5 Ways to Get Involved During Minority Mental Health Awareness Month

NAMI Wisconsin Recognizes July as Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.

Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. Each year millions of Americans face the reality of living with a mental health condition. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. However, background and identity can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult. National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month was established in 2008 to start changing this.

Here are some ways that you can get involved in Minority Mental Health Awareness Month: 

1. Educate yourself. Mental health conditions do not discriminate based on race, color, gender or identity. Anyone can experience the challenges of mental illness regardless of their background. However, culture, race, ethnicity and sexual orientation can make access to mental health treatment much more difficult.

2. Spread awareness on social media throughout the month of July using #CureStigma and #MinorityMentalHealth. America’s entire mental health system needs improvement, including when it comes to serving marginalized communities. When trying to access treatment, these communities have to contend with:

  • Language barriers

  • A culturally insensitive system

  • Racism, bias and discrimination in treatment settings

  • Lower quality care

  • Lower chance of health care coverage

  • Stigma from several angles (for being a minority and for having mental illness)

These are all in addition to the usual road blocks. Many cultures also view mental health treatment as a luxury, considering symptoms a “phase” that will eventually pass. These harmful perceptions of mental illness can further isolate individuals who desperately need help. Find information, images and graphics on www.nami.org.

3. Write a letter to your members of Congress and state and local representatives. Emphasize treatment and make sure to stress the importance of culturally responsive providers. These providers have experience, training or expertise in working with individuals and communities from various diverse backgrounds. It’s important that providers take the beliefs, identities and cultural values into consideration when providing care. To find out who represents you, call the Public Policy & Advocacy Director at 608-268-6000.

4. Share your story on the NAMI blog. Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is an opportunity to raise awareness and stop stigma in diverse communities. It’s time to improve the harsh realities minority communities face when it comes to mental illness treatment. In fact, it’s long overdue. Sharing your story helps others to recognize they are not alone.

5. Host an event or community conversation at your local NAMI affiliate. Starting conversations about mental health in your community may feel intimidating—especially if your community views mental illness as a personal fault or weakness. In addition, confronting the many systemic factors that lead to health disparities in communities of color can seem like a hard task to take on. Get the conversation going by inviting leaders who have been change agents in your community in addressing barriers to accessing treatment. The more we talk about mental illness, the more normalized it will become. And NAMI is here to help!

Written by Crystal Hester, Public Policy & Advocacy Director

Fueling Your Brain with Food

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine by thy food.” - Hippocrates

Hello, all! My name is Chrisanna Manders and I serve as the Associate Director at NAMI Wisconsin. In my professional role, I have the honor of providing support to our state affiliates and our Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) teams. 

However, another big passion of mine revolves around FOOD! In fact, I love it so much that I earned a Bachelors of Science in Nutrition. I wanted to take the time to get you thinking about the following question: Is your brain (thus, you) getting enough food to keep it properly fueled?

It’s kind of wild to think about the fact that our brain is always ‘on’. Even we when we are asleep, our brain is ensuring our body is 'up' and running. This means that our brains require a constant supply of fuel, which comes from the food we eat. The quality and quantity of that fuel directly affects your brain, and ultimately, your ability to think and your emotional state.

Going off this fuel theme, I am going to encourage you to think of your brain for a moment as if it’s a car, tractor, boat, etc - whichever fuel-powered machine is your favorite! As we continue to run with this machine analogy, pretend you have been instructed to only fill it up with premium fuel to keep it running at its best. And because you want your machine to last for as long as possible, and to operate at its full capacity- you never want to let its gas tank to go completely empty, nor do you want to fill it with a form of fuel that would hinder it operating at its best.

This is how we want to take care of our very own brain (self), for there is a connection between mood regulation and food.

In my years as a nutritionist, and even in my own personal life, it is common to find the art of eating healthy to be quite overwhelming. And if you can relate to that statement - welcome to the club! You are far from alone there! However, my intention today is to encourage you to approach your eating habits in *bite-sized* steps! Like any lifestyle change, it must come gradually, and realize it comes with time. Nobody eats perfectly all the time. Thus, be gentle on yourself as you bring more awareness to this part of your own self-care.

Now, to keep this blog post as short-and-simple as possible, I’m going to introduce you to a wonderful resource: www.choosemyplate.gov. Keep that website handy to refer back to as you dive deeper into this magical sea of delicious and nutritious healthy eating styles. So, in short, eating high-quality foods that are very dense with nutrients at regular intervals throughout the day set you up for success to function at your fullest capacity (think: foods that come straight from the earth, etc - lots of vitamins, minerals, and things of the like that nourish the brain - spaced out throughout your day).

Here’s a good rule of thumb: a high-quality meal (full of healthy fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, etc) should be able to keep you functioning at your finest for, let’s say, roughly 3-4 hours (i.e. your tank was nearing empty, and you filled it up with premium fuel). At the end of that window of time, you brain continues to get closer to empty on your fuel gage. Thus, it’s time to fill up again! Just like before, being sure to only use high-quality food/fuel.

In short: nobody functions at his/her finest when hungry, and your brain runs best with proper, regular dietary intake.

As stated before, the topic of food/nutrition can go VERY in-depth, but please know that even the simplest of steps (such as starting a food journal) can begin a revolution of a lifetime into your lifestyle. That good ole phrase “you are what you eat” has SO much truth in it, and it is my intention here to hopefully kickstart your engine into being more and more aware of the fuel you’re putting into it. Even with my degree in nutrition, it took me years to improve what I was eating, and there is always room for more growth within each of us. That is one of the most beautiful facts of life, in my humble opinion. We can forever evolve and learn to take better care of our physical, and thus mental, health!

Lastly, if you’d like to talk more about this topic, and/or know about other resources available to you, please feel free to email me at chrisanna@namiwisconsin.org! I am extremely enthusiastic about this topic, and would love to chat with you about it! Enjoy your journey, stay fueled, and continue to find your happy! After all, in my heart, I truly believe that food is love.

Written by Chrisanna Manders, Associate Director

Giving Support During Pride Month

Have you noticed extra rainbow-colored flags, clothing and other items around your community this month? This is because June is honored as Pride Month, when the world’s LBGTQ communities come together to celebrate their community.

Although Pride Month’s festivities are generally cheerful and high-spirited, Pride Month was put in place for a much more serious reason. Individuals in the LGBTQ communities have undergone years of hate and discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Not only do these communities face prejudice, but also face much higher risks of experiencing mental illness.

Studies show that LGBTQ individuals are almost 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety disorder, or PTSD. This heightened and alarming statistic is due, in part, to the continuous hate-crimes and prejudice that the community faces on a regular basis.

In addition, it may be more difficult to find adequate treatment and recovery methods. Although more therapists and psychiatrists have positive and accepting attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, historically this hasn’t always been the case and people still face unequal care due to lack of training and/or understanding. Health care providers still do not always have knowledge of the unique needs of the LGBTQ community, training on LGBT mental health issues or culturally responsive environments/staff. Providers who lack knowledge and experience working with members of the LGBTQ community may focus more on a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity than a person’s mental health condition.

We all have experienced serious ups and downs throughout our lives. As you know, supportive and dependable relationships during this time are crucial in maintaining a healthy and happy mental state. The LGBTQ community is no exception. Those who are supporters of the LGBTQ community identify thesmselves as “allies”.

Here are some ways you can be an ally to the LGBTQ community:

  • Be available to listen and support your LGBTQ friends and family members
  • Confront your own prejudices and bias, even if it is uncomfortable to do so
  • Get involved in a pride event/parade or attend a support/social group open to allies
  • Believe that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect
  • Speak up against hate, even if it is something as small as an office joke. Let your friends, family and colleagues know you find it offensive
  • Seek out opportunites to learn about the experiences of LGBTQ people. Have an open mind.

If you are seeking additional support, visit the Trevor Project. Their trained counselors are there to support you 24/7. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline now at 866-488-7386.

Written by Jamie Gurgul, Operations Director


The Effects of Sunshine on Mental Health

As the days continue to lengthen and we are graced with more sunshine, maybe you’ve noticed that you have a bit more pep in your step. You can credit this difference to the profound impact that sunlight has on mental health!

According to numerous studies, the appropriate level of vitamin D, which can easily be produced from 10-15 minutes per day of sun exposure, is a key factor in helping prevent and alleviate depressive symptoms. Sunlight also causes the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter directly linked with mood and energy. Additionally, UVA rays generate nitric oxide in your skin, increasing blood flow and therefore energy is better absorbed. With the change of seasons and longer days, there is a much better chance that we get our necessary dose of sunshine, which can lead to remission of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and/or improvement of major depressive disorder.

These are important findings because they place a component of mental wellness into our own control. We recognize the importance of taking a break from our day to enjoy a walk outside, which benefits both our physical and mental state. In colder, darker times of the year, we make sure to take a vitamin D supplement or use light therapy as a substitute for natural sunlight. Overall, knowing how sunshine affects our mental health allows us to care for our well-being in a way proven to make a difference!

Written by Heather Ehnert

Bodies Beyond Beauty

Bodies are a funny thing to judge and compare, yet we all do it. Given that literally every single person’s DNA is different, how could we ever expect our bodies to match one given standard?

We can get so caught up in what our bodies look like and whether they fit the current body ideal, which will probably be different in 5 years anyway. We analyze and nitpick every nook and cranny of our bodies, wishing we could wave a magic wand to become taller, thinner, muscular, more fit.

This is problematic when we become so preoccupied with food and weight issues and it overcomes other aspects of life. This is often an early sign of eating disorders. Research tells us that 1 in 20 people will be affected at some point in their lives.  

Instead, it is crucial for us to recognize all the amazing things are bodies do for us each and every day. Every moment, out heart beats strong and our lungs breathe deep. When we eat, our cells transform food into energy to fuel us. Each of our fingers has its own specific job to be the complex power that is our hands. Our head alone generates and processes all of our five senses, interacting with the brain to create our experience of life.

This is something to  c e l e b r a t e.

Our bodies complete all of these miracles every day, and we choose to say “I wish my stomach were flatter”. Our bodies are so much more than their external appearance. They are so different, and yet so similar. They are power and ability and strength and love. Our bodies are beyond beautiful.

Note: Coping with an eating disorder is not easy. But if you or a family member or friend is struggling, there is help. NAMI and NAMI affiliates are there to provide you with support and information on community resources.

If you’d like additional support relating to eating disorders, please click here.

NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference 2018: Post-Conference Thoughts

What an incredible experience we had at the NAMI Wisconsin Conference this year! The Osthoff Resort provided us a gorgeous space in which to host, Wisconsin gave us a few warmer, sunshiny days after a late winter storm, and we were fortunate to have so many dynamic speakers to lead the sessions and workshops!

As a first-time attendee of the Annual Conference, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from these packed two days. Scanning the schedule, multiple session topics caught my eye, so I had to choose selectively. I ended up attending Ask the Expert: Schizophrenia, Yoga for Anxiety, The Important Role of the Faith Community in Mental Illness, and About Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

During these workshops, not only did I learn new information about conditions and treatments I’m not as familiar with, but I also got to expand on my knowledge of mental health while practicing self-care. I have shared this information with others after the Conference was over, and I’ve been continuing to use the skills I learned in my own life as well.

The biggest thing I took away from the Conference, though, was hope. The past few months have been a very challenging time for me with my mental illness, something I’m sure many others at the Conference could relate to. But this was a period of time set aside for me to focus on my mental health and on learning ways to better care for myself and to help others, all while being surrounded by people who understand the struggles I have experienced. It was a time to feel totally accepted for every part of me and to talk about my mental illness without stigma.

It felt good. It felt hopeful: hopeful that there are many ways out of the darkness; hopeful that recovery really is possible, even if it means re-recovery; hopeful that we are not alone in these struggles. The NAMI Wisconsin Annual Conference 2018 gave me the hope to keep fighting.

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications and Advocacy Intern

It’s OK to Be an Ally First, Advocate Second

Mental health advocacy has come a long way, especially thanks to NAMI and its beginnings in Wisconsin with AMI. So many more people are aware of mental illness and the importance of mental health, and they are proudly speaking up and out against stigma.

Oftentimes, those advocating for mental health and progress for programs and resources are the people experiencing mental illness themselves. It is a powerful tool, because we get to hear real-life stories about dealing with conditions, giving power and validity to the challenges they have to face.

However, just as we learn from these personal stories of mental illness, it can be immensely tiring and demanding to live with mental illness, let alone to talk about and advocate for mental wellness all the time. You can feel sometimes as though you NEED to advocate for yourself, because if you don’t, who will? Your story is empowering the movement and bringing change, so your voice is needed!

But I want to remind you that taking care of your own well-being is the top priority. If sharing your story and talking about mental health challenges wears you down, it is OK to step back. Even if you are not actively advocating for change in the mental health field, believing in and supporting the cause makes you an ally, which is just as important. Taking your medication, going to therapy, practicing self-care, and regulating your emotions are all part of supporting change in mental health, because you are making a difference in the life of someone experiencing mental illness- your own.

Never feel discouraged for being an ally first and an advocate second. If you feel able, you can advocate at any time, but it is ALWAYS OK to put alliance for your own mental health on top.

A Word of Encouragement to Myself

My Dear Self,

It’s been a hard time for you lately. Finding motivation to do much has been really challenging, and you often feel disappointed in what little you manage to accomplish. You constantly are battling thoughts that bring you down, discourage you, and make life feel meaningless. It’s like you’re pushing against a boulder that’s been rooted in cement, and it is incredibly tiring.

But my dear self, I want to remind you of how resilient you are. Every day, you keep on going, even when it feels impossible. You fall down, yet you manage to get back up, even if not immediately. You are doing a great job, even if it does not feel like it.

You are always so hard on yourself! You do not need to be. You have overcome so many things and gotten past every challenge so far. Don’t you see? All that you have managed, the mountains you have climbed? YOU did that. Strong, beautiful YOU.

Do not worry about the future challenges to come. There will always be more, because life likes to keep us on our toes. But just as you’ve conquered diversity in the past, you will conquer it again in the future. Do not worry, my dear self. You are able.

A final word, my dear self: if others try to make you feel anything less than strong, beautiful, powerful, capable, lovable, remind them of their strength. We do not become more successful by tearing down others’ successes. Rather, we must lift each other up. And as you lift them up, you will build yourself up as well.

Very much love,

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

When Stigma Prevents People from Getting Help

While talking with a friend over coffee recently, he told me that he had to see a doctor for some severe gastrointestinal issues and pain he had been experiencing. The doctor thought my friend Michael* might have Crohn’s disease, a serious autoimmune condition that manifests throughout the GI tract. After some tests, they luckily found that it was not Crohn’s, but rather, stress-induced GI symptoms. For treatment, Michael received a prescription for a probiotic and a medicine to calm his stomach, but overall, his doctor told him that he would need to begin counseling to manage his stress.

I told him, “Michael, that will be great! You’ve always had so much stress and anxiety about homework and succeeding and doing your absolute best all the time, it only makes sense that it’s started to affect your body physically. Counseling is a wonderful tool. I know it will help you so much.”

“Maybe…” he said, “I’ve never thought I needed counseling. I’m so embarrassed to admit it. You’re the only person I feel comfortable telling this to because of your own experiences. I haven’t told anyone else, besides my parents obviously.”

“There is nothing to be embarrassed about whatsoever!” I replied passionately. “Your mental health is JUST as important as your physical health, and it deserves just as much care and attention. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that even though mental health conditions happen in the brain, the brain controls the rest of the body, and therefore, the body experiences physical symptoms alongside mental illness. They are linked! With counseling, you’ll be able to care for your mental well-being and learn stress management techniques, which will then help your physical health.”

Michael was still very hesitant about whether he actually wanted to go to counseling, even after his doctor advised him to do so and after I explained how much it will help his overall health. This frustrated and saddened me, because the stigma claiming that people who experience mental illness, or who seek treatment for mental health challenges, are embarrassing, shameful, lowly; this stigma was going to prevent my friend from getting the help he needed. He was taking his new medicine just fine, but the mental health treatment was an unnecessary suggestion, not a real form of medical care, in his eyes and the eyes of so many others.

It is for people like Michael that we fight the stigma surrounding mental illness. All mental health concerns and treatments deserve to be treated seriously and to not be judged. There is no shame in admitting you have a mental health condition, and there is no shame in getting help.

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

Helping Others and When to Say No

If you are the type of person whose loved ones would be quick to describe as kind, compassionate and understanding, you may be the person that these loved ones go to when they need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. This can be great, not only because you get to do something for another human being, but also because helping others is incredibly rewarding on a personal level. However, it is extremely important to know when you are able to help, and when you need to say no.

Although it may be hard, we have to learn to care for ourselves first before we can care for others. The best example of this is the oxygen masks that fall down in an airplane when cabin pressure drops. If you go to put the oxygen mask of the struggling person sitting next to you, but neglect to put on your own mask first, you may become unconscious before you can help the other person. Then there are two people who need help! To put this into everyday perspective, if a friend calls you and needs to vent about a bad day with their boss at work, but you’re headed into the gym to relieve some stress of your own, tell your friend you will call back after you work out. You likely won’t be able to listen as well or respond in an understanding, non-self-related way if you are too stressed yourself.

To extend the oxygen mask further, say the person sitting next to you has a physical ailment that makes putting their oxygen mask on quite difficult for you to help with, as you aren’t sure what their needs are. This is where it is extremely important to acknowledge that you cannot help; although you may want to assist this person, if you are not equipped to do so, it may bring more harm to you (and the person) in the long run. To bring it back to everyday, if your friend who is calling is crying and yelling about their workday and wants you to tell them how to handle it, but you know that being yelled at can cause you to feel very anxious, you need to be honest and say that you are sorry, but you are not the best person to help. It might seem as though you’re abandoning a friend in their time of need, but this is not true. Taking care of one’s own well-being is the top priority, and you are not responsible for anyone’s well-being but your own. Like I said earlier, you can’t help someone with their oxygen mask if you yourself can’t breathe.

Learning this skill of when to say no to helping others will be very challenging for some people; for others, they are very familiar with their limits and can separate themselves from the situation easily. Knowing what your limits are may take some time and experience, but try to self-reflect on what those limits are before the cabin pressure drops.

Reminder: You Are Enough

Especially within the community of people with mental illness, it is so common to feel that we are not enough: not doing enough, not doing things well enough, not being good enough. Negative thoughts and feelings and low self-esteem make it difficult to feel accomplished and successful, because we can always find the shortcomings and mistakes. The outside world tends to add to these feelings since we are constantly being reminded of what others are taking on and accomplishing.

What I’m going to say next might sound cliché, but it is completely necessary: no matter what, You Are Enough. Regardless of your successes and failures, your strengths and weaknesses, your eases and hardships, you are enough, simply for the reason that you are a person and you matter. There is innate value in every human being, including you. This value is not diminished by a failed relationship, the loss of a job, a bad grade, or even a bad day. Such things are mere life experiences that help shape us and make us who we are as people, but they do not make us matter less or make us insufficient.

If you are struggling with feeling that you aren’t enough, resist searching for that reassurance from outside places, because it needs to be found from within. So repeat after me: I am enough. Say it 100 times if you need to; write it on your mirrors; put a daily reminder in your phone. It may take time and a lot of disbelief at first, but it is worth it; YOU are worth feeling like you’re enough and feeling good about yourself. Once you truly begin to see your value, which is not based on what you do or how well you do it, you will begin to notice how extraordinary you really are- just for being you.

A Renewed Appreciation: CIP Training Reflection

According to the CIT & CIP Wisconsin website, Crisis Intervention Partners training, also known as CIP training, is designed for wide-ranging audiences interested in better understanding and improving interactions with people who experience mental health crises. Participants include correctional officers, 911 dispatchers, emergency personnel, hospital staff, teachers, social workers, and more. Through information and practice, CIP is re-training participants to effectively use attitudes, beliefs, and verbal/non-verbal skills as part of their response to crisis situations.

Not knowing exactly what to expect, this training was an eye-opening experience for me. Because CIP training is modeled after CIT training, a 40-hour training for police teams, it is comprised significantly of material used in law enforcement. I have never had very much experience in the law enforcement world and the fields that work with police officers, so I haven’t had the opportunity to see some of the difficult situations they have to face and the challenging decisions they have to make every day.

The majority of attendees in my training were Emergency/911 Dispatchers. Throughout the training, I was able to hear some of their stories, both inspiring and heartbreaking. Suicide and how to help a person expressing suicidal ideations were frequent topics that we discussed in training, and many of the dispatchers and other jail personnel have encountered it first-hand. Learning more about these situations and real-life experiences that the professionals in my training had faced, I couldn’t believe how strong they are. I have experienced a mental health crisis myself, and I was so grateful for everyone who helped and treated me kindly when I was in need. I so appreciate the 911 dispatchers, jail guards, jail nurses, and police office secretaries in my training sessions, taking time out of their work week to learn how to care for those in crisis with understanding and knowledge.

The choices that police officers and dispatchers have to quickly make in time of crisis are not easy in the slightest, and yet, they have chosen these jobs because they want to help. It is so encouraging that many counties throughout the state of Wisconsin are taking the opportunity to be trained in handling mental health crisis, as it is so needed, and I feel content knowing that those who are experiencing crisis will be surrounded by teams of people who know what to do and how to help.

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

We Want YOU at NAMI Wisconsin's Action on the Square!

Action on the Square, to be held this year on May 3rd, is a day to spread awareness about mental health, learn about current legislative issues, and tell your elected officials what people affected by mental illness need to thrive! Anyone who cares deeply about mental health can attend this event, and no previous advocacy experience is required!

We need your voice and your story to meet with Wisconsin legislative officers and educate them about how they can improve the lives of their constituents with mental illness. Here are some cool aspects you will get to participate in if you join us:

Be Part of History
Advocating on legislation is one of the most impactful and exciting ways to take part in the political process. Now more than ever, government officials are gaining a better understanding of mental health and substance abuse issues. Keep the momentum going by meeting with your legislator and making NAMI’s voice stronger.

Connect with Others
At the start of the event, you will have the opportunity to talk with representatives from helpful organizations in Wisconsin that support mental health, as well as meet other individuals that care about mental health advocacy. Community is a huge part in dealing with mental illness and being successful in recovery!

Become an Expert on the Issues
You may be thinking, “How in the world am I supposed to advocate and tell my story to legislators?!” But we got you covered! Before we head into the Wisconsin Capitol, you will get to enjoy brunch while learning how to best share your story to make an impact. We’ll give you an overview of a typical meeting with a legislator and provide background on the issues and talking points.

Rally on the Steps
To pump everyone up, mental health advocates and the members of the Wisconsin State Legislature will lead us in a rousing call to action on the Capitol Steps. Speakers will be sharing their personal stories to encourage us to share ours.

Share Your Story
Everybody has a story, but not everybody gets the opportunity to share their story with their state legislators. NAMI’s Action on the Square event is our opportunity to stand together and speak up about mental health. Together, we can remind elected officials that mental illness affects everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or age. We can remind them that without mental health care, Americans pay a high price in unemployment, homelessness and criminalization. As advocates of mental health care, we know that treatment works and recovery is possible. Let’s make sure Wisconsin government knows as well.

Registration for Action on the Square ends on Friday, April 6th. Be sure to sign up now so Wisconsin legislators can hear your story!

Click here to learn more about Action on the Square. 

A Note on Self-Care

Self-Care is So Much LESS than Bubble Baths and Smoothie Bowls. 

Lately, the internet has been obsessed with things like taking luxurious bubble baths foamed with bath bombs, going to the gym dressed in cute workout gear after enjoying a #glutenfree smoothie bowl, and giving yourself a DIY charcoal-peel face mask, labeling it “self-care”. While these are wonderful ways to pamper and care for yourself, they make it seem like self-caring actions are only those that are Instagram-worthy.

In reality, self-care is so much more, or even, so much less than that. It isn’t always glamorous or exciting. In fact, self-care is as simple as brushing your teeth, taking a shower, eating a balanced diet, and exercising moderately. With all the mixed messages about self-care, it can be intimidating and complicated to do what our body and brain is asking of us and feel that we are actually doing enough.

When cleaning our home or making dinner, we should celebrate and thank ourselves. Such activities may feel like they’re expected from us and don’t deserve praise, but they are the most basic form of self-love. If you have dealt or are dealing with a mental illness, you may understand how the littlest types of self-care, like getting out of bed and drinking a glass of water, are mountainous tasks; self-care is usually the last thing on your mind and the least desirable to do. But it is during those times when you must remind yourself that every act of self-care, no matter how small, is a victory. You are worth being cared for and you are worth the self-love, even if you don’t feel or believe it.

So celebrate when your friends and family take care of themselves! Let’s make it a vow to focus on caring for ourselves and appreciating ourselves for it, as well as reaching out to help others when their own self-care feels like too mighty of a task.

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

Why Olympians Need to Talk About Mental Health

The Olympic Games are an event many look forward to; watching the unbelievable skills demonstrated during each competition is thrilling and commands much respect for those competing. These extraordinary athletes have dedicated their lives to training their bodies and minds in order to be the best of the best at their sport. Some call them real-life heroes, the role models that represent their countries.

One can only imagine the grueling days of training and resistance against oneself that accompany the fame and glory of success at the Games. Olympic athletes require immense physical strength and even more mental strength and stability to challenge not only their competitors, but themselves. Such an intense career likely makes it extremely difficult for athletes to handle the stress and pressure of needing to succeed, which can lead to mental illness or general lack of mental wellness. About 1 in 5 people are living with mental illness, therefore 1 in 5 Olympians are living with a mental illness as well. But if mental illness is so common, why don’t more of them talk about it? With mental stamina so crucial to this career, why is the conversation about mental health among Olympic athletes so minimal?

The answer may simply be the stigma that surrounds mental illness. The exact opposite of what athletes want is to be viewed as “weak” or “incapable”. Our society often labels those with mental illness this way, viewing the illness before the person and giving it the power. Even for the Olympians that do not live with mental illness but have struggled with remaining mentally strong, they may fear that talking about it will cause their competitors and the public to view them differently, negatively.

Yet, this is the exact time when it is perfect to talk about mental health: if the physically and mentally strongest people on earth struggle with their mental health but are willing to speak up about it, others can know that people do not experience mental health conditions because they are weak and have lack of character. Rather, our circumstances or body chemistry make mental wellness extra challenging, which makes talking about self-care and forms of mental wellness even more important. We may not all be Olympic athletes, but we all experience stress, loss, and demands in life. When Olympians open up about their struggles and discuss ways to combat them, we all benefit by fighting the stigma against mental illness and by learning ways to care for ourselves.

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

**Adapted from NAMI National’s Blog “Why Don’t More Olympians Talk About Mental Illness?”

Statement on Parkland School Shooting

NAMI Wisconsin is deeply saddened by the tragic school shooting that occurred Wednesday in Parkland, Florida. These tragedies impact our communities - our parents, our children, our school professionals, our first responders - the mental health of our whole country.

The details are still unfolding and there are still unanswered questions, but what we do know is that there were warning signs and that the shooter had received mental health treatment. As we continue the national discussion about what we can do to prevent further tragedies, we need to be willing to engage in an honest conversation about what allowed this young man to fall through the cracks, and the broader personal and societal factors that may have fueled his actions.  

It is paramount for us to ensure the safety and well-being of our children and youth, and to remember that 1 in 5 people, potentially hundreds of students in a high school, have or will experience a mental illness.  We need to be very careful that the response to these tragedies by the media and others does not discourage students from seeking help.  

Where do we go from here? 
There are steps we can take now to educate and intervene early to break down barriers of understanding, and put an end to the stigma that often prevents people from getting the help they so desperately need. NAMI Wisconsin advocates can take action by contacting their members of Congress, state and local leaders and asking them to: 

  1. Increase mental health awareness and availability of counselors in schools.Students should be encouraged to seek help for themselves or a friend. School based mental health has also proven extremely effective in engaging students who would not otherwise seek help. Some states have made significant investments in school based mental health and more needs to be done.
  2. Train school staff, administrators, parents and youth, and provide the tools necessary to have conversations about the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions and where they can turn to for help. Far too often, when families are most in need, there isn't a clear pathway to getting help.
  3. Develop a comprehensive response program for youth who have demonstrated behavioral issues including involving family and mental health providers. Take steps to avoid expelling and suspending students as this only exacerbates the situation. 
  4. Increase the ability of the mental health system to be proactive in reaching out to youth, particularly those with the most serious conditions. Young people in distress will not seek help so there needs to be mobile outreach responses that are funded and easily available. This requires sustained and expanded funding for coverage for mental health, not cuts. 

Speak Up About Gun Violence! 
Another part of the conversation that cannot be ignored is acting on common sense approaches to ending gun violence such as gun violence prevention restraining orders, which can allow for the removal of guns from people who may pose a risk of violence to themselves and others. While the relationship between mental illness and gun violence is very low, we need reasonable options, including making it possible for law enforcement to act on credible community and family concerns in circumstances where people are at high-risk.

We all want an end to these horrific acts of violence. To achieve this, we need to understand the full picture of what is really driving increased violence and take sensible steps. Only then can we find meaningful solutions to protecting our children and communities.

If you are seeking additional support after the Parkland School Shooting, please don't hesitate to contact the NAMI Wisconsin office at (608) 268-6000 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. 

Rethinking What Matters: Focusing on Positivity

Even though there are countless things to be thankful for, it can be easy to focus on the negative aspects of life and what goes wrong over the blessings. Irritants and problems seem to blare in our faces and bring down our moods, while the positives fade into the background.

However, much of this life-view is a mindset. Granted, mental illness can make positive thoughts and mindset very difficult, but a key step to recovery includes focusing on what we are thankful for and trying to find the good amongst the bad. Numerous studies have shown that those who keep a gratitude diary or a positivity journal experience, overall, less depressive symptoms and perceived stress than those who do not.

One way to begin opposing negative thoughts is to write them down and to challenge yourself to find a positive counter-thought to change it. Expressing gratitude and brainstorming potential solutions (if there is a problem/issue) are good ways to find positivity. An example could be: Negative- I am so busy at work! I never have enough time to get everything done and am always bogged down! Positive- I am thankful to have a job and a way to earn income. I will make myself a schedule to organize my time and plan my responsibilities.

Of course, it may not always be possible to find a positive alternative to a negative, such as if a loved one passes away suddenly or there are unescapable financial burdens. But these are the times when, though we may not see a positive outcome at the time, we grow and become stronger through our struggle. It may be very uncomfortable, sometimes even painful, to grow and persist through these hard times, but positives develop from them, even if the only positive is that we showed ourselves that we could make it through.

So today, set aside some time to challenge the negatives in your life. You may surprise yourself with how encouraged it makes you feel!

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

Loving and Supporting a Significant Other with Mental Illness

Here we are in the month of February, a.k.a. the month of love!

Couples devote extra time and attention to each other through giving gifts, going out somewhere special, and spending quality time with one another, particularly on Valentine’s Day. However, having a partner with a mental illness, or being that partner, requires love in a way that can look very different from chocolates and teddy bears on one set day.   

As an individual living with depression and a form of OCD called trichotillomania, I know what it’s like to have really hard mental health days. There are times when I can’t get out of bed because my dark thoughts pull me to it and don’t let me leave, or times when I pull out all of my eyelashes and my self-esteem plummets, often also leading to dark thoughts. Times like these can be insufferable, but with support from my significant other, by and large, they are made bearable.

For someone with mental illness, love and support can mean simply sitting next to them in silence, or laying with them in bed during a hard time. It can be making them food if you know they are struggling to eat regularly on their own, or making sure they are brushing their teeth and showering. It can also be a quiet “I love you,” “you’re amazing!” or “I’m proud of you”. On harder days, it can be holding them while they weep or break down in panic. Love and support can also be everyday care, like making them lunch or taking care of some of their errands.

Yet, even when my partner makes it clear through his words and actions that he cares about me, my mental illness makes me worry that one day, he’s going to realize that me and my conditions are too much to handle, or that he’s giving more than he is getting, and decide to leave me. My thoughts tell me that I am not “normal,” my brain is not “normal,” so I am constantly questioning whether my partner deserves someone who doesn’t require so much “work”.

But I have to remind myself that although my mental illness requires certain care and treatment, it does not define me. I am still worthy of love. I am a kind, loving, goofy person who is able to show extra compassion and grace to my partner when he’s having a bad day, because I know what it’s like to really be low. I take extreme care to know he’s loved and that I am there for him, because I know he is always there for me. Relationships are a two-way street, and mental illness does not put a road block in one or both lanes- just be sure to continue reaching over to the other side.

If you are seeking additional support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the NAMI Wisconsin at (608) 268-6000. 

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern

Everyday Ways to Talk about Mental Health

Living with a mental health condition can present many challenges, such as scheduling and attending appointments with psychiatrists and therapists, getting the right medication, and facing the everyday difficulties of one’s affected thinking, mood, or behavior. Talking about your life with a mental illness with others can be an additional, entirely new challenge in itself. You may be worried that others will think less of you for having a mental illness, or that you will lose friends and family due to your condition being a burden. These are valid concerns, but it is important to remember that talking about your mental health provides an opportunity for others to care for you and provide support. It also helps inform others and break down stigmas that surround mental illness.

Here are some everyday ways to talk about your mental health, helping to change the stigmas that may surround what it means to have a mental illness:

  • If someone asks why you missed an event, be honest and tell them it was because of a therapy appointment, that you decided to stay home to take care of yourself instead, or that you did not feel mentally healthy enough to attend at that time. It may feel uncomfortable at first, but many people have likely been in similar situations but were too afraid of what others would think if they told the truth about their mental health. There is nothing to be ashamed of in having a mental health condition or in seeking care!
  • Our society tends to idolize the concept of “always being busy”. This can be difficult to look past, but telling others that you schedule time in your week to do nothing but relax and watch Netflix at home can be a great way to talk about mental health! Knowing that you need downtime because it helps prevent episodes of depression, anxiety, or OCD, etc. is a strength, not a weakness. You are taking time to care for yourself, and it is good for others to know that. Oftentimes, when someone else is open about allowing themselves time to relax, others feel that it’s okay for them to do the same.
  • Whether you are a high school or college student or a full-time employee, try to be open about your mental health and its state of wellness with your teachers or boss. These are the people you need to talk to about missing class or work for mental health related reasons, so it is best that they know you aren’t “skipping out” on your responsibilities, but rather, caring for yourself. This may mean notifying them that you need to stay home for a mental health day, or that you may need an extension on a project due to a challenging time with your illness. Not only will they be able to trust your integrity, but the people in these authority positions can often provide resources for assistance when dealing with a condition.

If you are seeking additional support, please do not hesitate to reach out to the NAMI Wisconsin at (608) 268-6000. 

Written by Heather Ehnert, Communications & Advocacy Intern