Guest Post from To Write Love On Her Arms

CHALLENGING STIGMA.

  • Posted on: 9 September 2013
  • By: Aaron Moore

If TWLOHA were to update a status for this week, it would read that we feel “hopeful.” Much preparation has gone into 2013’s National Suicide Prevention Week, as it is a unique opportunity to address a topic so often neglected in our world. This week never ceases to be something beautiful, a chance to fight for the lives of loved ones, strangers, maybe even ourselves. At the same time, however, this week can feel like a necessary evil for many of us. It may remind us of those we’ve lost or of our own struggles. In this way, National Suicide Prevention Week is something we wish we did not need, but sadly, we have great reason to engage in. Which is why many organizations and groups are using this time to focus on the stigma and shame that keep these important conversations from happening.

We have said in the past that we know stigma is built on lies. It is founded and fed by the myths we believe about mental health issues and about those who struggle with them. Perhaps it is the lie that suicide only affects people who are “messed up,” the idea that depression only reaches those who are weak, or even the belief that if we share our struggles with someone, they will not understand or care. But the more we learn the truth about these difficult topics, the more we can bring it into the light and move toward healing and recovery, as well as the work of prevention. We have to learn that issues like depression, addiction, and suicide are not partial to weak people, but are struggles any of us may walk through, simply because we are human. We have to continue to filter the lies and myths about mental illness out of our society, replacing them with facts. This will go an incredibly long way toward eradicating the stigma that is still so prevalent.

But just knowing the truth is not enough. While stigma may be founded on lies, it is also built within a social context, woven throughout the intricate fabric of our relationships. It is within our society and culture that the effects of stigma are felt. These effects range from the silence and shame surrounding mental health issues to the oppressive attitudes toward those struggling, even influencing the way treatment options such as therapy and medication are viewed. The powerful stigma attached to mental health communicates an illusion of separation between those who struggle and those who don’t—a false dichotomy between the healthy and the sick. The damage this creates extends across our society and into each of our lives and relationships.

As we work to reduce the stigma attached to mental health, we can learn much from the fight against the stigma connected with HIV. One main way it was reduced was through learning the truth about HIV—how it was transmitted, who had it, what treatment looked like, and more. This knowledge went far in combatting some vicious lies that hurt so many in our society. But some research pointed to yet another component that proved powerful in greatly reducing stigma toward HIV: individuals who had a friendship or relationship with someone who was HIV-positive. Those with a personal connection to someone with HIV were drastically less likely to have a stigmatized, discriminating response.

What does this mean for us? It means we need each other. We need relationships and community around us. It means we have to continue listening to each other’s stories, and we must continue sharing our own. We need to know each other’s accounts of suffering, as well as our experiences of healing and recovery.

Thomas Joiner, one of the foremost researchers in the subject of suicide, has found that one of the most common thoughts present in those who are suicidal is the idea of being a burden on others. A second was that of being “hopelessly alienated, cut off and isolated from others”—a feeling of not belonging. Both of these speak to the power of our relationships and communities, whether or not we realize it.

The more we walk through our struggles in silence, the more we deprive others of the benefit of knowing they are not alone. Knowing the truth about the issues isvital, but we can get it from a textbook or Google in just a moment. Unless it is connected with real people, it lacks the power needed to combat stigma. We have to move beyond an awareness of the issues and become truly aware of each other.

Real relationships are the true antidote to the separation that stigma breeds between “healthy” and “sick.” Relationships require us to see the real person who is suffering, struggling, recovering, and healing. They are the place in which we find hope and encouragement to keep fighting, and the place where lies are defeated with truth and compassion. This is the path toward hope and healing—for ourselves and each other—and ultimately, toward a society where stigma, shame, and suicide are struggles of the past.

Aaron Moore is a licensed mental health counselor and co-founder of Solace Counseling in Orlando, FL. You can also hear him speak at MOVE Community Conferences.

 

http://twloha.com/blog/challenging-stigma

Advertisements

Guest Post from Dr. Pamela Wible

What I’ve learned from saving physicians from suicide

 | PHYSICIAN | MAY 27, 2013

A psychiatrist in Seattle had picked out the bridge. At 3am he would swerve across his lane and plunge into the water. Everyone would assume he fell asleep.

A surgeon in Oregon was lying on the floor of her office with a scalpel. Nobody would find her until it was too late.

An internal medicine resident in Atlanta heard an anesthesiologist joking about the lethal dose of sodium thiopental. Alone in the call room, she would overdose that night.

Three planned suicides. All three physicians survived. Why? physician-suicide

While preparing to overdose, the internist was interrupted by an endocrinologist calling to check on her. Before grabbing her scalpel, the surgeon called several physicians pleading for help—I responded immediately. Two days before he was to drive off the bridge, the psychiatrist spotted my ad for a physician retreat. He called me begging to attend.

One week later, I’m hiking through the Oregon Cascades. The scent of cedar envelops me as I approach the lodge where I’m welcoming physicians who have arrived from all over the United States and Canada, all of us on a pilgrimage for answers.

Tonight we begin a retreat for doctors who yearn to love medicine again. Studies confirm most doctors are overworked, exhausted, or depressed. The tragedy: few seek help.

I ask the group, “How many physicians have lost a colleague to suicide?” All hands are raised. “How many have considered suicide?” Except for one woman, all hands remain up—including mine.

“Physicians have the highest suicide rate of any profession,” I explain. “In the United States we lose over 400 physicians per year to suicide. That’s the equivalent of an entire medical school. Even that’s an underestimate because many physician suicides are incorrectly identified as accidents.”

I tell them, “Both men I dated in med school are dead. Brilliant physicians. Loved by their families and patients. Both died young—by ‘accidental overdose.’ Really? How many physicians accidentally overdose?”

The room is quiet.

It’s easier to say accident than suicide. Doctors can say gonorrhea and carcinoma. Why not suicide? Maybe we can’t face our own wounds.

“I’m a family doc in Eugene, Oregon, where we’ve lost three physicians in eighteen months to suicide. I was suicidal once. Assembly-line medicine was killing me. Too many patients and not enough time sets us up for failure. Rather than kill myself, I invited my patients to help me design an ‘ideal clinic.’ It is possible to love medicine again.”

The Canadian doctor to my right wipes her eyes. “I’m feeling so discouraged. I want to give up and work at Starbucks. My head is exploding from banging it against the system.”

A bright-eyed, blonde woman reveals, “I just took a leave of absence from med school because it was ‘killing my soul.’ Three classmates attempted suicide.”

A newlywed couple join in. “I’m a nurse. My husband is an internist. He’s suffering, but I don’t know how to help him. Doctors don’t seek psychiatric care because mental illness is reportable to the medical board. He fears he’ll lose his license.” Her husband adds, “I was suicidal three months ago. On the edge. My wife and I are hoping to find answers here.”

Here, physicians, nurses, and medical students share their wounds and their wisdom—in community. We share new practice models, communication techniques, and strategies to care for ourselves—so we can care for our patients.

In four days, I witness more healing than in four years of med school. Once strangers, we’ve become family. Parting ways, the psychiatrist from Seattle thanks me again.

I didn’t know these doctors, but I know their despair. By speaking about my own pain, I validated their pain. By being vulnerable, I gave them the strength to be vulnerable too.

But mostly we healed each other by not being afraid to say the word suicide out loud.

Pamela Wible pioneered the community-designed ideal medical clinic and blogs at Ideal Medical Care. She is the author of Pet Goats and Pap Smears.

 

Aware of the hurting

Did you scroll down and notice my SocialVibe badge for To Write Love on Her Arms? I discovered SocialVibe and TWLOHA by accident a few days ago.  My badge is not very useful right now because there are no activities for you to click on. But I went to TWLOHA’s website and joined the StreetTeam on FanCorps.com. There’s a good amount of news and activities on those two sites.

TWLOHA started in 2006 by a young man after reaching out to a friend in need.  TWLOHA is a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury and suicide.  When you go to the website, check out the main page, vision and the story.  It will all start to make sense.  It was very moving for me.

My goal at this point in my life is to be hyper aware of the hurting people around me and then look for ways, large or small to assist them. One of the best ways, I believe, is to pray for them. Praying for someone takes my mind off myself.  I make myself pray for a person as soon as I recognize the need, or as soon as they ask me to.  Even more fun is just asking the person can I pray with them right there.

I call my husband a “do gooder.”  He’s the guy you ask to jump your car, take you to the airport or help you move.  And he does it all cheerfully.  I know I can go to him with any request to help someone physically or financially and he’ll do his best to make it happen. So he is a good partner to be in the blessing business with.

If you are struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury or suicide, my prayer for you is that you know that you really are valuable. (I need someone to read this blog!)  Seriously, get help. There really are caring people all around you.  If you suspect you know someone who is struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury or suicide, let them know you care and are watching.  Help them get help.

If you read TWLOHA’s story on the situation that drew the founder into making a commitment to the movement, you’ll be reminded that helping is not neat, quick, easy or fun. I’m very thankful for those friends that loved on me through the years. I was and can still be somewhat unpredictable, distant and annoying, but now I just blame it on being a temperamental artist.

http://www.twloha.com/

to write love on her arms

to write love on her arms (Photo credit: ashley rose,)