Challenging Our Negative Self-Talk

In this post, we want to share an empowering strategy taught in WISE’s Honest, Open, Proud program. For more information about HOP, click here. It is called the 5 step strategy for challenging our hurtful self-talk. Hurtful self-talk is a form of internalized stigma or shame, which occurs when we come to believe the negative, limiting, critical things that we have heard elsewhere. To read more about self-stigma, click here. The beauty of this strategy is that it can be applied to negative self-talk that is related to virtually anything – not just our experiences of mental health challenges.

Step 1. The first step requires a degree of mindfulness, as we must first recognize our negative self-talk. We all have degrees of negative self-talk. Harmful self-talk is a limiting belief, an inner voice that is skewed toward the negative. Red flags for negative beliefs may include the words “always,” or “never.” One good way to identify our negative self-talk is to ask ourselves if we would say it to a best friend. For example, if we wouldn’t tell friends they will “always be crazy” because they have mental health challenges, it is a good indicator that it is a hurtful self-belief if we say it to ourselves! While it can be difficult to notice this inner critic, this is the first step towards challenging and conquering these unhelpful beliefs and doubts!

Step 2. The second step is to imagine instead that we have this belief about others. In this step, we create a universal statement and apply it to people in general. This step creates some distance between us and our belief. The key to this step is to take our belief out of an “I” statement and turn it into a “universal statement” by using the word “people.”  For example, if our hurtful self-belief is “I am weak because I need medication,” then we might say “People who need medication are weak.” In this step, the belief already starts to lose a little of its power, as many people are much more compassionate towards other people than they are towards themselves! Some people may already begin to think ‘that sounds untrue when I think about it that way.’ But, since many of our hurtful self-beliefs are very deeply rooted, this step alone is often not sufficient enough to counter our negative belief.

Step 3. Many of our hurtful self-beliefs are self-defeating, irrational, and untrue! This step asks us to engage in reality testing and to gather evidence to find out whether our thoughts are actually true. Ideally, we will identify people we trust and whose opinions we value so that we can seek out their opinions. If we are not comfortable asking people their opinions, we can collect evidence in two additional ways. First, we might seek out evidence in popular media, online, or look for examples from famous people we admire; for example, if we have a belief that people with mental health challenges are unable to recover, we might look for examples of people who have done so.  A second option: we might imagine someone we trust and what they might say regarding our self-belief. The key here is to identify someone (or multiple people) unlikely to validate our hurtful self-belief!

Step 4. And then we ask (or for those using alternate means, then we collect facts and ideas that challenge our belief). For this step, to avoid being too vulnerable, we can ask about our universal belief (step 2), rather than share our self-belief.  Framing questions using the universal question also helps ensure we are more likely to believe people’s answers; then we cannot convince ourselves that they are just being kind. For example, if we believe that we will never have a healthy, long-term relationship because of our challenges with addiction, we would ask our trusted person if they believe people with addictions are capable of having relationships. Ideally, we collect this information by talking to people we trust, as shame tends to break down when we hear people being compassionate about the very things that we have beaten ourselves up about.

Step 5. The final step is to create a realistic counter statement. The key word here is “realistic”! Our counter statement needs to be a statement that is believable so that it can be internalized into our self-concept. We don’t want it to set off our internal lie detectors! This step is sort of like creating a personal mantra, something that we can remind ourselves of whenever our negative self-talk starts to creep up on us.  This counter can also take advantage of the power of “possible” thinking. For example, if our negative self-belief is that “I must be unattractive because I am overweight,” then a neutral (and believable) counter may be “I’d like to lose 10 pounds” or “People my size have friends and lovers.”

Let’s catch ourselves the next time our inner critic speaks up and try this approach to challenge those beliefs. With enough practice, this strategy will help us grow our self-compassion!

To learn more about strategies and activities in the Honest, Open, Proud program, visit: https://wisewisconsin.org/blog/an-introduction-to-honest-open-proud/ or email WISE@WISEWisconsin.org.

Thanks!

Sarah and the Wise Team

How to Talk to Someone in Need of Help

One of the biggest concerns that many who wish to help others face is the difficulty of bringing up and discussing various challenges. Mentioning private or sensitive subject matter may make you—or your family member, friend, or peer—feel awkward, shameful, uncomfortable, or vulnerable. Too often, fear of experiencing these feelings stops us from communicating and, consequently, connecting with others, including those in need of help. For more information by Dr. Brené Brown on the subject of connection as it relates to shame and vulnerability, click here. That said, if a family member, friend, or peer is facing challenges that are affecting their behaviors or thoughts (which we will discuss below), it’s important to acknowledge them, as doing so will help them feel accepted, included, and understood.

One useful tool that WISE created in an effort to make bringing up and discussing the challenges of others easier is the Safe Person Decal which, if displayed, indicates your desire to be a safe person for others by observing the Safe Person Decal 7 Promises, which can be found here.

Here, however, we will be featuring another resource called Seize the Awkward. Their website, which can be found here, includes all of the information below, as well as videos sharing the personal stories of how talking to others, can make a difference.

How do I know if my family member or friend may be going through a hard time?

Family members or friends facing challenges may not want to be around others. If they do, they may seem anxious, distracted, hopeless, or negative. They may experience sudden shifts in behavior or mood, take unnecessary risks, harm themselves physically, or increase alcohol or drug use. It’s important to acknowledge and address these signs if seen, as it may indicate a need for help. Click here to watch a short video on how to know if you should reach out to a family member or friend.

How do I start the conversation?

If you know that a family member, friend, or peer is facing a challenge or if you notice any of the aforementioned signs, find a time to sit down with them in a private location. Start by asking open-ended questions like ‘Are you all good?’, ‘Is everything OK?’, or ‘I’ve noticed you’ve been down lately. What’s going on?’ Help them to talk by avoiding close-ended questions that end in “yes” or “no.”  Click here to watch a short video on how to start a conversation with your family member or friend about their mental health.

What do I do during the conversation?

While you’re having the conversation with your family member or friend, try to relax. Make yourself available to them, and tell them that you are someone they can rely on to listen and support. Tell them that this won’t change your opinion of them and that it’s OK to feel the way they do. Let them lead the conversation, and really listen to what they’re saying. Avoid offering advice or trying to fix their problems. Instead, ask if they’ve seen an expert and encourage them to do so if they haven’t. Click here to watch a short video on how to continue to talk with a family member or friend about their mental health after you’ve asked about how they are feeling.

What do I do next?

The most important thing to do is show your friend that you’re there for them. Be available to get together or talk, and keep checking in. Respect their trust in you by keeping your conversation private unless they or someone else is in danger. In an emergency, call 911 right away or take your family member or friend to the emergency room for assistance.  In a crisis, get immediate support by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s free and completely confidential unless it’s essential to contact emergency services to keep yourself or others safe.

As individuals a part of various communities and groups, it’s important that we consider others, especially those who may otherwise be neglected or overlooked and attempt to assist them in what ways that we can. Simply making ourselves available is the easiest way to connect with others and, potentially, make a meaningful difference in their lives. The recommendations shared here align well with the Safe Person 7 Promises. Order decals indicating your interest in being a safe person for others here.

Thanks!

Lucy, and the WISE team

Mindfulness and Mental Health

At WISE, we talk a lot about the importance of self-care, or the providing of care by you and for you, and its importance in improving your compassion resilience, or CR, and maintaining your overall well-being. Click here to read WISE’s previous post about self-care.

One common form of self-care that is practiced cross-culturally is meditation, or the practice of focusing on a particular activity, object or thought to achieve inner calmness and clarity. There are many types of meditation that vary in skill and technique, including chakra, mantra, yoga, and Zen, among others. A more complete list can be found here. One type that has been highly popularized due to its confirmed health benefits is mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness can be seen in a brief, animated video which can be found here.

According to Mindful, “mindfulness is a natural quality that we all have… When we practice mindfulness, we’re practicing the art of creating space for ourselves — space to think, space to breathe, and space between ourselves and our reactions.” Mindfulness not only sharpens our attention, but also strengthens our feelings of compassion, empathy, and gratitude. This is part of why mindfulness is so helpful in improving and forming a foundation for CR. Just a reminder that CR is the ability to maintain our physical, emotional, and mental well-being while responding compassionately to people who are suffering. Read more about CR here.

Mindfulness not only improves our CR, but also our overall health. If practiced consistently, it can relieve stress, lower blood pressure, reduce chronic pain, and improve sleep. According to Mindful, it can also aid in treating various mental health conditions by promoting “stress reduction, attention and emotion regulation, reduced rumination” and the like. In fact, mindfulness has seen such positive results that it is often combined with a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. Help Guide says that “this development makes…sense since both meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy share the common goal of helping people gain perspective” on harmful and hurtful thoughts.

There are hundreds of mindfulness techniques and ways to become more present in our daily lives. Mindfulness is something we can all develop and benefit from, especially with regular practice. If you’d like to try mindfulness on your own, here is one place to start. These recommendations can also be found on Mindful.

  • Sit down. Choose a position in which you are comfortable and relaxed and in a place that is calm and quiet.
  • Set a time limit. If you’re new to this practice, it’s helpful to choose a short time, such as 3 or 5 minutes. If you’d like, you can also download a free app, such as Headspace or Stop, Breathe, and Think, to serve as a guide for your practice.
    Feel and focus on your breath. Follow the sensation of your breath as it goes in and out of your body.
  • Notice when your mind has strayed to other subjects. When you do, don’t judge yourself for these thoughts or obsess over their content. Acknowledge their existence and then return your attention to your breath.

Another common mindfulness practice is called the body scan, which allows you to focus on one part of your body at a time, heightening your awareness of your body’s sensations. Click on the links below to watch videos created by Elisha Goldstein, a renowned mindfulness author, who will lead you through this exercise.

3 Minute Body Scan

5 Minute Body Scan

10 Minute Body Scan

In summary, mindfulness, and meditation in general, are pervasive techniques that continue to grow in popularity, especially as we look for additional ways to maintain healthy and well-rounded lifestyles that emphasize the importance of mental health alongside physical health.  Many who practice mindfulness find it an incredibly useful tool in improving CR, practicing self-care, and maintaining their overall well-being.  But there is no one way to practice mindfulness. Find what appeals to you and helps you stay focused on the present moment!

Thanks,

Lucy, and the WISE team

Suicide: The Ripple Effect as a Prime Example of Stigma Resistance

In previous posts, we discussed stigma change processes and the use of TLC4 as a planning model for framing stigma change efforts. In both of those posts, we explored the effectiveness of contact-based strategies for decreasing stigma and offering realistic hope to those facing similar challenges.

The success of contact-based strategies exemplifies that stories are powerful! People who advocate, broadcast their stories, and use their personal experiences as a foundation for helping others are exhibiting stigma resistance.  Stigma resistance is an individual’s capacity to counteract both internalized stigma and public stigma. Proactive stigma resistance strategies are intentional, agentic responses that improve self-concept by confronting stigma and/or challenging the negative attitudes and behavior of others. Given that empowerment and stigma resistance go hand in hand, it is no wonder that stigma resistance is strongly and consistently associated with recovery and well-being!

Stigma resistance operates at the personal, peer, and public levels. Let’s take a look at each of these levels using an example from a recent documentary film, Suicide: The Ripple Effect. This film documents the journey of Kevin Hines, who at 19 attempted to take his life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge, and how since then, he as catalyzed a movement to spread messages of hope, recovery, and wellness.

At the personal level, stigma resistance focuses on alleviating internalized stigma and maintaining recovery. In the film, Kevin shares with the audience how he works diligently to cope with his “brain pain” and stay as mentally healthy as possible; he also gives insight into his will to live. He provides an inspirational example of someone who has developed an identity apart from his mental illness (as a husband, survivor, a storyteller, a public speaker, an activist, and a documentary filmmaker) as he vividly describes and exhibits how his survival has given him a new sense of meaning and purpose.

At the peer level, stigma resistance manifests as using one’s experience to help others fight stigma. This type of stigma resistance is exemplified by peer support workers and specialists who model recovery and offer lived examples of the possibility for growth and living a fulfilling, satisfying life. In “The Ripple Effect,” the audience is privy to a bird’s eye view of the many ways in which Kevin’s story has impacted individuals living with mental health challenges (see the story of a local man impacted by Kevin Hines) and the families of those who have lost loved ones to suicide. It is in these interactions with the people touched by Kevin’s story, where it is most evident that sharing one’s personal challenges and recovery can bring hope, healing, and support to others; even those who have experienced the tragedy of suicide. It is also in these interactions with those close to Kevin where we see how loved ones can meaningfully support, encourage and motivate stigma resistance.

At the public level, the film is a powerful example of how stigma resistance can have a ripple effect that inspires others, touches countless lives, and creates positive change. Kevin’s advocacy combines education, sharing his lived experience, and challenging stigma related to mental health and suicide.

If you would like to learn more about Kevin’s story and witness stigma resistance in action, join us for one of the upcoming local showings (in and near Milwaukee) that will take place during Mental Health Awareness Month this May. WISE will be partnering with Prevent Suicide Greater Milwaukee, NAMI Waukesha, MHA, and Waukesha’s Department of Health and Human Services, to provide three showings. Proceeds will support local youth suicide prevention efforts. Thanks to Rogers Behavioral Health for their sponsorship.  Click here to watch the trailer, purchase tickets, and join the resistance!

Thanks,

Sarah, and the WISE team

The Benefit of Emotions in the Workplace

 

As a young adult whose professional experiences have been limited, it never occurred to me to think about the extent that my own emotions are present in the workplace and how they do or don’t affect my work. This goes to show just how much our emotions are permitted in these areas — a.k.a. little to none. That is, until I read an article in Time The Science of Emotions called “Go Ahead, Cry at Work.” This eye-opening article established that, in many cases, employees are often expected to leave their emotions at the door in favor of productivity and profit. Emotions, especially those seen as negative such as anger, confusion, fright, jealousy, or sadness, are often seen as a hindrance and are expected to be left at the door. This is, of course, not true in all fields depending on what your role is as well as how your business treats such topics.

Wham! The recognition of this truth hit me like a ton of bricks. What interested me is both how intolerant and how unrealistic this expectation is. While we may not be conscious of these assumptions, they certainly have the capacity to alter our actions and can create a negative environment that decreases morale and diminishes the potential value of our emotions. After all, experiencing a wide range of emotions is a fundamental part of being human. We know they have the capacity to affect us, often whether we’re conscious of it or not, so it stands to reason that it’s no different in a workplace setting. According to Fast Company, “if we’re happy, relaxed, and focused, we’re more willing to be flexible, collaborative, and look forward to new challenges,” but “when we’re feeling depressed, unappreciated, or stressed… the quality of our work and how we interact with others can suffer.” This recognition was part of our rationale to develop the compassion resilience toolkit. You can find more information about compassion resilience here.

Not only that but blocking or censoring our emotions isn’t healthy and can lead to personal and professional setbacks. If we can’t share our feelings with our peers, we can’t process them appropriately, which may lead to symptoms such as fatigue, feelings of inadequacy, loss of concentration, pessimism, and restlessness. Physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, chest pain, headaches, general aches and pain, high blood pressure, and weight gain or loss, among many others, can also occur.

Thankfully, there are a variety of efforts to enhance the well-being of employees. Benefits that promote physical health, such as health education classes, access and discounted rates to fitness facilities, and policies that promote healthy behaviors such as tobacco-free campuses, abound. However, benefits or practices that promote mental health are, as in many parts of our society, largely absent, thereby undervaluing their importance. Recently, the importance of mental wellness is on the rise, and many benefits, such as creating a mental health benefits package, establishing an employee assistance program, appointing a contact for managing mental health communications, or arranging for mental health education and resources onsite, have been established to provide businesses with a more positive and well-rounded benefits package and work environment. For more ideas from The Balance, click here. Or to see the CDC’s workplace health model recommendation, click here.

Rather than suppress emotions, businesses could attempt to acknowledge, accept, and utilize them, a trait which The Wharton School in Pennsylvania calls emotional intelligence, or EQ, “a skill through which employees (and employers) treat emotions as valuable data in navigating a situation.” According to The Wharton School, there are three different, but equally important types of emotions to be aware of, “all three (of which) can be contagious…and have an impact.”

  • Discrete – Short-lived emotions. Examples: Anger, disgust, joy, shame, surprise.
  • Moods – Longer-lasting feelings that aren’t necessarily tied to a particular cause. Examples: Negative, positive.
  • Dispositional – Personality traits that define a person’s overall approach to life. Examples: Cruel, flexible, greedy, optimistic, passionate.

Skilled employers and employees are adept at recognizing and respecting all of these types. According to Good Therapy, this is especially true for roles with large amounts of interpersonal communication and leaders who are responsible for “creating the type of work environment where each person feels…motivated to succeed.” In order to do so, leaders must “view their team members as individuals with unique abilities, backgrounds, and personalities, rather than as a uniform collective. Effective leaders seek to understand and connect emotionally with their staff…” which allows them to “build mutual trust and respect…”. Employees with high levels of emotional intelligence “may be better able to cooperate with others, manage work-related stress, solve conflicts within workplace relationships, and learn from previous interpersonal mistakes.” To read more from Good Therapy, click here.

It’s clear, then, that there is some benefit to making room for emotions in the workplace and letting people be, well, people. According to Fast Company, the following three tips can help employees and employers alike manage and take advantage of their workplace emotions. Click here to read more from Fast Company.

1.     Encourage a sense of belonging – Feeling connected to others fulfills a basic need for belonging. Relationships anchor people’s commitment to a business, its brand, and its overall purpose. Try to create areas or incorporate practices that encourage connection. Examples include creating welcoming entrances with visible hosting, providing ample and well-equipped spaces for all workers to work individually or in teams, and designing informal areas for socialization, both in person and virtually.

2.     Help people see their worth – It’s natural to want to understand how you impact and contribute to an overall business. When people feel a sense of purpose, it can contribute to building a resilient enterprise based on trust and collaboration. To help cultivate a sense of meaning in the workplace, businesses should create spaces that give people choices and empower them to work alone or together;, include spaces beyond the lobby that reinforce the purpose, history, and culture of the company, and use technology to display real-time information that can help employees feel connected and informed

3.     Encourage engagement by promoting mindfulness – When workers are truly engaged, they are fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus. They have full involvement in the task at hand and a true enjoyment of what they’re doing. However, multitasking and cognitive overload often prohibit people from finding this level of focus. Try to help people fully engage in their work by designing areas that allow workers to control their sensory stimulation, offering places that are calming (through materials, textures, colors, lighting, and views) and creating areas where people can connect with others without distractions.

For many businesses, creating a cultural shift to support emotions can be difficult. In the long run, however, providing employees and employers with a space to feel what they’re feeling without fear of being perceived as incapable or weak will increase workplace morale and, consequently, productivity.

Thanks,

Lucy, and the WISE team

An Introduction to Honest, Open, Proud

 

In February, we discussed the TLC4 Model, which explains how WISE reaches various populations and produces tangible change throughout Wisconsin. Click here to reread that article. In that post, we also said that the best way to reduce stigma is to share our own mental health challenges and story of recovery with others. However, WISE understands that stigma can also make it incredibly difficult to share our stories with people close to us, let alone, publically. This is completely understandable, as sharing our story requires us to be open and vulnerable to others and their opinions.

Honest, Open, Proud, or HOP, is another of WISE’s resources that aids in making strategic, safe decisions related to sharing our story of mental health challenges and recovery. HOP, is a multi-session group-program that is facilitated by trained leaders with lived experiences. HOP was developed by Dr. Patrick Corrigan, the director of the National Consortium of Stigma and Empowerment, or NCSE. HOP was developed through extensive community-based participatory research led by people with lived experience. The program was also tested by the NCSE and has been recognized as an evidence-based program registered with the National Registry of Evidence-Based Programs and Practices of the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration.

In short, HOP seeks to replace harmful and hurtful self-stigma with beliefs of recovery, empowerment, and hope. The goal of HOP is not to convince people to share their stories, but rather to provide a venue among peers by which they might consider the various choices they face related to sharing their stories. HOP assists participants in considering the pros and cons of talking about their experiences, learning various ways to disclose, and writing and telling their story in a way that emphasizes strength, wisdom, and recovery. In an effort to make HOP accessible, all program and training materials are available here.

If you take a look at the program, you’ll see that HOP has several parts. The key concepts for each part of the HOP framework are as follows:

The Story We Tell Ourselves

  • When we recognize a possibility for improving our situation and make a first step towards exploring those options, we begin the path to recovery.
  • On that non-linear path, we gain wisdom about and for our life.
  • How others have defined the challenges and spoken about and treated others who have faced similar challenges will impact how that person understands their experiences and who they are in relation to it. False ideas leading to distorted beliefs and discriminatory behaviors is the definition of stigma.
  • We can identify and change hurtful self-attitudes impacted by such stigma.
  • The process of changing hurtful self-talk involves identifying it, considering how it would apply to others, and countering it with realistic and hopeful self-talk.

Pros and Cons of Sharing our Experiences

  • How we talk about our experiences with others will impact our self-perception and the perception others hold of us. It can also be an opening or a barrier to getting and giving support, and to be known for who we are.
  • We make decisions on a daily basis about if and how we talk about ourselves to others.
  • There are pros and cons to sharing our personal challenges and wisdom gained on the path of recovery. These vary from situation to situation and person to person.
  • Knowing our goal or reason for sharing this personal information in any given situation will guide our decision. Some goals include being understood, being accepted for who we are, receiving an accommodation, offering support to someone else, etc.

Points to Consider About Sharing our Experience

  • There are characteristics that we can look for in another person to help us decide if that person will likely help us to meet our goal once we have opened up to them. We can even test that person out before talking to them to see how they respond generally to people who face similar challenges we have faced.
  • When faced with a decision to share our experience, our options are to share, not to share, or to postpone the decision.

If the Decision is to Share our Experience

  • If someone does not respond in a way that we had hoped, our most powerful, gracious, and helpful response is to let them know what we were hoping to have happened (our reason) and that we had assessed them as someone who could respond in that manner.
  • Sharing our story is most often done in small segments over time. We share more or less of our story based on our goals. We are in control of how much and in what detail we talk about our experiences.
  • If part of our goal in sharing our experiences is to reduce stigma, it is important to share our strengths that we brought to our challenges and those we have discovered in recovery.
  • We are not alone. Others are making decisions about sharing their experiences. Peer support can be very helpful in our recovery journey.

HOP is a great tool that enables participants to consider the many decisions they face related to sharing their stories. Ultimately, it empowers participants with the realization that they have a lot of control over their story of mental health challenges and recovery. If you are interested in learning more about HOP or becoming a HOP facilitator, click here or email WISE@wisewisconsin.org.

Thanks,

Lucy, and the WISE team

Challenging Victim-Blaming

In July, we learned about “public stigma” – the stigma that people express towards others. Click here to read that article. In this post, we will examine one type of public stigma that can have a devastating psychological impact on people who are recovering from abuse.

Victim-blaming is the tendency to view victims as responsible for the violent acts perpetuated against them. Victim-blaming implies the fault for events such as domestic violence, sexual assault and harassment, and other acts of violence lies with the victim rather than the perpetrator. Common negative social reactions include anger, disbelief or skepticism, implicit or explicit blame, and even the refusal of assistance for victims seeking help. Victim blaming also takes many forms and can be quite subtle; for example when a woman who is pickpocketed is chided for her decision to carry a purse.  Any time someone questions what a victim could have done differently, he or she is participating in the culture of victim-blaming.

Simply talking about an abuse experience requires significant vulnerability and bravery! Victim-blaming severely hampers our ability to best support people who have entrusted us to their story. At its core, victim blaming reinforces what abusers have been saying, thus increasing the sense of shame and self-stigma that invariably comes from internalizing some of the emotional and mental injury perpetuated. Being blamed for traumatic experiences can lead to increases in mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The cultural tendency for victim blaming also decreases the likelihood that people will seek help and support due to fear of being further shamed or judged. It even prevents people from reporting crimes; This is true not only in cases of sexual assault but also in cases of domestic abuse or hate crimes.

The challenge to changing and dismantling victim-blaming attitudes lies in the fact that such responses are pervasive, often automatic, and emanate from people’s desire to feel safe themselves. Blaming victims allows us to feel that the world is just, that we have control over what happens to us, and that we can avoid traumatic experiences ourselves. While these attitudes grant us some sense of control over our lives, they also compromise our ability to empathize with others and perpetuate public stigma.

Survivors benefit from being around supportive people who understand the pitfalls of victim-blaming. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies we might use to offer unequivocal support and compassion to survivors who share their stories with us:

·      Acknowledge how incredibly difficult it is to share stories of trauma and abuse. Believe people who choose to share their stories with you. Realize that they are trusting you to treat them and their personal life experiences with respect;

·      The first step is awareness. Be aware of the mental trap of believing that the world is just. It is difficult to accept that sometimes, bad things happen to good people. Recognize the tendency to rationalize suffering, trauma, and misfortune in this way;

·      Survivors sharing their story with us may interpret “why” questions as a guised form of blame. Avoid accusatory questions. Pointing out how the victim could have acted or responded differently is not useful and can be invalidating. Offer compassion by listening to what they have to say without offering interpretations of the event;

·      Since many people attribute part of the blame to themselves, reassure survivors that “it is not your fault;”

·      Language surrounding acts of violence often focus on the victim rather than the perpetrator, which can have the effect of erasing the behavior of the perpetrator. When discussing acts of violence, use active voice to focus attention on the perpetrator (“X hit Mary”). Reframe questions to focus on the perpetrator’s actions (“What did X do next?”).

While these strategies allow us to communicate and offer support to individual survivors, these are also a number of ways we can attempt to challenge the culture of victim-blaming on a more systemic level:

·      Challenge victim-blaming statements when you hear them. People may not realize their attitude is one that makes it seem as if a victim is a fault. Kindly counter their statements and increase awareness in others by challenging statements that condone victim blaming;

·      Remember that the only one at fault for a crime is the perpetrator. When perpetrators or their enablers make excuses, hold them accountable and do not let them rationalize their actions by blaming the victim or minimizing their crime;

·      Jokes normalize victim-blaming by making light of trauma. Challenge jokes about traumatic events by calling it out immediately and explaining why it makes you uncomfortable;

·      Educate your community by collaborating with organizations (e.g., local women’s organizations, domestic violence organizations, rape crisis centers, and victim’s rights organizations) that can teach people the importance of supporting survivors.

For those reading this who may be in need of additional support for survivors of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, or hate crimes, please click here, here, or here to connect to resources.

Thanks,

Sarah, and the WISE team

The TLC4 Model

In December, we discussed several stigma change processes, including protest, education, and contact. Of these, contact with those with lived mental health experience is the most effective. Hearing about the mental health challenges and the recovery efforts of others is the best way to decrease stigma and offer realistic hope to those facing similar challenges. To read more about this, click here. Changing minds isn’t easy and certain approaches are more impactful than others in reversing harmful and hurtful beliefs. WISE uses the TLC4 model to aid us in reaching various populations and producing tangible change. TLC4 stands for the following:

  • Targeted – Where do people experience stigma in your community? Public stigma is often experienced in multiple settings. Stigma change efforts should be targeted to particular groups of people or settings where people have encountered stigma. Stigma change strategies can then be tailored to the particular group or setting being targeted. (e.g. health providers, school staff, faith groups, civic groups, etc.)
  • Local – Stigma reduction works best if designed to meet the unique characteristics of a local area. What works in Madison may not work best in Rhinelander. Tailoring discussions and providing specific tools to meet local needs serves these areas most effectively.
  • Credible – Contact with a peer, or someone who is similar to us in some way, establishes rapport and allows us to see each other’s perspectives more clearly. If we view each other as more alike than different, we can listen and converse while feeling understood and open to the ideas of others. (e.g. parent to parent, nurse to nurse, teen to teen)
  • Continuous – While one conversation with someone who is facing or has faced mental health challenges may make a difference to an individual, it’s not usually enough to make a lasting difference. Reversing stigma is a cultural shift and will take dedication over time by those who are committed to it. It’s also important to note that variety is needed in order to establish a wide and progressive base for change.
  • Change-focused – Determine what you want the targeted group to do differently as a result of your efforts. How will you know that you have made an impact?
  • Contact – If we’ve said it once, we’ll say it again. Contact with those with lived mental health experience is the single best way to reverse self and public stigma and increases inclusion and supportive behavior by and for all.

With that said, if you’re feeling inspired and want to do your part to reverse stigma, here is a list of what you can do right now to make a difference:

  • Seek out those with lived mental health experience. Listen to their story, and support their recovery and resilience. Not sure how to do that? The Seven Promises that go with the Safe Person Decal give a good outline of how to be an effective listener and to offer support. If you feel comfortable, vow to be a safe person for others by displaying the Safe Person Decal. Download or order the Safe Person Decal here.
  • Wear lime green, the color of mental health awareness. Be prepared to speak up about what it means and why you’re wearing it. In an effort to create curiosity and start conversations with others, WISE offers free, lime green bandanas, which can be ordered here.
  • If applicable, consider sharing the story of your own mental health challenges and recovery. If you’re unsure about whether or not you’re ready to disclose your personal experiences, tap into WISE’s resources and go through the HOP training or download the HOP workbook here. HOP, which stands for Honest, Open, Proud, is a program to assist in making strategic disclosure decisions. More information on HOP will be posted on WISE Words soon, so check back again, or, if you can’t wait to get started, read more about HOP here.
  • If you have permission, share the stories of others. Click here to watch short video stories created by one of WISE’s partners, Rogers InHealth. These are excellent resources to watch and share with others.
  • Bring the conversation to your various communities – work, civic, faith, and schools. WISE has several offerings, including the WISE Basics presentation and discussion, HOP training, and consulting with organizations as they design, implement, and evaluate TLC4, that can assist these communities in reducing stigma. To request a training or find out more, please email WISE@wisewisconsin.org.

Employing the tips provided and following the TLC4 Model will give you a better idea of how to end stigma effectively. In our next few posts, we’ll be discussing HOP in more detail. In the meantime, feel free to sign up for the WISE newsletter, attend a WISE meeting to get more involved, or visit our website at https://wisewisconsin.org/.

Thanks,

Lucy, and the WISE team

Logic’s 1-800-273-8255 Making News & Breaking Records

Becase of their unique, stylistic elements, rappers pride themselves on their narratives, which often address current issues and/or popular trends. However, topics related to mental health have been noticeably absent from the rap genre.

That is… until last April when the rapper, singer, and songwriter known as Logic released 1-800-273-8255, a song named after the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) which “thoughtfully and creatively…inspires listeners to seek help and find hope” according to a press release issued by the NSPL. Their website, which you can visit here, “…provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week..” 1-800 was released with the full cooperation of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In a recent press release, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline shared that, on the date of 1-800-273-8255’s release, they received 4,573 calls — the second highest daily call volume in the NSPL’s history. Since, baseline Google searches for the NSPL have increased by 100% and have remained 25% higher than before 1-800 was released. That more people are calling the NSPL attests to the powerful impact that music and entertainers can have on promoting mental health.

On his personal Twitter account, Logic himself even declared that 1-800 is “the most important song I ever wrote.” Big words from a man with three albums, all of which are RIAA certified Gold, and two Grammy nominations, both for 1-800-273-8255, to his name. Logic not only credits his fans for this success, but also for convincing him to tackle such difficult subject matter. After fans commented on the power of his voice, Logic challenged himself to write songs with even more meaning and purpose by asking, “…what could I do if I actually tried to save somebody’s life?” And so 1-800 was born, a product of Logic’s own experiences, past and present, with mental health challenges.

According to CBS, Logic, whose birth name is Sir Robert Bryson Hall II, was raised in a biracial household by an African-American father and a Caucasian mother. The first was incarcerated, and both faced various mental health and substance abuse challenges. Amidst this difficult upbringing, Logic left home at 17 and dropped out of high school in order to “devote himself to music full-time…”

Today, Logic faces his own mental health challenges in a “form of anxiety called derealization disorder.” According to Logic, derealization disorder is “an intense form of anxiety where you feel like you’re…separated and there’s a filter between you and reality…because you’re hyper-analyzing the situations around you…” By Logic’s own admission, his derealization disorder was caused by his refusal to take breaks from his routine to maintain a well-balanced lifestyle. Once he decided to say “no” to certain opportunities and prioritize his own well-being, Logic’s condition greatly improved.

Logic continues to speak openly about his difficulties, both past and present. He realizes that his experiences are not uncommon and uses his talents to connect with others. He realizes that this is not only the best way to decrease the stigma surrounding mental illness, but also a way to encourage those with mental health challenges to seek help, if necessary. Of his motivation to write 1-800-273-8255, he says, “I just wanted them to know that they really weren’t alone. That’s why I write songs like that… I want people to be themselves no matter who they are…” To see Logic’s powerful performance, in which he urges others to join in his movement for mental health advocacy, click here.

In December, Khalid, who collaborated with Logic on 1-800 performed at The Rave/Eagle’s Club in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This event was hosted by KISS FM and sponsored by two of WISE’s partners, Rogers Behavioral Health, or RBH, and Mental Health for American, or MHA. RBH and MHA had a presence at the event and gave approximately 3,500 attendees glow-in-the-dark wristbands, which listed the Safe Person URL on them to promote the Safe Person Decal with the Seven Promises. To read more about the Safe Person Decal, click here. The Safe Person initiative is part of WISE’s work to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness and educate people on how to be supportive of those who may be struggling. To download or order Safe Person decals, click here.

Thanks,

Lucy, and the WISE team

Stigma Change Processes

Back in July, we discussed what stigma is and where it comes from. Click here to read that article again. While this information is useful, the most important thing to know about stigma is that, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t exist. In this post, we’re going to discuss how we can reverse and eliminate stigma. This information is what WISE uses to frame its goals and accomplish its mission to build resilience, inclusion, and hope in Wisconsin’s communities.

Research by CA Ross and EM Goldner indicates that, in any given situation, we can be stigmatizers, stigmatized, or de-stigmatizers. This means we’re either contributing to, receiving, or reversing stigmatizing behaviors. Obviously, we at WISE strive for the latter and encourage others to do the same! Below are common ways that others have attempted, or you can attempt, to reduce or eliminate stigma:

Protest – Protests usually garner a lot of attention thanks to media coverage, which can be positive or negative depending on the nature of the protest. The issue here is to be aware of the unintended consequences of well-intended actions. For instance, protests have the potential to have a rebound effect and actually increase negative stereotypes. For example, when the cast on Duck Dynasty made strong declarations against same-sex marriage, people protested the show, suggesting others no longer watch or purchase items related to the show. Rather than have the intended effect, highlighting the issue without any accompanying support for a change in attitude, actually emboldened those in agreement with the stigma. The result was that ratings and sales increased.

Education – Education is often tried as a way to reverse stereotypes. For instance, we can dispel the myth that people with mental illness are dangerous by teaching people that people with untreated mental illness are only slightly more dangerous, especially when using drugs or alcohol. In fact, compared to people without a mental illness, people with a mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violence. The real question is: does having that additional knowledge actually decrease personal or public stigma? Unfortunately, the answer is often no. More often than not, our opinions stay the same or change in the short term but revert to our previously held stereotype in the long term. Knowledge is not enough to reverse stereotypes that elicit strong emotions such as of fear.

Contact – The preferred way to effectively end stigma is to have meaningful contact with those who are living in recovery with mental health challenges. This is what WISE is all about. Hearing that others have faced mental health challenges, found a path of recovery, and have a satisfying life even if dealing with ongoing challenges, is the best way to decrease stigma and offer realistic hope to aid our own recovery. Resilience is the capacity to succeed and thrive, despite experiencing trauma, mental illness, and/or addiction. Recovery is a process of change through which people work to improve their health and well-being, live a self-directed life, and strive to achieve their full potential. The difference between this approach and education is that exposure to people’s stories and lived experiences are much more emotional and the brain makes deeper connections when emotions are involved along with factual information, which is why talking to those with lived mental health experience is so effective.

In general, stigma change processes can be measured in terms of their effectiveness by the chart below.

Process

Media-Based In-Person
Protest X X
Education XX XX
Contact XXXX XXXXX

This information shows that if you’re really looking to end stigma, put yourself in a position to interact with those who live with mental health challenges and encourage others to do the same. To start right now you, can watch a video or two of people sharing their stories of recovery made by Rogers InHealth, a WISE partner, click here. To be a part of WISE’s ongoing efforts, you can also sign up for the WISE newsletter below for more information or attend a WISE meeting to get more involved.

Thanks,

Lucy, and the WISE team