Let the conversation begin.
Why Does My Suicidal 11-Year Old’s Mental Illness Matter Less Than Another Child's Physical Illness?
Guest post by Kristian Keefer-McNeil, mother of two children with special needs and mental health advocate at specialneedskids101.com with a personal request from Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder of Hope Xchange, and Julie A. Fast, fellow mental health advocate, bestselling author, speaker and coach.
There are extensive awareness campaigns for many childhood illnesses. There are hospitals that will not turn sick children away even if a family cannot pay. And yet my eleven-year old daughter has an illness for which there is not nearly as much support, awareness or help.
She has bipolar disorder and several severe anxiety disorders.
When my friend’s six-year old boy was diagnosed with leukemia, I wept. When my neighbor found out her son had childhood diabetes, I prayed. When my former classmate prematurely gave birth to her daughter, I donated a few dollars even though I couldn't afford it.
Why Does Society View Mental Illness So Differently?
When confiding in my friends about my daughter, they say little or nothing at all. I try to explain to well-meaning friends what a day can be like for my daughter and those of us who love her and are trying so desperately to help her. I try to explain how difficult it is for her younger brother — who is on the autism spectrum — to understand that when his sister says hurtful words or does things that worry him, it is the disease speaking.
A few try to relate by saying things like “oh my kids did not get along either when they were little” or “all kids do that sometimes” or “it's just a phase.”
Would they say the same thing to our neighbor whose son has cancer? Would they say to her “I know how you feel because my daughter had a bad case of the flu last week?” Would they tell her that her child will "outgrow his cancer because it's just a phase.”
I certainly hope they would not say these things. But it still leaves me asking myself: why is it different for mental illness?
Like Physical Illness, Mental Illness Wreaks Havoc On Both the Individual and Caregivers
Why are there hospitals that will treat any seriously ill child even if a family has no insurance and no money, yet mental health providers can repeatedly deny families?
Children with mental health illnesses are ill in a different way, but these illnesses still have a major impact on their lives. For example, my daughter has days and weeks when she can barely sleep. There are times when she will be tempted to eat way too much or way too little. Although there are times when she can get out of bed, it is almost impossible when she is depressed and her schoolwork suffers as a result. She even struggles to interact with her own family.
My little girl is sad and scared. Despite the love we show her, she often feels alone.
Like Physical Illness, Mental Illness Can Also Be Fatal
Some may point out that certain childhood illnesses can be fatal. It breaks my heart to think of any child or family having to face such a prognosis. But, you might be surprised to realize that I also face the possibility of my child’s illness being fatal.
Depression plays a major role in my daughter’s condition. She started to have suicidal thoughts as early as 10 years old. While I will do all I can to help and protect her from this, there are many parents whose children have lost their battle with mental illness and have died by suicide.
There are actually also other ways that my child’s illness could someday become fatal. I have heard stories of people who drink too much or use drugs as a result of their mental illness. I have heard of teens, some quite young, overdosing on drugs or having alcohol-related deaths as they try to live in a world that does not understand the depths of mental illness.
Like a parent of a child with cancer or another potentially fatal disease, I will do everything I can to make sure this does not happen. While I do know that many things can be done and there is a great deal of hope, I also realize that sometimes despite our best efforts, a child or teen may fatally succumb to their mental health illness.
I worry about all these things. I am vigilant in protecting my daughter.
Mental Illness Can Be Treated But Not Cured
My child’s illness is not so different from any other serious childhood disease. There are treatments but, unlike most other diseases, there are no cures for her mental illness.
People can learn to thrive despite their conditions. It may take a combination of interventions including medications, therapy, and hospitalizations. And, even though a person can learn techniques to live a full life with a mental health illness, it will always be a part of that child even into adulthood.
Mental Illness IS a Physical Illness
A person with a mental health illnesses has a brain that works a little differently. It doesn’t work in a better or a worse way, just in a different way. Fundamentally a mental health illness IS a physical health illness. There are biomedical reasons for these differences in the way the brain processes things and how the brain works.
As such, our children with mental health illnesses should have access to the same level of quality care and support as children with any other medical condition. But, the sad reality is that they do not. That quality of care and support is simply not available — at least not for my child and I suspect for many others as well.
Seeking 12 Kindred Spirits to Join Kerry Martin and Julie Fast in Donating $25 for Treatment We All Deserve
Kristian is an inspirational advocate for both of her children, as well as for special needs kids in general. However, while she is a brave warrior and mother, she's not comfortable asking for help.
Julie Fast and I are asking for your help on her behalf.
If just 12 people join Julie and I and donate $25, we would be able to close the gap and raise the needed $400 to cover out-of-pocket costs for a needed psychological evaluation. Please consider making a donation to Kristian's GoFundMe campaign today. Let's bring back the sparkle in her daughter's eyes and the smile to her face.
With heartfelt gratitude friends for giving Kristian hope that yes, her daughter's health does not matter less because her illness is a mental versus a physical one.
~ Kerry & Julie
Heartfelt gratitude to Daisy Mox, one of Hope Xchange's amazing youth bipolar mentors, for daring greatly and sharing her personal battle with depression and bipolar disorder, which started at the age of eight, and her words of encouragement for others who may be struggling.
Even Eight-Year Old Me Had a Rough Time
I don’t remember when I noticed it for the first time, but I know I was young. Some of my first memories consist of my wishing I was more excited about recess or birthday parties or, well, anything, really. Even eight year-old me had a rough time getting out of bed in the morning. Maybe, I thought, I’m just lazy.
They told me to talk episodically, but, neither do I like to think about it like that, nor do I think it’s the best way to address my situation. “Episode” sounds as though my actions aren’t my own. The term causes me to forget that when I’m high, when I’m low, or in any state, I’m still me. I will not credit the mood swings to some higher power or an inner demon. This is me. This is my brain chemistry. This is my body. This is me.
Because It Is Easier, I Allow Them To Believe It Is My Mother's Death that Causes My Existential Sadness
I think I’d like to go about this in a more general manner. Too many events in this life have brought me to my position today, and I’ve only got 800 words, my friends.
My dominating battle is currently depression. At 14, I watched my mother deteriorate in the bony hands of Melanoma, which is the world’s assumption as to the origin of this existential sadness. And, because it’s easier as humans to have a reason, I allow them to believe it.
But, as aforementioned, I’ve lived in this state for as long as I can remember.
The Sadness Physically Eats Me Up From the Inside Out
Heartfelt thanks to Hope Xchange's mentor, Kevin Goldman, for guest blogging this week and sharing with us his definition of happiness and what makes his life meaningful.
In general, I am not a happy person.
What exactly does that mean? I know varying factors. Personally, I am diagnosed clinically depressed with mild PTSD, over anxious and “crème de la crème”, socially anxious. I tell people about my depression and they suggest “I’m unhappy,” “it’s a phase,” “you’ll get over it” and “it’s all in your head.”
I’ll address one now. Just because “it’s in my head," doesn’t make it not REAL. It is, in fact, very, very real.
I’m a programmer and developer by trade, so I know ones and zeros. It’s called binary. Depression is not binary nor black and white. I’m never truly happy or unhappy. I have felt varying degrees of the concepts of happiness: joy, bliss, ecstasy.
Happy implies a permanent state of being. For example, I’ve completed A, B, C and now D. I’M HAPPY!!! Like, when playing Mario Brothers and we beat Bowser, we feel as if we’ve made it. We’re superb. We’re the best. It makes us a, single serving, whole.
I remember my brother going on a journey to “find himself”. It thoroughly confused me. WHY do you need to wander (physically or metaphysically) to “find” yourself? As if it’s “the journey” they all suggest we’re taking.
Why not MAKE a life and BE the person by executing continual trial and error? By ACTUALLY LIVING?
YES, we need an endpoint, but it doesn’t have to be stationary. There doesn’t HAVE to be an end to the journey. So travel on. With the idea that you’re not searching. You’re adventuring. You’re experimenting. You’re dog damn LIVING!
Before his journey, I gave him a small piece of paper that simply ready, “YOU, are MICHAEL GOLDMAN“. I, perhaps, found him before he did.
Yes, I know it’s all a seemingly large, vast space to explore and we need milestones.
Remember when we “knew” the limitations of our galaxy? We knew that there was this bounded (albeit boundless) concept of a space. Does it matter if a planet is a planet? Scientifically, mathematically, systematically and historically, YES… it does. However, Pluto was. Now she’s not. Then she was again and then, again, perhaps not.
Black and white, my loves. It’s the very definition of the words. I’m okay. Sometimes I’m not. This is all, however, about the definition of happy. It's slowly becoming a filler word. In the meantime, it’s a very static word to describe a very complicated array of emotions.
Take, for example, asking someone if they are happy or not. There is a delicate web encapsulating those words. You may as well ask if happiness exists or not. It makes no difference, the subject. The answer will, nearly, ALWAYS be different. However, most people will suggest “I’m ‘okay’ “ before, “yes, I am happy”.
Maybe, just maybe, I am constructed a little obscurely.
I might be in pain and “unhappy” all the bloody time.
Maybe everyone else is feeling pure ecstasy. Or maybe they’re full of shit.
WHAT, TRULY, DOES IT MATTER? I – AM – NOT – HAPPY. Nor will I ever pretend to be.
In Honor of Gay Pride, a Hope Xchange Volunteer Shares Her Story About Battling Depression and the Closet
Hope Xchange extends its heartfelt thanks to Diana Good, our beautiful marketing and instructional design volunteer, for "coming out" and sharing her story. The path to courage is paved with vulnerability.
I am gay and struggle with depression. Although the latter surfaced my freshmen year in college, my sexual orientation did not reveal itself until my fifth year of marriage.
All I Ever Wanted Was a "Normal" Life
All I ever wanted was a “normal life” – a typical marriage, a house, stability, a good job. When I finally had that at age 31, I thought I was set. I tried to be happy and content, but something was missing. I was taking my meds and seeing a therapist, but couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
Yes, I had some isolated experiences with girls in college, but didn’t everyone? I just thought I was “trying it out” and honestly didn’t have any second thoughts when I walked down the aisle to marry my husband.
Although I Seemed Happy, I was Dying Inside
In Honor of Gay Pride, A Hope Xchange Volunteer Sends a Heartfelt Message to Youth: Stay True to Yourself
Hope Xchange thanks Destiny DeJesus, our marketing and social media intern, for sharing what it takes to thrive as a gay Latina in the south. We love you girl!
When I hear the word pride four things come to mind.
First, I am proud to be a woman. Second, I am proud to be a lesbian woman. Third, I am proud to be a lesbian woman of color. Lastly, I am proud to be a lesbian woman of color from The Bronx.
Yup. That pretty much defines me. Whenever I get the chance to write an “About Me” bio these are the only things I hold on to dearly because in my eyes, these are the only things that no one can take from me.
A WTF Moment But I Did It Anyway
How Do You Advocate to Ensure School Success If Your Child Has Special Needs? A Recipe for Obtaining a Comprehensive IEP
Heartfelt gratitude to Kristian Keefer-McNeil, our guest writer this week, a mother of two children with special needs and a mental health and IEP advocate. Kristian also has a website, specialneedskids101.com, that offers valuable parenting information and advice as well as a Facebook page where parents can come together and learn from each other.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a legal document that describes the learning needs of your special needs child. The document also outlines the specific services the school will provide to help your child succeed academically.
While the IEP process isn't an easy one to navigate, developing this document gives you the assurance that your child will receive special education and/or support services so educational goals can be met. However, it's important to know what's involved, how you can help the process along, and what action you can take if you're not satisfied with the outcome of the evaluation.
Requesting an IEP Evaluation for Your Child
Voices from the Bipolar Community: By Coming Out of the Shadows of Mental Illness, He Not Only Helps Himself But Others Too
Hope Xchange extends our heartfelt gratitude to Frank Pomata for sharing his personal story of coming to terms with and managing his mental illness. He originally submitted this to Share Your Story and has graciously allowed us to publish his submission as a guest blog in hopes of empowering others.
The Price of My Fervent Denial: Tattered Relationships, Embarrassing Episodes and Jobs Left in Haste
For most of my life, I lived in the shadow of a mental illness that I wanted to fervently deny. I figured if I did not acknowledge it or name it, then others wouldn’t know about my horrible secret and I wouldn’t be perceived as ill or crazy or any of the other labels people might project upon me.
I witnessed my paternal grandmother and my father's struggles with bipolar and I was frightened of my own frequent inexplicable changes in mood. Throughout my adolescence and later in my 20’s and 30’s, these shifting currents of happiness alternating with deep doldrums, kept me off balance and not only affected school and intimate relationships, but also led to disastrous consequences with my jobs.
Often times I was not fully aware of my own emotional landscape and felt very discouraged by the unexpected highs and lows that intruded without warning, giving rise to words and deeds I often regretted and leaving a wake of tattered relationships, embarrassing episodes and jobs left in haste.
I Managed my Highs and Lows as a Serotonin Surfer Dude
Stigma of Mental Illness in Small Town USA Results in Firing Due to Unfounded Community Fabrications and Fears
Post by Tosha Maaks, Volunteer Program Coordinator for Hope for Bipolars and Hope for Bipolar Loved Ones, Hope Xchange.
The Depression Was Back And It Was Hitting Hard Core
It was cold out. That’s all I really remember. I had on a stocking cap and I was wearing a sweatshirt. This was my common attire for my then-position as a bus monitor for the school district I live in. The depression was back and it was hitting hard core. I had lost faith in my current psychiatrist and getting in to see a new one proved to be a challenge. I had an appointment, but it was a month away. I was going to see a doctor who was newly out of school, young, and hopefully wouldn’t, as I called it, “cookie cut” me when it came to medications.
I had just found the webcam feature on my new mac, hit record, and “Ramblings of a Bipolar Mom” started to flow from my mouth. After I was done speaking I thought, I am going to use this for good. Maybe someone else needs to hear it. I posted it on Facebook without a second thought. I did a video about every other day, talking about having bipolar illness and how it made me feel and some of the things that it did to me. I got some positive and supportive feedback from friends: “Good for you Tosh, maybe this can help someone else,” one friend said. I felt good about the video blogs.
The Post I Thought Was Helping That Started It All
Suicide Survivor Chronicles Part 2 by Hope Xchange’s Bipolar Mentoring Team: "The Aftermath of a Decision on One Day"
Post by Grace Taylor, volunteer mentor in Hope Xchange's free Hope for Bipolars program. This is the second in a series of posts by Hope Xchange’s mentors who have attempted to take their own lives. It is our hope that by sharing our stories we can give others the courage to ask for help.
If you are in need of help now, please reach out. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line open 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK. Please do it now. Other hotline options can be found here.
TRIGGER WARNING: This blog contains information about suicide which may be triggering to some individuals.
On Day 2, It Hits Me. A Situation I Had Sworn Would Never Come Has And My Heart Sinks.
I wake up in a hospital bed, attached to an IV, eyes bleary, head fuzzy. My vision is doubled, my speech garbled, and I’m overwhelmingly tired. I see my husband sitting beside me. He looks relieved but also furious.
What happened? I’ve lost the past 36 hours and remember only fractured visions. I recall a policeman coming to the door, but beyond that, my brain fades out again and my memory fails. I don’t recall what happens over the next 12 hours.
When my mind returns, it hits me and my heart sinks. I had sworn that this situation would never come. I knew it would devastate my family. I still can’t understand why the self-destructive impulse had the power to override any logic, love, and sense that I had.
It was like coming out of a terrible dream and waking to a new reality. I had attempted suicide at home. I was found by my husband and my three young children.
After being taken to a emergency room, I was evaluated by a doctor and then sent to a psychiatric facility. Coming to in a psychiatric hospital bed is excruciating to a degree that cannot be captured with words.
I remember sitting cross legged, holding my head in my hands, and looking at the bare walls. I saw a man standing in the hallway looking at me. I knew I had been in a mixed mood and had attempted to take my own life. I recall being in a hospital bed and looking at my husband and friend, but remember nothing else.
On Day 3, I Wake Up Feeling Sick, Guilty and Hollow.
Suicide Survivor Chronicles Part 1 by Hope Xchange’s Bipolar Mentoring Team: "I Got A Second Chance At Life"
Post by Tosha Maaks, Volunteer Program Coordinator for Hope for Bipolar and Hope for Bipolar Loved Ones, Hope Xchange. This is the first in a series of posts by Hope Xchange’s bipolar peer mentors who have attempted to take their own lives. It is our hope that by sharing our stories we can give others the courage to ask for help.
If you are in need of help now, please reach out. Call the National Suicide Prevention Line open 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK. Please do it now. Other hotline options can be found here.
TRIGGER WARNING: This blog contains information about suicide which may be triggering to some individuals.
I Never Felt Like I Fit In.
I always craved the nightlife. However, being a bigger girl the majority of my life I was never very good at being a part of it. As I now know, the bipolar was bad at allowing this aspect of my life to happen. The bipolar delusions were strong and I was struggling very hard internally with the paranoid thoughts that flooded my mind day in and day out.
The thought of being talked about behind my back, and people not liking me, was never far from my mind. I never felt like I fit in wherever I was. I never stayed at a job for much longer than six months because I would get overwhelmed with the feelings that my coworkers were out to get me. The struggle had me in full force by 2008 when I had lost all the weight after my gastric bypass surgery.
I had hoped that the thoughts would go away because I was finally pretty. After all the years of being 355 lbs, I was finally a size small, and 142 lbs. A feat I thought I would never achieve. I was sadly mistaken. By this time I realized that the nightlife, no matter how much I enjoyed the flirting, was not where I needed to be. It could really make me feel pretty downright lousy about myself and the person I was trying to be.
I always wanted to do something that I thought only the pretty girls could do. When you are bipolar you can be hypersexual. I married young, but I loved to flirt, the type of innocent flirting that didn’t mean anything other than the fact that a guy found me attractive. I wasn’t going to let it go anywhere and my husband wasn’t the jealous type.
I knew I couldn’t be a stripper; one, I have no rhythm, so dancing was out. Two, since I did have gastric bypass and couldn’t afford the skin removal surgery, I had a ton of extra skin. However with a sweater, corset, skirt and panty hose, I could hide that skin, so I waited tables. The money was awesome, and for a while I was having the time of my life.
I was working crazy hours though, 13 to 14 hours a day. My boys were playing football every night. If I wasn’t working, I was sleeping at practice in the car, which I am sure didn’t look good to the other parents. I slept all day. I missed most of their life for about 6 to 8 months while I was doing this job. I worked most nights from 3 pm till 6 am. The drive was 40 minutes from my house. I was having fun though. I saw my doctor. I was taking Ambien to sleep. I was on ADHD meds during the day. As well as anxiety meds.
I thought I was doing okay. Then slowly the thoughts started to creep in.
I Wanted It To Be Over.
Compassion Aside, Taxpayer Cost Ramifications from A Broken Mental Health Care System Devoid of Common Sense
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
Last week, we published a post, A Hope Xchange Bipolar Mentoring and Advocacy Case Exposes a Complete Lack of Compassion by Healthcare Professionals for a Mentally-Ill Young Woman In Desperate Need of Help, speaking to the fact that mental health care system today is completely devoid of compassion.
Instead of Taking Five Minutes to Refill a Clonazepam Prescription, State-Funded "Full Service" Health Behavioral Organization Tells Me to Send Her to ER for Her Meds
But, let’s put compassion on the back burner and talk about the other “C” -- cost -- that comes to mind when a mental health care system is broken. On the same day we published the post above, I was sent the following message by someone I’ve been mentoring for the past six months in our Hope for Bipolars program:
“I still have not heard anything from HBI about my clonazepam. I am starting to freak out. This is what the system does so well: go on like a dumb machine claiming to be working, but if there's someone having trouble, someone falling through the cracks, they calmly watch them fall and go right on
Here’s a snapshot of the complete absurdity of our system: a complete lack of common sense and the resulting cost implications for taxpayers; and, how my team and I spent the rest of our day.
How Hard Do We Need to Fight to Keep Woman Diagnosed with Bipolar at Highest Risk for Suicide from Possible Psychotic Breakdown and Another Psychiatric Hold?
A Hope Xchange Bipolar Mentoring and Advocacy Case Exposes a Complete Lack of Compassion by Healthcare Professionals for a Mentally-Ill Young Woman In Desperate Need of Help
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO, Christina Huff, COO, and Kristin Molinaro, Volunteer Program Coordinator, Hope for Mentally Ill mental health advocacy program), Hope Xchange Nonprofit. Note: hospital names have been excluded and the woman’s name changed to protect her identify and safety.
A Young Woman with Bipolar Disorder in Abusive Relationship Reaches Out to Us For Help. Despite Extraordinary Efforts, We Couldn’t Do Enough to Fight System Devoid of Compassion. We Now Need Your Help to Shine Light of Hope Into the Darkness.
Sara is a 24-year-old, intelligent, young woman diagnosed with bipolar disorder who was living with an abusive, controlling boyfriend. Her only social life was when she was working for a few hours a week at her job stocking shelves at a local grocery store. Sara had a “Master” in a dominant/submissive relationship in addition to her boyfriend. Her family did not approve of her lifestyle, in part, because it did not conform to their extreme religious beliefs.
Over time, her presence in the abusive environment caused her to fall into a deep depression when she couldn’t eat anything and she developed extreme anxiety. She sought out her mother, expressing her desire to get better and to lead a healthy lifestyle. It was her mother, ironically, who led Sara to Hope Xchange.
Sara Reaches Out to Hope Xchange and We Respond With Both Compassion and Free Assistance: Bipolar Mentoring And Mental Health Advocacy
Concerns over Suicidality Leading to Hospitalization? If This Is You, Join Bipolar Advocates and Let Your Voice Be Heard in the Voice of the Patient Survey
Blog by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit with contributions by Natasha Tracy and Julie A. Fast.
Step Up, Join Us, Help Us, Take the Survey Here
Please know that your answers are completely anonymous. For those who are computer experts - even your IP address will be suppressed.
To take the survey, please click on this link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WH368RG
Hope Xchange, Natasha Tracy and Julie Fast Speak Up About Importance Of Survey
We at Hope Xchange, and many other advocates, work with those with bipolar disorder; and, sadly some are at high risk for suicide. It is the unfortunate nature of the beast that up to half with bipolar disorder attempt suicide.
And those who have attempted suicide or have experienced extreme suicidal ideation and have sought help, may or may not have been hospitalized. Not being admitted to a healthcare facility for extreme suicidal feelings or a suicide attempt is one problem – one for another piece – but there are many possible problems even if one is hospitalized in these situations, too.
We have heard the stories. In one case, a person who entered the hospital said he needed more therapy from the hospitalization than from the mental illness: "After my fourth hospitalization, I came out feeling like I had PTSD. It took me four months of therapy just to get over it."
Increased Risk of Suicide After Hospitalization
And unfortunately, as this quote implies, people with mental illness who leave healthcare facilities are at an increased risk of suicide. No one knows exactly why this is, but we believe it doesn’t have to be this way.
We believe that treatment in these situations can be better. We believe it needs to be better. We believe people in these situations deserve better.
It is because of this that Hope Xchange and other advocates are proudly supporting a survey that aims to investigate exactly what it is like for those who have been hospitalized for a suicidal crisis. If you have been hospitalized for a suicide attempt or for extreme suicidal feelings, we need to hear from you.
A Survey Investigating Hospitalization After a Suicide Attempt
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder of Hope Xchange Nonprofit, Preventing Suicide and Improving Mental Illness Outcomes in Our Most Vulnerable and High Risk Communities: Youth, LGBTQA+ and Bipolar.
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it felt like my world literally stopped. Although it does truly suck to have bipolar, I don’t want to talk about the almost unbearable pain and anguish I’ve experienced since my diagnosis.
Yes, 50% of us try and take our own lives at some point and 11% heartbreakingly die by suicide. I’m in the 50% (three suicide attempts) but I am still here. I’m still fighting, not only for myself, but for others as well.
But whether a person has attempted suicide or not, we are all bipolar warriors in need of compassion and understanding.
Peer Mentoring at Hope Xchange
I started Hope Xchange Nonprofit in 2013 because I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I did alone. The very first program we started, Hope for Bipolars, is a peer mentoring program. We pair someone who is bipolar, high-functioning, balanced and stable with someone who is clearly in need of help.
No one deserves to be alone or go through life feeling like no one cares; however, people do and that is one reason why suicide rates and attempts are so high.
What Does It Feel Like for Someone with Bipolar to Be Mentored by a Peer?
“When I felt like I was alone in my walk, isolated and criminalized for getting sick there was a hand that reached into my darkness, my pain, my sorrow. It was Kerry's hand that stretched out to me and her words of love and compassion . . . She has given me hope, she has helped me heal and she walks with me as I recover and try to help others. Hope Xchange offers hope and healing to those who are crying out in the darkness. They bring light and love when you feel like you're stumbling along."
Hope Xchange Nonprofit Launches Hope for Mentally Ill, A New Mental Health Advocacy Program to Help Those Struggling Receive Proper Treatment and Care
Post by Kristin Molinaro, Mental Health Advocacy Program Coordinator for Hope for Mentally Ill, a new program by Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
When you're struggling to cope with a mental illness, it's often difficult to also advocate for yourself in what is becoming an increasingly uncaring world full of road blocks and red tape.
In my work, I have seen many mental health clients face hurdles -- at times insurmountable -- when trying to receive vital services that would impact both their lives and recovery in truly meaningful ways.
Hope Xchange gets it. We hear you. But we're also here to tell you that you are not in this alone.
We have launched a new mental health advocacy program and we are here to help.
Hope for Mentally Ill provides free advocacy services to those in need to help ensure they get the services and treatment they deserve. We also hope our advocacy efforts will contribute to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Who Can Request an Advocate? Anyone Who Needs Help Or, In Some Cases, Social Justice.
Bipolar Community Will Not Be Silenced: We Fight For Social Justice So His Small Children No Longer Plead, "When Is Daddy Coming Home?"
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder of Hope Xchange Nonprofit. Note all names have been changed to protect the identity of the family and in particular, the falsely accused, an innocent person who remains after five years in a locked-down facility for the mentally insane.
Background on this Social Justice Case
In the third in Hope Xchange's series exploring social justice for the mentally ill, I presented factual details on a major miscarriage of justice in the criminal case of Keith, a 43-year-old dad, son and brother living with bipolar disorder who has been locked up since 2012 for something he has been falsely accused of by the State of Virginia. In particular, I addressed why I believe this case is the poster child of all that is so wrong with the criminal justice and mental health care system in this country. That post can be read here: The Criminal Justice System and the Mentally Ill -- What’s Wrong? Fighting Alongside the Unjustly Accused to Bring Daddy Home.
How Unjust Treatment of the Mentally Ill Affects the Family
Today, we share the heartbreaking perspectives of the often overlooked victims: the families of those who are unjustly treated by not only the criminal justice system but also the political, social services and mental health care system.
The Criminal Justice System and the Mentally Ill -- What’s Wrong? Fighting Alongside the Unjustly Accused to Bring Daddy Home
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit. Note all names have been changed to protect the identity of the family and in particular, the falsely accused, the innocent person who remains after five years in a locked-down facility for the mentally insane.
Keith’s Experience of Criminal Justice System
Since 2012, 43-year-old Keith has been in and out of jail, shuttled back and forth between mental hospitals and an assisted-living facility. He has been living with a bipolar diagnosis for 24 years.
He had a psychotic breakdown five years ago, wandering over to the neighbor’s basement, fed the family’s dog, petted their gerbil and sat down to pray, for which he was arrested.
Keith’s family (led by his mother, Maria, and now Hope Xchange) have struggled to navigate the criminal justice and mental health care systems in an attempt to bring him home to his two young children.
What they have experienced is an extreme lack of care, inadequate communication between the numerous agencies involved and roadblocks at every turn. Maria believes the system has done her son more harm than good, yet despite everything, Keith’s outlook on life is amazing and his insight into his plight deep.
After spending four months in jail in 2012, where he was the victim of physical violence, he was told by his court-appointed defense attorney that if he didn’t plead Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI), he would go back to jail for at least more six months.
Unfortunately, between the time that he was initially taken to jail and his court hearing, the homeowner’s girlfriend accused Keith of stalking her and her 13-year-old daughter. Then, without any evidence, the District Attorney raised the charges to statutory burglary and stalking with intent to do bodily harm.
Because he didn’t want to return to jail and his attorney advised him that the baseless charges would be dismissed, Keith pled Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. The court record clearly reflects that Keith said he was not guilty of stalking and was not intending to burglarize, but these charges remain on his record.
Keith now resides at in a locked-down facility for the mentally insane.
Hope Xchange, Keith and His Family Reach Out for Help
How Many Calls to State Highway Patrol Does It Take to Raise Red Flag During Psychotic Break Down to Avoid Not Only Jail Time But Near Death Experience? Social Justice for Mentally Ill Nowhere In Sight
Hope Xchange Nonprofit welcomes and thanks guest post writer whose name is withheld to protect the innocent in an ongoing battle in a mental health court for social justice. A true bipolar warrior mentored in our Hope for Bipolars program by Kerry Martin, CEO and Founder, she bravely shares her story with us.
First Call to 911 - State Highway Responds Or Is This Really the Appropriate Response?
People were concerned enough with what I was doing during a psychotic break down that they called 911 in a span of less than 12 hours of me traveling south on a major highway. The State Highway Patrol responded. Or did they?
The first call was when I stopped in a major city at the Northernmost part of the state where I live. This state by the way almost ranks last in financial help for people with mental illness.
So here I am at a rest stop, coming home from 6 week training in acting, movement, voice, and scene study.
It was a beautiful morning. There was a picnic area way in an area of the rest stop that was gorgeous and completely empty. I started my movement practice, breathing, aware of my posture, crawling, and swooping. All these practices could look crazy, but it's what my classmates and I had done breaking down self awareness and ego. Then breathing and concentrating on the Alexander Technique: breathe in, shoulders melting into my chest, breath out, breath in, neck melts into my shoulders, breath out.
Then something changes. My hypomania switched to psychosis. I was confident that the chips were in place in me, that the captain was speaking to me and giving me directions on what I needed to do next. It was the same kind of direction that the master teacher gave during the classes, but there was no master teacher and I was the only person running around.
Where is the Social Justice for the Mentally Ill When Far Too Many Are Coming Out of Jail In Body Bags Or Receiving Inhumane Treatment? Our Minds Are Not Our Only Prisons
Blog by Christina Huff, COO, & Kerry Martin, CEO, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
It is not uncommon to those of us with mental illnesses to have at least one episode that resulted in a stay in the hospital or mental health facility. Some of us have even been incarcerated for a period of time. We all have stories from those times, some positive, some positively horrible. The goal of those visits is to get us to practice what we've learned, and hope that we never have to go back.
But, what happens if you never get out?
Far Too Many People with Mental Illnesses in U.S. Don't Make It Out of Jail Alive or Receive Humane Treatment
There are far too many people with mental illnesses in the U.S. that sadly don't make it out. But they are more than just statistics. They are someone's parent, sibling, spouse, and/or friend. Their life is just as important as any other patient or any other prisoner, and it doesn't matter how long they have been in that facility. They should not have to fight for their lives against those that are in charge of caring for them in their facility.
It is hard enough for them to fight for their lives on their own due to their illness. For many, that is the reason they ended up where they are, not because they did something so egregiously wrong, but because their illness had taken over and they did something like breaking into their father's house because they were hungry. Yes, this really happened and in last December, it was reported it had taken 18 months for this youth to be transferred to a mental health facility and out of a jail. He was without medication and any kind of treatment for his mental illness during that time.
Is this Just a Recent Trend or Something We Now Just Have to Put up With?
Help Me! I’m Depressed and I Can’t Get Out of Bed - Four Ways Out of the Looping and Lying That Is An Inevitable Part of This Destructive Illness
Hope Xchange Nonprofit is honored to welcome guest post writer Julie A. Fast, a good friend and fellow mental health advocate. For more about Julie's impressive body of work and her contributions to the bipolar community, please see the note below.
I don’t need an alarm. I’ve been awake for hours just lying here. I know I should get up. That is what regular people do, right? I hate myself for being in bed all day. I want a life, but what’s the point?
Who is there to see? What do I have to get up for? Staying in bed is better than seeing what a mess my life is and how no one cares about me at all. @#$%! this god-forsaken, worthless world and let me just die!
Depression is a succubus. It changes what we think and what we do. It tells us that we are worthless, no good pieces of trash that belong in a garbage dump that is then taken out to sea never to be seen again.
Depression is Cruel. Depression is Seductive. Depression Lies.
My name is Julie. Before you read anything about me, I’d like to tell you a story. At 19, my cool Canadian boyfriend broke up with me. I was devastated. Then things got weird. I remember riding my bike on the street and when a bus got close to me I thought, “I’m just going to ride my bike in front of that bus and everything will be better.”
Who thinks like this!? Where did that thought even come from? I had never thought like this before. Were all breakups this bad? I assumed this is what everyone went through. I was not actively suicidal. I just kept thinking about how I could die and that it would be better. I saw images of myself being harmed and my brain would not shut up about how death would be better than living.
I made it through somehow and eventually took a job at a nature park and had the wildest, craziest summer of my life filled with sex and drinking.
(I’m sure you know what my eventual diagnosis became.)
Back to the depression. For the next 15 years, I would get seriously depressed and eventually was not able to leave my bed for long periods of time.
I lost jobs, relationships and my positive nature. The world was bleak and I was hopeless. Have you gone through this as well?
My Theory About Depression and Four Ways Out of the Looping and Lying that Comes with this Destructive Illness
Schools Must Be Partners In The Mental Health Care Of Our Children - Morning Briefing to Betsy DeVos, Our New US Secretary of Education
Blog by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit
Given how incredibly busy you are during your first week, I will be come right to the point and be both factual and brief. I will start with my key recommendation and then let the facts on the state of mental health in our schools today speak for themselves.
Please note I do not have a political agenda other than saving lives and improving mental health outcomes. I run a nonprofit dedicated to reducing suicide in our highest risk and most vulnerable populations: our youth, LGBQT and bipolar communities.
Our children and youth are not doing well -- major understatement given suicide now second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24 and leading cause of death in LGBQT youth -- and your attention to this matter is so urgently needed given schools provide ideal and unique opportunities for both comprehensive mental health care intervention and suicide prevention planning.
Please Get Out Of Washington DC And Talk to Those Who Work On Front Lines
In case you don't get to my factual briefing below, please at least get out of Washington DC and sit down with those on the front lines -- our teachers -- and ask them, how our children are doing not only academically, but socially, emotionally and mentally.
If time permits, please also invite nonprofit executive directors who work with children and teens in mental health and suicide prevention fields and ask them the same questions as I'm sure they will have much of value to contribute to this important dialog. Please also inquire if there are ways we could be doing a better job of collaborating and joining forces to support both teachers and parents.
Please Understand Your Job Matters When It Comes To Mental Health Care Of Our Children
When Suicide Leading Cause of Death Among College Students What Message Does Spending Almost 50 Times More on Sports Programs Than Mental Health Send Students?
Post by Chandni Patel, Fundraising Intern, & Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among college and university students is the US today with many students also struggling with suicidal thoughts and other mental health challenges (Suicide Prevention Resource Center). So you would think suicide and suicidal behaviors would be a major concern for colleges and universities particularly given this setting provides a unique opportunity for comprehensive suicide prevention planning; but, are they really stepping up to the plate?
In this post we take a look at Penn State, where a Hope Xchange intern, Chandni Patel, recently graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology & Neuroscience. She shared with me that 10 people jumped off campus buildings during her freshman year alone; and, that while she was there, Active Minds visited her campus with their exhibit “Send Silence Packing" (more on that below) which left an indelible impression on her. Chandni bravely shares her story and also why this is such an important issue for her personally.
Is Penn State Really “Sending Silence Packing”? - Perspective from Recent College Graduate
Mental health seems to be a rising concern in communities today. Universities in particular have started offering services to students to help them in keep their mental health intact so they can focus on what they are there for: building a career.
While these programs often include psychologists, psychiatrists, crisis hotlines, and other helpful resources, are schools really doing all they should be in terms of taking care of their students and their struggles?
In my opinion, definitely not.
I walked into Penn State’s HUB auditorium one grim April morning only to see backpacks lined up almost everywhere on the main floor. Naturally intrigued by this sight, I stepped closer. I thought they were having a lost and found for all the students who had lost their backpacks somewhere that past year, but instead I found stories of students lost to suicide scattered among the set up.
Suicide in Transgender Youth Put Glaring Spotlight on Urgent Need for Virtual Safe Place for Online Crisis Intervention and Mental Wellness Mentoring
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, and Trent Gerdeman, Marketing Intern, Hope Xchange Nonprofit
NOTE: This is the second is a two-part blog post series, with our first blog post, “Suicide Leading Cause of Death for LGBTQ Youth - Why Not Reaching Out for Help & How to Address Disparities in Care for Mentally Ill in this Community,” speaking to not only the heartbreaking suicide rates in this community but also proposing an early intervention solution for those who are also struggling with a mental illness diagnosis. This post addresses why we feel a separate virtual safe space is needed just for transgender youth based on our own personal experiences mentoring in this community.
Suicide Rates and Attempts in Transgender Community
The Trevor Project reports that nearly 50% of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their own lives, and 25% report having made a suicide attempt. The National Discrimination Survey puts this number at 40%.
In the Transgender Discrimination Survey, a staggering 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population, with rates rising for those who lost a job due to bias (55%), were harassed/bullied in school (51%), had a low household income, or were the victim of physical assault (61%) or sexual assault (64%).
In the largest online survey of transgender adults 18 and older examining the experiences of 27,715 respondents in all 50 states, the 2015 US Transgender Survey Report reported:
Unique Challenges Faced by Transgender Youth
Suicide Leading Cause of Death for LGBTQ Youth - Why Are They Not Reaching Out for Help and How Do We Address Disparities in Care?
Post by Kerry Martin, CEO & Founder, and Trent Gerdeman, Marketing Intern, Hope Xchange Nonprofit.
The National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that the LGBTQ community is at higher risk for suicide due to a lack of peer support and harassment, mental health conditions and substance abuse. Family support also plays a particularly important role in affecting the likelihood of suicide. Those who faced rejection after coming out to their families were eight times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were accepted after revealing their sexual orientation.
Mental Health Conditions and Stigma Exacerbate Problem
While the LGBTQ community faces mental health conditions just like the rest of the population, many experience more negative mental health outcomes due to prejudice and other biases. NAMI reports that LGBTQ individuals are almost three times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition such as major depression or generalized anxiety disorder. The fear of coming out and being discriminated against for sexual orientation and gender identity leads to depression, post traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.
The fact is the LGBTQ community must not only confront stigma based on their sexual orientation or gender identity but must also deal with the stigma surrounding mental illness. And some report having to hide their sexual orientation from those in the mental health system for fear of being ridiculed or rejected.
As a community, LGBTQ individuals do not often talk about mental health and may lack awareness about mental health conditions. As a result, some don't seek needed treatment and support. Rates of mental health conditions are particularly high in bisexual and questioning individuals and those who fear or choose not to reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Why are LGBTQ Youth Not Reaching Out for Help?
Challenges Those with Bipolar Diagnosis Confront in Workplace: Don't Let Anyone Tell You This Isn't the Right Job for You
Hope Xchange Nonprofit is delighted to welcome back guest post writer Raine Vollor, a former participant in our Hope for Bipolars mentoring program and now a friend of our CEO and Founder, Kerry Martin, Raine's former mentor.
I have been told that, “perhaps this isn't the right job for you.” Don't let anyone tell you that. And if they do, do not believe them.
I have panic attacks but that does not mean that I cannot work. I want to work. Best case scenario, of course, is that I was independently wealthy, but that is not the case, therefore I want to work. And I work well.
I am a good employee.
Let me give you a small list of jobs that I have done that I have had panic attacks during: waitress, delivery driver, warehouse, janitor, social worker, zookeeper, ride operator, cleaner, canvassing, lab tech, cafeteria worker, retail, student, and mother.
That is a wide variety of jobs. If I believed that I could not work somewhere because I was going to have a panic attack, then I would not be working. I work anyway.
Just Because My Panic Attacks May Make Some Uncomfortable Is No Reason for Me To Hide In My House & Not Work