Empowering the Mind
Written by Diahann JohnBaptiste, MPA, MS, LAPC, NCC
As a licensed Minister and Clinical Mental Health Therapist, I utilize in my practice both biblical principles as well as my psychological training and studies to assist clients dealing with emotional and mental struggles.
As we approach the holiday season, mental health practitioners encounter a surge of patients struggling with depression, anxiety, and grief. This influx happens for a variety of reasons. The holidays represent a festive time of the year that adds pressure to individuals who have unrealistic expectations that cause them to experience financial pressures and social anxiety.
The holidays are over-commercialized as the season of gift giving. The overzealous endorsements to shop during the holidays (which is a very lucrative time for major retailers) adds to the unnecessary burdens for individuals who want to please their loved ones. Patients are also negatively stimulated by the expectations of heighten social involvement at company parties or family gatherings. The excessive commitments can cause stress and anxiety during the holiday season. As a result, we see patients who report feelings of excessive sadness, which is triggered by geographic distances between family members, unresolved conflict that has caused family estrangement, or expressed grief from the death of loved ones.
As a Minister of the Gospel, I exhort and encourage people to set their minds on God’s precepts concerning how to live a life filled with peace and love. God is a loving Father and he wants you to be happy. He also wants you to follow in his ways as described in the bible.
Step one: Be anxious for nothing, but go to God in pray and supplication (petition): Humbly pray, beg and cry out and be relentless in your prayers to God about your dreams. There’s a quote that says, pray until something happens”. Here are some reminders and spiritual guidance when addressing anxiety based on the text from Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”:
Step two: Be thankful: You have life and strength to fight. Be thankful that you can get up every day, and can care for yourself and your loved ones. Be thankful to God for everything!
Step three: Let God know your requests: God already knows everything about you! He really does, but his command is to come to him and ask. This command is not talking about your needs or desires. God already know that about you. He is saying, come to me and ask. Ask and it shall be given! Here again God is saying humbly petition him! If God says something a second time—its important! Beg, petition, make a firm demand to God! Let me say, there should be no shame in your game to get on your knees before God in prayer and supplication!
As a licensed Clinician, individuals may find it beneficial to be mindful about their thinking and mindset. In order to do so, it is suggested that we give up feelings of hopelessness. Patients diagnosed with depression, or who present in a clinical setting with expressed feelings of depression, helplessness and hopelessness would need help in addressing the underlying reasons for their stated condition. Therapeutic recommendations would vary for each individual based on a complete psychiatric evaluation or assessment. The results of the examination may determine a need for medication, and/or individual therapy to address the symptoms of depression, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
At first, it may sound strange to you, but many people struggle in silence and do not express their thoughts of hopelessness until they get to a point of feeling trapped and experience losses in their life, i.e. loss of a job, relationships, or personal items such as their home and vehicle.
Control your anxiety and worry
It is beneficial to get help before your emotional and mental stability spirals out of control. Feeling hopeless is serious, and it is a thought process that must be addressed in order to have mental stability. It is important for you to realize how your thoughts and feelings are connected. Distressing thoughts affect your mood and feelings, which in turn will influence your behaviors. Many professionals in the field of psychology and psychiatry address this cycle with a variety of therapeutic approaches, including Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT helps you to understand the connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Once you understand this connection, you put yourself in a better position to address distressing thoughts, such as hopelessness and helplessness.
Cognitive distortions are the culprit for faulty thinking that causes us to see our reality from the lens of despair. We victimize ourselves in a variety of ways on a daily basis without recognition of our intentional (and in some cases involuntary) injurious behaviors.
One type of cognitive distortion that is very common is “filtering”. Filtering is habitual and has a stake-hold in obstructing positivity in your life. Filtering refers to the way many of us can somehow ignore all of the positive and good things in our day to focus solely on the negative.
Many of us filter information we encounter on a regular basis that we decide are important or interesting. Mental filtering is a way you process information, in which you acknowledge only information that fits with your beliefs.
However, we do a poor job of filtering out negative thoughts and influences. We live in a world filled with constant distractions. We are bombarded with negativity in the news, billboards, music, and even in the fashion industry based on the expressions of today’s culture.
We see t-shirts with messages that say things like, “Life Sucks”. These types of messages stimulate our visual, auditory, and cognitive senses. Negative imagery and messages are all around us, so filtering out the frequencies of negativity is a challenge.
To address this, you must look closely at situations that cause you to judge yourself, or put you in a state of thinking you are powerless or defenseless. You must be very honest with yourself and your reality.
Are you truly unable to get help in the areas that are causing you distress? Is there professional assistance or guidance available to you? When it comes to personal judgements and feelings of inadequacy, you must become aware of what you say to yourself, how you view yourself, and how you treat yourself.
Continued forms of self-loathing is unhealthy and unproductive. If you are constantly rejecting your accomplishments, but quickly accept and acknowledge your failures, then you are subjecting yourself to a self-abusive mindset.
To break free from cognitive distortions, we must give an honest attempt to address the strong bonds that have cemented this behavior in our lives. These strong bonds may have origins of prior abusive and insulting statements said to you by someone you respected such as a caregiver.
Other gateways to negative influences include believing myths, oldwives tales, or holding onto experiences that have caused reoccurring dreams and disturbing thoughts. We must be willing to talk about the origins of these distressing thoughts. Some issues are more complicated to address such as cognitive distortions caused by chemical imbalances.
A licensed physician or practitioner can help you address symptoms that are due to chemical imbalances in the brain. This is typical for individuals who are struggling with clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and other conditions. A psychological evaluation or assessment can help you determine if you need medical advice or supervision from a licensed professional or practitioner.
Addressing cognitive distortions such as filtering requires a deliberate effort in collecting evidence that goes against or contradicts your negative beliefs. This method requires your full cooperation. In order to have a successful outcome, give yourself a fighting chance! Be aware of your responses to what is negative and positive in your life.
You must choose to acknowledge good experiences, positive strides, healthy relationships, and helpful people in your life.
Furthermore, you must override distressing and disappointing thoughts, and recognize your accomplishments. On a daily basis, encourage yourself, even in the small things. Do not despise small beginnings or achievements, so that you don’t grow in doubt about the future.
Coping with Stigma
by Diahann JohnBaptiste, MPA, MS, LAPC, NCC
Stigma is defined situations in which an individual is discredited, disqualified, or alienated from full social acceptance. To the majority, stigmatized groups are considered to be flawed (Goffman, 1963).
Stigma is generated by three discrediting conditions:
- Abominations of the body: which are physical conditions or ailments that cause stigmatized individuals to be treated poorly due to their deformity or illness. For instance, individuals with physical handicaps are limited to certain types of occupations because of the misconception of their ability to function. Obvious mobility limitations will disqualify individuals from occupying certain jobs, but their knowledge, skills, training, and desire to work does not become obsolete because of a physical disability.
- Tribal identity: is the social coupling of groups of people. These social groups are representations of individuals’ culture, birthrights, race, or ethnic identity. Examples of tribal identity includes (but is not limited to) racial groups, ethnic groups, or religious groups. Individuals in a particular racial or ethnic group may experience stigma because of their commitments to their groups, and dissociation with other cultures and environments.
- Blemishes of individual character: represents moral weaknesses such as drug addiction, criminal conviction/activities/arrests, homosexuality, and mental illness to name a few. Society will place individuals who have made mistakes (and their mistakes have become public knowledge) into a land of rejection. This stigmatized group is considered to be of poor moral character, and are often ostracized from society. They are disenfranchised and barred from participating in activities like voting, and having gainful employment.
People hold different beliefs about stigma, but overall it is harmful. Stigma can lead to discrimination, and its characteristics are not mutually exclusive. For example, an individual who is sympathetic to persons with physical disabilities, but alienates a group of people based on religious, ethic, or racial identity is operating in a harmful manner even if it is subtle. Stigmatization rejects individuals who are different. The question is, how can someone develop healthy coping skills after being stigmatized? If you have been impacted by stigma, the Mayo Clinic offers the following advice in dealing with stigma associated with having a mental health issue (you may visit the Mayo Clinic website at http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477 for me information):
- Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment. Don’t let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what’s wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.
- Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking psychological counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others with mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.
- Don’t isolate yourself. If you have a mental illness, you may be reluctant to tell anyone about it. Your family, friends, clergy or members of your community can offer you support if they know about your mental illness. Reach out to people you trust for the compassion, support and understanding you need.
- Don’t equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying “I’m bipolar,” say “I have bipolar disorder.” Instead of calling yourself “a schizophrenic,” say “I have schizophrenia.”
- Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offer local programs and Internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people with mental illness, their families and the general public. Some state and federal agencies and programs, such as those that focus on vocational rehabilitation or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offer support for people with mental health conditions.
- Get help at school. If you or your child has a mental illness that affects learning, find out what plans and programs might help. Discrimination against students because of a mental health condition is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors or administrators about the best approach and resources. If a teacher doesn’t know about a student’s disability, it can lead to discrimination, barriers to learning and poor grades.
- Speak out against stigma. Consider expressing your opinions at events, in letters to the editor or on the Internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.
Additionally here are six approaches to stigma reduction based on reading from Florez et al. Can J Psychiatry 2012:
|1. Education||Replace myths & misinformation with accurate info.||General public & selected subgroups||Improved knowledge, improved mental health literacy, better recognition of symptoms, early help-seeking.|
|2. Protest||Formal (written) objection to negative representations||Opinion leaders or stigmatizers (journalists, politicians, manufactures)||Suppress negative attitudes; remove negative representations & content.|
|3. Contact-based Education||Contact with individuals recovering from mental illness, including Q & A, & active discussion||General public or selected subgroups (high school or university students)||Reduce stereotypes, improve attitudes, reduce desire for social distance|
|4. Legislative reform||Development and enactment of protective legislations||Legal system; legislators||Improved protection for rights and freedoms; improved access to social entitlements; reduced social inequalities.|
|5. Advocacy||Use of multiple approaches to increase priority of mental health on agendas of decision-makers||Politicians and decision-makers||Greater policy recognition; improved services; reduced social inequalities; improved avenues of redress.|
|6. Stigma self-management||Peer-supported self-learning; recovery-oriented supports and services||People who have a mental illness or have family members with mental illnesses||Reduced personal impact of stigmatization; reduced self-stigma; improved self-esteem; empowerment.|
Arboleda-Flórez, J., & Stuart, H. (2012). From sin to science: fighting the stigmatization of mental illnesses. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry,57(8), 457-463.
Goffman, E. (1963). Behavior in public place. Glencoe: the free press, New York.
Mental illness. (n.d.). Retrieved August 10, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477
Five Short Approaches to Achieving Your Goals
by Diahann JohnBaptiste, MPA, MS, LAPC, NCC
Approach your goals with a positive mindset by changing your attitude and expectations.
Setting goals is a way we are able to get things done. Once we accomplish certain tasks that was once considered impossible or difficult, we develop confidence in ourselves. According to Michael J. Ritt, Jr., author of Think and Grow Rich!, and Napoleon Hill’s 10 Steps to Health, Wealth & Success, “setting goals is one way to keep your mind on the things you want, and off the things you don’t want”.
If you have decided this is the time to work on achieving your goals, start by considering these short approaches. Start with a clear goal like going to the gym to improve your health. You may decide on how much weight you want to lose (i.e. lose 10 pounds in 30 days. However you should always consult with your doctor regarding your health). I encourage you to actually take a few minutes to process the following steps. If you need support or encouragement to help you execute this short plan, then share it with someone you trust (such as an accountability partner). Ask your accountability partner to check-in with you periodically (maybe once a week) to see where you are in completing your plan.
- Focus: decide on what goal or task is most important to you. Focus on that goal and begin the process of setting out to accomplish it. Understand the importance of identifying your goal and giving it the focus that is needed. Having too many goals can stagnate you. Having a long list of goals is one way to become overwhelmed and feel confused. Think about two tasks you’ve always wanted to complete. For example, tasks like going to the gym, or starting college. Narrow your goal list to two tasks. Focus on those two goals and begin the next step by making sure it is a clear and defined goal.
- Make It Clear: define exactly what it is you want to do. For instance, “saying I want to lose weight” is not clear enough. In order to begin losing weight, you have to consider what you eat and keeping yourself active. Going to the gym or incorporating exercise in your daily activities is a more realistic goal. Besides, staying active will help you lose weight and will provide other benefits such as reducing and managing stress and improving your emotional health. According to the American Psychological Association, “Being active is a small but powerful change you can make to manage stress”. Just remember, if your goal is vague then it is likely you are setting yourself up for failure. If your goal is confusing, then it is not clear.
- Set a Due Date: set a deadline. By not having a deadline or end date shows a lack of commitment to accomplishing your goal(s). You should decide on a clear start and end date for your goals. You may decide to adjust your due date, but be careful with this! Stay committed to your end date by all means necessary. If you decide it will take you one week, one month, or one year to complete your task then commit to that time-frame.
- Plan: make a plan. If your goal is to start going the gym then you should begin making plans on how you will get to the gym (figure out your transportation). Figure out if you can afford to pay for a gym membership. If you cannot afford it, then consider incorporating exercise in your daily routine (i.e. try walking more, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, follow a free exercise show on TV, or attend free exercise workshops in your community (i.e. some Wholefood stores offer free Yoga classes). Make a plan because you will need it to help you navigate through self-doubt and setbacks.
- Anticipate Setbacks: prepare yourself to deal with setbacks, hurdles, and disappointments. Prepare yourself mentally by figuring out how you are going to deal with your setbacks. For instance, your car is in need of repair and you can’t get to the gym, or you’ve been asked to work overtime/double shifts at work. These are common setbacks that can derail your momentum. Always be prepared to deal with a setback. If you don’t have transportation to the gym, what will you do to not miss your workout and to maintain your momentum? If you find yourself in this situation, then you can consider some of the following alternatives: you can exercise at home, go walking in your neighborhood, or invite a friend to work out with you at your gym and ask to arrive transportation at the same time. Always remember it is not a matter of if, but when. Be prepared to handle setbacks by having some planned alternatives. Unexpected things will occur but what is important to remember is how you are going to deal with them. Once you have accomplished your goals, you will have confidence in knowing that you can take on other tasks that may have seemed impossible to do at first.
Past Traumatic Experiences and Maladaptive Behaviors
by Diahann JohnBaptiste, MPA, MS, LAPC
Individuals with past traumatic experiences may unconsciously reenact those traumatic experiences in their present lives. This baffling phenomenon is called reenactment. The following example of reenactment is an excerpt from an article written by Michael S. Levy, entitled “A Helpful Way to Conceptualize and Understand Reenactments”:
“An individual may also seek out a person who is like a past abuser and
reenact a past traumatic relationship out of a need to change the other
person in order to feel better about herself. For example, a woman who
was abused by her father and who blamed herself for this found herself
in a relationship with an abusive man. The woman’s unconscious attraction
to this person was rooted in a desire to get him to treat her well, which, if
successful, would have ameliorated her feelings of self-blame and badness.
She never succeeded, however, and a reenactment occurred. Although her
effort was an attempt to master an earlier conflict, it was a maladaptive
one; she continues to be involved in a destructive relationship where her
needs were never met”.
For instance, a client worried about the possibility of becoming homeless and the burdens of caring for family members stated, “I am tired of disrupting my children’s lives by constantly moving. Now that we have nowhere to go, I feel helpless. My mother moved us around a lot, and it was disruptive for me”. The therapist empathically reframed the client’s statement by saying, “you are doing to your kids what your mother did to you. You are worried and unsure of what to do now, is that what I’m hearing you say?” The client responds, “I did not realize that. I guess I never made the connection, but that is what is happening. Yes, my mother did the same thing and now I’m doing it to my kids”.
In this case, we are reminded of the philosophies of psychiatrist Alfred Adler who stressed the need to understand individuals within their social context. By engaging this client to examine personal beliefs that are attached to childhood experiences, the client is able to identify current patterns of behavior that can be linked to childhood; and attribute those behaviors to existing unhealthy habits and unpleasant events. Dr. Adler believed, it is when we have looked at our early life experiences, examined the patterns of behavior that repeat themselves in our lives, and the methods by which we go about trying to gain significance and belonging that healing, growth, and change occur (Adler Graduate School).
The therapist would continue to work with the client to examine other behaviors (i.e. the client stated, “when stressed all I want to do is drink. I don’t think I’m an alcoholic like my father, but I always have the urge to drink”). The client would need to explore their past, process thoughts and emotions, and make connections to present behaviors. If the client has the strength to explore their traumatic past, they will gain understanding of their behaviors and how unconscious reenactments lead to feelings of helplessness and shame. According to Levy, 998, many individuals re-create and repetitively relive the trauma in their present lives. Dr. Levy stated, “reenactments may occur in unintentional ways, however other writers postulate reenactments occur as a means of achieving mastery. That is a traumatized individual reenacts a trauma in order to remember, assimilate, integrate, and heal from the traumatic experience”.
Additionally, van der Kolk, 1989, published an article titled, “The compulsion to repeat the trauma: re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism”, that indicated many traumatized people expose themselves, seemingly compulsively, to situations reminiscent of the original trauma. These behavioral reenactments are rarely consciously understood to be related to earlier life experiences.
In moving forward, the therapist would provide necessary support by affirming the client’s emotions as they address their past traumatic experiences, and explore the reasons why the reenactments are occurring. If the client is willing to do some work in exploring their past (while trusting the guidance of their therapist), they can and will make discoveries in understanding their behaviors, thoughts, and emotions that are all connected to their past traumatic experience that is connected to a current pattern of unhealthy and unproductive behaviors.
Adler Graduate School. Alfred Adler: Theory and Application. Retrieved from http://www.alfredadler.edu/about/theory
Levy, M.S. (1998). A Helpful Way to Conceptualize and Understand Reenactments. The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 7(3), 227–235.
van der Kolk, B.A. (1989). The compulsion to repeat the trauma: re-enactment, revictimization, and masochism. Psychiatric Clinic North America, 12(2), 389-411.
Preventing Suicide is Everyone’s Business
BY: Diahann JohnBaptiste, MPA, MS
Posted: Aug. 16 2014
I echo and support the challenge of advocating for those who suffer from depression and other mental health conditions. The following is a statement from Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin, “As members of a family, school, business, neighborhood, faith communities, friends, and our government, we all need to work together to solve this problem. I ask everyone to help by learning about the symptoms of mental illnesses and substance abuse, the warning signs of suicide, how to stand with and support someone who is in crisis, and how to get someone you care about the help they need”.
The death of the beloved actor Robin Williams has energized the public interest in talking about depression and suicide. Within the past 24 hours, graphic details revealing how Mr. Williams died was shared with the public. The premature disclosure of details describing his death seemed to weigh heavyly on the minds of his fans based on pubic responses shared on various social media outlets. Additionally, speculations on the reason why Mr. Williams decided to end his life were rampant. Until recent, his wife said in a statement, “Robin Williams’ sobriety was intact as “he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly.”
As a mental health provider, I wonder what signs (if any) were displayed by Mr. Williams, and whether or not they went unnoticed. A depressed person with suicidal ideations (thoughts) may not display obvious signs that can be noticed or recognized by loved ones. Warning signs are not always obvious and vary from person to person. In some instances a person may make their intention of suicide clear, while others will keep their intentions a secret. Having some knowledge of the warning signs of suicide is very important.
According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE), the following signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change. If you recognize the following behaviors in a love one encourage them to seek help by a doctor or mental health professional.
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
- Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
- Talking about being a burden to others.
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
- Sleeping too little or too much.
- Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
- Displaying extreme mood swings.
Additional Warning Signs of Suicide
- Preoccupation with death.
- Suddenly happier, calmer.
- Loss of interest in things one cares about.
- Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
- Making arrangements; setting one’s affairs in order.
- Giving things away, such as prized possessions
The National Council’s Magazine (visit at the National Counsel for Behavioral Health) has provided the following protective factors for suicide:
- Encourage the individual to get support through ongoing medical and mental healthcare relationships (help them schedule an appointment with a physician or mental health provider)
- Encourage the individual to maintain strong connections to family and community support
- Let them know there are easy access to a variety of clinical interventions (refer to my resources page at Resources)
- Restrict access to highly lethal means of suicide tools or weapons
- Help them or encourage them to develop skills in problem solving, conflict resolution and handling problems in a non-violent way
- Get involved with cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support self-preservation
- Support effective clinical care for mental, physical and substance use disorders
A person in crisis should seek help by talking to someone, or seeing a doctor or mental health professional. Help is available!