Tag Archives: mental health

Photography as a Route to Escape Mental Illness

By Michelle Silver

Mental health disorders are far too common today. Their lifetime prevalence among children under 18 is 46.7% for any mental illness, 21.4% of whom suffer with severe, debilitating disorders that affect life activities. The most common mental disorders for children under 15 are ADHD, mood disorders, and major depression, however, these disorders as well as many others affect roughly 43.7 million adults over the age of 18. Mental illness can leave people confused, lost, and helpless.

In the modern era of technology, a new way to cope with mental illness has emerged. It involves using photography as an escape from the everyday struggles with different mental diagnoses. The Broken Light Collective is an online photo gallery started by a young woman with depression that displays pictures taken but people from all over the world affected by mental illness. The goal of the gallery is to inspire each other, let people know you are never alone, and provide a positive distraction for the tough times. Many people that contribute to the gallery have found the act of photography to be therapeutic and instantly rewarding. Anybody with a mental illness or who helps people with a mental illness is welcome to contribute, regardless of skill level.

This isn’t the first time people have turned to photography to give people a sense of hope for the future. Photovoice is a hands-on photography method where people are sent into their community with a camera. After photos are taken, short narratives are added to each photo, followed by discussion. Photovoice helps participants gain a better understanding of their community and provide a sense of hope for the future. Photovoice is often used in underprivileged communities in order to help empower people to make a change.





A Resiliency Approach to Tackling Mental Health Stigma

By Michelle Silver

Last month (May) was nationally dedicated to mental health awareness, as the prevalence of mental illness has reached nearly 60 million Americans. Approximately 1 in 10 adolescents suffer with depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24 (CDC, 2014). However, of the nearly one million Americans that attempt suicide annually, for whatever reason, only 3.8% succeed. While all aspects of mental health are greatly stigmatized, suicide tends to be the most stigmatized and least discussed.

I recently attended a lecture about the importance of telling personal stories in a compelling way. The point was not to tell stories to get sympathy, but rather to invoke empathy that inspires change. You typically cannot gain the same value from a written document that you can from a personal story. Many of the people who now work in suicide prevention do so because of their prior experiences dealing with the issue.  However, instead of being able to share valuable personal experiences and make relevant comparisons, they are not usually encouraged to do so, because some people fear that may help progress an individual’s suicidal plans.

There is potentially great value in working with suicide survivors, since they know exactly what the experience feels like, what kind of help does and does not work, and where gaps lie in an outsiders’ understanding. Instead of silencing those individuals whose lives do not end in suicide, we must take the necessary steps to change our culture.  We must encourage survivors, once they are ready and feel comfortable, to share their personal stories. Finding somebody you connect with, who understands what you are going through, and who knows how to talk to you may be just what a struggling individual needs.

While some may be skeptical about utilizing suicide survivors, it is important to understand the benefits of working with them and utilizing their expertise.  Not only would they be beneficial for counseling services, but they would also be extremely helpful consults when making efforts to improve treatment programs.  We must get over our irrational societal “fear” of hearing what these people have to say and stop silencing them. It is critical to understand just how valuable these people may be for somebody in need.

Inspired by: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/us/suicide-prevention-sheds-a-longstanding-taboo-talking-about-attempts.html

What Makes Sibling Bullying Acceptable?

By Michelle Silver 

We are always taught that violence against others (peers, partners, the elderly, etc.) is completely unacceptable.  Parents who are violent towards their children are considered to be serious offenders, so how did sibling violence become a tolerated norm?  Parents are often told that sibling rivalries and aggressive behavior are normal and can even be beneficial to help kids develop problem solving and competition skills.  But in fact, sibling name calling, physical fighting, and bullying can have long-term negative effects on a child’s mental health.  Studies have shown that youth who are consistently bullied by their siblings exhibit higher levels of anxiety, depression, and anger.  Victims of sibling bullying are also more likely to experience bullying at school (Skinner & Kowalski, 2013).  The effects sibling bullying can have on the victim can even continue into adulthood and lead to long-term lower levels of self-esteem and self-worth.


Prior to reading this NY Times article, I hadn’t given much thought to sibling bullying.  Most people in my generation consider a little bit of sibling rivalry and playful fighting to be part of normal life and everyday fun.  But how much is too much?  The answer to this question certainly depends on the individual, their mental state, age, and how often and serious the sibling bullying is.  If one sibling is constantly belittling the other, or if parents are unaware or subconsciously choose a favorite child and treat him/her differently, that is when sibling rivalries can have negative effects.


It remains surprising that sibling bullying is so rarely studied despite the fact that it is much more common than peer bullying.  What can we do to increase parental awareness about sibling bullying?  Firstly, parents must be aware of the negative effects that siblings can have on each other in certain circumstances.  The more openly they engage in family conversations and establish what is and isn’t acceptable, the better off the family will be.  Parents must also set positive examples for children by not calling their spouse or children derogatory names or engaging in any form of physical aggression.  They must try as often as possible not to favor one child over the other or take sides in conflicts, but rather serve as the mediator for talking through problems.  Parental monitoring and strong relationships with children will likely contribute to lower levels of sibling bullying, since usually problems occur when parents are not around.  When siblings begin bullying behavior, parents must try to intervene as early as possible, especially for younger siblings.


It is critical that we begin to address the issue of sibling bullying, something that has sadly become both accepted and expected in our society (Skinner & Kowalski, 2013).  Sibling bullying is different from traditional peer bullying, since typically siblings are both the victims and perpetrators in different situations.  While few interventions have targeted sibling bullying, the interpersonal level (families, friends, and social networks) of the socio-ecological model would likely be a good place to start intervening.  Even something as simple as parental workshops about sibling bullying could begin to put this widespread problem on their radar.



Lockdowns, the Norm for Children Living in the 21st Century

By Michelle Silver

Sadly, school shootings have become a topic we discuss all too often.  Gone are the days you could send your children to school on the school bus and know they would be safe for the day.  But what changes have taken place over the past 20 years that have turned innocent children into killers?  Who deserves the blame—the individual, parents, society?  It is easiest to blame the killer for taking the lives of others.  However, perhaps environmental characteristics provide more insight about what has led to the increased number of school shootings over the past two decades.

Schools are places within communities that nearly everybody has a connection to in one way or another.  Overall, they represent academic growth and positive youth development, however, they are also the locations where many people have some of their first negative encounters (Hall & Friedman, 2013).  Schools provide access to many people at one time, which can present an ideal situation for a shooter if he/she wants to harm as many people as possible.

Students that commit school shootings are frequently labeled as troubled individuals that are bullied or social outcasts. Oftentimes they have family and peer relationship problems and mental health issues.  Combine that with a large school setting where they are largely ignored by teachers and students and it can be a recipe for disaster.  Fatal school shootings are more common in urban, predominately minority middle-high schools that are publicly funded.  Only  2 out of 134 school shootings since 1966 took place at private schools (De Apodaca, Brighton, Perkins, Jackson, & Steege, 2012).  Researchers hypothesize this to be the case because of more homogeneity among students in private schools, while public schools tend to bring together a more diverse group.

Despite efforts to increase school safety and a recent $29 million dollar increase from Congress, bringing the total budget to promote school safety up to $140 million dollars, there have been no major decreases in the number of school shootings (Fox News, 2014).  Yet 90% of schools in the US have taken increased security measures since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in 2012, so therefore we are not allocating resources effectively.  Perhaps funds would be more effective if they were used to implement school depression and mental illness screenings for all students, and to develop programs for youth with mental health problems.  All too often mentally unstable individuals get their hands on guns, in which case our prevention efforts fail.  Discussions about firearm possession and usage should also become a routine part of regular physician appointments when talking about other risk behaviors such as drugs and alcohol usage.

While there is no simple answer of who is to blame for the increase in school shootings and no one best way to prevent them, multi-level interventions have great potential.  Due to the increase in individuals with mental health issues slipping through the cracks, our focus must shift to fix the system so that these individuals are identified early, get the help they need, and are not able to get their hands on a gun.

New Texting Crisis Center Hotline: Beneficial or Not?

Is it possible that texting is the new way of helping young adults through tough situations?  Crisis Text Line, a new organization started by Nancy Lublin, receives text messages daily from struggling youth asking for guidance.  The messages zoom through to specialized therapists trained to handle traumatic situations.  Kids are given answers, and more importantly, someone to talk to who will emphasize and use the mode of communication most relevant to their lives. The issues range from divorce to sexual abuse and nothing comes lightly.

On the surface, there’s not a lot to complain about.  Kids need help and if there are people able to quickly reply to their needs, what could  be missing?  I see it as modern society attempting to bridge the gap that so often exists between the mental health resources available in the community and the youth that act too “cool” to reach out and take advantage of them.  I think this will be a great excuse to get some data collected on how youth are reaching out for help.  Are they more comfortable using texting to receive guidance?  Or is this too impersonal?  I think, as of now, my opinion is that this Crisis Center will be a gateway to bigger and better modes of online/convenience therapy.  Texting is great for quick answers, but can it really solve the underlying teenage angst that exists and persists?  Will it create too much of a “casual” atmosphere for serious issues, making them seem less important or down-playing the necessity of actually going in and seeing a therapist?

My question for fellow researchers and critics looking at the new texting crisis center is this: how can we be sure that this method of quick, real-time therapy actually works?  I was perusing their website and found that they have data scientists, engineers, and other very focused individuals working for the organization to make it reliable and trustworthy for the kids using the texting.  But how is success measured?  With a lack of direct contact, although the confidentiality aspect is important and necessary for the mission of the organization, who is managing what is happening to these kids when they stop texting?  Can it even be monitored?

Despite all the questions presented, I believe this is a step in the right direction.  We’ll see where technology takes us in the coming years, but for now, many youth are glad they have a confidential, convenient, modern, place to share their feelings or even just to talk to someone that will respond and will care about how they are doing.  Sometimes, that’s enough.