May is Mental Health Month

One in every five people in the US carry some sort of “mental Illness” diagnosis – 20% – making it almost twice as common as killer heart disease, yet people hear the term “mental illness” and pictures of unshaven, alcohol-soaked homeless men and babbling old women with uncombed hair and too many cats come to mind (Don’t judge me!).

In reality, that’s far from the common truth. The umbrella term of “mental illness” includes everyone from your depressed cousin, your churning anxiety over political situations, and Uncle Louie, who served in Iraq and spends most days with his friend Jack Daniels. It includes the teen with autism who works down at the laundromat (don’t jump on me; a strong majority of autism includes OCD and anxiety, with phobias topping the list at 30%), the hoarder you drive past on your way to work, that girl on the cheerleading team who wears a baggy size 0, and that guy at work who stays four hours later than anyone else and talks so fast you can’t follow him. It includes celebrities, like Robin Williams, Margot Kidder, Robert Downey Jr, Brittney Spears, Carrie Fisher, Brooke Shields, and so many more.

“Mental Illness” is more common than COVID.

While some introverts have fared well through the pandemic and quarantines, many people have not. Rates of depression in adults went from 8% pre-pandemic to 28% – almost one in three – after. For those who lived alone, the rates approach 40%. Isolation, job loss, poverty, loss of loved ones, anxiety, and long-haul COVID symptoms all play their part in feeling crushed by a microbe. Among children, who can’t always understand the details of what’s going on, rates of depression and anxiety straddled 40%.

Unfortunately, our image of “mental illness” is tainted by historic images of schizophrenia, the king of all mental illnesses, and often the most resistant to treatment. We watch movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, while not remembering that these movies depict mental illness treatment from as much as 70 years ago, when diagnoses were vague, medications were ineffective and dangerous, people believed in insulin comas and the disaster of lobotomies, and there were no PET or MRI scans to show exactly what the problem was. There was a time not very long ago when the number one treatment for syphilis was mercury. Times have changed, and chances are there’s actual help for that now.

How can something affecting 30% of the population be abnormal? Here’s a fact: it’s not, but our refusal to admit it keeps people feeling ashamed and afraid to seek treatment. If you feel down, if the social distancing and anxieties are getting to you, if your child is fearful and withdrawn and having trouble sleeping, reach out! Help is just a phone call away. No insurance? No worries. There are places to help you get medical coverage, and places that work on a sliding scale. There IS help, for everyone. Don’t be afraid to ask.

If you feel like life is overwhelming you, if you are worried about a loved one, if you are struggling with just getting through your day, CALL the CT ACTION line (Adult Crisis Telephone Intervention and Options Network). It’s available 24 hours a day, because the worst thoughts usually happen during the night.  1-800-467-3135,  or just call 211, which is the general help line for state services.

Don’t want to feel like you’re the only one on the planet feeling down? Check out these popular books and films on people having difficulties. Chances are, yours aren’t that bad.

Turtles All the Way Down

It’s been almost six years since YA uber-author John Green has published a new book (something we wrote about a while back). That’s almost  generation’s worth of his target audience – many teen readers will have been too young for his last book, The Fault in Our Stars, when it was published in 2012. The rocket-like success of that book (and subsequent movie) was both a blessing and a curse for Green: his books were being read by millions more people, but that success resulted in a period of crippling anxiety for the author. The expectations for his next book felt so overwhelming, that for a while he could not write at all.

Green has not made a secret of the fact that he’s wrestled with Anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder most of his life, and what it’s like to live with mental illness is the overriding theme of Turtles All the Way Down. Aza Holmes, the narrator of the book, struggles mightily to control the obsessive thoughts that often consume her, which she calls “thought spirals” that grow more and more tightly coiled until she is driven to a compulsive behavior to quiet them.

The ostensible plot of the book is a mystery: the famous father of a childhood acquaintance has has skipped town to avoid legal troubles, and Aza’s BFF Daisy is convinced the two of them can figure out where he is and collect the $100,000 reward.  TATWD has all the John Green-isms we’ve come to expect: the quirky best friend, the seemingly impossible task, the sweet love story, and everyone’s got a poem or literature quote ready to go at a moment’s notice, (John Green characters are a bit more well-read and well-spoken than the general teen-aged public). But the real journey the reader is taken on is what it’s like to live in a hijacked mind.

Aza has a dread of germs. One of the first compulsions we witness is Aza forcing open a wound on her fingertip, so that she can clean and sanitize it before covering it up with one of her constant supply of band-aids, a ritual she performs so often that the wound never completely heals. Hand sanitizer is used combatively –  at one point she even starts drinking it.  Aza’s helplessness in the face of these thoughts and compulsions can be painful to read, and there’s no “all better now” resolution at the end – the prevailing takeaway is it’s ok not to be ok sometimes. Green has managed to paint a picture of mental illness that is more matter-of-fact than sensational, and the writing is evocative and mature. It’s a thoughtful novel that will appeal to adults as well as teens, and well worth the six-year wait.

Five stars.

Dealing with Anxiety

face-sad-sweatingAngst, anxiety, stress,–whichever way you describe it, it’s a feeling everyone has experienced and the last few months have raised anxiety and stress levels higher than ever.

While everyone feels the occasional need to crawl into a blanket fort, most of us don’t have that luxury. Yet some days soldiering on can be painful, if not impossible.

If you are looking for a little ease or a way to calm your inner alarms, check out some of the materials we have on the subject of anxiety.

Books

jacket-aspxThe 10 best anxiety busters : simple strategies to take control of your worry / Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg
Learn ten simple techniques from breathing exercises and relaxation practices to thought-stopping techniques and strategies that put an end to catastrophizing once and for all.

My age of anxiety : fear, hope, dread, and the search for peace of mind / Scott Stossel
The author recounts his lifelong battle with anxiety, showing the many manifestations of the disorder as well as the treatments that have been developed to counteract it.

The anxiety toolkit : strategies for fine-tuning your mind and moving past your stuck points / Alice Boyes
While reducing your anxiety level to zero isn’t possible or useful (anxiety can actually be helpful!), you can learn to successfully manage symptoms  with tips and tricks you can employ in everyday life. You’ll discover how anxiety works and learn strategies to help you cope with common anxiety ‘stuck’ points.

Seeking serenity : the 10 new rules for health and happiness in the age of anxiety / Amanda Enayati
Seeking Serenity presents ten revolutionary principles developed from the emerging science of stress and reinforced by literature, philosophy and age-old spiritual wisdom that help us to differentiate between destructive and constructive stress, and to master stress in everyday life.

eBooks

jacket-aspxThe stress solution: using empathy and cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce anxiety and develop resilience / Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, EdD, PhD
“We work too much, sleep too little, love with half a heart, and wonder why we are unhappy and unhealthy,” writes clinical psychologist Arthur Ciaramicoli. Learn simple, realistic, powerful techniques for using empathy and cognitive behavioral therapy to perceive situations accurately and correct distorted thinking.

Anxiety Attacks : Conquering Your Insecurities, Anxieties and Fears / Atcheson, Lucy.
Discover how and why your doubts make you feel trapped and insecure and how you can acknowledge them in a healthy way and break free of their negative influence.

10 steps to take charge of your emotional life overcoming anxiety, distress, and depression through whole-person healing / Eve A. Wood
Dr. Wood makes healing a simple process that anyone can understand. She walks you through ten steps that encompass examples, stories, exercises, and guidance. You’ll take stock of where you are and discover what you can do to transform your life.

Downloadable Audiobooks

jacket-aspxFreeing yourself from anxiety : 4 simple steps to overcome worry and create the life you want / Tamar E. Chansky
This book explains that the solution is not positive thinking but possible thinking. Armed with these strategies, listeners can achieve accurate perceptions of their lives that can liberate them from fear and perfectionism.

The mindful way through anxiety / Susan M. Orsillo, PhD
A powerful new alternative that can help you break free of anxiety by fundamentally changing how you relate to it.

Stopping the noise in your head: the new way to overcome anxiety and worry / Reid Wilson, PhD
Learn how to confront anxiety head-on. Drawing on a range of sources, from firefighters and fitness instructors to Sir Isaac Newton and Muhammad Ali, this book demonstrates the importance of shifting your perspective and stepping toward your challenges in order to regain control of your life.

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Learning to Face Your Fears

worriedOctober 11, 2016 is National Face Your Fears Day, a day for confronting, if not overcoming, things that scare you.

The Cheshire Library is here to help. Try some of these online classes from lynda.com. FREE for Cheshire Library card holders.  Login in via cheshirelibrary.com/elearning.

Overcoming Your Fear of Public Speaking. Although it may seem to come naturally to some people, public speaking is actually a skill that can be learned. Learn techniques to prepare yourself mentally and physically so that you can feel comfortable—or even enjoy—delivering your message to an audience.  26 minutes.

Learning To Say No. Learning to say no is about making choices about what is important to you. Learn how to classify your work into categories of importance and decide how it matches your own goals and values. Using these guidelines, you can choose what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to more effectively and in a way that is brief, honest, positive, and respectful.  22 minutes.

Learning to Be Assertive. We all get frustrated when we feel taken advantage of, or alternatively, respond too aggressively when we feel provoked or trapped. Overcome these knee-jerk responses by learning how to be assertive. This course reveals what assertiveness really means, and how it is different from aggression, and outlines specific techniques you can use to respond to challenging situations and difficult people.  55 minutes.

Building Self-Confidence. Confidence can help you accomplish your goals and build strong relationships. But the reverse is also true; a lack of confidence can hurt you personally and professionally. Luckily, there are steps you can take to build lasting self-confidence. In this 20 minute course, you will learn 10 techniques for building confidence you can apply at work and in your personal life.

Embracing Change. In this short course (12 minutes!), author and business coach Todd Dewett explains how you can harness the power of change and benefit those around you by avoiding quick reactions, adopting a positive attitude, and developing a 30-day plan to integrate change.

Or try some downloadable audiobooks books:

Fear Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm / Thich Nhat Hanh

 

And downloadable ebooks:

Goldsmith, Barton.

 

 

 

Or some books off the shelf:

RewireRewire Your Anxious Brain : How to Use the Neuroscience of Fear to End Anxiety, Panic, & Worry / Catherine M. Pittman, PhD, Elizabeth M. Karle, MLIS

The Science of Fear : Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t– and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger / Daniel Gardner

Growing up Brave : Expert Strategies for Helping Your Child Overcome Fear, Stress, and Anxiety / Donna B. Pincus