6 Ways I Experienced Depression

True to my vision, Mind Remake Project features real-life experiences about living with mental illness and/or addiction. To date, a handful of guest writers have courageously shared about how they experienced depression or battled with alcoholism. On an even grittier, soul-baring level, an anonymous person, impromptu, shared in a comment about being homeless and addicted to drugs.

Meanwhile, when it comes to my mental health and personal experiences, I’ve disclosed very little. Talking about this isn’t something I shy away from, but I find the subject rarely comes up. Polite exchange in social settings allows for topics limited to the weather, current events, career, physical health, etc. To openly discuss a mental condition is too taboo for the office watering hole or cocktail hour.

In the event that mental illness is mentioned, it brings about a palpable shift, an undercurrent of tension to the room. (I witnessed this phenomenon when I single-handedly [mouthedly?] shut down a lively group conversation; someone asked me how I got the scar on my ankle, and I answered honestly.) In response to the discomfort, some use humor to lighten the mood while others quickly change the topic; some become quiet, shifting nervously, while others exit the conversation.

Meanwhile, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about, say, a colonoscopy, which is a medical procedure involving someone (a doctor, ideally) putting a scope up your butt. This takes place only after you’ve cleared out your bowels, a feat accomplished via pharmaceutically-induced diarrhea.

The above shows how stigma, even in a passive role, persists.

The absurdity of it is that in today’s society:

  • Explosive poops and scope up your butt = okay to talk about
  • Your mental illness = not okay to talk about, absolutely not!

And if someone feels uncomfortable (or fears making others uncomfortable) when talking about their depression experience, imagine how difficult it would be to seek treatment!


Thus far, as this site’s creator (a mental health professional who has struggled with depression and anxiety in the past), I’ve posted only research findings, information/resources related to mental health topics, and guest contributions, but have not shared my own experiences, including the very ones that influenced my career path while fostering empathy. That’s about to change.

I’m writing this post, not to provide resources or clinical tools, but to be transparent with readers about my own mental health and how I experienced depression. Also, this is to take a healthy risk while taking a stand against stigma, and, as always, in the hopes of helping anyone out there feel a little less alone.

How I Experienced Depression: Tears, Poetry, & Pain

In my teens and early 20’s, I experienced depression, including several episodes that were severe. And while nearly two decades separate me from those times, the memories can come back in a rush if, for example, I’m working with a client who is severely depressed, and I recognize the all-too-familiar signs. It attests to how powerful depression is.

This post is not to advise or offer tips for healthy coping; it’s simply to share my experience. The following are some of the ways I experienced depression and how I coped with it:

1. I cried

So much. Nearly every night, I sobbed myself to sleep. Life hurt so, so bad.

I cried during the day too, sometimes in the bathroom at school. Once, I couldn’t stop crying and I had to go home.

I took walks in the rain and wept with the sky. Other times, I would sob in the mirror, and it would make me cry harder because of how ugly I looked, red-faced and nose streaming. My puffy eyelids would be pink and swollen, like two fat earthworms.

Alone, I would sob aloud. When I thought others might be within hearing distance, I’d muffle my cries, hyperventilating into my pillow or a wad of tissues.

Supposedly, the tears produced by emotional pain contain a chemical (oxytocin) not found in the tears that spring from your eyes when you stub your toe or chop up an onion. The idea is that the release of oxytocin brings about a sense of relief and calm.

However, when a person is depressed, the crying persists, but without any sense of relief. My tears only brought headaches and more tears, a faucet I couldn’t shut off.

2. I skipped class

It’s possible my teachers wrote me off as a delinquent. I was regularly late to class, or I would leave early. In college, I sometimes didn’t go at all.

The teachers, professors, and pastors placed in my life to guide and mentor me ascertained that if I was serious about my studies, I would be on time, engage in class, or at least not have so many absences. I was reprimanded as they saw fit. But it’s hard to focus on school when you don’t want to be alive.

My reality was that I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings because I didn’t want to live – I woke up feeling disappointed that I was still alive, dreading the day. What’s more, being around others, attempting to hold it together, was too much to endure. I could barely function, and being surrounded by seemingly happy-go-lucky, oblivious classmates and teachers made it worse.

The pain of depression is all-encompassing and emotionally draining; to have to pretend to be okay on top of it devours whatever’s left. When I could no longer hold together the façade, I escaped.

3. I self-injured

The previously mentioned scar on my ankle is from a burn. I used a cigarette lighter to singe my own flesh. (The scar is still there, but today completely covered with a tattoo.) And my conversation-stopping response? It was just the truth, which was, “I was really depressed when I was younger so I would cut myself and burn myself with lighters.”

I even wrote a poem about self-mutilation (titled ‘Self-Inflicted Relief’) in which I graphically described self-harming, how Gillette became a weapon, and how the pain on the outside matched what was within.

Did it help to self-harm? Yes. It allowed me to express myself as well as punish myself. What’s more, it provided me with a sense of control.

Did I do it for attention or was it a cry for help? Not consciously, but maybe on a subconscious level? Self-harm is counterintuitive to one of our most basic, primitive drives: survival.

To purposefully hurt oneself goes against the self-preservation instinct. Due to this, when self-harm occurs, it means something is very wrong, and some form of ‘attention’ or help (i.e., intervention, treatment, etc.) is needed. In a roundabout way, a person who self-harms is getting their needs met by doing whatever it takes to survive.

4. I wrote

Trapped in a classroom, in my bedroom, or in my own head, alone with my pain, I wrote. In my depression, I journaled and I wrote poetry – lots and lots of poetry. It helped.

I also wrote notes and letters to friends. I wrote about boys and homework or drew peace signs or copied whatever the girls in the grade above me were scrawling on the covers of their composition books. The notes and letters I wrote served as distractions.

What I never wrote about to my friends was how sometimes, I wanted to die, or how I would feel paralyzed, turn bright red, and be irrationally embarrassed every time a teacher called on me in class (which I later learned was social anxiety). Those types of things were my deepest secrets, secrets I guarded with my life.

5. I ate and slept

If my depression had been a starving beast, and all I had to do to appease it was feed it, I would have conquered that monster the day I started college.

My first year at the small, private university I attended, I gained the ‘freshman 15’… each and every month. I worked in the cafeteria and, after serving lunch, I’d make myself a to-go box filled with double (sometimes triple) portions of everything. (Due to my social anxiety, I was never able to face the dining room alone. I would rather have all my fingers cut off – slowly – with a rusty tomato knife, than walk into the vast sea of students eating and socializing.) I’d take my cafeteria carryout back to my dorm room and eat by myself.

What’s more, I had round-the-clock access to junk food: chips, candy bars, milkshakes, etc. Eating was my main (sometimes my only) source of pleasure.

Along with the gluttony and lack of a social life came excessive sleeping. I’d go to bed early (as in, before 9’o’clock) every night and sleep until I had to be up the next morning.

In fact, my sleep habits were such a sure bet, the one night I stayed out past curfew, it went unnoticed by the resident assistant who did bed checks. She must have assumed that the dark lump of pillows on my bed was me because: when I had never not been in bed by 9:00 p.m.? And figuratively, I was a lump – a depressed, food-devouring lump of pillows and pain.

6. I tried to kill myself

What if you know with a certainty that things won’t change? What happens when you’re hopeless, drowning in your misery, and death starts to look more and more appealing? Sometimes, the only way to end the pain is to end yourself.

At least, that’s how I felt when I was severely depressed. That’s what the suicidal mind feels, thinks, and believes. But that isn’t (and wasn’t my) reality. Depression has a way of dimming your vision, making you forget that the world was once bright or that you’re not actually going blind.

For me to see the light, I had to stop viewing darkness as my fate, my friend… a long-term solution to my short-term pain. It never was. I wanted the pain to end, but I didn’t want to die. So, I lived. I learned to endure, and eventually, learned to love my life.

Conclusion

To conclude… depression really f***ing sucks. And it’s so lonely, bearing that heavy burden by yourself. And it gets so old, having to hide the pain all the time.

At least, that was how I experienced depression. It took me too long to learn that while it sucked, I didn’t have to deal with it alone or hide it. I only wish I had known sooner; I would have reached out and found the support and care I needed.

If you can relate to feeling depressed but think you can’t speak up or that no one will understand, you don’t have to go through this alone! Help is out there. It gets better. It will be better, you will feel better, and you will be better… I promise.


Guest Post: How CBT Can Heal Mental Illness

Choosing a therapist is difficult enough, but it becomes perplexing when you see a long list of acronyms following their name. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is one of those acronyms.

CBT, founded on the notion that our ideas create our reality and behavior, may be just what you need, whether you’re seeking assistance for mental health concerns or need a little additional support.

Cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy are two distinct therapy modalities combined in CBT. Cognitive therapy focuses on how ideas and beliefs lead to unfavorable feelings and behaviors. Behavioral therapy emphasizes the causes of behavioral patterns and how they can be changed to impact mood positively.

What is CBT?

CBT is a type of psychotherapy that uses solution-based techniques to heal dysfunctional emotions, ideas, and behaviors. It is helpful for various issues, including depression, anxiety disorders, problems with alcohol and other drugs, general stress, managing one’s anger, marital problems, eating disorders, and severe mental disease.

Establishing new, healthy behavior patterns motivates patients to confront unhelpful and misguided thinking. With CBT, it is hoped that harmful behaviors can be modified and rerouted by rewiring cognitive pathways based on the theory that our ideas and perceptions influence human behavior.

It is essential to highlight that improvements in CBT have been made due to clinical and research-based work. A wealth of scientific evidence supports CBT, demonstrating that the techniques used indeed result in change. CBT is distinct from many other types of psychiatric therapy in this way.

How is CBT practiced?

According to Mary Heekin, a therapist at CBT Denver, “CBT is a practical, results-based, evidence-tested approach. It teaches people how thoughts and actions influence mood and other aspects of mental and physical health. People are given strategies to overcome challenges daily. CBT is very flexible and can benefit people with mental health conditions.”

CBT is based on several fundamental theories, such as:

  • Psychological issues stem from flawed or harmful ways of thinking.
  • Learned undesirable behavioral patterns can evidence psychological problems.
  • People with psychological issues can develop more robust coping mechanisms to help them manage their symptoms and improve their effectiveness.

In CBT, efforts are made to alter thought processes, such as:

  • Recognizing one’s thinking patterns that are problematic and then reevaluating them in the context of reality
  • Improving one’s knowledge of other people’s motivations and behaviors
  • Use problem-solving techniques to deal with challenging circumstances
  • Increasing one’s self-assurance as one grows in confidence

CBT treatment attempts to alter behavioral patterns. Such strategies include:

  • Confronting one’s fears without ignoring
  • Using role-playing to get ready for possibly awkward social interactions
  • Learning how to relax one’s body and mind

Not all CBT will implement each of these techniques. Instead, a collaborative effort between the psychologist and patient/client is used to analyze the issue and develop a treatment plan.

The goal of CBT is to assist people in becoming therapists. Patients and clients are assisted in developing coping skills to learn to alter their thoughts, disturbing emotions, and behavior through activities done both during and outside of sessions.

Instead of focusing on the circumstances that lead to the client’s problems, CBT therapists highlight what is happening in the present. Although some knowledge of one’s past is necessary, the goal is to move forward in time and create more useful coping mechanisms.

What conditions respond well to CBT?

Many mental ailments such as mood, anxiety, eating disorders, insomnia, and substance use disorders respond well to this therapy. While CBT is beneficial for people with mental health concerns, it can help anyone improve their quality of life.

Here are three common mental health disorders that are treated with CBT:

Bipolar disorder

CBT is helpful for bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder, dysthymia, and depression. If you have one of these disorders, it might be beneficial to recognize thought patterns contributing to mood problems and confront them by adopting a more realistic and positive perspective on your environment. In contrast to other treatment modalities, CBT emphasizes collaboration and goal-oriented therapy sessions.

CBT teaches several essential skills that target the core ways bipolar disorder affects you. These include:

  1. Acknowledging the diagnosis. The first step is to understand and admit that your disorder is causing your symptoms. For mental health practitioners, teaching about the condition’s indications, symptoms, causes, and progression is crucial because it may be challenging for individuals with bipolar disorder to accept their diagnosis. Psychoeducation empowers people to receive needed assistance while also realizing they are not alone.
  2. Monitoring overall mood. This is frequently accomplished by keeping a worksheet or notebook between sessions, which is then evaluated with your therapist. On a scale of 0 to 10, where 0 equals “depressed,” 5 equals “feeling OK,” and 10 equals “very irritable or heightened mood,” patients are asked to rate their mood daily. The goal is to increase awareness of mood shifts and triggers.
  3. Restructuring cognitive processes. A patient can fix incorrect thinking patterns by learning to become more conscious of the impact that thoughts have on their mood, how to recognize problematic thoughts, and how to change or correct them. The therapist shows the patient how to analyze their thoughts, seeing errors like ‘all-or-nothing’ thinking and coming up with more reasonable ideas.
  4. Frequently solving problems. This stage teaches you how to recognize a problem, devise potential solutions, choose one, try it out, and assess the results. Problem-solving is typically first introduced in therapy and then practiced in-between sessions. Problems arise in all life areas, including relationships, jobs, and finances. If none of these stressors are addressed, you risk experiencing a lapse more frequently.
  5. Improving your social abilities. Some people living with bipolar disorder struggle socially, making them feel like they aren’t in control of aspects of their lives. You may improve how you manage interpersonal relationships by developing skills like assertiveness.
  6. Making routine changes. Establishing a rhythm to your day through regular, scheduled activity helps to stabilize your mood. Examples include:
    1. Working out in the early afternoon
    2. Maintaining regular sleep and mealtime routines
    3. Scheduling social activities
    4. Performing household duties

Anxiety disorders

Patients who suffer from anxiety disorders benefit from CBT’s attention to thoughts and behaviors. CBT assists patients in experiencing fewer and less intense symptoms of dread, anxiety, and panic, as well as avoiding being controlled by their fear by identifying habitual thought patterns that result in the sense of danger.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for issues with a physical foundation. It is founded on the idea that our negative thought patterns influence or even drive our behaviors and impulses.

CBT professionals use common techniques to help you manage anxiety and change your behavior.

1. Restructuring or reframing of the mind

Examining negative thought patterns is a necessary step in this process. People may frequently:

  • Overgeneralize
  • Believe the worst will occur
  • Give excessive weight to minute details

This thinking could influence human actions and, in some cases, might become a self-fulfilling prediction. The therapist will inquire about one’s mental processes in certain circumstances so one can spot negative patterns.

Once the patient becomes conscious, they can learn how to change them into more optimistic and useful ones.

2. Thought challenging

By using concrete examples from our daily lives, patients may challenge their thoughts and look at something from multiple aspects. Instead of simply accepting their beliefs as the facts or the truth, thought questioning might help people view things more objectively.

A person can attempt to rectify the unhelpful beliefs with more balanced and factual ones by becoming aware of when a cognitive distortion is present in their thinking after receiving education about them.

People with anxiety may find it difficult to reason through the issues. They may experience anxiety but be unable to pinpoint its source. Or they might fear things like social gatherings but not understand why.

3. Behavioral activation

You can plan an activity if anxiety prevents you from doing it by placing it on your calendar. Doing this lets you set up a strategy and stop worrying about it.

For instance, you might plan a meet-up with a friend in the park if you’re worried about your kids’ safety at the same place. The techniques you practice in CBT will inspire you to take action and deal with the situation.

4. Maintaining journals

You can connect with and become aware of your thoughts and feelings via journaling, also known as a thought recorder. It can also facilitate cognitive organization and clarity.

You may list the negative and uplifting thoughts you can replace them with. Your therapist could encourage you to keep a journal of the new abilities and habits you practice outside of therapy sessions.

5. Behavioral research

These are frequently employed when you have devastating thinking, which is when you predict the worst.

Like in a scientific experiment, we make assumptions about the possible activity results and write down what we believe will occur and what we fear may happen.

Discussing your predictions and whether they came true with your therapist may be a good idea. You’ll eventually realize that your worst-case situation is unlikely to occur.

6. Calming methods

Relaxation methods ease tension and improve your ability to think correctly. These, in turn, can assist you in regaining control of a circumstance. These methods could consist of:

  • Activities for deep breathing
  • Progressively relaxing the muscles
  • Meditation

You may apply these techniques whenever you’re anxious because they don’t take much time, like in the checkout line at the grocery store.

OCD

Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder use particular compulsions to escape their distressing obsessive thoughts temporarily. The automatic connection between obsessive thinking and ritualistic compulsive conduct is broken through cognitive behavioral therapy. Additionally, CBT teaches patients not to engage in rituals when they are worried.

The following methods are frequently employed in CBT to assist in treating OCD patients. Along with treatment sessions, calming techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation can be used to reduce anxiety.

Here are some CBT techniques that are commonly used to treat OCD:

1. Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy (ERP)

Exposure and response prevention therapy is the most beneficial CBT technique for treating OCD. The patient is exposed to the anxiety-inducing obsessive thought during this procedure, but they are not permitted to engage in the compulsive action. They must deal with their anxiety until it subsides, and they get numb to it by doing this to avoid the brief relief that comes with the compulsion.

Among the elements of ERP are:

  • In vivo exposure – Sometimes known as “real-life exposure,” involves regularly exposing a subject to feared stimuli for a long time.
  • Imaginal exposure – The mental representation of a feared stimulus and the effects of exposure to the stimuli is known as imaginary exposure.
  • Ritual or response prevention – Avoiding ritualistic behavior after exposure to the feared stimuli is known as ritual or response prevention.
2. Exercises for deep breathing

Exercises focusing on breathing are pretty effective at reducing OCD-related anxiety and can be used during ERP. Deep breathing exercises come in various forms, but they all have the same goal of soothing the body by lowering the breath and pulse rate.

3. Progressive relaxation of the muscles

People can physically contract and relieve tension throughout their bodies via progressive muscle relaxation. Our bodies may activate the fight-or-flight reaction when we are under stress or anxiety, which frequently results in muscle tightness throughout the body. You may easily manage your stress by preventing your body from activating this response.

4. CBT and cognitive restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a method of confronting irrational thoughts or cognitive patterns. This way, patients may replace these patterns with logical, sensible thoughts. The idea is to utilize facts to refute arguments founded on emotional reactions.


By recognizing the beliefs that lead people to turn to food, drugs, or impulsive behavior, these disorders can be treated. CBT teaches patients the skills to recognize the circumstances that could lead to bingeing on substances or acting impulsively, and it also helps to find alternate, healthier ways to cope.

How to find a CBT professional

Finding a competent therapist can be difficult. Though it may seem overwhelming to know where to begin, you can find a counseling practice that is ideal for you. Here are some things to consider when searching for a CBT expert.

Initiate your search

Ask friends and relatives for ideas. Online searches are a further resource for finding a CBT therapist. You can search a database on the Psychology Today website by state. Additionally, you can look through the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists‘ directory.

Identify the characteristics you’re looking for in a therapist

Identifying the kind of therapist you would feel at ease with is helpful. Your ability to regain mental health will depend on how well you get along with your therapist. Ask yourself:

  • Who are you looking for in a therapist?
  • Do you prefer working with a particular gender?
  • Do you want an older or younger therapist?
  • Do you desire a spiritual component to your therapy?

Don’t compromise

It’s vital that you feel at ease with your therapist. It’s acceptable to look for a better match if they aren’t a good fit. Not everyone will be a good fit, and various therapists can address multiple concerns.

Online or in-person consultation

When you visit a therapist in person, you sit on sofas or chairs in their waiting room or office. However, as more therapists see their patients virtually, clinics now provide a more comprehensive range of possibilities for online therapy. You could discover that virtual counseling is more comfortable for you.

Certain businesses, like Online-Therapy, specialize in CBT. In addition to treatment sessions, they may provide you with additional beneficial materials like workbooks and live sessions.

Group or individual therapy

You may opt for CBT in a group therapy setting or individual counseling. In a group therapy session, a facilitator, typically a mental health professional with a license, works with a small group of persons experiencing related problems. The patient can get a one-to-one consultation with the doctor in an individual counseling session. 


Conclusion

It might be challenging to deal with mental illness, but fortunately, there are actions you can take to get through them. CBT is a means to alter your negative thought patterns so that they have a positive impact on how you react to circumstances.


About the Author: Dr. Joann Mundin is a board-certified psychiatrist who has been in practice since 2003. She is a Diplomate with the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and a Fellow with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Currently associated with Mindful Values, she provides assessments and treatment for patients with severe mental illness.

Mental Health in 2021: The Year in Review

According to USA Today, a poll that asked Americans to describe 2021 in one word indicated that the year was overwhelmingly bleak for many. The top five most common responses were:

  1. Awful/terrible/bad/sucked (23%)
  2. Chaos/confusing/turmoil (12%)
  3. Challenging/hard/rough (11%)
  4. Disaster/train wreck/catastrophe (6%)
  5. Okay/good (6%)

How were such dismal views reflected in mental health in 2021? Who was impacted the most and why? What helped Americans cope?


This article reviews American mental health in 2021 – a rundown of last year’s notable research findings, statistics, and events.

Mental Health in 2021: Statistics & News

According to a 2021 Mental Health America report, the top-ranking states for overall mental wellbeing (based on rates of mental illness and access to care) are:

  1. 5) Connecticut
  2. 4) Pennsylvania
  3. 3) New Jersey
  4. 2) Vermont
  5. 1) Massachusetts

The lowest ranking states are: Wyoming, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, and Nevada (with Nevada at the bottom).


January 5 Ketamine shows promise as a treatment for chronic PTSD by reducing symptom severity. Click here to read the study abstract. (Source: American Journal of Psychiatry)

April 1 – The Standard reports that 49% of American workers struggled with alcohol and substance use in 2020. Read the full article.

April 6 – Research indicates mental health complications in survivors of COVID-19 persist up to 6 months and beyond post-infection. (Source: Lancet Psychiatry)

April 15 – Psilocybin, the hallucinogenic chemical in ‘magic mushrooms,’ is found to be as effective for treating depression as a common antidepressant. (Source: The New England Journal of Medicine)

April 22 – 3 in 10 healthcare workers consider leaving the profession due to pandemic-related burnout. (Source: The Washington Post)

July 13 – Over half (53%) of United States public health workers report symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or suicidal thoughts since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic according to the CDC.

July 23 – Mental health workers are deployed to provide mental health support to first responders, the search and rescue teams, who worked for weeks to find victims after the condo collapse in Surfside, FL that killed nearly 100 people.

November 1 – Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive therapy, dies at 100. (Source: USA Today)

December 13 – Digital (computer and smartphone-based) treatments for mental illness may effectively reduce symptoms of depression. (Source: American Psychological Association)

December 17 – Rates of depression and anxiety increased globally during the pandemic. (Source: Psychiatry Advisor)

December 21 – The American Psychiatric Association endorses the Well Beings Mental Health Language Guide intended to address stigma around mental illness and provide readers with person-centered language. Read the news release.


Suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals between the ages of 10 and 34 in the United States. (CDC)

A 2021 report published by Mental Health America indicates that most American employees are experiencing burnout. Furthermore, employees are not receiving the support they need to manage stress; workplace stress has a significant impact on mental health. Download the full report here.

At the end of 2020, 1 in 5 adolescents as well as 1 in 5 adults reported that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. (Source: 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health)

Addiction & Recovery

The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that nearly 60% of Americans use drugs and/or alcohol with over 20% of the population reporting illicit drug use.


January 1 – A study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence estimates that the opioid crisis cost the economy over $1 trillion in the United States in 2017.

February 28 – According to a growing body of research, Topamax continues to show promise as a pharmacological treatment for alcohol use disorder. (Source: Neuropsychopharmacology)

June 12 – The anti-inflammatory drug ibudilast shows promise as a treatment for alcohol use disorder. A small study found that it decreased heavy drinking. (Source: Translational Psychiatry)

June 25 – Research suggests that life achievements are linked to sustained recovery. (Source: Journal of the Society of Psychologists in Addictive Behaviors)

July 5 – A pilot study indicates that high-dose gabapentin therapy may reduce harmful alcohol consumption. (Source: Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research)

July 21 – Wearable devices measure and track stress reactions to help to prevent relapse. Read the article from Washington State University Insider here.

August 3 – Alcohol consumption is linked to nearly 750,000 cancer cases in 2020. (Source: CBS News)

September 27 – Yale researchers predict that graphic photos showing the severe consequences of smoking, which will be printed on all cigarette packages in the U.S. beginning October 2022, will save an estimated 539,000 lives. (Source: Yale News)

November 30 – Researchers explore nutritional ketosis as a treatment for alcohol use disorder. (Source: Frontiers in Psychiatry)

December 5 – TMS therapy reduces cravings and heavy drinking days. (Source: Biological Psychiatry)

December 17 – Researchers predict that a one-year increase in alcohol consumption in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic will cause 8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040. (Source: Massachusetts General Hospital)

Overdose Statistics & News

In 2019 there were 70,630 primarily opioid-involved drug overdose deaths in the United States. 72.9% of opioid-involved overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids. (Source: CDC)

The states with the highest overdose death rates are:

  • 5) Pennsylvania
  • 4) Maryland
  • 3) Ohio
  • 2) Delaware
  • 1) West Virginia

February 3 – Researchers develop experimental vaccines to block opioid-induced respiratory depression, the primary cause of overdose death. (Source: Scripps Research Institute)

February 17 – Demi Lovato reveals that she suffered from three strokes and a heart attack in 2018 as a result of a drug overdose, leaving her with permanent brain damage. (Source: ABC News)

March 4 – A 75-year old New York doctor who saw patients in a hotel parking lot is charged with murder for 5 opioid deaths after writing massive quantities of prescriptions for opioid drugs. (Source: CSB News)

April 2 – The CDC reports that overdose deaths were at their highest in 2020, a 38.4% increase compared to the previous 12-year period.

September 1 – Purdue Pharma, the maker of the highly addictive painkiller OxyContin, is dissolved in a bankruptcy settlement that requires the company’s owners, members of the Sackler family, to pay billions of dollars to address the impact of the opioid epidemic. (Source: New York Times)

September 9 – Disparities in opioid overdose deaths for Black people continue to worsen. Read the press release. (Source: National Institutes of Health-NIH)

September 22 – An NIH report indicates that methamphetamine-involved overdose deaths nearly tripled between 2015-2019. Read the press release.

October 28 – The American Medical Association commends the Biden-Harris Administration “for responding to the spike in drug overdoses with an evidence-based, humane approach to increasing access to care for patients with a substance use disorder and harm reduction services.”

November 22 – Researchers develop a wearable naloxone injector device to detect and reverse opioid overdose. Read the news release from UW Medicine.

December 1 – Fentanyl strips prevent overdose and save lives. (Source: MSN News)

December 7 – The first safe injection sites in America open in New York in Washington Heights and East Harlem. (Source: Psychiatry Advisor)

December 9 – The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York announces it is dropping the name of the philanthropic Sackler family, whose name is linked to America’s opioid epidemic. (Source: NBC News)

Discrimination & Reform

January 18 – The American Psychiatric Association issues a public apology for their past discriminatory practices. Read the news release here.

February 25 – The House passes the Equality Act, which “prohibits discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in areas including public accommodations and facilities, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit, and the jury system.”

March 3 – The House passes the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021.

March 10 – The Emmett Till and Will Brown Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2021, a bill that establishes lynching as a federal hate crime, is introduced in the House.

April 8 – The CDC director declares racism a serious public health threat. (Read the media statement here.) The American Medical Association releases a response statement applauding the CDC.

May 1 – A study indicates there are significant increases in anxiety among Black emerging adults from exposure to police violence. (Source: American Psychiatric Association)

June 1 – Research establishes a link between substance misuse and transgender-related discrimination.

July 30 – Research suggests that a 2017 executive order banning foreign nationals from select Muslim-majority countries from traveling to the United States harmed the health of Muslim Americans. (Source: Yale News)

August 17 – Researchers find persistent racial and ethnic health disparities in the United States. (Source: JAMA)

October 29 – The American Psychological Association issues an apology for its longstanding contributions to systemic racism.

December 1 – A study indicates that youth who face discrimination are at a greater risk for developing a mental disorder and are twice as likely to experience severe psychological distress compared to youth who don’t experience discrimination. (Source: Pediatrics)

Mental Health in 2021 Legislation

In February, the Mental Health Justice Act of 2021 to create a grant program for training and dispatching mental health professionals (instead of law enforcement officers) to respond to psychiatric emergencies is introduced.

The House passes the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization Act of 2021 in March.

In May, the House passes:

Also in May, the Senate passes the Improving Mental Health Access for Students Act to increase suicide prevention resources for students.

On October 26th, the House passes the Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act of 2021 to expand services for victims of domestic violence.

The infrastructure act signed to law by the president in November mandates automakers to install anti-drunk driving technology systems in all new cars.

In 2021, recreational marijuana use is legalized in New York, Virginia, New Mexico, and Connecticut. While marijuana is still federally controlled, it is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia and medically allowed in 36 states. Read more about marijuana legalization in the United States here. (Source: U.S. News)

The States Reform Act to end federal prohibition of cannabis is introduced in November, and a Florida representative submits a legislative proposal to decriminalize all illegal drugs.


Mental Health in 2021: Conclusion

2021 – the second year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic – brought with it more distress, loss, and hardship, with no end in sight as COVID deaths in 2021 surpassed those in 2020. While the year delivered a few legislative victories and promising research findings in mental health in 2021, overall, it wasn’t a great one.

Data suggests that mental health in 2021 suffered, with increased rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use. Healthcare workers experienced severe burnout. Overdose deaths skyrocketed while thousands of lawsuits were filed against opioid makers such as Purdue Pharma who started and sustained the opioid crisis in America, profiting off the suffering and tragedy of addiction. (See the Opioid Settlement Tracker to learn more about opioid settlements and how the money is spent.)

Meanwhile, a wave of civil unrest in America, triggered by the murder of George Floyd in 2020, continued into 2021 with protests, rioting, and violence. While the movement gained strength in 2020, in 2021, many Americans looked away. At the same time, there was a political push for a more “patriotic” retelling of history – to limit what schools could teach about slavery. However, steps in the right direction were taken by both the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association when they issued public apologies for the harm they caused.

Although drug overdose deaths increased, there were significant strides taken in 2021 to win the “war on drugs” – by ending it with an awareness that this is not a war; it’s a treatable illness. 2021 saw the establishment of evidence-based, harm-reduction measures as well as legislation to decriminalize and legalize drugs. Meanwhile, medical research in 2021 revealed promising treatments to heal both addiction and mental illness.

To conclude, last year – in general – sucked. Despite this, it wasn’t entirely bad in mental health in 2021. And, 2022 could be the light at the end of the tunnel! In fact, the same poll that suggested 2021 was a “trainwreck” of a year found a majority of Americans are still hopeful for 2022.

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

mental health in 2021

50 Helpful YouTube Videos for Psychoeducation

A collection of 50+ short videos on mental health topics for psychoeducational use with clients, students, or for self-help.

For additional video resources, see 18 Best TED Talks for Addiction & Recovery.



YouTube Videos for Psychoeducation

The Brain


Depression, Bipolar Disorder, & Anxiety


Emotions


Grief


Meditation & Mindfulness


Relationships & Communication



Self-Esteem & Self-Compassion


Stress


Substance Use & Addiction


Trauma & PTSD


videos for psychoeducation

Interview: Substance Abuse Counseling

An interview with JS, a substance abuse counselor who works with people from all walks of life.

JS is a certified substance abuse counselor who works at a residential treatment center in northern Virginia. The following article is about his work, thoughts on relapse, what it’s like to lose a client, stigma, and valuable advice for anyone considering a career in addiction counseling.

substance abuse

Interview: “They Are Just People”

JS works at an intermediate-length residential center for adults with substance use and mental health disorders. The clients live in shared dorms and adhere to a daily schedule that includes counseling, psychoeducation, groups, 12-step meetings, and medication therapy.

Once a client successfully completes the inpatient portion of treatment, they transition to “re-entry.” In re-entry, clients reside in sober living homes and receive continuing care services. They are able to look for employment, start working, and “re-enter” the larger community. JS provides counseling and support services for this component.

Inspired to help

JS has personal experience with addiction. “I am a person in recovery… About a decade ago I found myself in a very dark place and had to get help… I met a substance abuse counselor [who] changed my life. He educated me, engaged me, and challenged me. He was instrumental in turning my life around.”

With his counselor’s encouragement and support, JS made the decision to get back on track. He realized that he wanted to help others who struggled. “My own experiences with addiction allow me to have an incredibly deep empathy for the clients I serve and the fulfillment I receive in return is unreal.”

“Addiction does not discriminate”

JS works with people from all walks of life. He’s worked with individuals who are homeless to young fathers to successful businessmen; from people in their teens to adults in their late 80’s. “There is no age, sex, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, occupation, or economic class that is safe from addiction.”

As for the substances abused, the list is never ending, but JS regularly sees people addicted to alcohol, opiates (including heroin), cocaine, methamphetamine, and PCP. Many of the clients he counsels also have mental illness such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder.

No typical days

According to JS, “typical” days don’t exist where he works. “There is no way to describe a typical day in this field. One day I could be [providing therapy] and another day could involve a trip to the emergency room or helping out with chores… I never know what to expect and I never get bored.”

Effective treatment planning is important for substance abuse counselors; JS meets with his clients to develop an individualized service plan. Clients come up with their own goals, and JS supplies interventions to help them achieve their goals over the next couple of months.

According to JS, client goals vary, ranging from attending 12-meetings to obtaining a driver’s license to enrolling in school; basically, a goal can be any life skill a person may need for success. Corresponding interventions could include providing bus tokens to get to AA meetings, linking to driving school, and helping to fill out college applications and apply for financial aid.

JS explained that adults who have been incarcerated or dealing drugs for a living miss out on major milestones such as learning to drive, attending college, renting an apartment, etc. Furthermore, basic skills that many of us take for granted, such as filling out an online form or depositing a check can be overwhelming for someone newly in recovery who never learned how.

JS meets with his clients at least once per week for therapy sessions. I asked what comes up in a typical session and his response was “anything and everything.” Sessions may involve reviewing goals, learning coping skills, poop jokes (his clients are all men), or processing childhood trauma.

Substance abuse and relapse

“Not good” was JS’s response when I asked what the success rate was for someone who completes re-entry. He explained that this is a reflection of the general rates of recovery in substance abuse, which are low. “It can be disheartening, working with someone for months and when they leave, they relapse in less than a week.”

JS explained that while relapse is a deterrent to the field for some counselors, he sees it differently. “For me, it will never be a deterrent. My battle with addiction was not easy, nor was it accomplished in a single attempt. Relapse is a part of my story. I would not be here if people gave up or lost hope that I could get better. For that, I will never give up or lose hope that my clients can recover, no matter how many times they relapse.”

For JS, losing a client, not relapse, is the hardest part of the job. “I’ve worked with many clients who didn’t make it. I’ve lost clients to overdose, suicide, and homicide. It never gets easier.”

JS grieves for his lost clients. “I find myself wading through the stages of grief until I reach some level of acceptance.”

What everyone needs to know about substance abuse

“The people I work with are just people. They are your sister, your cousin, your neighbor, or the guy in line at the grocery store. They are people with families, jobs, hobbies, and dreams.”

JS discussed ignorance and stigma; he shared that individuals with substance use disorders are often subjected to mistreatment, even from professionals in the field. “There are substance abuse counselors who perpetuate harmful addiction myths, once widely accepted as fact, but discredited by the scientific community decades ago.”

JS shared examples of common myths:

  • “All addicts are liars.”
  • “Addicts are lazy and selfish.”
  • “It’s not a disease, it’s a choice.”

“The lack of compassion when it comes to substance abuse is mindboggling and painful to encounter. Often, it stems from a lack of understanding or knowledge about substance abuse and those with substance use disorders. They are just people who are struggling with something far beyond their control. And those in treatment? They are just people trying to get better. And in case I didn’t make it clear; they are just people.”

Advice for new substance abuse counselors

“Be willing to learn. The field of addiction treatment is constantly changing. Standard practices from 20 years ago are now ineffective and outdated. If you want to do this work, be open to learning the newest treatment models, medications, and research on addiction. This field is not static, and we do our clients a major disservice when we quit learning.”

As a last piece of advice, JS suggested self-care for substance abuse counselors as a way to combat burnout. “Identify ways to decompress. This job is not easy. Some of the people you help will die. Compassion fatigue is a real thing and you must take care of yourself to care for others.”

“They are just people.”

JS

19 Powerful Memoirs About Mental Illness & Addiction

memoirs about addiction
Image by max leroy from Pixabay

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

19 Powerful Memoirs About Mental Illness & Addiction

UPDATED MAY 22, 2021

1. The Big Fix: Hope After Heroin (2017) by Tracey Helton Mitchell

Amazon Description: “After surviving nearly a decade of heroin abuse and hard living on the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, Tracey Helton Mitchell decided to get clean for good.

With raw honesty and a poignant perspective on life that only comes from starting at rock bottom, The Big Fix tells her story of transformation from homeless heroin addict to stable mother of three—and the hard work and hard lessons that got her there. Rather than dwelling on the pain of addiction,Tracey focuses on her journey of recovery and rebuilding her life, while exposing the failings of the American rehab system and laying out a path for change. Starting with the first step in her recovery, Tracey re-learns how to interact with men, build new friendships, handle money, and rekindle her relationship with her mother, all while staying sober, sharp, and dedicated to her future.

A decidedly female story of addiction, The Big Fix describes the unique challenges faced by women caught in the grip of substance abuse, such as the toxic connection between drug addition and prostitution. Tracey’s story of hope, hard work, and rehabilitation will inspire anyone who has been affected by substance abuse while offering hope for a better future.”

2. Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back (2008) by Claire Fontaine & Mia Fontaine

Amazon Description: “In powerful parallel stories, mother and daughter give mesmerizing first-person accounts of the nightmare that shattered their family and the amazing journey they took to find their way back to each other. Claire Fontaine’s relentless cross-country search for her missing child and ultimate decision to force her into treatment in Eastern Europe is a gripping tale of dead ends, painful revelations, and, at times, miracles. Mia Fontaine describes her refuge in the seedy underworld of felons and addicts as well as the jarring shock of the extreme, if loving, school that enabled her to overcome depression and self-loathing. Both women detail their remarkable process of self-examination and healing with humor and unsparing honesty.

Come Back is an unforgettable true story of love and transformation that will resonate with mothers and daughters everywhere.”

3. Drinking: A Love Story (1997) by Caroline Knapp

Amazon Description: “It was love at first sight. The beads of moisture on a chilled bottle. The way the glasses clinked and the conversation flowed. Then it became obsession. The way she hid her bottles behind her lover’s refrigerator. The way she slipped from the dinner table to the bathroom, from work to the bar. And then, like so many love stories, it fell apart. Drinking is Caroline Kapp’s harrowing chronicle of her twenty-year love affair with alcohol.”

4. A Drinking Life: A Memoir (1994) by Pete Hamill

Amazon Description: “Hamill explains how alcohol slowly became a part of his life, and how he ultimately left it behind. Along the way, he summons the mood of an America that is gone forever, with the bittersweet fondness of a lifelong New Yorker.”

5. Drunk Mom: A Memoir (2014) by Jowita Bydlowska

Amazon Description: “Three years after giving up drinking, Jowita Bydlowska found herself throwing back a glass of champagne like it was ginger ale. It was a special occasion: a party celebrating the birth of her first child. It also marked Bydlowska’s immediate, full-blown return to crippling alcoholism.

In the gritty and sometimes grimly comic tradition of the bestselling memoirs Lit by Mary Karr and Smashed by Koren Zailckas, Drunk Mom is Bydlowska’s account of the ways substance abuse took control of her life—the binges and blackouts, the humiliations, the extraordinary risk-taking—as well as her fight toward recovery as a young mother. This courageous memoir brilliantly shines a light on the twisted logic of an addicted mind and the powerful, transformative love of one’s child. Ultimately it gives hope, especially to those struggling in the same way.”

6. Dry: A Memoir (2003) by Augusten Burroughs

Amazon Description: “You may not know it, but you’ve met Augusten Burroughs. You’ve seen him on the street, in bars, on the subway, at restaurants: a twentysomething guy, nice suit, works in advertising. Regular. Ordinary. But when the ordinary person had two drinks, Augusten was circling the drain by having twelve; when the ordinary person went home at midnight, Augusten never went home at all. Loud, distracting ties, automated wake-up calls and cologne on the tongue could only hide so much for so long. At the request (well, it wasn’t really a request) of his employers, Augusten lands in rehab, where his dreams of group therapy with Robert Downey Jr. are immediately dashed by grim reality of fluorescent lighting and paper hospital slippers. But when Augusten is forced to examine himself, something actually starts to click and that’s when he finds himself in the worst trouble of all. Because when his thirty days are up, he has to return to his same drunken Manhattan life―and live it sober. What follows is a memoir that’s as moving as it is funny, as heartbreaking as it is true. Dry is the story of love, loss, and Starbucks as a Higher Power.”

7. Girl, Interrupted (1993) by Susanna Kaysen

Amazon Description: “Kaysen’s memoir encompasses horror and razor-edged perception while providing vivid portraits of her fellow patients and their keepers. It is a brilliant evocation of a “parallel universe” set within the kaleidoscopically shifting landscape of the late sixties. Girl, Interrupted is a clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.”

8. Go Ask Alice (1971) by Alice

Amazon Description: “It started when she was served a soft drink laced with LSD in a dangerous party game. Within months, she was hooked, trapped in a downward spiral that took her from her comfortable home and loving family to the mean streets of an unforgiving city. It was a journey that would rob her of her innocence, her youth—and ultimately her life.”

9. The Heroin Diaries: Ten Year Anniversary Edition: A Year in the Life of a Shattered Rock Star (2017) by Nikki Sixx

Amazon Description: “When Mötley Crüe was at the height of its fame, there wasn’t any drug Nikki Sixx wouldn’t do. He spent days—sometimes alone, sometimes with other addicts, friends, and lovers—in a coke- and heroin-fueled daze.

The highs were high, and Nikki’s journal entries reveal some euphoria and joy. But the lows were lower, often ending with Nikki in his closet, surrounded by drug paraphernalia and wrapped in paranoid delusions.

Here, Nikki shares the diary entries—some poetic, some scatterbrained, some bizarre—of those dark times. Joining him are Tommy Lee, Vince Neil, Mick Mars, Slash, Rick Nielsen, Bob Rock, and a host of ex-managers, ex-lovers, and more.

Brutally honest, utterly riveting, and surprisingly moving, The Heroin Diaries follows Nikki during the year he plunged to rock bottom—and his courageous decision to pick himself up and start living again.”

10. Lit: A Memoir (2010) by Mary Karr

Amazon Description: “Lit follows the self-professed blackbelt sinner’s descent into the inferno of alcoholism and madness–and to her astonishing resurrection. Karr’s longing for a solid family seems secure when her marriage to a handsome, Shakespeare-quoting blueblood poet produces a son they adore. But she can’t outrun her apocalyptic past. She drinks herself into the same numbness that nearly devoured her charismatic but troubled mother, reaching the brink of suicide. A hair-raising stint in ‘The Mental Marriott,’ with an oddball tribe of gurus and saviors, awakens her to the possibility of joy and leads her to an unlikely faith. Not since Saint Augustine cried, ‘Give me chastity, Lord-but not yet!’ has a conversion story rung with such dark hilarity. Lit is about getting drunk and getting sober, becoming a mother by letting go of a mother, learning to write by learning to live. Written with Karr’s relentless honesty, unflinching self-scrutiny, and irreverent, lacerating humor, it is a truly electrifying story of how to grow up–as only Mary Karr can tell it.”

11. Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity (2008) by Kerry Cohen 

Amazon Description: “Loose Girl is Kerry Cohen’s captivating memoir about her descent into promiscuity and how she gradually found her way toward real intimacy. The story of addiction–not just to sex, but to male attention–Loose Girl is also the story of a young girl who came to believe that boys and men could give her life meaning.”

12. A Million Little Pieces (2005) by James Frey

Amazon Description: “At the age of 23, James Frey woke up on a plane to find his front teeth knocked out and his nose broken. He had no idea where the plane was headed nor any recollection of the past two weeks. An alcoholic for ten years and a crack addict for three, he checked into a treatment facility shortly after landing. There he was told he could either stop using or die before he reached age 24. This is Frey’s acclaimed account of his six weeks in rehab.”

13. My Fair Junkie: A Memoir of Getting Dirty and Staying Clean (2018) by Amy Dresner

Amazon Description: “Growing up in Beverly Hills, Amy Dresner had it all: a top-notch private-school education, the most expensive summer camps, and even a weekly clothing allowance. But at 24, she started dabbling in meth in San Francisco and unleashed a fiendish addiction monster. Soon, if you could snort it, smoke it, or have sex with it, she did.

Thus began a spiral that eventually landed her in the psych ward–and then penniless, divorced, and looking at 240 hours of court-ordered community service. For two years, assigned to a Hollywood Boulevard “chain gang,” she swept up syringes (and worse) as she bounced from rehabs to halfway houses, all while struggling with sobriety, sex addiction, and starting over in her forties. In the tradition of Orange Is the New Black and Jerry Stahl’s Permanent Midnight, this is an insightful, darkly funny, and shamelessly honest memoir of one woman’s battle with all forms of addiction, hitting rock bottom, and forging a path to a life worth living.”

14. Parched: A Memoir (2006) by Heather King

Amazon Description: “In this tragicomic memoir about alcoholism as spiritual thirst, Heather King—writer, lawyer, and National Public Radio commentator—describes her descent into the depths of addiction. Spanning a decades-long downward spiral, King’s harrowing story takes us from a small-town New England childhood to hitchhiking across the country to a cockroach-ridden “artist’s” loft in Boston. Waitressing at ever-shabbier restaurants, deriving what sustenance she could from books, she became a morning regular at a wet-brain-drunks’ bar—and that was after graduating from law school. Saved by her family from the abyss, King finally realized that uniquely poetic, sensitive, and profound though she may have been, she was also a big-time mess. Casting her lot with the rest of humanity at last, she learned that suffering leads to redemption, that personal pain leads to compassion for others in pain, and, above all, that a sense of humor really, really helps.”

15. A Piece of Cake: A Memoir (2007) by Cupcake Brown

Amazon Description:There are shelves of memoirs about overcoming the death of a parent, childhood abuse, rape, drug addiction, miscarriage, alcoholism, hustling, gangbanging, near-death injuries, drug dealing, prostitution, and homelessness.

Cupcake Brown survived all these things before she’d even turned twenty. 

And that’s when things got interesting. . .

Orphaned by the death of her mother and left in the hands of a sadistic foster parent, young Cupcake Brown learned to survive by turning tricks, downing hard liquor, and ingesting every drug she could find while hitchhiking up and down the California coast. She stumbled into gangbanging, drug dealing, hustling, prostitution, theft, and, eventually, the best scam of all: a series of 9-to-5 jobs. 

A Piece of Cake is unlike any memoir you’ll ever read. Moving in its frankness, this is the most satisfying, startlingly funny, and genuinely affecting tour through hell you’ll ever take.”

16. Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America (1994) by Elizabeth Wurtzel

Amazon Description: “Elizabeth Wurtzel writes with her finger in the faint pulse of an overdiagnosed generation whose ruling icons are Kurt Cobain, Xanax, and pierced tongues. In this famous memoir of her bouts with depression and skirmishes with drugs, Prozac Nation is a witty and sharp account of the psychopharmacology of an era for readers of Girl, Interrupted and Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.”

17. Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (2005) by Koren Zailckas

Amazon Description: “Garnering a vast amount of attention from young people and parents, and from book buyers across the country, Smashed became a media sensation and a New York Times bestseller. Eye-opening and utterly gripping, Koren Zailckas’s story is that of thousands of girls like her who are not alcoholics—yet—but who routinely use booze as a shortcut to courage and a stand-in for good judgment.”

18. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines (2009) by Nic Sheff

Amazon Description: “Nic Sheff was drunk for the first time at age eleven. In the years that followed, he would regularly smoke pot, do cocaine and Ecstasy, and develop addictions to crystal meth and heroin. Even so, he felt like he would always be able to quit and put his life together whenever he needed to. It took a violent relapse one summer in California to convince him otherwise. In a voice that is raw and honest, Nic spares no detail in telling us the compelling, heartbreaking, and true story of his relapse and the road to recovery. As we watch Nic plunge into the mental and physical depths of drug addiction, he paints a picture for us of a person at odds with his past, with his family, with his substances, and with himself. It’s a harrowing portrait—but not one without hope.”

19. With or Without You: A Memoir (2014) by Domenica Ruta

Amazon Description: “Domenica Ruta grew up in a working-class, unforgiving town north of Boston, in a trash-filled house on a dead-end road surrounded by a river and a salt marsh. Her mother, Kathi, a notorious local figure, was a drug addict and sometimes dealer whose life swung between welfare and riches, and whose highbrow taste was at odds with her hardscrabble life. And yet she managed, despite the chaos she created, to instill in her daughter a love of stories. Kathi frequently kept Domenica home from school to watch such classics as the Godfather movies and everything by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen, telling her, “This is more important. I promise. You’ll thank me later.” And despite the fact that there was not a book to be found in her household, Domenica developed a love of reading, which helped her believe that she could transcend this life of undying grudges, self-inflicted misfortune, and the crooked moral code that Kathi and her cohorts lived by.

With or Without You is the story of Domenica Ruta’s unconventional coming of age—a darkly hilarious chronicle of a misfit ’90s youth and the necessary and painful act of breaking away, and of overcoming her own addictions and demons in the process. In a brilliant stylistic feat, Ruta has written a powerful, inspiring, compulsively readable, and finally redemptive story about loving and leaving.”


recommended memoirs

For additional book suggestions, visit Must-Read Books for Therapists and 25 Top Therapist-Recommended Books.

13 Websites for Free Self-Help

Free online self-help and personal development

free self-help
Image by stokpic from Pixabay

Free Self-Help Resources & Online Support

Are you searching for free self-help? This is a list of links to various sites and services providing self-help.


For free therapy workbooks, handouts, and worksheets:


1. Counselling Resource

Take psychological self-tests and quizzes, read about symptoms and treatments, compare types of counselling and psychotherapy, learn about secure online therapy, and more

2. DBT Self-Help

A site for individuals seeking information on DBT. This site includes DBT skill lessons, flash cards, diary cards, mindfulness videos, and more.

3. Healthy Place

Mental health information, including online assessments and breaking news

4. HelpGuide.org

Collaborates with Harvard Health Publications to provide a wide range of unbiased, motivating resources and self-help tools for mental, social, and emotional. 100% nonprofit; dedicated to Morgan Leslie Segal, who died by suicide when she was 29.

5. Internet Mental Health

A free encyclopedia for mental health information on the most common mental disorders. Created by psychiatrist Dr. Phillip Long.

6. Mental Health Online

Create an account to access free mental health services for mental distress, including programs for anxiety, depression, OCD, and other disorders

7. Moodgym

Interactive self-help book for depression and anxiety. (This resource used to be free, but now there’s a small fee.)

8. National Mental Health Consumers’ Self-Help Clearinghouse

A peer-run resource center

9. Psych Central

Information on mental health, quizzes, and online self-help support groups. The site is owned and operated by Dr. John Grohol, inspired by the loss of his childhood friend to suicide.

10. Psychology Help Center

A consumer resource featuring information related to psychological issues that affect emotional and physical well-being

11. Sources of Insight

Providing the principles, patterns, and practices needed for personal development and success; a source for skilled living and personal empowerment

12. Succeed Socially

An extensive, completely free collection of articles on social skills and getting past social awkwardness. It’s written by someone who’s struggled socially himself, and who has degrees in psychology and counseling.

13. Verywell Mind

An online resource for improving mental health. All content is written by healthcare professionals, including doctors, therapists, and social workers.


free self-help

Guest Post: My Experience with Depression

“I had absolutely no direction in my life. I was a loose cannon. An unguided projectile… I viewed life in a negative, nihilistic, cynical, and overall pessimistic way.”

depression
Image by Daniel Reche from Pixabay


Note: This article, or parts of it, may have been posted to other blogs. It is not entirely unique to this site.


Guest Post: My Experience with Depression

Depression, also known by some as the silent killer. And for good reasons.

Little did I know I was going to find this out firsthand.

Early on in life, before the age of 16, everything was perfect. I had loving parents and, in general, a loving family. I had plenty of friends. I excelled in sports and did well in school.

Things were easy back then. The only ounce of responsibility I had was making sure I got passing grades. And what if I didn’t listen in school and got detention as a result? Well, he’s still a young kid who’s figuring out life. Got into a fight? Well, he’s still a young boy who doesn’t always thinks before he acts.

But my perfect world didn’t last.

My Experience with Depression

Around the age of sweet 16, my life started changing rapidly.

I stopped feeling happy and optimistic. At first, I thought it was just a phase everyone my age went through and that it would pass as quickly as it came. But it didn’t. I had a difficult time adjusting to my ever-changing environment and handling the pressure I believed was being put on me.

I didn’t know what I wanted for my future. My friends and schoolmates already knew what they were going to study when they went to college the next year. I, however, did not. I had no direction in life. I was a loose cannon, an unguided projectile, an immature and wild kid, busy with partying and drinking.

I started getting into frequent fights; I’m not a violent person, but the anxiety, negative emotions, feelings of helplessness, and an overall sense of feeling lost in this world led to physical confrontations with others. The fights were a reflection of my poor mental state.

anger
Image by Annabel_P from Pixabay

Then I turned 18. My parents told me it was time to start taking responsibility for my choices and actions because this time “it was for real.”

In college, I decided to pursue the field of nutrition. Not because I had a strong desire to become a dietician, but rather, because people I knew from my home town were going this route, and I figured since I was interested in exercise/health, it might be a good fit.

Newsflash, it wasn’t.

I quit school two months in. Turns out choosing what course to study based on friends rather than what you want in life is not the smartest idea. (Who would’ve thought, right?)

The following year, I gave it another try. This time I studied occupational performance. Long story short, I managed to earn a college degree despite my depression.

After I graduated and started working as an occupational therapist in a physical rehabilitation center, things got better. I was motivated to help people relearn lost skills, improving their quality of life.

But in time, my thoughts turned dark again, becoming negative and nihilistic. I slept less and my sleep quality was poor. I would randomly wake up at night and cry because I felt so terrible. I withdrew from friends and family. I even discovered a way to measure the severity of my depression; when my mood worsened, I craved alcohol. Drinking was a way to self-medicate.

alcohol use
Image by succo from Pixabay

I continued to plow away at work, but an excessive sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and anxiety was eating away at my mental health. I was head deep into my depression.

One day, I woke up and found I couldn’t get out of bed. I had nothing left in the tank. I realized I needed to take some time off work to deal with my depression and get my life in order again. I called my parents and asked to come home.

At first, I didn’t leave the bedroom. There were successive days I didn’t get up to eat or shower. I was in constant mental pain. It was hell on earth.

One evening, I managed to get out of bed and sat down to eat dinner with my parents. They were silent, and looked tired and sad. Until this moment, my depressive haze prevented me from seeing how my illness impacted my family. I decided: that’s it, no more. It was my guilt that fueled the decision to fully contend with my mental illness.

Up until now, I was only living for myself, not participating and valuing what my parents, family, and others did for me. So, something needed to change. I needed to turn my life around. And with my life, my attitude.

I started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants. I took a sincere look at self, including undesirable traits I’d been afraid to face. I set goals for myself. And when I had zero desire to get out of bed, I pushed through. I made sure I did something useful every day.

After several months of therapy and medication, life became manageable. I talked more, was less irritable, and as a result, my life and that of those around me improved. At times I even looked forward to things!

How Depression Changed Me


Although the depression was tough on me, and there were times I didn’t know if I was going to make it, it brought about some positive changes.

I became more mature and resilient; I learned to put things in perspective and take necessary responsibility. But the two most significant aspects that changed were my so-called “intellectual arrogance” and the pessimistic way I viewed life.

Before, I considered myself a fairly intelligent fellow. The problem with this was that I overvalued intelligence, viewing other aspects in life as inferior.

Moreover, my attitude was overwhelmingly cynical and negative. What I failed to realize is that focus shapes experience. And if you only pay attention to the negative, you miss the beauty life has to offer. Now, I actively search for the good and beautiful things happening around me.

What Helped Me Get My Depression Under Control

In addition to medication and therapy, I found the following to be helpful:

  • Seeking help. We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how much we’d like to. There are times when you will need help to cope with your depression. In addition to professional help, seek support from family and trusted friends. You may find that feeling heard and understood is what carries you through the darker days.
  • Setting goals. I had no desire to do anything in life. I had no goals. For severe depression, I would advise setting smaller goals you think you would mind doing the least (minimal effort) and/or goals which you found important in the past (before your depression took over).
  • Taking responsibility. Although depression can be debilitating, practice taking responsibility for the things in life under your control. For me, it was easy to blame others for everything that went wrong, believing the world to be wretched and unfair, but it didn’t do me any good.
  • Exercising. Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” brain chemicals related to pleasure. If you don’t enjoy exercise, try a hobby that requires some level of physical exertion. As an additional benefit, engaging in exercise can take your mind off the stressful things in life.
exercise
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

My Depression Warning Signs

For me, there are clear signs that indicate my depression is coming back or worsening. Keep in mind that warning signs vary from individual to individual. What might be a warning sign for me may not for you.

  • My desire to do anything decreases. Hobbies I enjoy like weightlifting and running suddenly mean very little to me. But it’s not just about hobbies. Things like getting out of bed and showering suddenly become difficult because I have zero motivation or energy.
  • My thoughts get darker and more negative. It becomes increasingly tough to see the positive things in life or the positive in people. I become cynical and pessimistic.
  • Overthinking. I tend to overthink when things go bad, which is basically what depression is for me: feeling bad.
  • Anxiety. Negative thoughts and overthinking lead to increased levels of anxiety. My anxiety about the little things in life may seem insignificant to others who don’t have a mental illness, but a simple act such as calling or visiting a friend can freak me out and lead to rumination.
  • Ruminating. Intrusive thoughts run through my head and there’s no “off” switch.
  • Irritability. I become increasingly irritable; I’m in a foul mood all of the time and the smallest things piss me off.
  • Increased desire to self-medicate. I experience a strong desire to drink. Alcohol impacts the brain by triggering a release of dopamine. This rush of dopamine creates feelings of pleasure and happiness.
  • Decreased sleep quality. My overall sleep quality gets worse, partly due to constant overthinking and ruminating. Anxiety and stress are also big factors. And when I’m able to fall asleep, I wake up throughout the night.

Conclusion

Depression is a terrible disease that may go unnoticed if the signs aren’t recognized or known. A person with depression might attempt to maintain a positive front, possibly because they don’t want to complain or they’re afraid of being misunderstood.

There are multiple symptoms of depression; my symptoms went hand-in-hand, playing off one another and creating a vicious circle of negative thoughts that sucked the energy and lust for life from me.

Depression symptoms are different for different people. Learning to identify the symptoms will help you to recognize depression in others. Furthermore, an increased awareness enhances empathy and enables you to better support someone with depression.

I give the following advice to anyone with depression:

  • Don’t give up.
  • Seek professional help.
  • Seek support from your family and close friends.
  • Set goals and work hard to achieve them.
  • Take responsibility for the things you can control.
wellbeing
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Is there a cure for depression? No. Do I think I will ever be totally depression-free? Maybe. What I do know for sure is that my illness is manageable and livable at the moment. I look forward to what the future has in store for me. Which is a lot more than I anticipated at first.

depression

About the Author:

Kevin Mangelschots is a writer and occupational therapist with seven years of experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. He is a long-time fitness enthusiast. Kevin lives in Belgium and has created a platform for other bloggers to share their life stories where he writes about his own experience with depression at retellinglifestories.com.

100+ Resources for Suicide Prevention & Recovery

This is a resource guide for suicide prevention and recovery. There are links to educational sites, assessment/screening tools, trainings courses, recommended books, online support communities, mobile apps, and more.


Suicide Prevention & Recovery: 100+ Resources for Mental Health Professionals & Consumers

Education & Advocacy Sites

At-Risk Youth

Assessment & Screening for Suicide Prevention

Low-Cost & Free Trainings

Toolkits & Guides

Disclaimer: This section contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Dying to Be Free: A Healing Guide for Families After a Suicide by Beverly Cobain & Jean Larch

I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One by Brook Noel & Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D.

No Time For Goodbyes: Coping with Sorrow, Anger, and Injustice After a Tragic Death, 7th Edition by Janice Harris Lord

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold S. Kushner

Suicide Survivors

suicide prevention
Image by Roman Hörtner from Pixabay

Crisis & Chat Lines for Suicide Prevention

  1. Befrienders Worldwide | Find a helpline by country
  2. Boys Town National Hotline | 1-800-448-3000 or text 20121
  3. Crisis Services Canada: Suicide Prevention & Support | 1-833-456-4566 or text 45645
  4. Crisis Text Line | 741741 (Find local chapters here)
  5. TheHopeLine | Chat with a HopeCoach (not available 24/7)
  6. International Suicide Prevention Wiki | Worldwide directory of suicide prevention hotlines  
  7. LGBT National Online Peer-Support CHAT 🏳️‍🌈
  8. Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio | 1-888-628-9454
  9. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline | 1-800-273-8255
  10. Remedy Live Chat | Chat with a “soulmedic”
  11. Trans Lifeline | 1-877-565-8860 ☎ 🏳️‍🌈
  12. Trevor Lifeline | 1-866-488-7386 ☎ 🏳️‍🌈
  13. Veterans Crisis Line | 1-800-273-8255 (Press 1) or text 838255 ☎ 💜

Online Support

Mobile Apps

  1. Be Safe
  2. BeyondNow Suicide Safety Plan
  3. TheHopeLine
  4. MY3 | Free safety planning app
  5. Samaritans Self-Help
  6. Suicide Safe by SAMHSA
  7. The Virtual Hope Box

suicide prevention

6 Powerful Movies About Addiction & Mental Illness

(Updated 5/20/20) A list of movies about mental health and substance abuse – includes PDF printable discussion questions

watching TV
Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The following is a list of movies about addiction and mental disorders that are appropriate to show in treatment settings. This post includes movie summaries and downloadable PDF handouts with questions for discussion.

Please note that some of the films on this list are graphic and may not be appropriate for children or adolescents.


Hint: The handouts contain spoilers; do not provide until after the movie ends.

Movies About Addiction & Mental Illness

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.


Ben Is Back (2018)

103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), R-rating for language and drug use

Summary: Julia Roberts plays a mother, Holly, whose 19-year old son, Ben, surprises her by returning home for Christmas. Ben is newly in recovery; his addiction has placed a tremendous strain on the family in the past. Ben’s younger siblings are happy to see him, but Holly, fearing that he is not ready, is apprehensive.

That evening, the family attends church. When they return, they find their home burglarized and the dog missing. Ben blames himself, believing someone from his past took the dog to get his attention; he leaves to look for the dog. Holly goes with him, but they’re later separated, and Holly attempts to track Ben. Eventually, she ends up at an abandoned barn where she finds her son on the floor, unresponsive. The movie ends with her administering Narcan to Ben.

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes), R-rating for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality, and suicide

Summary: Winona Ryder plays Susanna, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, who is sent to a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt in the late 1960s. She befriends Lisa (Angelia Jolie), who carries a diagnosis of sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Initially, Susanna is in denial about her mental condition and is not open to treatment. However, she reaches a turning point after a tragedy.

Pay It Forward (2000)

123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes), PG-13 rating for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language, and brief violence

Summary: Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) starts a chain reaction of goodness for a social studies project with a plan to change the world for the better. In this film, Trevor is a high school student whose mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), struggles with alcoholism and whose father is abusive. He rises above unfortunate circumstances with the kindhearted idea to do a good deed, but instead of requesting payback, asking the receiver to “pay it forward” to at least three people – and on and on. While the movie has a bittersweet end, the message is uplifting and powerful.  

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), PG-13 rating

Summary: Charlie is an unpopular high school freshman, a “wallflower,” who is befriended by two seniors, Patrick and Sam (Emma Watson). The movie is about their friendship and Charlie’s personal struggles with the recent suicide of his friend and his own mental illness. Throughout the film, Charlie has flashbacks of his aunt, who died in a car accident when he was 7. It’s eventually revealed that Charlie’s aunt molested him; a sexual encounter with Sam triggers Charlie’s repressed memories. Charlie has a mental breakdown.

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

113 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes), R-rating for language and brief sexuality

Summary: Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a troubled young woman, who returns from rehab to her family home for her sister’s wedding. The film portrays how Kym’s addiction has placed strain on the family.

When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes), R-rating for language

Summary: Meg Ryan plays Alice, a woman with an alcohol use disorder. The film is about how Alice’s addiction impacts her family and how she recovers.

Bonus: The Netflix original films Heroin(e) (2017) and Recovery Boys (2018) have PDF discussion guides with a summary, questions, and resources posted on the Recovery Boys website.


Other great resources for using clinical films as therapeutic interventions include the book Movies & Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathy, 4th ed. (by Danny Wedding and Ryan M. Niemiec) and the site Teach With Movies.

movies about addiction