Breaking the Stigma on Mental Illness

by Angela Fernandez, School Psychologist

Although Mental Health Awareness Month has come to an end, the need for awareness and acceptance of mental illness has not. I encourage you to read on to learn more about mental illness, stigma, and steps you can take to help end the stigma associated with mental illness. 

Let’s first talk about what it means to have a mental illness. According to the American Psychiatric Association (2021), a mental illness is a condition defined by a combination of changes in thought patterns, emotions, and behavior that cause distress and/or dysfunction in social, family, and/or school/work activities. 

But I’m not aware of anyone who has a mental illness, so it must not be THAT common, right? Wrong! Mental illnesses are very common. So far in 2021, 19% of adults in the United States of America are experiencing a mental illness. That is over 47 million Americans (Mental Health America, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive, 2021)! Children are also affected by mental illness. In 2016, 16.5% of American children ages 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder. That is around 7.7 million children (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2021)! Keep in mind that these numbers do not include Substance Abuse Disorders or unreported/undiagnosed mental illnesses. It is likely that there are many individuals who are experiencing a mental illness who have not received a diagnosis or who have not accessed support… This means that mental illnesses are likely under-reported. 

Now let’s talk about stigma. You have probably heard the term before, but what does it mean? According to the American Psychiatric Association (2021), stigma around mental illness can be defined as the negative views or feelings towards individuals with mental illness. These may lead to fear, mistreatment, and the spread of false information or beliefs about individuals with mental illness. Stigma is often caused by a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what it means to have a mental health condition, as well as false portrayals of what it “looks like” by the media. Stigma is typically thought of as coming from others. However, self-stigma also exists. There are negative feelings, ideas, and beliefs that individuals with mental illness may have about their own mental health or condition. Individuals with mental illness may have feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt because of stigma. 

Is this stigma a serious problem? It would take an entire book to touch on all the reasons why stigma around mental illness is a serious problem. One of the biggest reasons is that more than half of individuals living with mental illness do not get support or help for their illness due to their concern of how they might be viewed if they do (Mental Health America, 2021). Cultural values may also impact someone’s decision to seek treatment. Untreated mental illnesses can be debilitating and have the potential to lead to exacerbated symptoms and even suicide. 

How Can You Help? 

  • Educate Yourself and Others.

Stigma often comes from a lack of knowledge or misunderstanding about mental illness. By educating yourself on mental illnesses, you will develop a greater understanding of different conditions, their symptoms, and treatments. You will learn about different resources available. You will also learn how to best support individuals who are living with these conditions. Having this knowledge will help fight any stigma you may have around mental illnesses, whether it be implicit (outside of your immediate awareness) or explicit (within your awareness). Additionally, you will be able to identify false information and beliefs that you may hear being spread. By educating yourself on mental illness, you are becoming more equipped to disrupt this chain of false ideas being spread that contribute to the stigma. If you find yourself in this situation, take the opportunity to share facts. Keep in mind that it is very possible (and likely) that those feeding the stigma may not be doing it with ill intent. They might not even realize they are doing it at all! For this reason, I suggest you share facts in a non-confrontational, non-judgemental manner. 

  • Talk Openly About It.

Talking openly about mental illness helps to make the topic less taboo. Many people feel that they cannot or should not talk about mental health. The more you talk about it, the more it normalizes it. It’s possible that talking with others about your own personal experiences with mental health could make them feel more comfortable to open up, too. You could be the first person that has talked to them about it. Hearing your experiences might help them feel more supported and less alone. You could be the reason someone feels heard or decides to get help!

  • Treat Physical and Mental Health Equally.

Mental health IS just as important as physical health, and it should be treated as such! We live in a society that is comfortable with the idea of taking a day or two off for being physically ill but uncomfortable taking time off to prioritize mental wellbeing. Fortunately, society seems to be moving in the right direction and “mental health days” are becoming more popular/accepted. However, there still seems to be more guilt and shame associated with taking a mental health day than with taking a day off for a physical illness. Learning about the ways mental health and physical health are connected will help to fight those feelings of shame or guilt. Declining mental health is associated with declining physical health and vice versa. Advocate for the importance of your mental health and the mental health of others! No one should feel shame for taking care of their mental health. 

  • Pay Attention to the Language You Use.
Our words have power. Sometimes they have more power than we realize! That is why it is important that we try to be cognizant of our word choices. There are expressions we have heard for so long that, as a result, we don’t naturally think twice about the meanings behind them. A couple of examples include saying something is making you “crazy”, calling the weather “bipolar”, saying that someone is “so OCD” because they are tidy, and saying that something unpleasant makes you “want to kill yourself”. These are just a few examples of hurtful expressions that use mental illnesses in derogatory ways. When reading these examples, you might notice that the common theme in each of them is that mental illnesses are being used to describe something that is viewed negatively. Using language like this adds to the stigma around mental illness. You may find that you use one of these expressions yourself, and it is likely that you have never thought too deeply about it. It is OKAY that you have in the past, forgive yourself. What is important is that you do your best to be mindful of the language you use from here on out. I will admit that I have personally been working to catch myself using “crazy” as a descriptor. It has been a part of my vocabulary for so many years before it was brought to my attention, and as a result, using it has become a habit. When I catch myself using it, I apologize and then correct myself with a different word that is more appropriate (and less hurtful) for what I am trying to express. It may not be easy and you might find yourself slipping up, but what is important is that you are aware and are working to get better! If you hear others using mental illnesses in derogatory ways, bring it to their attention. They might not realize that their words are hurtful or that they are contributing to the stigma. I challenge you to actively listen for these expressions/phrases and to take action when you do. 
I hope that this blog has inspired you to take an active role in breaking the stigma! Millions of people are counting on you to speak up and advocate. 

Spread awareness, spread acceptance, spread facts, and spread love! Together we can create a world that is more accepting and supportive!

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Mental Health Awareness Month: A Whole Different Category

It’s May—the sun is shining, flowers are popping, the pollen is thick, and school is winding down. May also means it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. The cynical side of me thinks, “well geez, do we need a special day or week or month for everything?” I mean September 19th is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. There’s National Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day on January 31st. February is National Pet Dental Health Month. Enough already. 

But then the other part of me thinks, Mental Health Awareness Month is in a whole different category than a “shiver me timbers” or a K-9 molar extraction, it’s serious business. We need it to be every month! Mental health has often been overshadowed by its physical health big-brother. Eat your vegetables. Walk 10,000 steps. Wait did you eat your vegetables? Take some more steps. Lift some weights. Do you see those people on Instagram? Yeah, do your best to look like them. More vegetables! If you do all this, will you be healthy? You might be. Or you might be miserable. 

I think what it comes down to is overall wellness—how do you take care of yourself both physically and mentally so that you are of sound body and mind. And while our culture emphasizes the physical health side of things, the truth is that mental health is just as important. In fact, if you don’t take care of your mental health, it is really hard to take care of your physical health, too!

So what are some quick ways to check in with your mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month? While I may work in the mental health field, at the end of the day, I’m just a regular guy fighting many of the same battles as you are. I’m a dad with kids, and bills, and family stuff. I have worries, fears, and anxieties. I have to manage myself the best I can. Just like we all do. 

Here’s the stuff that works for me. Will it work for you? Maybe. But you might want to come up with your own wellness shortlist. But when you have it, prioritize it. 

  • Getting outside. This is honestly my cure-all. When I’m feeling down, I step outside and look at the trees. I watch the birds and the squirrels and the chipmunks, which seem to be everywhere in my backyard these days. I also look up. Clouds are magical. They remind me that my problems don’t need to feel so big, even when they feel like they are. Want to take it a step further?—google, ‘forest bathing’—it’s a thing.
  • Moving my body. When I am more physically active, I feel better. Now that’s just me, but also, there’s a lot of research to back this up. Homo sapiens weren’t sedentary creatures. Think about it, not all that long ago, we were hunter-gatherers. If we didn’t move, we starved. Then came the great agricultural revolution, we farmed for food. Then industrialization, we worked (often in factories) doing manual labor. Now many of us spend our days either sitting or working in one place all day. Our bodies were made to move. For me, I like to run when I can. Or play soccer, or basketball, or ride my bike, or take a walk. Honestly, whatever I can do to move a little more I try to do it. When I move more, I notice that I feel better. I have more energy, I feel more vital. Also, as you probably know, exercise releases feel-good hormones in your body—namely dopamine and endorphin. You may not have the time or space to take a 30-minute jog. I usually don’t. But I really like the 7-minute work out though. Try it?
  • Internal self-dialogue. I have a constant internal dialogue going on. It’s usually something like this: “That was so stupid, why did you do that? Everyone’s going to notice that you don’t know what you’re doing.” Or “look at what Ms. So-and-So did, she does your job so much better than you. Why don’t you do it like her?” Or “I’m a bad dad, my kids only want their mom to put them to bed.” And then sometimes I have the complete opposite thought, which is that I’m happy that they pick my wife to put them to bed, because that means I get a bigger break from them—ha! And then I start to feel guilty for wanting to spend less time with my kids and it spirals from there. Anyway, my brain is constantly bombarding myself with these negative automatic thoughts. And I have to work to correct them, because they aren’t based in reality. They are based in fear—and I don’t want to live in the fear, I want to live in reality. So I talk myself down. I ask myself to rationalize. I give myself grace. I ask, is it reasonable that I might have this thought? Are there other reasons I’m thinking this? Are there things beyond my control which are leading to this situation? I have found this type of internal conversation to be extremely helpful. It works for me. 
  • Knowing who my people are. I surround myself with the people who make me feel good. Who lift me up. My wife and kids certainly do. I look at them every day and I think how gosh-darned lucky I am. I don’t tell my wife that enough, but there’s no way I could do it without her. I have some amazing friends who I have known since I was just a kid. They don’t live around here, but Zoom has done wonders for our ability to connect. They make me laugh, which always does wonders for how I feel (it might for you as well?). I also have colleagues who support me and believe me even when I don’t believe in myself. It’s invaluable. Find your people, surround yourself with them, cherish them and keep them close. 
All this stuff—I don’t do it half-hazardly. It’s my routine maintenance. I listen to my body and my mind. I notice when I’m starting to feel overwhelmed or anxious, and I take steps to even out my emotions. Nothing to it, right? 
I’m always looking for tools to add to my wellness toolbox and earlier this year I came across something so intriguing I just haven’t been able to let go of it. Last summer in the Journal of Experimental Psychology a group of researchers from the University of South Australia determined that the mere act of smiling may be able trick your brain into feeling more positive—amazing right? Here’s what the article said:
We found that when you force practice smiling, it stimulates the amygdala–the emotional center of the brain–which releases neurotransmitters to encourage an emotionally positive state…this has interesting implications. If we can trick the brain into perceiving stimuli as ‘happy’, then we can potentially use this mechanism to help boost mental health.”
I have tried this, placebo affect or not, it actually seems to work for me. This might be a useful tidbit to try on your own, share with your kids, your spouse, your mother-in-law, your frowny-faced neighbor, etc. With all that’s going on, we need to utilize all the strategies we have to stay well.  
Wishing you all a zestful, joyous, and smile-filled end of the school year. Onward! 
By the by, here’s a handy diagram from the article on how you can force yourself to smile by keeping a pen or pencil in your mouth!

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Mental Health Awareness Month: A Student Persepective

As we wrap up Mental Health Awareness Month, we will hear from a WSFCS student, parent, and member of the Student Services Department. Although the month is almost over, it is important that we continue to increase our awareness and understanding of mental health. Our student voice is a senior at one of our high schools, Lillian. She has great insight and advice on how to support those with mental health challenges.

Although mental illness has an unfortunate stigma attached to it, many people today have been diagnosed with one form or another. What some people don’t recognize is that mental illness is much more common than you might think. In fact, younger Americans diagnosed with mental disorders have increased significantly over the past decade, according to sciencedaily.com. Specifically, depression increased from 2005 to 2017 at 52% in adolescents, although anxiety is often associated with depression, so its numbers continue to rise as well.  

Something to keep in mind is that people can’t control whether or not they have a mental disorder. Most are not caused by any one thing or event; it is typically genetic. Another thing to acknowledge is that mental illnesses affect all walks of life, no matter the race, gender, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic class. 

If you know someone with a mental illness, the best way to support them is to ask just that. Do not blame them; it is not their fault. But really, it is no one person’s fault. The most effective ways to deal with mental illness would be attending therapy and taking prescribed medication, although there are smaller things day to day that can be done as well, differing based on the disorder at hand. Allowing the person struggling with the mental illness to avoid things that trigger them will be largely helpful, not counterproductive, as many assume. Actually, forcing someone to do something triggering will only worsen the situation entirely. The best thing to do is to tailor a support system that works best for the one dealing with the disorder. With help from professionals and a solid support system, those with mental illnesses can go much more easily through life. 

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Autism Awareness and Acceptance

In 1970, the Autism Society first designated April as Autism Awareness month to promote awareness about individuals on the spectrum. This year is significant because as of March 4, 2021, the Autism Society made the shift from Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance. The hope is that this change will empower autistic individuals and their families. To promote both awareness and acceptance, this year’s campaign is “Celebrate Differences.” There are so many wonderful things to celebrate about individuals on the spectrum. One of the best things is that no two people on the spectrum are the same; each one is unique in their own special way. 
Although April is over, we want to continue this acceptance campaign and find out how WSFCS celebrates differences throughout the year. To that end, we surveyed a few of our staff and families to find out and here are some of the responses we got: 

  • Accepting people for who they are and not projecting my expectations or perceptions on them. – School Psychologist

  • Acknowledging differences and accepting people for who they are. – T. Davis, Assistant Principal

  • By letting students know their differences is what makes them special. Never allow anyone to dim your light of your uniqueness. Jazmyn Holland, School Counselor

  • Giving my students a voice by being their advocate every single day!  Hali Hicks, EC teacher Jefferson Elementary 

  • Recognizing, engaging with, and being present with every student I interact with. I believe every child deserves to feel confident and successful.Justin Marckel Assistant Principal

  • Recognizing, embracing, and understanding that each individual student is unique.  I also try and help students build on those unique qualities to help make them stronger and more independent.  Hollie Hutchinson, MTSS Interventionist at Mount Tabor HS

  • Recognizing the unique contributions of individuals, families, cultures and communities.  Mary Todd Allen,  Chief Program Officer for Exceptional Children

  • Embracing the characteristics that make each person unique. – Parent and EC teacher

  • We celebrate differences by building upon the unique strengths of individual students.  We work to help teachers and staff recognize and support the potential in all learners .Jenny Gray and Karen Abbott,  WS/FCS Autism Team

  • Not only being inclusive but being open to different ideas, thoughts and perspectives that are different then mine. We have to work harder at not judging others…we have to remember that all paths are HARD…Gina Pruitt,  Speech Language Pathologist – Mt. Tabor/Wiley/Philo-Hill

  • I celebrate differences by getting a “double-shot of joy” at the most unique coffee shop here in Winston-Salem, Moji’s.   Moji’s isn’t your typical around the corner coffee shop.  It is full of amazing, talented workers with different abilities.  This coffee shop strives to create a pathway of acceptance and opportunity for members of the community with intellectual and developmental disabilities.  Having a cup of coffee from Moji’s, for me, not only celebrates differences but also supports a local business who is dedicated to helping the members of the community find happiness with every cup.       Ms. Jessica L. Gwyn,  EC MAP Resource TA – Walkertown Elementary School

  • Cherishing each unique child and helping them find their own individual “voice” with which to functionally communicate!  Lauren Strickland,   Speech Language Pathologist at Walkertown ES

  • Acknowledging everyone has something to contribute. It’s my job to help them find a way to share their voice.  EC Teacher 

  • Finding my child’s nitch and helping them develop the skills to share it on our community.,  Parent

  • Asking questions and listening to others so that I can learn more about them, Robin Fisher, Parent and School Social Worker. .

  • Getting to know individuals, Instructional Facilitator

  • Teaching children that they are enough, just as they are and that they should be true to themselves.,  School Counselor

  • Noticing, naming, and building off of student’s strengths as opposed to their deficits., School Social Worker

  • Celebrating a child’s interest and proclivities, while encouraging them to engage skills and take up subjects they’re either disinterested in or need to improve in.,  Kevin Garrity,  EC-Teacher Assistant

  • We as a family personally don’t celebrate differences…we celebrate (not literally) times when people overlook the differences and treat our son with Aspergers the way all of us want to be treated. We celebrate when we see him talking in a group and we can tell that he feels accepted. We celebrate by focusing on the “I CAN” attitude, rather than the “I CAN’T” attitude. We celebrate that we are proud to share our experiences as parents of a child on the autism spectrum.  Kristie Touchstone, Parent

  • By embracing different styles of communication (verbal, nonverbal, gestures, signs, pecs, symbols),  Alexa McDonough, Speech Language Pathologist

 

How do you celebrate differences? Please comment and let us know!


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Social Emotional Learning: Flexing your Brain and Body

 

By Guest Blogger, Deci Yahya, SBS Teacher at Bolton Elementary

When I started my first year teaching last year in the SBS classroom, I knew that I wanted to incorporate plenty of social emotional learning into my curriculum. I wanted my students to feel like our class was a safe space where we were a family. At the beginning of the year, we began using the Calm App in our classroom. It provided soft background music and a variety of calming backdrops for our board that we left on while we worked during the day. As I began exploring the app, I found that it had yoga instruction for specific age groups, including school aged children. Most of my students were not familiar with Yoga or Meditation and I wasn’t sure how they would respond.

We tried it out in our seats a couple of times and the students showed a lot of interest so I invested in some yoga mats for the class with some money that was donated to our school. Pretty soon the students were requesting Yoga and meditation as part of our SEL instruction in the morning. They could name the different poses, talk about meditation, and had their own personal favorite videos and activities. I found that this time in the morning where we all got to stretch our minds and bodies together not only helped with emotion regulation, but also helped us grow and bond as the classroom family I had wanted to be. We could celebrate together when someone did a stretch well, we could laugh together when someone got off balance or a pose had a funny name, and we could plan together for how we would tackle more difficult poses and activities.

As a first year teacher, this also provided me with a much needed time during the day to regulate myself. If we were having a particularly hard day, we would all stop and do a short 5 minute meditation together. While it was beneficial to the students, it was also especially helpful for me. I got 5 minutes to get myself together so that I could provide the support that they needed to help them regulate their emotions and complete their assignments. 

Recently teachers have heard a lot about building relationships and incorporating social emotional learning into the classroom. For some it may seem like another task added to the endless to do lists we have as teachers, but it is mutually beneficial for students and teachers to include this in planning and instruction. I notice a difference in my students and myself when we are able to do activities like yoga, zones check ins, and social emotional learning together in the morning. We are able to be honest with each other about where we are emotionally during the day, and the supports we need to help us have a good day. Just like I encourage my students to be open about the zone they are in to help them and I figure out what tools they may need to help them regulate and grow their brains that day, I am open with them about my zone for the day. If I am having a bad morning, I tell them that.

At first they were surprised, but now they chime in with suggestions of tools they like that I can use. We work as a family to understand that we are all humans that have good and bad days and we sometimes need help to help us be the best that we can be. Whether its yoga, having class outside, listening to books on social emotional learning, or just doing a short check in in the morning to assess the climate in the classroom that day, social emotional learning in the classroom has been incredibly helpful for me and my students as I have navigated being a 1st and 2nd year teacher and we have all navigated the pandemic together. I look forward to expanding the SEL activities we do in the classroom and helping myself and my students grow into the best people we can be. 


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Building Hope

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, hope is defined as the following: “to cherish a desire with anticipation.” The pandemic has handed us many losses – death of loved ones, missed milestones/celebrations, and irreplaceable family time. Amidst these losses, it might be difficult to look forward to things.

 
Several months into the pandemic, I found myself in a hopeless state of mind. This new way of living seemed permanent. My fears related to the virus had overthrown any hope I had. I couldn’t see the end to the virus and the isolation. Hopelessness is linked to the deterioration of our physical and mental health. I was having frequent headaches, joint pain, and obsessive/anxious thoughts. Due to these connections and gentle prompts from others, I knew that I had to take intentional steps to adjust my thoughts and perspective.

My first battle was recognizing certain thoughts as negative and hopeless. I have to admit, this part was difficult. It wasn’t something that I was able to do independently. With tender cues from others, I was able to stop and inspect my thoughts and the things I was saying. As I began to really think through the things I was saying to myself (we call this self-talk), I realized that some of my self-talk wasn’t based in reality.

I needed to confront these thoughts before they took total control. I challenged my self-talk by creating a script that I recited to myself whenever the hopeless or anxious thoughts crept into my mind. The script was something I wrote down on my Notes application (on my phone) so it was readily available. This helped me stop the negative thoughts and reframe them into something that was more realistic.

Example:

Thought/Self-Talk :“Because of the virus, I am never going to be able to leave my house again.”

Script: “The virus is real and it is dangerous. However, the isolation I am experiencing now will will protect me. The isolation will not last forever. It is temporary.”

The script is based in reality. It challenges me to determine whether or not my original thought is based in reality and helps me shift my perspective. I now have multiple scripts on my Notes application that I read in various personal and professional situations. A script that is applied to a professional situation might look like this:

Example

Thought/self-talk: “I am a terrible teacher.”
Script: “Teaching during a pandemic is really difficult. The pandemic has presented me with many challenges. I am doing the best that I can this year to help my students learn and make progress.”

These scripts can help you recognize negative/hopeless thoughts, reexamine the thoughts, and redirect them. We call this the 3 R’s strategy. During the past few months, I have been able to reframe my negative thoughts into ideas that are productive, positive, and based in reality. To learn more about creating and writing scripts, click here.

Secondly, I began journaling about my anxious thoughts. Our previous blog post goes in further detail about the specific writing strategies I used and how they were beneficial. Gratitude journaling, documenting things you are thankful for, has also been shown to reduce stress, help individuals change their perspective, and help people become more self-aware. Gratitude journaling doesn’t have to be complicated. You can simply make bulleted points of things that you are thankful for. Research indicates that doing this once to twice a week can boost happiness. Acknowledging the things you are thankful for instantly changes your perspective. I saw this in my personal life. Whenever I felt hopeless, I reviewed my gratitude journal and realized that things really weren’t as grim as they seemed. This also reinforces the idea that my self-talk and automatic thoughts aren’t always the reality.

Thirdly, to specifically challenge my hopeless feelings and thoughts, I had to remind myself of “why.” As Simon Sinek says in his TedTalk, I had to consider “my cause, my purpose, and my belief.” While Sinek’s theory is for leadership and marketing, it’s rooted in human behavior. I had to remind myself of my purposes, my beliefs, and my causes. When compounded with the journaling and scripts, my behavior and thoughts changed. I could see that eventually, the things that were impacting me, would end. I was beginning to see that the virus was temporary. This process wasn’t quick. However, each day, I noticed small and slight changes in my thinking. Over time, my thoughts turned from hopeless to hopeful. I am beginning to “desire with anticipation.”

Check out these resources for other ideas and ways to create hope:

****These techniques and resources mentioned above are not meant to replace researched based therapeutic practices. If you or a loved one is struggling with hopelessness, please seek help from a therapeutic professional.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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Journaling: A Personal Experience

 

I have always been an anxious person. I have the tendency to overanalyze, overthink, and obsess over every little thing. After the pandemic hit, my anxious tendencies shifted to obsessing about safety. Do I have Covid? Is that surface I just touched contaminated with the virus? Will my family be okay? It didn’t take long for these thoughts to totally consume and control my mind. The majority of my thoughts surrounded Covid and my family’s safety. The constant worry was exhausting. How could I be a school psychologist and not have control over these thoughts? How can I help others when I cannot even control my own worry? 

After some gentle prompting from someone else in the helping field, I started to journal. I found that I was instinctively using a technique called stream of consciousness journaling. Stream of consciousness journaling is a writing technique used to narrate and keep track of thoughts. When I cannot shift my obsessive thoughts to something positive, I open my Notes application (on my phone) and begin typing. If you were to look at the things I have written, you will see incomplete thoughts, run-on sentences, misspelled words, and many punctuation errors. My stream of consciousness journaling isn’t tidy, perfect, or poetic. It is just as it sounds, my stream of thoughts transferred to “paper.” 
Having a Type A personality means that I struggle to leave the stream of consciousness in a disorganized mess. After I let my streams sit for a few days, I reopen my app and review my initial thoughts. I take my streams of consciousness, organize them, and then expand upon my initial thoughts. I work to specifically name and identify my feelings. If you are like me, you might need a little bit of help to actually name and pinpoint your true feelings. So I use a chart like this to help me label my feelings: 
Once I identify my true feelings in an organized manner, my mind is able to let go and release the thoughts that once took my mind hostage. While no one reads my journal entries, writing has allowed my brain to release these recurring thoughts. I am also able to process and make sense of things in a way that obsessing over my fears and thoughts doesn’t allow. 
Journaling has been proven to help adults and children manage anxiety, reduce stress, and cope with depression. Personally, writing has become a therapeutic outlet for me. I have been able to identify negative thought patterns and pinpoint my stress triggers. These connections have allowed me to identify potential obsessive thought patterns and use coping strategies 
(deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation) to help stop the cycle. When I go back and look at my original streams of consciousness, I am able to see how much improvement I have made since the beginning of the pandemic. 
Writing about writing is weird but I have seen improvement in my life since I have been journaling. While I still have some worry about my safety, my thoughts related to the pandemic are no longer all consuming. If you think journaling might be helpful to you, check out these resources: 
****Journaling is not meant to replace researched based therapeutic practices. If you or a loved one is struggling to function due to anxiety, please seek help from a therapeutic professional
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Resources for Pandemic Fatigue

This pandemic is getting long!  I am sure that I am not the only one that is feeling this way.  For me, approaching the one-year anniversary of this whole hot mess has brought up a number of feelings.  Back when this all began, no one would have ever predicted the variety of impacts which this would have on all of our lives.  Obviously, disruption to things which have been predictable, such as school and work, have been unsettling.  Financial insecurity, social unrest, political controversy, etc. have also been a part of our universal 2020 experience.  Anyone else want to retire the word “unprecedented?”

As a part of the state movement to return students to in-person learning, alarming statistics have been cited. There has been a 25% increase in mental health emergency room visits for children from 5-12 and a 30 % increase in visits for teenagers between October and December.  40 percent of adults surveyed indicated that they were struggling with their mental health. That being said, it is important for us to know what we can do to take care of ourselves and those around us.  The CDC, HHS, the Ad Council and The White House have collaborated to develop a resource website called The Coping-19 Campaign

According to their website, “It’s ok not to be ok right now.  While each person’s experience is unique, we’re in this together. In partnership with mental health experts, we’ve gathered resources and tools to help find a healthy harmony of body and mind during this uncertain time.”  Included are topics such as Suicide Prevention Resources, Smart Money Tips During Covid19, Challenge Your Creativity, Playlists to address anxiety, stress and sleeplessness, Coping with Isolation, and general Resources.

        

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Navigating Grief and Loss During the Holidays

I think that all of us can agree that 2020 has been a challenging year.  Many things have been difficult and unsettling, from the unrest in our country to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic. Under normal circumstances, the holiday season can be difficult for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. The world may tell us that this season is full of joy, but it may not be that way for those that are grieving. The holidays may be a time that we wish that they could be with us. For many of us, the holidays are a time in which we cherish the time to be together, but this year, that may look different for many people.

Our friends at Trellis Supportive Care (formerly the Hospice and Palliative Care Center) have compiled a number of helpful resources for families to help to navigate the grieving process, especially during this holiday season. In addition, Trellis has a counseling and education center where trained bereavement counselors provide grief counseling free of charge to Forsyth County residents. Currently, sessions are provided through teletherapy. I can tell you from personal experience how kind, compassionate and helpful they are. 

A wonderful counselor I work with has shared a newsletter with me that (was written by her daughter, who is a Mental Health Clinician in California) talks about helpful ways for families to navigate grief and loss during this Holiday season. For me, it really shows how universal the experiences are that we are having right now.  

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The Power of Possibility

Today marks the beginning of National School Psychology Awareness week!  The theme for this year is the “Power of Possibility.”  In the words of the National Association of School Psychologists ‘The word “possibility” implies hope, growth, resilience and renewal.  Possibility suggests that even some things as small as a seed can grow into something magnificent. The word “power” implies that things can and will happen. When we focus on what is possible, we have hope that students will grow, thrive and bloom.’

Although this year has been stressful, unsettling and different than what we were expecting (which I am sure you have noticed unless you have been asleep for the last 8-9 months) there is still the possibility for our students to grow and bloom.  We can encourage them to create, listen, learn, practice, encourage each other, speak up, explore and dream. So, what is a school psychologist?  I have heard it described as an educator who knows about psychology or a psychologist that knows about education.  Today, we are sharing a previous post who describes the role of a school psychologist.  Although the role of a school psychologist looks a bit different in these pandemic times, we are still here and supporting students, staff and families.
What is a School Psychologist?
“I promise no one grows up dreaming of being a school psychologist.  Well, maybe the children of school psychologists do (we actually have a staff member who can vouch for that) but  I know I certainly didn’t.  Something about a car so full of test kits that you can’t fit your groceries in it doesn’t scream “dream job,” but somehow it is. 
 
So what is school psychology?  I would describe school psychology as the perfect marriage between psychology and education.  School psychologists are trained in mental health, child development, learning styles, behavior, and intervention planning.  Sure, we do a lot of assessment, report writing, and paperwork but, believe it or not, all of those things can be fun.  Assessing a child is like putting together a puzzle of how a kid learns best, helping them see their strengths, and identifying where they struggle.  With that in mind, school psychologists assess for a number of academic and behavioral difficulties including learning disabilities, emotional problems, autism spectrum disorder, and intellectual disabilities.
 
While assessment is certainly a large component of the job, school psychologists are trained in skills beyond assessment. School psychologists are key players in intervention planning.  This allows us to provide quick, early help to children who are struggling.  School psychologists can help identify a child’s specific skill deficits in the classroom and consult with school staff and parents about appropriate interventions to be used within the regular education setting.  We assist teachers in implementing these interventions, monitoring the child’s response to intervention, and adjusting the educational goals accordingly. 
 
In addition to academic concerns, school psychologists also work closely with teachers, parents, and staff to support the behavioral and emotional needs of students.  We have specialized training in assessing the function of behaviors in order to prevent and ultimately eliminate the behaviors.
 
School Psychologists also have training in mental health issues.  Like school social workers and school counselors, we assist students by linking school supports and community resources to provide a continuum of mental health care.  Not only do we collaborate with community service providers, school psychologists can also provide counseling services related to interpersonal and family issues that interfere with school performance.  Another growing role and function of the school psychologist, unfortunately, is crisis prevention and management.  School psychologists are integral players in the development of crisis response plans and assessing levels of risk given in threat situations.”
 
The graphic below highlights the varied roles that school psychologists can play within the school environment.
Even in these different and difficult times, we are ready to help.  It’s what we do.

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