-Doctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She received her B.A. from Duke University and her PhD from Yale University, where I also worked in Summer 2015. Dr. Pearl is interested in weight bias, stigmatization, and the internalization of stigma. She is one of the authors of the Modified Internalization of Weight Bias Scale (WBIS-M), which is the core measure of my project.

I heard of Dr. Pearl when I was researching potential topics for my project. Since I had always been interested in social categories and stigma, I decided to combine both interests to study how people across all weight categories react to weight-based stigma. I then came across Dr. Pearl’s research on internalization of weight bias among normal weight people, which sounded both counterintuitive and very interesting.

After reading Dr. Pearl’s work, I decided to explore the same topic because it would be a great combination of my interests. I reached out to Dr. Pearl on ResearchGate and requested a lot of papers from her. She always responded so promptly and answered all my questions about her work and the topic in general. Her enthusiasm about this topic and willingness to help convinced me that she would be a fantastic mentor for my project.

And then, as you all now know, she generously accepted my request to serve as my national mentor! She has provided me with invaluable feedback regarding my study design and given me a lot of advice regarding what to expect and how I should handle potential difficulties in the process. I am looking forward to having more conversations with and learning more from Dr. Pearl!

I am very grateful that I have met these two wonderful mentors, and I am very confident that with their help, I will gain invaluable experience in the Emerging Scholars Fellowship and in the process of conducting my own project!

Project Update:
I finally started data collection! There’s A LOT OF food involved, and I sometimes steal from participants’ leftovers.

smiley

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week: The Connection with Trauma http://activemindsblog.org/eating-disorders-awareness-week-the-connection-with-trauma/ http://activemindsblog.org/eating-disorders-awareness-week-the-connection-with-trauma/#comments Wed, 24 Feb 2016 14:50:42 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4388 Trigger warning: This post discusses sexual violence. If you need assistance, please visit Crisis Text Line, the National Eating Disorder Association or the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network.

Eating-Disorders_Abuse_Oceanside-Malibu

What does trauma have to do with an eating disorder?

This is the question I asked myself over and over again, but it’s a question we don’t seem to talk about.

What did my sexual assault have to do with my eating disorder? I struggled to put the pieces together. I poured over scholarly literature, using my school’s online library to find any research I could that examined the connection between rape and eating disorders.

But the literature was scarce, and even more scarce was the information online that examined the intersection between trauma and eating disorders. The discussions about these issues existed in separate spheres. Sexual assault advocacy seemed to center around helping survivors report the assault, seeking some sort of justice for the atrocity we’ve experienced.

But, to me, the onus is still on the survivor to report–and the shame I felt, the powerlessness, was exacerbated by the feeling that I was supposed to be fighting a battle against my assailant–not a war against myself.

Eating disorder recovery seemed to be in a different realm as well. When I entered into treatment again in the summer of 2015, it was so hard for people to understand why I was holding onto the eating disorder. I didn’t want to be sick, I knew what it was like and I knew what I was losing–my desire to be an advocate, my voice and my life.

My eating disorder wasn’t about fitting into a thin “ideal,” it wasn’t about looking “pretty” or being accepted. In fact, it was pretty much the opposite–I wanted to disappear, to feel safe and to shrink my body so that no man could possibly find me attractive–so that, I thought, I couldn’t get hurt again. This was hard for people to understand because it doesn’t fit within the stereotypes we associate with eating disorders, and it didn’t seem to fit with any of the common factors that can contribute to eating disorders.

The shame and subsequent isolation I felt drove me to search for a sense of community–to search tirelessly for anyone who had a similar experience, who could relate and understand the connection between my assault and eating disorder.

In December of 2015, I began reading Controlled, a book by Neesha Arter, an inspiring woman who has come to be one of my closest friends. I couldn’t put the book down. I kept highlighting passages, writing sentences down in my journal, thinking the whole time, “Oh my God, she gets it.”

Neesha recounts her experience with sexual assault, and her subsequent battle with anorexia. There are so many passages in this book I could present here that describe what I felt and I find so much of myself in her writing. But this particular quote I will share and it is very important to me.

“My body felt divided and broken from my mind, like a shattered piece of glass on the floor. Those two boys had damaged it beyond repair. It had no beauty left in it, and I didn’t my respect anymore. The memory of their hands on my body and inside of me took away any ownership I had for myself.” (p. 54.)

I found my story reflected in Neesha’s. Finally, someone had put into words what I had felt and someone spoke up about the intersection of trauma and eating disorders, putting together the pieces that I had struggled to connect.

In Neesha, I found the “other me,” someone who shared my story and my truth.

So often we hear, “You’re not alone.” It’s a true and very valid statement, but it wasn’t until I was able to really connect with another person, to talk with her and to share our stories, that I truly felt I wasn’t alone.  

I realize that this piece may not be as uplifting as many eating disorder posts are. I haven’t include some kind of “happy ending” or wrapped the post up with some larger realization I’ve discovered through this process. That’s not what this post is about.

My hope is that we can start a dialogue about the ways sexual assault and eating disorders intersect, that we speak up and break the shame, and potentially find your “other me.”

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week: A Letter to My Best Friend’s Professor http://activemindsblog.org/eating-disorders-awareness-week-a-letter-to-my-best-friends-professor/ http://activemindsblog.org/eating-disorders-awareness-week-a-letter-to-my-best-friends-professor/#comments Tue, 23 Feb 2016 11:18:55 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4080 This post was originally published in The Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper.

Dear My Best Friend’s Professor,

I wanted to start off by letting you know that I think you are amazing. I don’t know the extent of what you do here at UCLA, but I do know that in order to have reached your esteemed position at this university, you have done incredible research and have played a huge part in shaping the minds of tomorrow. For these things, I thank you.

I’m writing to you because I didn’t feel I could adequately express my concerns on the quarterly evaluation form. As you know, your student (my best friend) has been in treatment for her mental health-related difficulties. And as you are well aware, this has taken a toll on her class performance.

My best friend was diagnosed with anorexia this quarter. Her condition steadily worsened. Anorexia was killing her. She should have been hospitalized on the spot.

Through steady support and love, I pushed her to pursue an intensive partial hospitalization treatment program. I wanted to talk to you about what this looks like practically, because, as indicated by your responses to her, I am led to believe you don’t fully know what treatment for her mental illness looks like.

My best friend’s treatment is three days a week, from 8:15 in the morning to 3:15 in the afternoon, and for those seven hours she is asked to confront her greatest fears. She is asked to consume food, something her anorexia screams at her for doing. She is asked to gain back weight that her anorexia stole from her, convincing her of the lie that without the weight maybe she could someday be worthy of love. She is asked to engage fully in the program – mentally, physically and emotionally – when all she wants to do is run out the door and never look back.

When you told her to work harder, she heard you say she wasn’t good enough.

When you asked her to drop your class, she heard you say she was a failure.

When you brought in her department counselor to convince her again to drop your class, she heard you say she doesn’t deserve to be at UCLA at all.

I encourage you to consider that maybe being enrolled in your class is the only thing in her life that makes her feel normal.

Professor, you aren’t the only educator at this school that has said things like this to students struggling with mental illness. I’ve had friends that, in the midst of anxiety attacks, have been told by their professors to sit back down and finish their tests. I’ve heard professors mock mental illness, misuse the words “depressed,” “bipolar” and “psychotic,” and, without realizing it, promote stigma and isolate students with mental health difficulties.

I don’t believe any of these professors intended to hurt their students. I believe these reactions and statements speak more to the culture of stigma than they do of the professors themselves. That being said, even though these professors may not have intended harm, the reality is, they have harmed.

I challenge you and your fellow educators not to make a student’s mental health difficulties their problem, but instead to recognize that cultural stigma surrounding mental illness is our problem, and it is vital that we take steps to change this paradigm. As a professor, you are in the unique position to do this, starting with the way you treat students like my best friend.

Professor, my best friend is smart, driven and capable. Every single day she walks into the hospital, she has to put aside her anxieties and trust in the hope that this grueling treatment program will afford her some freedom from this debilitating affliction.

I urge you to consider that this is not just about her class performance, this is about her life and value as a human being. I ask that instead of pouring your energy into kicking her out of the class, pour it into supporting her in the best way you can by offering extensions to her when things get particularly hard, checking in on her feelings and just understanding that she is a human being before she is a student.

Help me celebrate her for fighting this illness. Help me celebrate her for fighting for her education despite this struggle. Help me celebrate the fact that she is still here with us.

The way you and I respond to her in this critical time affects the way she will continue to seek treatment for the rest of her life. I urge you to understand and take this responsibility seriously, because it truly is a matter of life and death for her and for so many students.

Sincerely,

Your Student’s Best Friend

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Bad Body Image ≠ Eating Disorder http://activemindsblog.org/eating-disorders-awareness-week-bad-body-image-%e2%89%a0-eating-disorder/ http://activemindsblog.org/eating-disorders-awareness-week-bad-body-image-%e2%89%a0-eating-disorder/#comments Mon, 22 Feb 2016 13:28:12 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4063 EDAW_2016_Banner_Image

For several years now, I have helped college students plan Eating Disorders Awareness Week events. In honor of this year’s EDAW, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned.

  1. Almost every campus EDAW program is about body image.

Here’s why that sucks.

Poor body image alone doesn’t cause eating disorders. If it did, then the prevalence of eating disorders would be two or three times what it is. Now, sure, for many who struggle with anorexia and some who struggle with bulimia, body image is a part of the illness. But even then, it is rarely a cause.

Plus, when we focus almost exclusively on body image, we exclude so many people who are struggling because the issue doesn’t resonate for them. They think to themselves, “that’s not why this is happening!” and they disengage.

Finally, focusing on body image minimizes the range of eating disorders that exist and their complexity. Eating disorders are not diets run amok. The are the most persistent and deadly mental illnesses. They’re about a lot more than comparing oneself against airbrushed bodies in magazines, and everyone’s experience is different. As someone who has personally struggled with anorexia in the past, I will never be able to completely understand someone else’s struggle with anorexia—let alone bulimia or binge eating disorder.

  1. Many other EDAW programs are about nutrition.

Here’s why that sucks.

The kinds of conversations we often see about nutrition during EDAW perpetuate the assumption that if a person could just learn to eat right they wouldn’t have an eating disorder. Sending that kind of message perpetuates misunderstanding, minimizes the complexity and pain of eating disorders, and serves to further alienate folks who most desperately need to find a way to connect.

Besides, people with eating disorders are often hyperaware of food intake and nutritional principles–often to a detrimental degree. So, how about we ease up on that point?

  1. Panel Discussions Are the Best

As I mentioned before, everyone’s eating disorder experience is different. A well-crafted, safe, empowering panel discussion is by far the best way to go for EDAW programming. Here are a few things to keep in mind, though.

  • Shoot for diversity: eating disorders don’t discriminate based on age, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or any other factor. If you can find a diverse group of volunteers to share their stories on your panel, that’s best.
  • Prepare your panelists: it’s important to work with panelists in advance so that they feel comfortable, are reassured that they don’t need to exceed their comfort level, and that there are resources available in case they find the process triggering. You’ll also want to coach them in how not to be triggers for their audience members. When talking about eating disorders, it’s not good to share specific weights, calorie intakes, exercise details, or any other specific methods for perpetuating and hiding their disorder. You can find more information on safety in the EDAW Action Kit at ActiveMinds.org/EDAW.
  • Support your audience: make sure you have counseling center representatives available at the event in case an audience member is triggered or is interested in seeking help as soon as possible.
  • Follow up: make sure to follow up with chapter members and panelists to ensure that their event experience was good and that they are not in need of follow-up support.
  1. Please Don’t Have a Bake Sale or Give Away Food!

Nothing makes someone with an eating disorder run away from an event faster than offering or selling food. And although I know how effective free food is in getting people to come to your event—and how effective bake sales can be for a fundraiser—I have to say: DON’T DO IT. Not for this week of events.

The people who you most want to include and inform with your event are the people who are run off by the presence of cheap, greasy pizza or cupcakes.

  1. Target Friends.

At the end of the day, the most likely audience for a well-crafted EDAW event are students who are concerned about a peer, sibling, parent, or other loved one. This group is often the most interested in what they can do to help a loved one and support them in their journey back to wellness. Keep that in mind as you develop your programming and compile questions for your panelists.

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Recovery: It Requires Tethers http://activemindsblog.org/recovery-it-requires-tethers/ http://activemindsblog.org/recovery-it-requires-tethers/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 13:40:03 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4321 I623556d1e6aebbfb83925b44add83613t’s been 11 years since I walked out the doors of my eating disorders treatment program and into a windy, but mild February afternoon.

My time there had felt both quick and endless. The days were long, the nights were short, and the effects were profound.

Unlike many other people who struggle with eating disorders, I didn’t end up having to go back to inpatient treatment ever again. I don’t mean to imply the road from there has been all puppies and rainbows, but I do consider myself incredibly lucky.

Because eating disorders will stick with you.

Eating disorders are the most persistent mental health disorders you’ll find. They stick with you because they are a complex mish-mash of mental and physical disorders.

Your medical chart will invariably lead with a diagnosis of some type of anxiety disorder. Most of the time depression will be found there, too. And depending on which eating disorder is plaguing you and for how long, you might have high blood pressure, or the early signs of osteoporosis, tooth decay, heart palpitations, or (as in my case) the early stages of liver dysfunction.

I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa just before my 22nd birthday. For some this is late; for others it’s early. Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on age.

Anorexia is known in the mental health community as being the deadliest mental illness. Every aspect of your life—your brain, your body, your relationships, your soul—breaks down. But outside the community, anorexia is seen as a privileged white girl problem; a diet run amok; a problem of vanity, not of health.

Before I was diagnosed, I clung to these stereotypes, too. But by the time I walked out of those treatment center doors, those faulty beliefs were a thing of the past. Eating disorders don’t discriminate based on economics, race, ethnicity, or access to media messaging about body type.

On the contrary, wherever there is anxiety lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is shame lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is a need for control lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

Wherever there is ambivalence about life lurks the possibility of an eating disorder.

For me, anorexia was grounded in anxiety. I was, and had always been, a perfectionist. I wanted intensely to be liked.

I wanted to be most likely to succeed.

And the obsessive-compulsive disorder diagnosis listed on my chart was over a decade in the making before it appeared there. Before I obsessed over calories and miles and pounds, I obsessed about getting the right answers, making the perfect throw to home plate, hitting the perfect golf shot, playing the right notes, and being exactly the kind of friend, daughter, and student I thought everyone expected me to be.

When I finally came out as gay at 21, any illusion of perfection I had tried to pull over others’ eyes seemed to be gone, and I grappled for anything else I could succeed at. I began to lose weight and hear those magic words, “You look great. Have you lost weight?”

“If you think this is good, I can do better.”

Better was smaller.

Better was tougher.

Better was less and less and less.

And more and more and more.

My OCD was abetted by major depression, which helped me hide the anorexia. Depression made me withdraw from things that made me happy—friendships, events, music. In that space, numbness grew. A deep ambivalence about what I was doing to my body and its effects. An ability to turn off all my emotions and just be a robot slave to the eating disorder voice in my head telling me what to eat and how to shed more pounds.

I couldn’t feel the pleasures of eating.

I couldn’t feel the pain of overexercising.

I could only feel shame.

“You deserve to be punished.”

And then my body started to break down, too.

My period stopped pretty early on, and over the months that followed my hair started to thin. My skin lost any kind of lustre, and I was cold all the time. I also started to get dizzy when I got up to do things—like help a student with a question while I was student teaching.

This led to some pretty stupid and untruthful explanations for why I fell down, or had to clutch the wall, or had to leave the room to my supervising teacher in the middle of a class.

When I was confronted by my psychiatrist, therapist, and parents about my physical condition (the last of several interventions by friends, family, faculty, etc.), I was already in pre-hepatic dysfunction. My liver endzymes were off the charts, which put me at greater risk for a heart attack. A heart attack from which they wouldn’t be able to revive me if it occurred.

I was hospitalized. At first for 72 hours locally, and then, after much debate and tears, to a live-in treatment facility a couple of hours away.

Treatment saved my life. Without it I wouldn’t be here writing this.

And I wouldn’t be here without my parents.

And I wouldn’t be here without my best friends.

And I wouldn’t be here without this persistent determination to change people’s minds about the nature of these pernicious diseases.

So, if you hang out with people peddling that b.s. about how someone’s eating disorder is just a cry for attention or an overinflated sense of vanity, set them straight. It’s time we recognized that eating disorders are serious illnesses. It’s time we recognized that they are treatable if people can access help and get it in time. It’s time we become a little bit more “there” for each other.

I’ve been in and out of therapy over the last 11 years. I have been on and off and on medications. I’ve taken up meditation. My positive coping mechanisms have evolved and changed. I’ve had the opportunity to help people through my work.

But the anxiety stays with me. The depression descends and lifts with time. The eating disorder voice only whispers now, but it still sneaks up on me just when I’ve forgotten about it and when I am most vulnerable.

That’s why I still need help from my family and friends. I need the tethers they offer to keep from drifting again.

That’s why I still need regular visits to my doctor and transparency about my medical history and current health habits.

I need my life lines. Someone out there needs you to be one, too.

I might have walked out of those treatment center doors alone 11 years ago, but I was going home to family and friends who have been with me every step of the way. And for the first time in a long time, I could see and feel the world around me.

If you’re wondering how to help a friend who is struggling, check out our Be A Friend resources.

If you or a friend need immediate help to find assistance for an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Information and Referral Hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Mental Health Monologues at Winona State University http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-monologues-at-winona-state-university/ http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-monologues-at-winona-state-university/#comments Mon, 21 Dec 2015 15:45:41 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4085 MHM 2015Active Minds at Winona State University recently won Active Minds’ Programming Innovation Award for their mental health story-sharing program, the Mental Health Monologues (check out their videos)! Based on the highly popular Vagina Monologues, students, faculty, and staff (some as actors and others as authors of the stories) brought mental health struggles to life by reading personal experiences with mental illness  in a theatrical setting.

The overall goal of this program was to “erase the stigma surrounding mental health and show that there is hope of treatment and recovery for mental illness.” They hoped that this emotionally-charged public presentation of personal stories would reveal the ways in which mental illness affects different people, whether they are personally struggling or supporting a loved one.

The chapter began planning seven months in advance and started by putting out a call for stories from students, staff, and faculty through their Facebook page, flyers around campus, and a campus-wide email. They set up an email account specifically for the purpose of soliciting stories which only two chapter members had access to in order to insure anonymity.  As they compiled  the stories, they also began pursuing directors and actors.

As theater rehearsals commenced, the organizing continued. The chapter booked a space, ordered T-shirts, designed the program, and planned concessions, They also started advertising the event by hanging  creative posters around campus, connecting with campus news outlets, sending emails, and posting on Facebook.

To put on such a large-scale event, they also needed to secure funding. They decided to request  funding from the Student Senate and Counseling Services rather than charging an admission fee.. They accepted donations at the door and at an Active Minds table to benefit the Hiawatha Valley Mental Health Center.

The event was highly successful. With three shows in April 2015, the Mental Health Monologues attracted over 200 people from campus and beyond. Feedback from the campus community was overwhelmingly great; students connected to the stories and were inspired to tell their own stories. They group was  even asked to perform the monologues again at Hiawatha Valley Mental Health events.

The chapter was very conscious of the sensitive nature of some of the stories presented and took steps to insure that audience members were not triggered by attending the event. In the story selection process they worked with the authors to edit sections that could have been triggering and had information for the counseling center listed on the programs at the event, announced before and after the event, and at their table outside in the reception area. They also announced in the beginning and throughout the event that people were encouraged to leave the room if they needed.

Overall, this performance gave the chapter at Winona State University the opportunity to make new connections with on- and off-campus groups, spread the power of stories, and inspired others to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health. This is a great program to bring to any campus to creatively share stories around mental health while building relationships across campus and potentially raising money for a great cause!

For more information about this program, check it out here!

 

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I Am Not My Mental Illness http://activemindsblog.org/i-am-not-my-mental-illness/ http://activemindsblog.org/i-am-not-my-mental-illness/#comments Tue, 08 Dec 2015 13:41:50 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=4021 unnamed

I loved school like most “smart kids” do. Nothing was too difficult until the end of my junior year of high school when I began to gain some weight.

A few of my friends had started using MyFitnessPal so I decided to download it. Though it was just an app, I soon felt like every time I logged a meal, I was disappointing it. I became terrified of messing up and eating more than the voice in my head was telling me to. Soon the app became the least of my worries.

By the time I started college at the University of Georgia in 2014, I was overwhelmed with depression and suicidal thoughts. I remember telling myself that I would rather be sick and thin than happy and fat. My life was out of control. No one was paying attention to how long I was at the gym or how infrequently I ate. I hid my eating disorder because I was ashamed.

My sophomore year, I joined Active Minds at UGA and gained the strength to seek therapy. My fellow chapter members and I speak out about mental health issues, and for me it’s very personal.

I speak because just as I should not be ashamed to say I had an eating disorder, I should not be ashamed to say how I got better. I speak because there is beauty in every form of recovery. I speak because getting help is more important than the stigma that comes with it.

Help me and my chapter eliminate the stigma that causes so much suffering. Speak out today by donating to Active Minds this holiday season.

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The White Balloon Could be Coming to Your Campus http://activemindsblog.org/the-white-balloon-could-be-coming-to-your-campus/ http://activemindsblog.org/the-white-balloon-could-be-coming-to-your-campus/#comments Thu, 15 Oct 2015 12:49:25 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=3884 white balloonLooking for a creative way to start a conversation about mental health and engage a large population in your community or on your campus? Active Minds at Rochester Institute of Technology may have found one of the most creative ways yet to engage their campus, get the word out about their chapter, and educate their peers at the same time: they brought The White Balloon to their campus.

The goal of this program was to inform peers about the proportion of college students who live with mental illness in the United States. They accomplished this goal in three ways: balloons, mystery, and social media.

Just as Active Minds at RIT was becoming a new, registered chapter, they planned to hand out 500 balloons of different colors to students for free with the twitter handle @thewhiteballoon. Those balloons were different colors, with each color representing a different mental illness. Each balloon color corresponded to the proportion of college students nationally who live with depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, PTSD, attempted or planned suicides, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

The next element of mystery was integrated with the balloons. Students were encouraged to locate the white balloon, but the joke was on them; the white balloon didn’t exist because it represented the perfect mind, which simply doesn’t exist. They also added another layer of mystery to the project because they did not tell anyone who was responsible for the project or its social media efforts. There was a flyer attached to the balloons telling students to follow a blank twitter account and to tune in at midnight to find out where the White Balloon was. At midnight the tweeted mental health statistics that aligned with the colors of the balloons they handed out and let people know that it was their new Active Minds chapter that has orchestrated the project.

To advertise for the event, the chapter put posters around campus that simply said “The White Balloon is Coming” with the date and location of the balloon distribution. Students were really curious about what this could possibly mean, which helped get more attendance and engagement. To complement the mystery of the event, chapter members also tabled to give statistics about mental illness and tips for maintaining well-being on the days leading up the event and the days following as people sought them out to compliment their creative efforts.

This event got the chapter’s name out in a creative, large scale way and educated students about mental health. Social media analytics run after the event showed that over 21,000 people were reached due to this program on Twitter alone!

Some tips from RIT:

  • Do this program towards the end of the semester because it can be a stress reducer for students or right at the beginning of the year to introduce new students to your chapter and the Active Minds mission!
  • Be vague with advertisements to get people curious and excited.
  • Look at the most up-to-date data on student mental health to provide accurate information to your campus. Check out the Active Minds Tabling Toolkit for some statistics to start with.

Great job to Active Minds at Rochester Institute of Technology! We can’t wait to see your inspiring program happen at other campuses!

For more information about this program and more, check out the program bank here.

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Suicide Prevention Month: Reasons to Stay http://activemindsblog.org/suicide-prevention-month-reasons-to-stay/ http://activemindsblog.org/suicide-prevention-month-reasons-to-stay/#comments Mon, 14 Sep 2015 12:38:37 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=3622 This post is part of a Suicide Prevention Month blog series. Read the other blogs here.

IMG_1297I am alive.

Some days, this surprises me. I think of all that has happened in the 20.5 years of my life and am shocked to find myself still standing, still breathing, heart still beating. If you asked me a couple years ago if I would live to see 21, I would have laughed in your face. I would have said that my illnesses would probably take me before I even reached 18.

My illnesses are not physical; they are mental. That does not mean that they are any less serious, life-threatening, or difficult. It means that everyday I was fighting a battle against myself. I was at war with my own being and that was difficult on its own.

At age 17, after spending three years trying to balance my eating disorder, depression, borderline personality, anxiety, and self injury alongside of high school and being a “normal” teenager, I decided it was time to give up. I was tired of trying medication after medication. I was tired of going through so many different therapists. I was tired of fighting. I thought that it was never going to get better and that treatment was failing me. I felt hopeless.

After that decision, doctors and nurses tried their best to reverse it. I spent one night in the Emergency Room, two days in the Intensive Care Unit, 28 days in an inpatient behavioral health hospital, and one month in a residential treatment center for women thousands of miles from home.

That decision was almost my last one, but thankfully, it was not. I am still here, and I am a suicide attempt survivor, a person in recovery, and a person living with mental illness. But I am also a daughter, a sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend, a girlfriend, a student, an artist, a designer, an advocate, and a fighter. I am so much more than the struggles I face. When we have suicidal thoughts, we lose focus. We get tunnel vision and all we can see is our illness, our doubts, our sadness. We can’t see all the love surrounding us and that is what makes us hopeless.

In my recovery, I have found so many reasons to stay. When I feel suicidal, a sharpie and a piece of paper are my lifeline. I write down every single thing that comes to mind as a reason to stay, no matter how silly the reason may seem. The reasons range from loved ones to the autumn weather to all the dogs I have yet to pet. Any little thing that keeps me holding on gets written on that paper. Then it gets pinned on the wall right where I can see it and I ride the waves until I feel better again.

With the help of continued treatment, support from loved ones, and patience with myself, I can continue in recovery, as a person with lived experience, and help others make it through. Life is possible, even with roadblocks; just keep finding more reasons to stay.

 

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Mental Health News Round-Up: August 7 http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-news-round-up-august-7/ http://activemindsblog.org/mental-health-news-round-up-august-7/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 12:14:45 +0000 http://activemindsblog.org/?p=3462 Coffee Can Help Boost Your Mental Health

Moderate coffee drinkers were found to be less likely to develop mild cognitive imperative. Drink up coffee lovers!

Picky Eating in Children Linked to Anxiety, Depression and A.D.H.D.

New research in Pediatrics shows that extremely picky eating during childhood could be indicative of other behavioral health problems in the future. One scientist explains this connection because these youth are more sensitive to their environment and thus more easily affected by outside factors.

The Deadly Approach Britain is Taking to Anorexia

Trigger warning: this article may not be helpful to those in recovery from an eating disorder

Eating disorders, particularly anorexia, are the deadliest mental health conditions, but current policies in Britain is preventing some from getting help when individuals ask for it. The author tells of her own personal experience seeking help, but being told by doctors that she was not ill enough and her BMI was too high to receive treatment.

Why We need to be Honest about OCD and Teen Mental Health

This author of a new book about mental health argues society needs more representation of young teens with mental health disorders and the realities of OCD. She also hopes to shed light on the reality of relapse as part of the journey to wellness.

 

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