Saturday, April 27, 2013


May is Mental Health Awareness month. The #WhatsYourNumber campaign references a number you can get after taking the screening so you know where you are on the spectrum of mental health.
The idea is perhaps that the more we promote it, the more people who suffer will reach out and get the help they need for themselves, their families and progressively further out, affecting their communities at large. 

The stigma about people who struggle with mental illness is real and prevalent. For example, I myself spent the evening watching What About Bob with my family. Before we started the film, my son asked what it was about and before I could think better of it I had already said, "Oh, it's about a funny, crazy guy." Woops. The point is, even though I work in this field, am very close to people who suffer with this stuff & study it myself, I still contribute to the stigma because it's so culturally part of our/my everyday existence. Like any invasive hobgoblin, it needs to be fought off at first sight with laughter and full light.

Struggling is part of life but life itself should not be a battle. If you are buried in things you cannot see your way out of, please get some help. You don't have to let it get too drastic beforehand. The counseling can be very effective, as can the medicines. Contempt prior to investigation when dealing with mental illness can be a dangerous idea. On behalf of all of us at "May is Mental Health Awareness Month," I urge you to get screened, get help and keep on keepin' on. It's worth it. I promise.

Van Gogh as he might have looked in real life with his famous self portrait.

"Mental illnesses are physical brain disorders that profoundly disrupt a person's ability to think, feel, and relate to others and their environment. They are no fault disorders.

One in every five families is affected at some point in their lifetime by a severe mental illness such a bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and major depression. 

Mental illnesses are “equal opportunity” diseases, occurring in all cultures, races, countries and socio-economic classes.

75% of mental illnesses are treatable with supportive services,counseling, and medication, yet stigma and misinformation are still major barriers to treatment & recovery.

1/3-1/2 of the homeless population has a mental illness. 

90% of persons who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental illness.
Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease. 

Treatment success rates for psychiatric disorders are better than those for heart disease: 
Depression = 85% 
Bipolar disorder = 80%
Schizophrenia = 60%"

(American Psychiatric Association 1997)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Idleness is Suspect

I am writing today from the land of vacation. There is obviously wifi in this land, praise jah. It's been good to get out of the usual scene, to have my perspective turned inside out a but, to see some different landscapes and of course, to spend time with my family.

The history of vacation was something I was wondering about as I started this blog. This is an interesting NPR radio show about it.

Vacation, according tho this is historically a middle class thing to do. We all know poor folks don't have time to travel. They are too busy working multiple jobs, finding people to pick their kids up from school, baking pies for bake sales, mowing their very own lawn. I am not middle class but I like so many Americans, I really like to pretend that I am. Point is, we made our trip happen by saving some money and making the time. So we left.

And then we made it to Mt. Shasta.

Yesterday we went to Pluto's Cave. It sounded simple enough. I downloaded the directions from googlemaps. It was off this road, onto that one. The directions were so specific, I was impressed but we only made it there by a couple hunches. It was worth it.

Yes, it was tagged but it was so much more than that. It was history. It is not actually a cave at all, but in fact a lava tube. There were multiple rooms with air shafts and sections breathtakingly shaded and green, a sharp contrast to the lava scrub of the drive in.

Today we did something much less rustic but also quite amazing. This time we did the tourist thing and took a boat to a bus which in turn took us up a mountain to see the Lake Shasta Caverns

The photos do nothing to reflect the size of the caverns, the shape and variation of the formations, the humidity, the bats on the roof of the highest room, the adventure...

"The caverns are Limestone, an unusual carbonate rock for the region in that it is not highly re-crystallized or metamorphosed, thus preserving a diverse fossil fauna and flora marine record from 270 million years ago." (National Park Service)

After all that, we topped off the day with a trip to the snow. There wasn't much left, but enough for a few dozen snowballs. 

Perhaps idleness was suspect to the Puritans but my experience of vacation is anything but idle. Road trips and hikes are an adventure. Adventure nourishes the human spirit. It recharges us, makes us push ourselves harder than maybe we would in other aspects of our lives. We grow closer to each other, we are open to new people and we grow. We grow faster than the cave formations.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stand in the Place Where You Live

When I was a kid during the 1980's, I watched a lot of MTV. It was back when the show had music videos on all the time and this weird quirky new band called R.E.M. was coming up and coming on strong. I liked the simplicity and the pep of their early music. Stand is the one above and the one that's singing in my head right now.

Listening to this song through my social worker goggles after reading the National Association of Social Worker Code of Ethics makes it sound like Michael Stipe is singing about how to be a good social worker. On the surface, one is a happy go lucky song borne from college days making music on the side and the other is a serious and methodically thought out conceptual framework on how to steer social work ethical practice.

Below the surface, they are two parallel flavors that inform each other to make people like me a better social worker by offering me the catchy phrases to worm deep into my psyche and also the theory-rich content with which to hang my hat on at night after a stressful day at the office.

It's funny but it's all true. As social workers, need the heavy content but we also need songs like Stand, to keep the pep in our step.

Also: Honorable mention to Andria Ford for being a die-hard MS fan all these years.