Moving Away From Home- How A New Atmosphere Challenged and Supported my Mental Health

Despite consistently promising people that my biggest fear is heights, I believe it could be change. I never realized it until University, but when things change, you can usually count me out. Everything from moving to a new house to entering high school seemed to frighten me, simply because it was new, and it was change. When I moved three hours from my rural home town to the big city of Oshawa, it felt equivalent to standing on the edge of the highest cliff I’d ever climbed. I was terrified, afraid to fail and to fall. Moving away from home challenged my mental health in more ways than I had ever imagined. I didn’t realize though, it was also strengthening my courage, self confidence, and independence.

I moved into residence at UOIT last year to continue my education in post secondary studies. For many of us, University has to become a home away from home. Until that moment came for me though, there were a lot of moments I felt helpless and like I was alone in the city full of people. I thought I had no friends, and recall many phone calls late at night with my mom, telling her how everyone around me was making friends, and I was not. I think for a lot of people, self-confidence is a huge issue when moving to a new place, just as it was for me. In my small town, I had already established who my friends were, and I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to make any more. After finally building up the nerve to leave my little residence room and hunt for friends, I realized there were a lot of people doing what I was doing- fearing change and hiding from new experiences.

After finally realizing that the experience of University was a new opportunity rather than a horrible change, I found myself surrounded by people that were very much like me, and that cared about me as a friend. When I dragged my bags to University last September, I only dreaded what I was leaving behind. After taking a moment to allow myself to find change as a positive thing, I found myself gaining not only a better experience during first year, but also finding more courage, better self-esteem and more independence.

If you can take anything from my experience, take this: change is okay. I am still trying to convince myself of the same thing, but I have realized time and time again that change has often presented me with some of the best moments of my life. Moving away from the home that I was comfortable in really challenged me to become more confident in myself. I believe that the stresses and insecurities I had while moving away from home were normal. They challenged me, yes, but they were normal. I overcame them, and while doing so, found a more confident and independent me at the end.

Advertisements

My Autistic Experience – Answering Questions

Today marks one year from the day that I made my first post on this forum, and I have decided that I will use this time to answer a bunch of questions that have been left for me by KStar21 that I have had trouble answering. They are not necessarily difficult questions, and yet I have tried answering them separately with minimal success. Instead I will answer them together.

I mean I must be fair. I received these questions a while ago, and so it would be rude of me to leave them sitting there unanswered, but since I don’t have too much to say on either question individually, I’ll just answer them all together. It is unfair of me to keep asking for ideas when there are ideas right in front of me.

After this, I will be taking an extended break to focus on my studies and to hopefully come up with other ideas (but probably not).

So let us begin.

Continue reading

Being A Friend To Someone With Mental Illnesses

As a University student, stress is just like breakfast… you expect to have it everyday. For some, handling stress is easy and it does not overwhelm them in their University lives. I am one of those people. Stress comes and goes and I deal with it when it is presented to me. Unfortunately for many, stress is an overwhelming concept that does not push them to accomplish, but rather drags them down and forces them to give up rather than to push through. As someone who has been able to keep up with school and social life for as long as I can remember, being friends with people that cannot do this is a constant challenge.

Statistics show that suicide rates are higher in rural areas like the small town I grew up in, and unfortunately, I knew too many people that ended their lives at a very young age due to the inability to deal with stress, depression, and anxiety. Guilt takes over many people when things like this happen. What could I have done as a friend to stop this from happening? Did I contribute to their stress? Was I a good enough friend? These questions tend to appear in the minds of those that were close to victims of suicide and mental illness. So, how can you be a friend to someone that has a mental illness?

Again, I know a lot of people that have suffered from a lot of different types of mental illness, so over many encounters, I have learned a few ways to be a better friend to those that may need the support. One important thing to remember is there is no stupid feeling. People feel the way they feel, and just as you can’t talk yourself out of cancer, you can’t talk yourself out of a mental illness. I have found that there have been countless times at wild hours of the night that I’ve wanted to hangup the phone and go to sleep more than anything in the world-but I keep this thought in mind. The person on the other end of the phone is depending on your support. The hardest thing to do is be consistent in providing support.

Additionally, we don’t have to act like stranger-robots around everyone. You are allowed to wave to people you don’t know, and it’s completely normal as a human to talk to people you don’t know. Socialization is key, and according to sociological research, next to food and water, the highest necessity for human life is acceptance and self-actualization. By just providing people with the knowledge that you are there for them, you could be helping them through a battle of the mind, whether they know it or not.

Mental illnesses are tough illnesses to understand, and I am in no way saying that supporting someone with kindness is going to cure them, but as a person, I know it can sure help. It sounds like an easy thing to do, but I have found time and time again that when a friend calls out to you for help, it is easy to assume they are overreacting. We need to remember that people rely on each other for support, and through a battle with mental illness, it could really help.

My First Entry: Childhood catches up to you

My first blog will be a background into my mental struggles and my on-going journey in overcoming them.

Anger, frustration, desperation. Crying endlessly and never feeling good enough. Unable to get out of bed, to feel happiness or excitement in anything because life has become pointless. Hurting the ones you love with words and becoming angry at them when you’re truly angry at yourself. Never ending tiredness, physically and emotionally.

These were just a few daily realities that I woke up to for years. I’ve come a long way, but it’s something I still struggle with to this day, and something that affects my partner, our kids, and my relationship with others. At school, I’m able to hide my personal demons, shield my tantrums from unknowing outsiders. I’m pretty good at it too, those who “know” the pretend me are always in shock when I give them a glimpse into the inner obstacles I battle.

It all stems from the regular “bad childhood,” the verbally and physically abusive family members, the alcoholic mother, the absent father. All my life I was told by my family that I was stupid, fat, ugly, and made to feel unworthy of love or affection. They embedded into my seven-year-old head that simple mistakes such as forgetting an item I was told to get at the grocery store is cause for punishment, either with lethal words or the sting of metal belt buckles. It’s like things you only see at the movie, except it was my upbringing.

Verbal abuse lead to low self esteem which lead to promiscuity which lead to becoming a teen mother. I found solace in anyone who told me things I never heard: that I was loved and I was beautiful.  My soul was hungry for attention and I took all that was offered to me. More often than not, these paths took me to even further self-destruction with people who were more than happy to help me extinguish any hope for bright futures.

Until I found my partner. So unlike anyone else who told me they loved me only to hurt me. Because unlike them and unlike me, he is not broken. He is whole and complete and filled with love and gentleness, and luckily, saw in me the person my family broke into pieces, who just wanted some help. He gave me love, support, and two beautiful boys. We’ve nurtured each other, built each other up, and despite the statistics being against us as young parents, he’s managed to finish college, enter a career he enjoys, and now supports me as I go through nursing school as a young mom.

It’s been nine years of his unending encouragement which has fueled my determination, and over powers all my episodes of crying, anger and self-hatred. The doctor says it’s “borderline personality disorder” and requires therapy, not medication. I tell him I’m crazy, and I feel it’s true. He says he loves all of me regardless, and even though at times I don’t believe I’m deserving of any of it, even when I don’t believe I’m worth the pain I cause him, he hugs me until I do.

International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia: LGBTQ People and Mental Health

May 17th is International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. To celebrate, I have written an article about LGBTQ people and mental health.

What factors influence LGBTQ mental health?

Social determinants of health play a large role in determining the physical and mental health of individuals, and this is especially true when we examine the mental health of LGBTQ and other marginalized individuals. Some important factors which lead to positive mental health and well-being include:

  • Social inclusion and freedom from discrimination
  • Income and employment security
  • Access to safe and affordable housing

However, LGBTQ individuals, in particular trans* individuals, face significant barriers when it comes to these determinants of health:

  • LGBTQ individuals experience stigma, prejudice and discrimination at a higher rate than the general population. This is especially true for trans* individuals, as well as individuals with intersectional identities (individuals identifying with more than one marginalized group).
  • Hate crimes motivated by sexual orientation more than doubled between 2007 and 2008, and were the most violent of all hate crimes.
  • An Ontario-based study of trans* people found that 20% had experienced physical or sexual assault due to their identity, and that 34% were subjected to verbal threats or harassment.
  • LGBTQ people are over-represented among low-income Canadians. An Ontario-based study found that 50% of trans* individuals were living on less than $15,000 a year.
  • 20% of homeless youth in Toronto identify as LGBTQ.

Additional factors affecting mental health in LGBTQ people include the ‘coming out’ process, internalized stigma and oppression, gender transition, isolation and alienation, loss of family support, and the impact of HIV/AIDS.

What is the current status of mental health in LGBTQ individuals?

  • Studies have shown that LGBTQ people have higher rates of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive and phobic disorders, self-harm, and substance abuse.
  • LGBTQ people have double the risk for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than non-LGBTQ people.
  • Research suggests that use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances may be 2 to 4 times higher among LGBTQ people than non-LGBTQ people.
  • A Toronto-based study found significantly higher rates of tobacco use among LGBTQ people (36%) than other adults (17%).
  • Studies have shown that approximately 33% of LGB youth have attempted suicide compared to 7% of youth in general.
  • In an Ontario-based study, 77% of trans* respondents had seriously considered suicide and 45% had attempted suicide.

How can we reduce the risk factors and improve mental health in the LGBTQ community?

  • Reduce homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia through education and awareness
  • Create supportive and inclusive workplaces and neighbourhoods
  • Encouragepeople to connect with other LGBTQ individuals to develop a sense of community and belonging
  • Address the social determinants of health such as employment security and affordable housing
  • Eliminate the stigma of mental health as well as the stigma of being LGBTQ

How can health providers play a role in improving LGBTQ mental health?

  • Recognize and acknowledge the impact of internalized stigma and discrimination on mental health
  • Become familiar with the social determinants of health
  • Promote family acceptance of LGBTQ youth and encourage them to connect with LGBTQ communities and organizations
  • Provide equity and inclusivity training to ensure front-line mental health professionals interact with LGBTQ clients without stereotypes or discrimination
  • Understand intersectionality and its relationship to mental health
  • Increase familiarity with resources to support LGBTQ individuals at greatest risk for suicide, particularly youth and trans* individuals.

References and Additional Resources

CMHA: http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/lesbian-gay-bisexual-trans-people-and-mental-health/

Egale Canada: http://egale.ca/backgrounder-lgbtq-youth-suicide/

LGBTQ Mental Health Factsheet: http://lgbtqpn.ca/wp-content/uploads/woocommerce_uploads/2014/08/LGBT%20Mental%20Health.pdf

Rainbow Health Ontario: http://www.rainbowhealthontario.ca/