Changing Mental Health, One Hashtag at a Time

I didn’t wait for rock bottom. I decided to dig my heels in and stop falling.”

When people think of social media, they automatically think a few things – viral posts, scathing celebrity/political gossip, and funny animal videos/gifs. A lesser-known community of people are those who participate in games on Twitter, known as hashtag games. There are tons of hosts and games, seemingly around the clock, mostly managed by Hashtag Roundup. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Amanda, host of the hashtag game #mandasheadgames on Hashtag Roundup.

This game, which she started in 2015, was inspired by the hashtag game she hosted, #theworstpartofdepressionis. “The response I got was incredible,” Amanda said. She explained when hosting that game, she hadn’t expected a response like that, and it prompted the creation of both a new tag game and a partnership – #mandasheadgames with Hashtag Roundup.

Over the past couple years, the game has evolved into something incredibly powerful – a platform for people to start a dialogue on the issues dealt with on a daily basis by someone struggling with mental illness.

Amanda herself has an incredible story. She was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, and dealt with a horrible tragedy not long after that, losing her father to suicide at the age of 10. For years, she was miserable and angry. She didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Finally, after 3 suicide attempts, she found the strength to seek help and was prescribed Prozac.

“When I first got on it [Prozac], it kind of blew my mind. I felt like I was seeing the world for the first time. It was so eye-opening and amazing that I just wanted to tell everybody. I went 30 years thinking there was no hope.”

Our Biggest Contributors to Stigma
When asked what she thought the biggest contributor to stigma today, she responded it was really the notion of perpetuating the mindset of “it’s never going to get better”. A lot of people who struggle and have sought help, either with medication or therapy (and sometimes both) have had really negative experiences that have set them back even further. I, myself, have had those experiences with both medications and therapy. It gets to the point where you kind of ask yourself ‘Wow, can ANYTHING help me at this point?’

This mindset, while sometimes unavoidable, is one of the reasons stigma is still so strong because people tend to share their bad experiences more than their good ones. While talking with Amanda, she mentioned a lot of people seem to want something like an opiate that will have more of an immediate impact on their mental health. The thing it’s important to understand about treating mental illness is that it’s a process – things don’t change immediately. Most antidepressants, for example, could take 4 to 6 weeks to take full effect. It doesn’t help, though, that some people tend to experience positive effects sooner than others.

If you’re one of many who takes about the average time or longer to respond to a medication, you’re not flawed and you’re definitely not doing anything wrong. Our bodies are so incredibly complex, even down to our genes (different genes turning on and off again and creating different proteins at different times), and there is no exact science. It’s a worthwhile trip to take to find what works best for your health – both physical and mental.

When starting a new medication, keep these in mind:

  • Keep your doctor involved
    Your doctor will prescribe you medication they think will ultimately benefit you, based on your medical history and current life circumstances. That’s not to say all doctors are always right, because this part of medicine is not just a science. It’s trial and error.
  • Be honest with yourself
    You know your body and your mind better than anyone else. You’re the only one who will know truly how a medication is impacting you. Pay attention. If you’re forgetful, like me, try other methods (like writing it down).
  • Be patient
    Understand healing from or dealing with anything is a process. It does take time. Be patient with your body.
  • Keep a dialogue going
    Just because you’re seeking treatment doesn’t mean you should stop talking. Talk to your loved ones, your religious leaders, people you trust. Participate in games like #mandasheadgames. Find your community. It will make this journey so much more rewarding than you can even imagine.

More of a Buzzword than an Issue?
Another infamous contributor to stigma is the politicizing of mental health. “It’s become more of a buzzword instead of an issue,” Amanda said. The issue with discussing mental health politically is multi-faceted because the true issues of mental health are never addressed. A lot of people make satirical statements about it, like, as Amanda’s heard, “liberalism is a mental disorder”. When used as a tool for gun reform, it’s often used to deflect. She explained the key thing people need to understand is that mental health is not something that can be regulated.

I asked Amanda if she thought participating in tags (like #mandasheadgames) were a good way to spread awareness and start a dialogue about mental health. “Absolutely,” she responded. “Any way you talk about it helps.” She mentioned sites like Twitter are powerful platforms in that, with one simple tweet/hashtag, you can reach anybody in the world. This is a fantastic way to find your community, especially when you may not feel up to actually talking to people (I’m all too familiar with this one).

When it comes to understanding the reasons people tend not to reach out or seek help for anything mental health related, we talked a lot about control. No one wants to feel out of control, especially in today’s society. We’re constantly scrutinized about everything we have control over – what we eat, what we wear, what we say, what we tweet (and more). So when mental health is mentioned, it’s unsurprising there’s judgment. It’s like stating you have control over everything else – why not this?

“It’s like telling a blind person ‘If you want to see, just open your eyes!”, Amanda told me. And it’s entirely true.

One thing she said during this interview really stuck with me.

This incredibly powerful statement is truly telling of the inner strengths we all have, whether or not we acknowledge them.

“I didn’t wait for rock bottom. I decided to dig my heels in and stop falling.”

She believes this is one of the many reasons those affected tend not to reach out. While there are multitudes of resources at the press of a key/the tap of a screen, many people often use them as a last-ditch effort. See some common reasons explained below:

The “Rock Bottom” Mentality
I’ve been guilty of this myself. You think, ‘Well if it gets worse, I’ll talk to someone.’. You talk yourself out of asking for help because you really don’t think anyone will take you seriously, or that you’re just seeking attention, or even that others have had it way worse (insert many, many other excuses). And it’s true. There’s always someone who will have it worse than you. That is no reason you shouldn’t be able to get the help you deserve as a human being.

Mental illness inherently causes those affected not to want to seek treatment.
This is where loved ones come in. Common mental illnesses, such as depression, will most likely cause a person to not want to ask for help, even when it’s really bad. If someone you know struggles with depression, keep that dialogue open. Make sure they know you’re someone they can trust and who will take them seriously. Be their advocate when they feel they have no one.

Amanda’s advice for those who ask for help is to learn about what you’re going through and what it does to your body. That’s one of the main reasons I started this blog. The internet, as Amanda so accurately explained, is an ever-present source in our lives. The wealth of information at our fingertips is nothing short of amazing.

That being said, I know how hard it is to look up things like depression and read about what it is and how it affects you. Sometimes the sites are hard to find, and they don’t always provide accurate information (while the sites that are accurate read more like a textbook than anything else).

We both agree information about mental health should be easily accessible and understandable to the average person. If there’s any mental health topic you’d like more information on, please do not hesitate to email me! I want to share what you want to know.

I want to close today by creating our very own Mental Health Bill of Rights. This doesn’t just apply to folks in the United States either – this is for literally every person in the world.

MH Bill of Rights

If you need to ask for help, but you’re unsure, scared, or don’t feel safe doing so, please reach out to me. All conversations received through my blog remain entirely confidential.

If you’re on Twitter, please join Amanda, myself, Hashtag Roundup, and many others every Sunday at 9pm PST for #mandasheadgames. Also, follow @shutupamanda and @hashtagroundup for fun around the clock! Have a wonderful week ahead, everyone!

It’s OK Not to Be OK

One of the more positive aspects of our society today is the message of being strong in the face of adversity. We share a worldwide idea that no matter what happens, you can be strong and come out more fearless in the face of tragedies/struggles in your life. While this is an incredibly encouraging state of mind that I do support to an extent, I’m afraid it, in many cases, does more harm than good with regard to our mental health.

This idea – this mindset – is so widespread, well-known, and automatic to us that it truly causes people who may have reached out for help in desperate times to stay quiet, because they’re expected to stay strong. A lot of mental health issues have been overlooked or ignored for this reason.

Broken hearted woman is crying,silhouette,Valentines day conceptThis is why I’m writing today. I want to tell you – whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever has happened in your life- it’s ok not to be ok. It’s ok to ask for help when you need it. It doesn’t make you weak or broken to reach out.

As a matter of fact, it’s completely normal not to feel OK or to feel broken. It’s human nature. It’s your mind and body telling you there’s only so much you can withstand before you need to release it.

I’ve been blessed to meet many people, both online and in person, who have shared their experiences with me on the topic of mental health. One story shared by a friend last night really resonated with me, as I’ve recently gone through something similar. This is her story, names withheld for privacy reasons:

My teenage daughter has been experiencing depression and suicidal thoughts. She wrote me a note on March 7, 2018, asking for help. She’d been hiding her depression and anxiety from us for about a year. Since she told us, we have been active and trying to find her the help she needs. Medications are not a fun experiment during this hormonal phase of her life, but we fight the fight.

Fortunately for her, she doesn’t have to fight alone. 

Reading this made me realize a couple of different things. One, I commended my friend’s parenting because her daughter felt safe enough to be open about what she was struggling with. Now they can make sure she gets the help she needs, and she has the full support of her family behind her. Because of the way this friend handled her daughter being open with her, she will feel comfortable doing that in the future if she needs to.

Another heartbreaking aspect, though, is one of the things that really prompted this post. She had been struggling for a year before feeling able to ask for help. I struggled for 8 years before feeling comfortable enough to be vocal about my struggles with depression and anxiety before asking for help. In both of our cases, once we were vocal and brave enough to be honest, our worlds were opened up to an entirely new way to deal with these mental health issues, and while there is still an element of self-guilt (we should know how to handle this ourselves without asking for help), our families have consistently let us know it’s ok to talk about this.

That being said, I want to take a minute to say it’s definitely normal to want to hold feelings in. In some situations, it’s healthy too. Hold it in if you need to. Have that alone time. Listen to music that makes you feel better. Draw, paint, sing, play hashtag games on Twitter – whatever you normally use to cope. But when it all starts feeling like too much, like you’re caught in a riptide and hit the surface for even one breath – when it feels too heavy to even move – find the strength within to say something. It’s there – believe me.

Even if your saying something is like my friend’s daughter above, who wrote her parents a note explaining what she was feeling. However you’re able to reach out and talk to that trusted someone, I can guarantee you it’s worth it. There is no wrong way to ask someone for help or support.

What I want to resonate with you today are these things.

Honor your limitations.
Instead of adopting the mindset that no matter what happens or what we feel, we always have to have this unwavering strength to save face, let’s change the way you think about it: If you’re able to be honest about how you feel and what you’re struggling with, you’re much more strong than someone trying to hold everything in always to appear strong. The problem with trying to appear strong to everyone else by holding everything in is that we’re all human, and eventually, we will break. Someone I met recently online said it best: honor your limitations.

Be stronger together.
Being truly strong starts with honesty. Honesty with yourself, and honesty with the people you trust and/or a mental health professional. In my experience, it’s usually easier to find someone you trust to talk with first. If you need someone to talk to or don’t know where to start, please contact me. I’m here for you.

Lift each other up.
I’m very familiar with the use of satire, sarcasm, and cynicism we use daily in real life and on social media. It is a fun and quirky way to express your feelings and gain likes/comments/RTs/followers, but this is not the tone we want to use when talking with those we care about.

For no reason today, or without looking for anything in return, say something genuinely kind to someone you care about. Say something kind to a stranger. Lift them up for no reason. In a world filled with communication at the tap of a screen, you’d be amazed how many people crave that kind of personal interaction with others and/or people who feel like they’re fighting the fight alone.

Offer support where it’s needed.
If someone you know comes to you looking for support, listen with purpose. Offer them your support and if you’re not able to help them, look into getting help together. If you know someone who needs help but doesn’t know where to start, or you don’t know how to help them, contact me. I’ll help point you in the right direction.

Check in with a friend just because.
All of us have a friend or two (or more) we know struggles or has seemed off lately. Reach out to them today just to see if everything’s ok. It could be a call, a text, a PM/DM, an email… Just be sincere. Let them know you’re here for them if they ever need to talk and that they’re not alone. You’d be amazed what difference a message/call like that will make in a person’s life.

Instead of giving off this bogus facade that we’re always strong, happy, healthy, funny, and otherwise always OK, let’s honor our limitations – honor ourselves. And let’s show this world what we’re really made of. We are stronger together.