I’m a firm believer that pets are a fantastic thing for mental health. I have a mini zoo at home; we have three dogs, a rabbit, four guinea pigs and a hamster. In my opinion, pets really are a fantastic form of therapy; without mine, I don’t think I would be here. That’s the truth. They help me manage my bipolar disorder and keep me going in several ways.
1. They give you routine.
Pets give you a routine. They need to be fed, watered, cleaned out, given attention and, if you have dogs, walked at certain times during the day. For me, at least, it keeps me on track.
2. They give you purpose.
They give you something to be responsible for, which gives you a purpose during the day. This is something that even on bad days makes me feel worthy and gives me a reason to get out of bed.
3. They keep you company.
They keep you company so you are never alone. Even if I am isolated, I’m never truly on my own because I have them there.
4. They give you someone to talk to.
It’s a way to get out your thoughts and feelings without judgment because they certainly don’t talk back. If you’re lucky, they’ll act as though they’re listening.
My dogs get me out of the house even on days when I otherwise wouldn’t leave the house at all. They must be walked, and I love them, so that is my motivation. At times being out can start to lift my mood.
For all these reasons and more, pets really are a fantastic form of therapy for me and I’m sure for many others.
“While an individual may have their own [mixed feelings] toward how they think about mental health, it is then intertwined within the views that were being expressed within their household, school, work and so on,” said Shari Fedra, a licensed clinical social worker based in Brooklyn, New York.
But those barriers can be broken down. HuffPost asked several psychologists and mental health care providers who primarily treat patients of color how to have an effective and serious conversation about mental health and why it’s so hard to talk about in the first place. Here’s their advice:
Seeking professional help is OK ― even if it doesn’t seem like it.
June Cao, a New York-based clinical psychologist who specializes in working with Asian-Americans, said that one of her clients shared that silence was the default mode of communication between her family members.
“Her parents told her over and over that she just needed to endure and tough through, then her depression would be gone,” Cao said.
Cao’s patient is part of a larger trend: Asian-Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than whites, according to the American Psychological Association.
Karen Caraballo, a clinical psychologist working with Latino families in Brooklyn, said that because of the significant value placed on family, many members of the Latino community do not seek outside help for mental health problems.
“Latinos are expected to rely on [immediate] family, extended family, church, el curanderoand friends,” Caraballo said. (A curandero is a spiritual guide within a community that people go to when they are sick.) “We are expected to keep our problems within our inner circle.”
Knowing when to see a medical professional for your mental health is important because the longer you go untreated, the more potential consequences could arise, including the worsening of your symptoms.
“The pressure to hide your problems could make you more fearful of your mental illness and cause you to isolate yourself,” Cao said. “Transparency and awareness is probably the most successful way to overcome this fear.”
Assert the importance of conversation.
When dealing with friends or family members who aren’t as open to talking about your experiences or getting professional help, Cao suggested that you should genuinely and assertively request a conversation by using phrases like “I need to speak with you,” “I need your help,” or “Please listen to me before you say anything.”
B. Nilaja Green, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Atlanta, said that you should find a time to speak to your loved ones when they are calm and you can have their full attention.
“Be as transparent with them as possible about what you’re experiencing, how these experiences are impacting you, and why you believe the experiences are serious enough to warrant outside intervention,” Green said.
Use language that your loved one can understand.
When discussing a topic as sensitive as mental health, you want to make sure that you communicate in a way that makes sense for both the person you’re talking to and yourself.
Cao recommended doing this byavoiding general and weighted vocabulary such as “mental disorder” or “abnormal,” as this may reintroduce the feeling of shame associated with these terms. Instead, try starting the conversation by talking about any physical symptoms you may be feeling, such as a loss in appetite or insomnia that will help break the ice.
“You may find it easier to communicate about physical symptoms first, like insomnia and appetite changes, because there is no stigma or shame attached,” Cao said.
It’s also important that you communicate in a tone that makes you sound open to receiving feedback if that is your goal of the conversation.
“We often notice another person’s resistance without being mindful of our own resistances,” Fedra said. “Create an open [atmosphere] within your communication style by being mindful of your words, tone and feelings.”
Religion and mental health support aren’t mutually exclusive.
One of the main reasons mental health usually isn’t openly talked about within the black community is because of the reliance on religious beliefs to solve or fix mental health issues without considering additional supportive resources, Green said.
“I have heard clients share that family members and friends have either undermined them going to treatment and/or referred them back to the church as their most appropriate source for healing and help,” Green explained.
If religion is a major part of your family’s lifestyle, Green said that you could inform your loved ones that there are resources that cater to families with religious backgrounds.
“There are counselors and therapists of varying religious backgrounds who integrate their faith into the work,” Green said. “Even if you do not want to go to a therapist who identifies themselves in a particular way, most therapists have training that allows them to appreciate and respect the religious beliefs of their clients.”
Take advantage of outside resources.
If you are absolutely unable to talk to relatives or friends about the state of your mental health, there are several other options to choose from.
“Seek professional help from a psychologist, psychotherapist, mental health
counselors who speak your language and understand your cultural background,” Cao recommended.
If you believe you’ll have trouble paying for treatment, Cao said you can seek help from hospitals and clinics that offer appointments on a sliding scale adjusted for income. There are also online options and free alternatives that can still be helpful, like support groups. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America created a list of support groups throughout the U.S. that you can filter by group name or support topic.
Bottom line: Own your experiences and know that a living with a mental health condition doesn’t make you “weak.” The more you talk about it, the more people will start to pay attention. Experts agree that open communication can play a vital role in eliminating the shame and stigma surrounding mental health.
“Simply talking about your situation and illness to someone understanding may reduce some of the stress you have,” Cao said. “It can also help your loved ones to understand you better and relieve their concerns about you.”
Previous research into the effects of exercise on mental health have thrown up mixed results, and some studies suggest that lack of activity could lead to poor mental health as well as being a symptom of it.
Exercise is already known to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Adults taking part in the study said they experienced on average 3.4 days of poor mental health each month. For those who were physically active, this reduced to only two days.
Among people who had been diagnosed previously with depression, exercise appeared to have a larger effect, resulting in seven days of poor mental health a month compared with nearly 11 days for those who did no exercise.
How often and for how long people were active was also important.
Being active for 30 to 60 minutes every second day came out as the optimal routine.
But there could be such a thing as doing too much exercise, the study concluded.
Dr Adam Chekroud, study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University, said: “Previously, people have believed that the more exercise you do, the better your mental health, but our study suggests that this is not the case.
“Doing exercise more than 23 times a month, or exercising for longer than 90-minute sessions is associated with worse mental health.”
He said the positive impact of team sports suggested that social sports activities could reduce isolation and be good for resilience, while also reducing depression.
The findings back up government guidelines recommending that people should do 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
But the study has some limitations. It is based on self-reporting, which is not always accurate, and there is no way of measuring physical activity.
Dr Dean Burnett, neuroscientist and honorary research associate, from the school of psychology at Cardiff University, said the link between exercise and mental health had been difficult to pin down but this large study “strongly suggests that there is a definite association between the two”.
“However, the nature of the study means it’s difficult to say more than that with any real certainty,” he said.
Prof Stephen Lawrie, head of psychiatry at the University of Edinburgh, said it indicated that social and “mindful” exercise is particularly good for mental health – but not if it is overdone.
“I suspect we all know people who seem ‘addicted’ to exercise and if this starts to impact on other aspects of life – like foregoing social activities because one has to be up at the crack of dawn to run several miles – it might actually be bad for people,” he added.
There’s a good chance that since summer began, your Instagram feed has been a deluge of beach and pool pictures. With record-tying (and record-smashing) heat waves across the globe, pilgrimages to these precious bodies of cooling water have likely spiked as well.
But of course, these trips are only feasible for those with time to spare. Many folks won’t have the energy, let alone the time, to reach the beach this summer, and for every happy Instagram influencer lounging at the beach, there are 100 workers without paid vacation or adequate days off slogging to and from work in the punishing heat.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the American work week is longer than that of many developed nations, and that margin is growing: a 2015 report found that the average work week for full-time workers in America runs 47 hours, an average increase of an hour and a half from a decade earlier. That leaves little leisure time to keep cool.
That means it’s important to develop ways to stay cool in your work-week routine. Especially given the breakneck pace of the work week, it can seem trivial to worry about beating the heat. But with deaths from heat stroke and dehydration on the rise, it’s more critical than ever to chill out. Here are some simple tips to stay hydrated and healthy without interrupting your daily comings and goings.
BRING A WATER BOTTLE EVERYWHERE
For some, this will be second-nature, and for others, it will be a big ask, but bringing a water bottle with you wherever you roam is an essential during these hot summer months. As you’ve probably heard by now, the U.S. National Research Council suggests eight to ten glasses of water each day, but keeping track of that can be tedious, and summer heat requires that we drink more as our body works harder to regulate our temperature. If you have a water bottle on you at all times, you’re more likely to stay hydrated, which will keep your body and mind functioning at full-tilt. Signs of dehydration include fatigue, muscle cramps, headaches, and lightheadedness, so if you notice these setting in, it’s time to take a hit from the water bottle.
PACK AN ICE PACK
Ice packs are for more than just keeping your lunch and beers cold. They’re also relieving and effective coolants for our bodies on particularly hot days. Placing an ice pack on spots like the back of your neck or the inside of your wrists can be a welcome respite from the heat, especially if you’re stationary and able to keep it resting against your body for a period of time. Leave one in the freezer at home and one in the freezer at work—this will give you some icy peace on your morning commute and as you go about your work day. Look for flexible ice packs that can be fastened against your body.
DRESS FOR THE WEATHER
One of the benefits of many modern work environments is a general relaxation of the stuffy dress codes of yesteryear. This flexibility is especially important during summer months, when extreme heat poses a health threat. No normative dress regulations are worth risking your life over, so make a point of dressing according to the weather: if temperatures are spiking, wear loose, breathable clothing that won’t retain heat or cling to your body. This will help your body regulate your temperature more efficiently, which means you’ll sweat less. Win-win!
When you hear about safety in the workplace, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For many, the topic conjures up lessons on proper machinery use, informed materials handling, protective equipment and sometimes, OSHA and other safety organization videos that sought to teach us the importance of workplace safety by shocking us with visual representations of the tragic accidents that could befall us if we weren’t cautious.
It’s paid off: in the United States, worker deaths per day are down from 38 in 1970 to 14 a day in 2016. Injuries and illnesses have fallen from 10.9 incidents per 100 workers in 1972 to 2.9 per 100 in 2016. Educating workers about not only the importance of safety but their right to refuse unsafe work has helped make workplaces across America so that men and women are able to return home at the end of their day.
And yet, despite significant progress, we often overlook a critical consideration of workplace safety: mental health. Narrowly defining a workplace injury as physical trauma stigmatizes mental health issues and serves to alienate and deny treatment to people that are suffering.
Take Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), for instance. For many of us, the first occupations that come to mind that would have an elevated risk of developing PTSD are military and emergency responder personnel. You wouldn’t be wrong – in a 2017 Canadian study, of the nearly 6,000 emergency workers surveyed, 44.5 per cent screened positive for “clinically significant symptom clusters consistent with one or more mental disorders”. As a baseline, Statistics Canada reports the rate for the general population is 10 per cent.
But there are many other occupations at risk of developing PTSD or experiencing other work-related mental health trauma and illness. Journalists reporting on violence, according to one study, could be nearly as prone to PTSD as soldiers. Many train engineers who witness death on the tracks are also susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses.
Unfortunately, by overlooking the risks of workplace mental trauma and fixating on physical pain, we discount the validity of these workplace injuries and discourage affected workers from coming forward to seek help and receive treatment.
Even more unfortunate is that some workplaces actively attempt to invalidate on-the-job mental health injuries because they fear that employees could abuse the system pretending to be suffering to collecting their paycheques for lesser or no work. This is a gross misconception: building a supportive environment that recognizes job-related mental health injuries can ensure employees are better engaged, satisfied and increase retention while reducing absenteeism and reduced productivity.
If your place of employment doesn’t have a mental health strategy or doesn’t adequately handle the topic of mental health in the workplace, this is a good time to start the conversation: June is National Safety Month. This year, in addition to discussing how everyone can avoid physical accidents, make a note to focus on mental health in your workplace by building or updating your employment’s mental health strategy. By doing so, you could help save lives.
One of the strongest attributes of a modern workplace is a comprehensive and supportive understanding of mental health. Decades earlier, illnesses like depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder would be met in the workplace with disdain and alienation. Generally speaking, those days are past, and most modern businesses are committed to healthy, practical policies on mental health. This approach makes for healthier employees, but it also makes for healthier businesses—when employees feel supported and happy in their workplace, the workplace benefits.
July celebrates a specific and important segment of this issue with Minority Mental Health Month. The goal of the campaign is to highlight the ways that mental illness is compounded within minority groups, and while it seems divisive, it’s a critical distinction that links social inequity with mental illness.
The stats on minority mental health are not new, but they continue to be shockingly disproportionate. According to a 2012 study, 28.3% of all Native Americans dealt with a mental illness, compared to 19.3% of white Americans. Compared with straight youth, LGBTQ+ youth are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide. Suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for young Canadian First Nations people, and suicide rates in Inuit youth are more than 11 times higher than the national average.
There are plenty of reasons for these disparities. Minority communities face bias and discrimination that, in many cases, can restrict or prevent access to care. This discrimination can also come in the form of a wage gap, thereby financially inhibiting individuals’ access to already-costly care. Language barriers and cultural insensitivity, both within and outside of health care settings, account for further alienation from mental health services. The Office of Minority Health notes that these communities also receive lower quality of care. These compounding issues are just a glimpse of the minutiae involved in mental health in marginalized communities.
These barriers to access, regardless of how they manifest, contribute to the stark statistics mentioned earlier. While these issues are largely institutional, and individual change seems implausible, a key first step in mending these gaps is recognizing that they exist. Education and social literacy (that is, understanding the nuanced challenges faced by different social groups, and being able to discern who faces them) are important tools for citizens to develop.
For equitable and humane employers, it’s doubly important to be conscious of these gaps, and while corporate policy regarding these inequities is, at best, on a case-by-case basis at this point, it’s worth considering how you can work not just to compensate for these issues, but to hopefully eradicate them. The old aphorism that ‘It takes a village’ rings true here, and combatting imbalance in mental health in the workplace is an important part of the larger struggle for equality.
June is a month for celebrating. Summer begins in the northern hemisphere on June 21, the days get longer, and the heat gets hotter. But most importantly, June is Pride Month, that most joyous of occasions that celebrates LGBTQ+ folks around the world. It’s an exciting and inclusive month-long party, for sure. But Pride Month is also a critical moment of visibility for a community that’s often obscured, erased, and outright discriminated against by mainstream culture. Though every day of the year should offer an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals feel safe and confident celebrating their identities, Pride is explicitly about constructing this space in the broader culture. Pride is an excellent time to think about how to make your workplace an environment that’s supportive, welcoming, and safe for LGBTQ+ folks. This is certainly not always the case; in 2015, a study found 36% of non-LGBTQ+ Americans were uncomfortable seeing a same-sex couple holding hands. Many states still don’t have laws in place to protect LGBTQ+ individuals from discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, prejudice is alive and well, and it’s important to make sure your workplace is committed to eliminating it. Here are some tips for making sure your office is a place where LGBTQ+ folks can feel comfortable, for Pride Month and beyond.
Showing solidarity can come in many different incarnations. The easiest of these might be wearing a Pride rainbow pin, something visible that shows LGBTQ+ folks in your office, whether they’re out or not, that you’re an individual they can turn to for support. The more coworkers they see supporting them, the better they’ll feel at work. If you want to take things a step further during Pride Month, consider collecting donations for a local organization that benefits and works with your city’s LGBTQ+ community.
Brush Up On Your Knowledge
For many, the ever-evolving nature of the LGBTQ+ acronym is a punchline, but it’s merely reflective of the fluidity and impermanence of gender and sexuality. It is indeed a community that frequently evolves, so consider booking an educational seminar for your staff to stay informed on the community and the issues they face, as well as how best to prepare yourself and your office to be a LGBTQ+ friendly space.
Implement Gender-Neutral Washrooms
It’s important to recognize critical difference in rights afforded to certain people in the LGBTQ+ community that others aren’t privy to. Transgender individuals often face harassment, verbal abuse, and even violence for trying to use the washroom. Binaried washroom facilities are the arena for this bigotry, so consider implementing gender-neutral facilities to erase this anxiety for trans folks in your office.
Develop Policies That Protect LGBTQ+ Individuals
This seems like a no-brainer, but many workplaces have gone only halfway in this fight. In most cases, this means they’ve drawn up policies that protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. But reports show that folks with trans or non-binary gender identities still face blatant discrimination in the workplace. Developing company-wide protocols for eliminating and punishing discrimination and harassment based on gender expression is the next step in making your office a protective environment for LGBTQ+ employees. It’s worth noting that this isn’t a radical idea, but rather is becoming the norm—89% of Fortune 500 companies have implemented policy that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, while 66% of these have policy in place that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.