Kim LaMontagne Lead Worth Living New England Chapter

I share my personal story of being a high functioning business woman balancing a career and family while fighting (and hiding) major depression, anxiety and persistent suicidal thoughts. By sharing my story, I help individuals find the courage, power and strength to accept and love who they are and rise above the fear, stigma and shame of mental illness and talk openly about it.  I fought my battle alone because I was afraid of stigma. Especially in the workplace.  No one should suffer alone.

Mental Health in the Workplace: Increasing the Usage Rate of Employee Assistance Programs to Foster Employee Mental Wellness

In 2014, a mental health survey of 800 voters in Massachusetts was conducted by National Alliance on Mental Illness, Massachusetts Chapter and Martilla Strategies. The following responses were gathered around mental health and peer support in the workplace;

  • Question #1: It is best to tell your family about mental health issues OR is it best to keep it quiet:
    • Answer: 92% responded best to tell family.
  • Question #2 – Is it best to tell your friends about mental health issues OR is it best to keep it quiet:
    • Answer: 76% responded best to tell friends.
  • Question # 3 – It is best to tell your co-workers about mental health issues OR is it best to keep it quiet.
    • Answer: 27% suggest telling a co-worker

The responses are a clear indicator that employees do not feel safe sharing information with co-workers about mental health concerns.  In the same survey, more than 90% of voters believe mental illness is a serious issue and 60% believe it is a very serious issue.  Additionally, 82% believe most people with a mental illness do not get the treatment they need and more than 75% believe mental illness is an issue that deserves increased attention on the state and national level. Studies further document that stigma and widely-shared negative stereotypes about the causes and effects of mental illness — are the single greatest barrier to treating mental illness and lowering costs (Employee Benefits, 2007).

A recent meta-analysis based on a 174 large scale mental health surveys across 63 countries revealed that common mental disorders (CMD), (e.g. anxiety, depression, substance abuse) were experienced by “18% of adults within the past 12 months and 30% of adults over their lifetime” (Jarman et al., 2016). Approximately two thirds of people with CMD are working with “significant consequences for labor efficiency and economic growth” (Jarman et al., 2016).  The cost of CMD has been forecasted to be $16 trillion over 2012-2032 (Jarman et al., 2016).

In 1974, the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse adopted the term Employee Assistance Program (EAP) in response to the need for employee intervention and support. An EAP is described as a “job performance-based intervention program in the workplace” (Hartwell et al., 1996).  EAP’s have been widely adopted and implemented in many organizations as “benevolent programs” (Ajunwa et. al., 2016) for employees to seek counseling for mental health, stress and substance abuse issues. In 2002 well over 100 million employees had access to an EAP with much of the growth happening in the 1990’s (The Employee Assistance Trade Association, 2016).

EAP’s can be a job-based program operating within an organization to identify and assist troubled employees or an outside vendor that the organization contracts with to provide an agreed upon set of services to the employees. Every organization has different needs so an EAP is not a one size fits all. Over 500 EAP providers exist in the United States providing access to mental health services for millions of working professionals.

Today over “75% of US employers provide EAP services” (Jacobson & Sacco, 2012).  Although a high rate of employers offers the benefit, the average usage rate of face to face counseling through EAP services in the U.S. is a staggering 3.5-5%.  Additionally, only 1.5-2.5% of all EAP clients present with alcohol or drug (AOD) “substance dependence” related problems (Jacobson & Sacco, 2012).  With that, it is up to the EAP provider to counsel to the stated problem and uncover if there are any underlying issues in addition to what the employee initially presents with.  Participation in a recovery program is voluntary on the employee’s behalf.  Prior research suggests that when an employee engages with EAP counseling and recommendations, there is an increase in participation in a recovery program.  EAP’s “more than pay for themselves by lowering companies’ direct and indirect medical costs” (Hemp, 2004).

There is a gap in knowledge that addresses what the employer is doing to increase engagement and use of the EAP to help ensure employee well-being.  Although 75 % of medium to large employers offer an EAP, there is a stigma around substance abuse and mental health that creates a barrier for EAP use. There is also a fear of confidentiality when using an EAP, thus preventing treatment and intervention. Stigma around mental health leads to the “under treatment of mental illness, with severe financial consequences” (Martilla Strategies, 2014).  How can leadership interventions help decrease the barriers to EAP usage which, in turn, increases the return on the EAP investment?

For maximum participation, employees must have trust that confidentiality will be assured if engaging in EAP services. To increase engagement in EAP services, a leadership training approach should be taken to support employee engagement. Leadership training should provide tools necessary for those in supervisory positions to help identify employees in need and provide intervention to minimize the level of the incident and increase employee recovery. Printable resources and fact sheets about the EAP services should be shared with employees who are at risk.  Additionally, employees should be educated about the myriad of services offered from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and other organizations.  Employers can engage in a Mental Health First Aid program and encourage involvement in other NAMI programs.  Providing the tools to the employee is an essential part of addressing the issue.  For every employee in the workplace being treated for depression, 2.3 or 70% are receiving no treatment (Martilla Strategies, 2014).  For the high ‘at risk’ population of employees to seek services or admit to a mental health ailment, they need to build trust in leadership of their organization and be assured support rather than stigma.

The literature suggests the approach to dispelling stigma is multipronged including; education to dispel myths, protest to reduce stigma and “contact to put a human face on mental illness” (Martin, 2008). Sharing experiences of mental illness through direct person to person connections “can create long term attitudinal change and affect behavior (Knapp et al, 2007).  Those individuals who are brave enough to share their story of recovery from mental illness should be invited into the workplace to speak with employees. Sharing their story is a powerful way to start the conversation about mental health. It is also suggested that both consumer/survivor and leadership involvement is “critical to the success” of an anti-stigma campaign (Martin, 2008). Additionally, creating internal anti stigma champions in leadership roles helps to increase long term program participation and commitment (Martin, 2008).

The world’s first National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (Standard) was launched in Canada by the Mental Health Commission.  The Standard “Provides a framework to promote the mental health of and prevent the psychological harm to employees providing guidance and resources to help organizations of all sizes and sectors” (MHCC, 2016).  It is a global first.  A step by step guide geared to senior level leaders aimed at providing resources and tools to be a responsible employer.

In 2014, a 3-year Case Study Research Project was launched to better understand how employers are implementing the Standard across Canada.  Over 40 organizations participated in research study. Data was collected at baseline, interim and final points. The findings from this 3-year CSRP provide concrete data for HR professionals and CEOs interested in strengthening the bottom line.

Key findings include;

  • 90% of participating organizations indicated their motivator for implementing the Standard was to protect the psychological health of employees
  • 91 % of participating organizations stated implementing the Standard was the right thing to do
  • 60% of organizations have implemented activities to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace
  • 70% are providing employees with EAP services tailored to mental health
  • 72% compliance by participating organizations in the five elements of the Standard (commitment, leadership/participation, planning, implementation, evaluation and corrective action, management review).

Additionally, a 2008 report written for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, provided a review of several anti-stigma programs currently in place around the world to understand the effectiveness of the approaches used.  Programs include;  Breaking the Silence (USA), Change Your Mind About Mental Health (USA), Entertainment Industries Council (USA), In Our Own Voice (USA), Nothing to Hide (USA), Active Minds on Campus (USA), The Kids on the Block (USA), Stigma Watch (Australia), Like Minds, Like Mine ( New Zealand), Beyond Blue (Australia), Mind (England), See Me (Scotland), SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Services Administration – USA), Mental Health Law Center (Australia), (Martin, 2008).  The aim of the programs includes education, challenging stereotypes, decrease discrimination, increase inclusion, promote self-confidence and encourage legislative change.

As a leader in mental health programs, Australia developed a broad strategy to involve governmental and non-governmental partners to tackle the issue from several angles including a public education campaign (BeyondBlue), anti-stigma initiatives (SANE Australia), workplace education, (Mindframe Australia) and legal advocacy (Mental Health Law Center).  In England, the national lottery recently committed £18 million to a 4-year anti-discrimination program to comprised of a national media campaign, community outreach, empowerment and engagement and “training and education targeting leaders and professionals to reduce discriminatory behaviors” (Martin, 2008).  Other countries have developed similar programs to foster mental health and well-being.

To build a healthier workplace, there must be a team approach to employee health and wellness.  The adage of leave your problems at the door is a thing of the past. Since most employees experience major disruptive issues affecting on the job performance, there must be a comprehensive top down organizational strategy.  A top down strategy ensures proper management of employee health to increase retention and decrease healthcare costs.  The role of the CEO and leadership within an organization is critical to supporting the success (and implementation) of a program to support the well-being of employees.  When mental health is valued by leaders, appropriate resources become increasingly more available, employees are educated about the resources, usage increase and there is a substantial benefit to the organization.

Start the conversation now about mental wellness.

It’s good for the bottom line.

 

Kim LaMontagne, MBA  

Mental Health Advocate, Speaker and Teacher for National Alliance on Mental Illness, NH Chapter

Ambassador, Keynote Speaker and Lead for Worth Living, New England Chapter

Sr. Learning Consultant, Walden University- National Accounts

Contributing Author, Consultant and Survivor

Kim_lamon@yahoo.com

 

References

Ajunwa, I., Crawford, K. and Ford, J. (2016) Health and Big Data: An Ethical Framework for Health Information Collection by Corporate Wellness Programs, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine Available at: http://eds.a.ebscohost.com.ezp.roehampton-online.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=da832e6b-817e-4db9-bfd3-97fdb8d93c64%40sessionmgr4007&hid=4113 (Accessed: 21 October 2016).

Employee Benefit News, “Inner workings Survey: A Look at Mental Health in Today’s Workplace” (2007).

Harder, H, Wagner, S, Rash, J, 2014, Mental Illness in the Workplace.

Harder, H.G., Wagner, S.L., Rash, J.A., Mental Illness in the Workplace: Psychological Disability Management (Gower 2014)

 

Hemp, P. (2004) Presenteeism: At Work—But out of it, Harvard Business Review, Available at: https://hbr.org/2004/10/presenteeism-at-work-but-out-of-it (Accessed: 1 February 2017).

Jacobson, J, & Sacco, P 2012, ‘Employee Assistance Program Services for Alcohol and Other Drug Problems: Implications for Increased Identification and Engagement in Treatment’, American Journal On Addictions, 21, 5, pp. 468-475, Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, viewed 2 October 2016.

Jarman, L., Martin, A., Venn, A., Otahal, P., Blizzard, L., Teale, B. and Sanderson, K. (2016) ‘Workplace health promotion and mental health: Three-Year findings from Partnering Healthy@Work’, PLOS ONE, 11(8), p. e0156791. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156791.

Knapp,M., McDaid, D., Mossialos, E., Thornicroft, G., (2007) Mental Health policy and Practice Across Europe.

Martin, Neasa, (2009), From Discrimination to Social Inclusion, The Mental Health Coordinating Council, Retrieved 3/19/17, available at http://www.mhcc.org.au/media/5646/from-discrimination-to-social-inclusion-lit-review.pdf

Mental Health Commission on Canada (MHCC), (2017) Case Study Research Project Findings – The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, 2017, Retrieved 3/19/17 available at http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2017-03/case_study_research_project_findings_2017_eng.pdf

National Alliance on Mental Illness, (2014), Massachusetts Survey Measuring Stigma Toward Mental Illness, Martilla Strategies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Worth Living Ambassador Vanessa Serrao

My name is Vanessa Serrao and I am a 26 year old author, freelance writer, and preschool

supply teacher. I am a strong advocate for mental health and I am passionate about writing. I

enjoy writing about health and wellness, sports, mental health, and trending news. I also love

music and enjoy playing the guitar.

 

Four Health Concerns That Anxiety Can Cause

When it comes to having anxiety, well it is far from pleasant. From my own experience I can

tell you that it is very hard to cope with, but on a positive note it is possible to overcome.

What makes it so hard to deal with anxiety is that it comes with health concerns. Although

they are more on the minor side,  it doesn’t mean they should be ignored. The brain has the

power to control the body and when the brain is experiencing anxiety, this affects the body in

a negative manner.

Here are four health concerns that come with having anxiety. Also, keep

in mind that everyone experiences different bodily health concerns when it comes to

anxiety, but these are the ones that with which I came into contact.

1.Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a common stomach disorder that can be induced by stress and anxiety. For

me, each time I had bad anxiety that is when my acid reflux came on. So when my anxiety

went away, so did my acid reflux. Essentially, the only way that I cured my acid reflux was by

reducing my anxiety and stress. But there were some things I did and used in order to

relieve my symptoms of acid reflux. It was hard to treat fully until my symptoms of anxiety

were alleviated. You can take tums, gaviscon, drink aloe vera juice, celery juice, chew gum,

drink plenty of water, and drink herbal teas. None of these things is a cure but are ways to

reduce symptoms associated with acid reflux. In addition, taking probiotics is essential for a

leaky gut. For acid reflux, it is a very uncomfortable, bothersome and sometimes painful

ailment. It consists of heartburn and burning in the chest as well as throat and ears. It can

also cause stomach pain, your teeth hurting, bleeding gums and sores in your mouth. Since

acid is coming up from your stomach, this means that your diet has to be changed which

means  foods that don’t contain acid in them. This meant my eliminating alcohol, anything

with tomatoes or tomato sauce, orange juice, chocolate, not having too much red meats,

onions, mushrooms, peppers, carbonated drinks and coffee. Even though some of these

foods are healthy,  they shouldn’t be consumed  since they contain acid and it will

make acid reflux worse.

2.Insomnia

Insomnia is a sleep disorder that causes you to not sleep in the evening and where you are

left tired and drowsy during the day. In fact, you may find yourself sometimes falling asleep

during the day. I experience insomnia since my anxiety affected my sleep. I had racing

thoughts at night and since I always worried about not sleeping this kept me up at night. I

would continuously toss and turn and not be able to relax. Insomnia is a horrible thing to deal

with especially when you have anxiety. When you don’t get a good night’s rest, it affects your

whole day. Your mind isn’t sharp, therefore it is hard to function throughout the day. When

this continues to happen it leads to forgetfulness  and a tired brain. It just drains you and

takes away your confidence. In addition, lack of sleep can lead to skin breakouts and dark

circles. Some things that helped me sleep at night were meditating, a hot bath, or herbal tea

before bed, not looking at the time when sleeping, and doing yoga. All these things are

beneficial in order to help you fall asleep better.

3.Weight Loss

Weight can become an issue and concern when you struggle with anxiety, depression or

other mental health disorders. Some people gain weight but many also lose weight. For me, I

lost weight and it was unhealthy. I lost about 30-40 pounds and it wasn’t me. I didn’t feel

healthy, sharp or confident. I just didn’t have an appetite when I would get up in the morning

running on barely any sleep. I could see it in my body. My chest look more flat and my face

longer. Losing weight this way was unhealthy, but it wasn’t my intention to lose weight. Also

with my acid reflux,  I ate less, since after I ate it would trigger my heartburn to start. This was

bad as I wasn’t supposed to skip meals and I tried not to, but I definitely cut down on food.

The feeling of trying to eat and getting food down was unpleasant. Feeling like your throat is

closing and no food being able to go down unless it was yogurt or something soft.

4. Hormonal Imbalance

When you are experiencing anxiety and stress this puts your body into a whack and it

messes up your hormones. I experienced a hormonal imbalance as I was experiencing

hormonal acne as well as skipping a period or receiving my period late. When you are

experiencing anxiety,  it affects your body in different ways, but a hormonal imbalance is quite

common when experiencing anxiety and stress. Hormonal acne occurs along the jawline and

it is painful and cystic. Breaking out in the same spots over and over again was never fun. I

tried to fix my hormonal imbalance by adding more fibre and iron into my diet and this did

help. Also, once I felt less anxious my hormones were more balanced again

 


DJ Scratchley Q Worth Living Director of Music and Official DJ


Music is a great form of therapy. Music has the power to help express our emotions even when we might not have the exact words to do so. Music is there for us through the good, the bad, the struggles, the achievements and celebrations. Enjoy the Worth Living Top 10 Countdown! – Scratchley Q

Worth Living Top 10 Countdown

10. Mimi – Eskai

9. One Man Island- A.M.R

8. Consequence Of You – PROFF ft. Cory Friesenhan

7. Florescence – Aeron Aether

6. Be Together – Universal Solution

5. Sanctuary – Jay FM

4. Whither – Shingo Nakamura (Shawn Mitiska Remix)

3. To Mean It – Eleven.Five

2. Always Be – Elypsis & Arielle Maren

1. Adrift in the Borderless Sea – Allay & Rod V


Worth Living Ambassador Ashley Wunsch

Hello, my name is Ashley Wunsch and I am a second-year student studying International Development and Globalization at the University of Ottawa. I always had a desire to change the world. A few years ago, I realized that changing the world isn’t only digging wells and building schools, but also taking care of yourself and your mental health, so I started to get involved with organizations surrounding mental health like Worth Living.

Changes

I hate changes. I don’t like to think of myself as someone who is structured, that things need to happen on a schedule type of person. Yet when I stop to think of it, I plan out each day on paper from the second I wake up to the second I go to bed. I get into routines and I like to keep them, it makes everything easier. I mean this is a good thing, I’m organized, but it’s also stressing me out. So the real question I need to ask myself- how do I deal with these changes?

It seems so weird to think of how much of a difference these changes are making, how it feels like I’m giving up a whole side of me, a piece that makes me complete. Yet if I don’t make this change, I’ll never know where I’ll go and into what I’ll progress. I can’t keep holding on to the past and how I used to feel because circumstances have changed and it isn’t healthy anymore. Yet I can’t lie, as much as it hurts to hold on to, it hurts more to let go of, even if I know it must be done. Besides, once the initial band-aid is ripped off, I will feel better and be able to do bigger and better things. After I learn to embrace the change, I’ll be able to open up more time to do other things and find my true self. Although it seems like a mess of emotions right now, I know in the end it will all be okay.

Yet despite knowing all will be fine, in the back of my mind all I can think of is how I’ve never been good with change. I remember in the twelfth grade during carnival clan feud (family feud) being nominated for the person who changed the most throughout high school and then being called as the number one answer. I remember being so confused, thinking I didn’t change. I remember thinking it was a bad thing, automatically assuming people thought I changed for the worse. But I later realized they did not mean it in that way, they meant I was super shy in the ninth grade and by grade twelve, I was more outgoing. They meant I changed in a ‘good way’ I told myself, but mostly that I grew, that I flourished. Changes aren’t always negative things. Sometimes they help us down the road to becoming our own beautiful unique selves. Although I can’t see how these current changes could help that doesn’t mean that they will necessarily be bad. Only time will tell and until then, I will grow from the situation and try to think of the positive outcomes of these changes and not the negative ones.


Scratchley Q Worth Living Director of Music & Official DJ


Worth Living Top 10 Countdown – Female DJ’s

Music is a great form of therapy. Music has the power to help express our emotions even when we might not have the exact words to do so. Music is there for us through the good, the bad, the struggles, the achievements and celebrations. Enjoy the Worth Living Top 10 Countdown! – Scratchley Q

10. What Would You Do For Love – NERVO

9. Girl Gang – Juicy M ft. Blimes Brixon

8. I Wish I Could – TOKiMONSTA ft. Selah Sue

7. Take Control – DJ Diamond Kutz

6. Ashes – Tigerlily

5. Poison – Audry Napoleon

4. Pochuvstvui – Nina Kraviz

3. Remember – Charlotte de Witte

2. Easy – Alison wonderland

1. Bamboozle – Hannah Wants


 Scratchley Q Worth Living Director of Music and Official DJ

Worth Living Top 10 Countdown – Promises

Music is a great form of therapy. Music has the power to help express our emotions even when we might not have the exact words to do so. Music is there for us through the good, the bad, the struggles, the achievements and celebrations. Enjoy the Worth Living Top 10 Countdown! – Scratchley Q

10. Promises – Nero

9.Promises, Promises – Incubus

8. No Promises – Shayne Ward

7. Promises – Def Leopard

6. Promise – Simple Plan

5. No Promises – Cheat Codes ft Demi Lovato

4. I Promise – Radiohead

3. Promise to Love Her – Blane Howard

2. The Promise – Chris Cornell

1. Promises – Calvin Harris ft. Sam Smith


Kim LaMontagne WL New England Lead

Kim shares her personal story of being a high functioning business woman balancing a career and family while fighting (and hiding) major depression, anxiety and persistent suicidal thoughts. By sharing her story, she helps individuals find the courage, power and strength to accept and love who they are and rise above the fear, stigma and shame of mental illness and talk openly about it. Kim fought her battle alone because she was afraid of stigma. Especially in the workplace. No one should suffer alone.

Mental Health and Stigma in the Workplace

Stigma refers to the negative internal attitudes and beliefs people hold toward something. Stigma can also be an amalgamation of ignorance, prejudice and discrimination. Discrimination is the external effect of stigma that results in the denial of individual their rights and social inclusion. Stigma and discrimination can be more detrimental to the individual than the actual mental illness. This is due to withdrawal of support from loved ones and colleagues in addition to shunning and exclusion. Numerous misconceptions still exist about mental illness which leads stigma and shame.

Stigma is disrespectful and is the number one barrier to treating mental health conditions.

Stigma and shame in the workplace play a large role in the under treatment of mental illness. Stigma plays a role in the decreased speed of employee outreach and treatment. The national average of organizations that offer an EAP is 75%, yet the usage rate is of EAP’s 3.5-5%. This is due in large part to stigma.

Stigma is also responsible for developing a strong tendency toward placing a stereotype on a person with mental illness, resulting in bulling, harassment, potential loss of employment and workplace intimidation. Stigma may also contribute to severe financial consequences and can be detrimental to an organization if left unchallenged.

Often, employees suffering from mental illness stay silent and suffer alone. Lack of disclosure of the mental illness from the employee to the employer limits the employer’s ability to accommodate the worker. This is a challenge that can lead to decreased concentration, productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, workplace accidents and mistakes.

Fear, shame and stigma are large barriers for employees to overcome to be able to take the first step to seek help.

In 2007, the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health in the United States, conducted a survey of HR Managers. In the survey, 8 in 10 respondents revealed that shame, stigma and fear of ramifications may be the cause of employees not seeking treatment for mental illness. A more recent study done by the Disability Management Employer Coalition suggests the degree of stigma associated with mental illness has not waned.

Society also plays large role in the negative perception of mental illness. The risk factors and symptoms of common illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are widely known. On the contrary, there are gaps in lack of knowledge of the risk factors and symptoms associated with mental illness. Consequently, many myths, fears and stigma still exist around mental illness.

To combat this in the workplace, organizations can choose to engage in a mental health literacy program. A mental health literacy program provides the education to organizations that can aid in recognition and management of disorders associated with mental illness. Increased mental health literacy increases the dissemination of more accurate information and can be a catalyst to lessening the stigma around mental health in the workplace.

Commitment to employee wellness is a topic of organizational discussion that is gaining increased interest in research. Towers Watson 2013, global Staying @ Work survey found that “establishing a culture of health is a top priority for organizations” (Garrow, 2016). Research conducted by Health Enhancement Research Organization (HERO), shows organizational support to be an “important mediator in presenteeism” (Garrow, 2016). Specifically support from the top leadership that cascades throughout the culture of the organization.

Business leaders have a duty to implement a mental health strategy and consider mental health as an ongoing educational process. Leaders should feel empowered to make the changes required to build and sustain a mentally healthy workforce capable of increased productivity due to positive mental health.

It’s good for the bottom line…

Kim LaMontagne

Kim_lamon@yahoo.com

My next blog will discuss CEO’s Against Stigma (CAS).

CAS was a grant funded program implemented by NAMI MA. For my MBA capstone project, I analyzed the outcome of the grant funded anti-stigma campaign to determine the effectiveness of the program.

References:
Garrow, V. (2016) Presenteeism A review of current thinking, Institute for Employment Studies, Feb 2016, Report 507, Available at: http://www.employment-studies.co.uk/system/files/resources/files/507_0.pdf (Accessed: 1 February 2017).


Worth Living Ambassador Angela Cassivi Dsouza

Angela grew up in Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia. She studied at St Mary’s University and at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. She now lives in Ontario with her husband and two kids, where they operate three locations of their music school, Avalon Music Academy.

This past Thursday was one of those days that just needed to end. I spent another full day at the hospital ER, but the good news is that there finally seems to be an explanation for why I’ve been short of breath since July.

Without going into all the gory details, a CT scan showed inflammation in my lungs caused by mucus buildup (sorry – I know that’s really bordering on too much information). So now I have stronger inhalers and a hefty dose of prednisone for the next five days. It’s only day three – but it seems to be helping a bit already. I certainly don’t feel perfect by any means. I’m feeling only cautiously optimistic.

But I have something more important to discuss, so I hope you’ll stay with me until the end. I have suffered serious anxiety for most of my life. It began when I was a young child, and has continued throughout my life. I can pinpoint the causes for most my bad attacks – but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Anxiety has caused me to miss out on things, and it has caused me to make bad decisions.

But it has NOT caused every problem I’ve ever had.

It did NOT cause the symptoms.

I’ve been suffering for almost three months.

The issue I want to draw attention to is this: Once you admit to almost anyone that you suffer anxiety, that is the only part of you they see. If you turn down an invitation, it’s social anxiety. If you experience tough times at work, you need to take a stress leave because you can’t handle it. If you are feeling sad, your anxiety is turning into depression and you need to be medicated. And the worst thing of all: if you are genuinely sick, it will be instantly written off by everyone as anxiety.

Now before everyone attacks, I am not discounting the fact that anxiety can be debilitating. Sometimes you do need to take a break or try medication. Panic attacks are very real.

But my illness is also real. It has a physical basis and was not brought on by anxiety. And for three months, no one believed that I couldn’t catch my breath. I was on the verge of accepting that my symptoms were imagined, until Thursday night when I did not get one minute of sleep due to my shortness of breath.

We talk a lot about removing the stigma associated with mental illness. We all claim that we don’t judge, and that we believe mental illness is as real and legitimate as any other illness. And yet, as I know first -hand, once you have anxiety, that is ALL you have. You apparently cannot have anxiety and a physical illness at the same time. If a person with anxiety gets sick, it is almost impossible to be taken seriously by the healthcare system, or even by friends.

And as I also know first -hand, physical symptoms that you are experiencing increase the anxiety – NOT the other way around.

This is unacceptable and makes me sad, angry, and very afraid. Anxiety must be kept hidden if you want fair treatment from our health care system. Anxiety must be hidden from friends if you want them to believe a word you say.

I am NOT my anxiety. I am a complete, whole person who deserves to be treated with the same respect as anyone else who seeks a medical diagnosis. I deserve to be listened to by friends.

Sadly, what I feel right now is isolated and completely alone. We are nowhere near a stigma-free society.

 


Worth Living Official DJ Scratchley Q

Worth Living Top 10 Countdown – Future House

Music is a great form of therapy. Music has the power to help express our emotions even when we might not have the exact words to do so. Music is there for us through the good, the bad, the struggles, the achievements and celebrations. Enjoy the Worth Living Top 10 Countdown!- Scratchley Q

10. Branches – Nora En Pure

9. Werk – CID

8. Go Ahead and Jump (Dareston Remix) – Miiilo & Leah Devine

7. Sweet Child of Mine – Sean Norvis & Kp London

6. Lost My Way – Max Nikitin

5. Don’t Know About Me – Marshall Star

4. Fine Day – Keanu Silva

3. Alive – Streex

2. Turn Off The Lights – Chirs Lake ft. Alexis Roberts

1. Desert – Dusty Rockers


Worth Living Ambassador and UK Lead Frankie Samah

Hi I’m Frankie and I’m from Wales, UK.  I am a psychology teacher and postgraduate education psychologist. I am a women’s right activist, working with women’s aid to raising awareness and to break the silence. I am a mental health advocate and writer. I believe in counteracting the stigma around mental health and we should begin with the ideology. Instagram- Frankie Samah www.frankiesamah.com

Dear Anxiety,

I never imagined that I would write this letter to you, I imagined us growing old together with years of tears and resentment.

I always felt like you controlled me as if you were stronger than me, you had the ability to change my mood in seconds, you were able to overpower feelings of joy and happiness and turn me into a person who couldn’t control their breathing or their thoughts.

You came with me everywhere; to the shops, to work, to my daughter’s school events, you were stuck to me pouring poison into my mind.

You first showed up a long time ago, I thought you were trying to protect me, I thought you were trying to stop me from trusting the wrong people, from being hurt by people I thought loved me, you taught me to be hyper-aware of everyone.  It started with a whisper, a gentle voice of self-loathing and gradually it became louder and louder.  I started to listen to you more until you had your wish that I was paranoid of everyone. You made me believe even my loved ones hated me, and you drowned out their voices of them telling me they loved me, that they cared.

I feared to be around everyone. I was afraid of what they were thinking of me. I was scared of people’s reactions to me, so I learnt to block out their voices.  I could become invisible in rooms full of people.  I was paranoid if I spoke to people I would say the wrong thing.  I would look back at each event, thinking what did I say, did I act in a way I might regret?  The questions went over and over in my mind. I could never relax with you around.

You made sure that I was alone, that it was just you and me.

I always tried to make your voice smaller, I’d overeat, I’d abuse myself, I tried medication and therapy and talking, but still, you made me paralysed with self-doubt and filled up all the space in my brain.  On the worse days, I couldn’t read a book; I couldn’t concentrate at work, I couldn’t laugh for fear. When I fell in love, this was something new for you; you had more ammunition to attack me, I wasn’t good enough for him, I wasn’t pretty enough, he was going to leave.

I stopped allowing myself to dream in case you destroyed them too.

People were asking- where is the person you use to be?  The truth was I didn’t even know, I suppose I was now scared to be me.

It was only when I couldn’t take anymore, I was left with a choice, it was either you or me.  So, I choose me. I found a voice, talking about you through words, communicating about how much room you consumed in my mind, about what we have been through together, I gave you the power to make you believe I was worthless, that I was unlovable, now I was going to take it back.

Slowly but surely I turned that fear into faith, belief in myself.  I stopped worrying hours of my life away.  I stopped being afraid of tomorrow or what disaster could happen, tormenting myself won’t prevent the bad things from happening, it’s only going to stop me from enjoying the good.

I am learning every day that I like me, yes I make mistakes, I am not perfect, but I am human, and I am worthy of kindness, and I love with my whole heart.

So, pack your bags and leave because you were part of my past but you’re not invited to my future.

You don’t get to define me anymore.

Love Frankie

 

 

 

 

Sent from my iPhone

 

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