From Pain to Empowerment: Rethinking Mental Health
I recently was invited to partner with Samantha Foster, President of the nonprofit organzation, Rethink Mental Health Incorporated. She was looking for mental health advocates to help support her in her mission to encourage those struggling emotionally to talk about it and reach out for help. Samantha hopes everyone will “rethink” the stigma associated with having mental health issues. At RethinkStigma.org, you can find COVID-19 support, articles, educational tools like the H.E.A.R.T. social and emotional learning program for schools and more.
With COVID-19, people have more need than maybe ever to process their stress, fear, worries and sadness around the continued losses and change in the way of life. Sadness can ooze into clinical depression just like angst can morph into a full blown anxiety disorder. There is nothing fundamentally “wrong” with you if you need help.
Here are a few words from Samantha herself on her journey:
“All my life I have experienced mental health issues in the form of my emotionally abusive upbringing, my previously unmanaged borderline personality disorder, and my battles with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. At the young age of 12 I was misdiagnosed with bipolar which led to 10 years of being prescribed numerous high-dosage medications that only made my mental health worse, not to mention the crippling side effects. I was fighting an uphill battle without proper treatment, support or understanding and as a result I came frighteningly close to quitting this battle numerous times.
…I was told that my mental health issues were a burden and that if I told others about what I was going through they were going to judge and reject me. Even now I feel anxious speaking openly about what I’ve gone through, but I am willing to combat this anxiety to share my story with you. I do not share my story because I envision myself as the focal point of this organization, but because the stigma on mental health represses and isolates far too many people (including myself). I share my story as a way to triumph over the stigma and to shed light on what motivated me to found Rethink Mental Health Incorporated.
My mental health journey brought me to the creation of Rethink Mental Health Incorporated after a major turning point in my life.
At the age of 22 I was finally given the correct diagnosis, detoxed from medications I had been wrongly prescribed, and learned about therapies and life-practices that could (and ultimately did) improve my mental wellbeing and quality of life. I went from rock-bottom hopelessness about never being “normal” to a sense of empowerment that gave me the hope and motivation I was previously lacking to take charge of my mental health.
That empowerment is what I hope to spread through our educational and advocacy initiatives at Rethink Mental Health Incorporated. As a result, more people can speak openly about what they are going through or seek the professional help they need without fear of stigmatization, discrimination or harassment. As a result, our society can accept that it is OK to NOT be OK!”
In the interview, Mental Health Champions: “It is okay to not be okay,” with Samantha Foster, for Medium.com, she was asked about some of her personal strategies for promoting her wellbeing.
- I remove toxic people from my life and work on creating healthy, supportive relationships with others. I grew up in a codependent relationship with my parents, which put a lot of emotional burden on me. I can easily slip into a pattern of wanting to please others even at the expense of my own happiness or wellness. To avoid this, I am mindful of the balance and boundaries in my relationships.
- I remember that I cannot control the future and I cannot change the past, I can only control myself in the here and now. It is easy to become consumed by a damaged past and obsessed with a hopeful future. When this happens you lose sight of the here and now and can find yourself unhappy even when things are going well. I remind myself to be in the moment and appreciate the little things every day.
I am self-compassionate. Self-compassion is extremely hard for most people to have. The comfort, understanding, and support we give to our loved one in difficult times comes so naturally, but when we are undergoing hardships we often become our own worst critic. This negative self-talk only makes us more upset and emotionally broken, whereas practicing self-compassionate can support us from the inside-out.
- I remember that perspectives are within my control and therefore happiness is within my control. When we perceive experiences as black and white, or through a narrow-minded view, we limit our abilities to find the good or advantage of these experiences. We limit ourselves to negativity and therefore negative emotional reactions. Every experience, even the most devastating, can become an opportunity if you perceive it in that way.
- I practice self-care. Every day I try to do something kind for myself. It can be as small as eating a snack I enjoy or as big as treating myself to a spa day! Giving myself these joyful experiences reminds me that I can contribute to my own happiness and stress management.
- I talk about my feelings to avoid letting them get bottled up. While sometimes difficult, it is very important to allow yourself to both expresses and feels your emotions. Emotions are a natural, normal part of our daily life. When we shove our emotions down and avoid them, we are not removing them, we are only prolonging their inevitable release, which will likely occur unexpectedly as a result.
If you need support, seek it. Even if you can’t see a therapist in his/her office, there are thousands across the country offering online therapy or phone options.
Would you like to support Samantha’s mission to de-stigmatize mental health? Learn more about how to be an advocate for Rethink Mental Health Incorporated