Category Archives: Mental Health

“13 Reasons Why”: A Response

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Like thousands of other viewers, I’ve recently finished Thirteen Reasons Why and I was left reeling. While watching the show, I promised myself that I would write a blog about it. After taking some time to process my thoughts as well as hear from others, this is my response.

Be prepared for spoilers.

Thirteen Reasons Why (13RW) is a show based on a Young Adult book by Jay Asher that was published in 2008. In 13RW, a high school girl named Hannah Baker makes the decision to commit suicide. Prior to her death she records seven cassette tapes that details every reason she killed herself. The story follows protagonist Clay Jensen, a shy boy that seemed to know her, as he listens to her voice detailing accounts of bullying, sexual assault, and irreparable loneliness.

Removing my professional hat, Thirteen Reasons Why is excellent entertainment. It is well produced and well casted. In fact, it is so well done, that there will be a season 2. I believe this with some caveats. I would not recommend this show lightly. For many, I’ve learned, 13RW opens up a lot of old wounds and triggers that some might not have realized they had. For those who have not watched the show, I have one thought:

Please take the warnings seriously, especially if you have dealt with some of the issues the show portrays.

My ultimate favorite line in the show comes from Tony when he and Clay are playing volleyball. Loosely, he tells Clay, “you never know how your words will effect someone”. Of all the themes in 13RW, this simple sentence is what the show is about. We will never know how our words and actions impact the people around us.

It’s not until after Hannah is dead that people realize just how much she is hurting, which is, quite frankly unfair. There isn’t a chance for Alex, Zach, Sheri, or even Clay and Hannah to right the things that have gone wrong. Hannah’s untimely death doesn’t leave room for a second chance. That’s not to say it’s unrealistic. 13RW, is not a unique story, unfortunately. Bullying, self-harm and sexual assault, unfortunately, are common occurences. 13RW calls attention to the topics that people seem to generally shy away from discussing in such a public way. Thousands of adolescents struggle with being bullied, with being victims of assault, and the pain of growing up in general. Every day, there is a person honestly contemplating suicide because the pain their hold in their heart is greater than the hope that things will get better.

With that, I’ve decided to write notes to the characters that left the greatest impact on me.

Kevin Porter (The School Counselor): People don’t go into counseling for the money; they go into the field with the strong belief that they can make a difference in the lives of others, and I strongly believe this is who you are. You wanted to make a difference for the student body you served, however, you did not seem to have enough experience in mental health, which is different than in-school success. Yes, you managed to miss the signs that Hannah gave you, her flat affect, her hopelessness, and her suicidal ideation, and you failed to take the next appropriate steps.
After the tragedy of Hannah’s death, you and your principal should have offered grief counselors to your student body so they could work through their grief and shock with a trained professional instead of you being the one to work out of your scope of practice.
Still, I’d like to believe that while people can’t come back, everyone can learn from their mistakes. I believe that you should be a warning to other counselors and mental health professionals out there: always follow the signs, and if you feel uneasy about a person, say and/or do something. Never keep it to yourself.

Alex Standall, Zach Dempsey, and Sheri Holland: I do not doubt you are good kids. You want what everyone wants: to know they are loved and accepted for who they are without pretense. Each of you made life-altering mistakes, and nothing will change that, and that does not make you a bad person. What your mistakes and words make you is human.
It is not your fault that Hannah chose to end her life, though her tapes might have suggested otherwise. In an ideal world, we would always say and do the right thing, but we don’t live in that world. We live in a world where life altering mistakes happen. Sometimes we get the chance to fix them, and sometimes we don’t, and that’s the bittersweet truth of learning and growing. I hope you have the chance to continue to learn and grow, and I hope you learn from your past.

Clay Jensen: Oh Clay. It was incredibly painful watching you go through those tapes, tormented by the fear that you did something wrong. More than anything, I want you to know that you did all that you could for Hannah and so much more.

Jessica DavisLike Zach, Alex, and Sheri, I truly believe you aren’t a bad person. And you are incredibly brave. I hope you continue to own and share your story.

Bryce Walker: To people like you, whether you have one dollar or one million dollars, you have no right putting your hands on another human when they say no, or when they are incredibly vulnerable. No amount of talent or prestige makes you better than another person, and I hope you get exactly what you deserve.

Tony Padilla: Your character wasn’t even in the books. But I sympathized with you because it is incredibly hard being a secret-keeper. There is a certain weight that comes from knowing and seeing people in ways that others don’t. I will be honest when I say that I am not fond of the way you kept the tapes with such a heavy story, but I can respect what you did for Hannah, because I get it–it is your way of paying dues. And similar to Clay, while Hannah was alive, you did what you could for Hannah.

Hannah BakerMy heart breaks for you, so, so much. You did not deserve the things that happened to you, and more than anything, I wish you got the help you deserved. I wish you were able to tell someone about the things that happened to you and in return, received the appropriate responses. I understand the heart behind leaving your tapes to the ones who destroyed you, and I wish you could have lived long enough to see that there are other ways to be heard. People like you, Hannah, are so incredibly loved, and I wish more than anything people like you stay long enough to see the ones who love you so dearly.

Final thoughts:

For everyone else, for my readers who find themselves relating to the above mentioned characters and the ones I did not mention: I hope you reach out for the help that you need, unlike the characters mentioned. I hope you find the strength to see how brave you are, and how loved you are if you have been victimized. Someone is always willing to listen, and there is absolutely no shame in needing someone to talk to.

Or if you are a perpetrator, I hope you get the help you need, and I hope you get every consequence that you deserve.

For parents, educators, anyone in general: Thirteen Reasons Why is out there, and it will be out there for some time. The best thing you can do is be a listener. Listen to those around you, and become informed. The show does not accurately display what it means to have a mental illness (it doesn’t address mental health at all), so I encourage you to do some research on what mental health is, or talk to a professional about it.

For anyone who feels like they need someone to talk to, please see the following resources and know that you are not alone:

National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line (United States): 741741, text “HELLO”

Other resources:

To Write Love On Her Arms

National Alliance on Mental Illness

The Trevor Project (LGBTQ+)

Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN)

If none of these resources work, and you still find yourself in need of assistance, please call 911 or visit your local emergency room.

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It Takes a Village

This past weekend, I moved from my first “adult” apartment of two years into a new one. It’s a bit closer to my work, and it’s a fresh start. This week has been a lot of unpacking, donating, rearranging things to fit into a slightly smaller space, breaking down boxes, all while battling a stuffy nose.

There was a moment during the moving process when I sat in a half-circle with my friends, all of us with beers cracked open in our hands, when I realized these are my people–this is my village.

It takes a village to do anything well. “Well” is my operative definition. I will be the first to tell you, that we can do a lot of things on our own. We can shop by ourselves, and eat by ourselves (which is healthy independence). We can move homes by ourselves and refuse to ask for help. We can keep our own secrets, and we can keep our pain to ourselves (not so healthy). Ultimately, we, as humans, can survive on our own–but we are not living well.

But there is such a beautiful grace in vulnerability and asking for help.  I will also be the first to admit that asking for a helping hand is really hard. It reminds me of my shortcomings, and makes me realize that while I am a good survivor, I am still learning the art of living well. And the importance of creating a village is a topic I will probably write about later, but for now, the focus of this is recognizing your village.

This past weekend I had to move, and I had to ask for help. I had to trust that my friends would come to my aid when I asked–and they did. They came (one of them even showed up after three margaritas), and they drove (the one who drank didn’t drive), and they loaded and unloaded. They opened my bottle of beer, and sat and laughed with me and encouraged me when I felt the anxiety of relocating.

And that’s when I realized–when I took a moment to look up from survival mode to life-savoring mode–I had my village. My village of imperfect people, doing wonderful things.

village

I say imperfect because, ultimately, that’s what people are: imperfect. I can tell you some of the moments these people have hurt my feelings with their words, and in the same breath, I can tell you the moments their words made me feel like I could be irrevocably brave–and that’s what it is to have your village. Your village is the ones who are with you, growing you to be a better person and loving you each step of the way, even when it’s difficult.

Your village will be imperfect. They will be people full of faults, just like you. And they will be the people who will love you and help you when you give them a chance by giving yourself a chance to be vulnerable and asking for help.

It takes a village to do anything well. When you’re stressed, your village will hold you up, and when they’re stressed, maybe they’ll know they can turn to you, too.

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What I Learned Working in Mental Health

“That’s what associates do,” she said with a smile, her blue eyes crinkling at the corners, making her look carefree, “they form memories and become friends.”

I smiled to myself as my heart warmed and all feelings of my earlier apprehension faded as I watched this interaction between two mental health patients.

Yes, mental health patients.

For a little over a year, I’ve spent my time working at a mental health and behavioral hospital. Primarily, I work with adolescents, but in recent months, I’ve had the opportunity (often times, much to my dismay), of being moved around to several different units throughout the hospital—everything ranging from patients detoxing from drugs and alcohol to severely psychotic adults. As expected when working in the helping profession, I have had very high highs and very low lows throughout my job. In a few short weeks, due to a busier schedule which will involve interning as a therapist and full-time grad-school, I will be transitioning from working full-time to per diem—meaning I will pick up work shifts whenever I can.

It is a bittersweet feeling to know I will be spending less time at the hospital where I learned so much in such a short amount of time, but I know this change will be good for me. As I reflect on my time, I’ve decided to share what I’ve learned both from my co-workers and my patients as a mental health care provider.

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What I learned from my patients:

  • People will be brutally honest. If I have learned to love anything, I have learned to love honesty. Working with mental health patients (specifically acutely psychotic adults), some days a patient will tell you that you look like a cow, and other days a patient will tell you your eyebrows are gorgeous. When working in mental health, you simultaneously learn to grow thick skin and to expect the unexpected.
  • Self care, self care, self care. If there is anything I have learned this past year while both studying to be a therapist and working in the mental health field is the importance of taking care of yourself while taking care of others. When you give most of your time to making sure that others are safe and well, it takes a lot of energy from you emotionally, physically and spiritually. If you expect to do a good job while taking care of others, always remember to take care of yourself. 
  • Some people don’t want to be saved. One of the hardest lessons I learned was this very lesson, and I am still learning it. I have a hero complex, I have come to realize, and I want to save everyone. Sometimes there have been patients have have reminded me of certain brown-eyed heroin addicts that I have loved with my whole heart, of past best friends that have attempted suicide, and of a very critical father I lost at a young age. Other times there are patients that have simply gripped my very soul and it became my personal mission to save them. However, you can’t help those that aren’t ready for help. Putting in more effort than your patient/client only exhausts you in the end. Instead, I have learned to remind my patients I am for them, but I will not do the work for them.
  • Boundaries. Directly related to the above bullet point, I’ve learned the importance of remaining empathetic while distancing yourself.
  • Humility. I have a degree in Psychology and I am in graduate school to be a therapist. Even so, there have been times at in which a patient divulges information and I have no idea how best to help that person. And when I expressed my loss for words, some patients have simply thanked me for listening and caring.

What I learned from my co-workers:

  • A job is just a job for some. During one of my lunch breaks, someone from upper management sat and chatted with me. She has a job in finances within the hospital. I asked her what interested her in the mental health field, and she told me that she does not have an interest in mental health, only her position. I guess, no matter where you are, for someone people, a job is just a job and nothing more.
  • Teamwork. I have learned what it is to be part of a team that works together cohesively and there is always support. Sometimes support looks like staff jumping in front of another staff member when a patient becomes violent. Sometimes it looks like letting another staff member cry on a particularly difficult day and letting them know you’re on their team. Sometimes a team looks like laughing together until you cry because you’ve been through so much and the only thing keeping you together are the people you work with.
  • Courage. Quite simply, I have learned courage. I have learned to have the courage to stand up for what I believe in, and the courage to try something new, knowing I may fail…or succeed.

Overall, I have learned the bittersweet beauty of humans as well as the ugliness of humans (the latter from other coworkers more often than patients…). I have learned both humility and strength, and I am truly grateful for this bittersweet experience.

 

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Regardless

Regardless (adverb): despite the prevailing circumstances.

One of the most beautiful words I know to date is the word “regardless”. Beauty is not found in the letters that make up the word, but rather what the word stands for. “Despite the prevailing circumstances“.

I’ve recently come to love the quote “it’s a bad day, not a bad life”. When working in the mental health field, I have really come to believe this not only for myself but for my patients. It’s okay to have bad days. It’s okay to have those heartbreakingly bad days where you don’t want to try anymore, where sleeping until the world ends feels like the best possible answer, and it’s hard to motivate yourself to do the little things you love.

I strongly believe it’s okay to have those days. Having these days doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re weak or a waste of space.* It means you’re feeling. It means you’re absolutely human and you’re having a tough time. And I want to make it abundantly clear for everyone to know it’s okay to have these kinds of days; God knows I’ve had many of them quite recently. However, it’s just as crucial to remember the importance of rising again, regardless of how painful your situation is, and know who your “regardless” people are.

Regardless people are the ones who remain in spite of the circumstances. They are the ones who see your bad days and love you unconditionally. They are the people who have seen you at your very worst by circumstances of chance or circumstances that you’ve put yourself into and decide to stay, regardless of the circumstances.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have many of these people, but the ones I do have mean the world to me. On days in which I feel like I might literally break, the reminder that I have people who love me, regardless of my situation, are enough to keep me pushing forward with hopes that I too can be a regardless person in return.

*While I strongly believe it’s okay to have bad days, I encourage you to evaluate your days. If you find you are chronically having feelings of deep, lingering sadness and lack of energy to do the things you usually love, seek professional help. If you are experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide there is still hope yet. Please call 1 (800) 273-8255 any time you feel as if you need help. 

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