Mar 21

What is Hope? 10 Definitions of Hope

Hope. It’s something that is an integral part of mental health and wellbeing. We know it’s important, and we hear the word used frequently. But what, exactly, is hope?

Part of knowing what hope is involves knowing what it is not. Hope isn’t fluff. It’s not empty. Hope isn’t false or shallow or misguided, and it’s not a desperate, last-ditch effort to hold on to what is escaping us.

More than a mere belief, hope is a conviction. It’s the knowledge that we can and will overcome challenges, heal, and thrive. Hope is that, and it’s so much more.

Hope is…
  1. realistic optimism
  2. living with challenges and obstacles and illness and taking action anyway
  3. doing something you enjoy because somewhere deep inside you know you deserve it
  4. feeling fear and working to overcome it
  5. being unable to leave the house but still making plans for the future
  6. reaching out for help
  7. daydreaming
  8. finding one way to be okay when you have 20 reasons why you’re not
  9. taking medication and/or going to therapy because you’re determined to thrive
  10. and…


Twenty-Four Shadows of Hope

In Twenty-Four Shadowsa novel about a man living with dissociative identity disorder, Isaac Bittman’s world is falling apart. He is overwhelmed and often doesn’t even know if he can, or should, keep going. But he loves his wife, and he loves his son. Even though he doesn’t know if he can move forward, he knows that he wants to; therefore, he gets treatment and help. That is hope. Hope is doing something despite uncertainty of the outcome.

The following glimpse into the story shows a despairing Isaac who, after a switch to an alternate identity and back, is terrified that he’s unworthy of his family’s love and support.

Reese steered Isaac to their bathroom, the place where the two of them had doctored Dominic’s boo-boos the day after his birthday party. Now, as lovingly as she had tended to Dominic, Reese helped Isaac. She helped him remove his sweat-soaked clothes and the wet dressings that wound around parts of his body and made him look half mummified. She opened the bag given to him when he left the hospital and extracted what she needed to re-dress all of his cuts and gashes. Isaac watched her intently. If she would have made eye contact with him, he would have looked away in shame. Because she looked only at what she was doing, he was able to watch her. He was grateful that she didn’t look at him, but he was also crushed to pieces by the thought that she probably could no longer stand to look at his face.

When she finished, she took his hand in hers and led him into their bedroom to help him into dry clothes. Throughout the process, neither spoke, and by the time he was dressed in fresh sweats and t-shirt, he was so worried that she hated him that he came dangerously close to throwing up all over his clean clothes. He started to slump out of the room, but she stepped in front of him, blocking his path. Because he still couldn’t bear to look her in the eye, he turned his head to look at the artwork on the wall. It was a modern print made up of concentric circles that Dominic thought looked like a target. It still had little marks on it from a few months ago when Dominic had decided to use it as an actual target for these sticky wall-walker gummy things he bought with his tickets at Chuck E. Cheese’s. Reese put her hand under his chin and turned his head away from the artwork so that now he was looking at something far more beautiful than any piece of art. She transcended art; he was lower than garbage. He was so sure that she found him hateful and disgusting that he was thoroughly surprised when she kissed him in a way that told him in no uncertain terms that she did not, in fact, plan to throw him away. He wondered, briefly, if together they could be trash art. He sure as hell hoped so.

Hope is feeling scared and unworthy but, when someone kisses you, you kiss them back anyway. Hope is feeling like trash but wanting to create trash art.

Hope is you, your hopes and dreams, and everything you do “anyway.”

Learn where to purchase Twenty-Four Shadows and other books. 

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Mar 14

Self-Confidence : Finding Yourself, Keeping Yourself

Self-confidence is a major component of our mental health and wellbeing. Self-confidence involves valuing yourself (as in self-esteem), and it involves believing you have the ability to do things (as in self-efficacy). Self-confidence also is about feeling deeply satisfied with who you are as a human being, with all of your strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and struggles. Self-confidence is knowing that you’re not perfect and being okay with it. When you have self-confidence, you know that life isn’t perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. You feel good about your ability to create a quality life in which you are strong enough to hang on for the ride.

Self-confidence would be an empowering thing to have in large quantities. It’s not, however, something that comes naturally to most of us. We’re quick to see our flaws but reluctant to see our strengths. We tend to have a bad habit of comparing ourselves to others and feeling like we don’t measure up. We see what others choose to project to the world and compare it to the stuff we keep hidden away. As a result, we have a difficult time feeling, or sustaining, a sense of self-confidence and our overall sense of mental health and wellbeing takes repeated hits.

Gaining Self-Confidence: Finding Yourself and Keeping Yourself

It’s possible to increase your self-confidence and maintain it so it lifts you up rather than pulls you down. Believing in yourself involves knowing who you are, the complete “you.” It also involves doing things to keep the real you at the forefront of your thoughts and emotions rather than letting it slip away. Finding yourself and keeping yourself are two important components of self-confidence, mental health, and wellbeing.

These come a program for teens I’ve developed that accompanies the novel Losing ElizabethIn fact, the name of the program is Find Yourself. Keep YourselfKnowing who we are, believing in our abilities to survive tough times as well as to achieve our goals, is what self-confidence is all about.

The book and program for teens focuses on toxic vs. healthy relationships. Self-confidence is important in remaining strong (but not rigid) in relationships, but it applies in all aspects of our lives. To find yourself, ask yourself some important questions:

  • What do I enjoy right now — what are my passions?
  • What are my hopes and dreams?
  • What is important to me?
  • What type of person do I want to be?
  • What are my strengths?

These are important components of who you are, and being able to answer them is integral to building self-confidence.

Once you’ve begun the process of finding yourself, it’s important to maintain that and build on it. It is this keeping yourself that solidifies self-confidence. Some things to explore:

  • Where can I turn my values, those things that are important to me, into actions?
  • How can I use my strengths to help myself live a quality life and to help others achieve mental health and wellbeing, too?
  • What small steps can I start taking now to achieve my hopes and dreams?
  • How can I add things that I enjoy to my life?
  • How can I manifest the person I want to be?

Self-confidence is so important to mental health and wellbeing because it is who we are, and beyond that, it is what we do in our daily lives to shape who we are. When we believe we have the ability to shape our lives, we begin to do it. This belief coupled with action is self-confidence. It creates more action and then a stronger belief in who we are. Explore the above questions as you continue your journey to mental health, wellbeing, and confidence.


In this video, I read a short excerpt from Losing Elizabeth. High school junior Elizabeth had once found herself and had self-confidence. A toxic relationship, though, is chipping away at who she thinks she is. Here, her self-confidence is nearly gone. Will she be able to find herself again?


Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Mar 7

A Balanced Approach to Balance, Mental Health, and Wellbeing

Creating balance in life is one of the most important components of mental health and wellbeing. The idea of balance for mental health is that, instead of being pulled in multiple directions, sometimes tipping one way and sometimes tipping other ways, we stay centered in one spot, calmly doing life tasks. The idea of living a balanced life is valid and legitimate. Balance brings harmony around us and within us. However, the mere fact that we need to strive for balanced implies that we’re rather imbalanced. And because we’re imbalanced (and likely stressed and otherwise challenged), achieving balance can be difficult.

Multiple tools exist to help us create balance in our lives. Among them:

  • eliminating unnecessary tasks on our to-do lists
  • exercising
  • making time for a personal life, family, friends
  • cultivating a daily meditation practice
  • practicing self-care
  • getting enough quality sleep

This is only an abbreviated list, but it includes the most prominent advice for achieving balance, mental health, and wellbeing. Each and every one of the above items is a proven way to lower stress. However, there is an inherent problem here. Each one is excellent but incomplete; for true balance, we need all (or at least several) of these approaches. This becomes one more thing to balance: we have to fit wellness techniques into our already challenging lives in order to be balanced. This can trip up even the most graceful among us (I am not one of the graceful among us).

Creating Balance in Your Life

I propose a different approach to balance and to mental health and wellbeing. This approach is balance itself.



This approach to balance begins at the core—your core—and revolves around it. With this method of achieving balance, you define what a quality life means to you, what makes your life worth living, and then you live your life intentionally to achieve it. Intentional living involves

  • Work. More than paid employment, work refers to the things you do to make your life run. It also involves the ways you contribute to your world.
  • Quality time with others. Who is in your life that you like to spend time with? How do you spend that time?
  • Self-care. How are you nurturing yourself (mind, body, and spirit)?
  • Enjoyment. En-JOY is an action verb. What are you doing to create joy and happiness in your life?
  • Meaning. What brings meaning to your life? This is the “why” behind what makes your life worth living.
True Balance

Life is unpredictable. The best way to handle it is to accept this and roll with it. Picture balance as a ball. If a ball is over-inflated, rigid, and doesn’t roll, it will pop when it meets an obstacle. If we are rigid and can’t roll with life, we run the risk of popping, too.

True balance comes from doing what you need to do in each moment to live your quality life. Sometimes work will need to dominate, but we can balance that by rotating to one of the other areas. This model for balance is fluid, round, and it rotates on its axis, which happens to be your life worth living. Balance doesn’t mean straining to keep every circle the same size every minute of your life. Balance means having a vision of your quality life and taking action in all of these areas (but not all at once) to achieve it.

What is your vision of a quality life? Achieve it, and with it mental health and wellbeing, with balance.


Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 28

People are Possible: Passions, Purpose, Actions!

People are possible. We all carry within us vast possibilities: hopes, dreams, visions, passions, and much more. We want to live our lives well, to create a quality life that is worth living despite the difficulties that pop up within us and around us. Doing so isn’t always easy; however, we can be mentally healthy and thrive because we are possible. Truly, all people are possible.

Struggle is a part of the human experience, but it doesn’t have to be our only experience. We might experience relationship difficulties, problems at work or in our home life, unemployment, sickness, injury, mental illness and a myriad of other challenges. Yet we are possible anyway. We can make our lives great, full of mental health and wellbeing despite problems.

The Possibilities Within

An empowering fact: We are possible because of who we are. Consider these tips for harnessing the power of possibility within you.

  • Perspective matters.  The perspective we take and the thoughts we choose to accept or let go have a profound impact on our mental health and wellbeing. Do you get stuck to problems, letting them interfere with your wellbeing, for example, or do you separate yourself from the problems? When you can see any problem as something separate from yourself, you free yourself to draw on your strengths to keep moving forward to the life you value.
  • Passions and purpose. What is important to you in life? What do you enjoy doing? When you think of your quality life that is very much worth living, what comes to mind? When you are clear about what you want (rather than what you don’t want), it is possible for you to work toward it.
  • Actions. You don’t have to be a passive participant in your life, letting things happen to you while you react and deal with consequences. When you approach things with the proper perspective and know your passions and purpose, you are ready to take action to create the life you want. You are possible because you have the capability of taking small steps every day to live your passions and purpose, despite obstacles–because it’s possible for you to maneuver around the obstacles.
People are Possible on the Wellbeing & Words Radio Show

Discover how people are possible and how you are capable of creating mental health and the life you want with Josh Rivedal and I'm Possible.


Josh Rivedal, founder of the i’M Possible! Project, is an expert on what makes people possible. Josh hosts workshops and seminars, speaks publicly in numerous venues, writes and performs music and plays, and writes books, all to empower people, prevent suicide, and enhance mental health and wellbeing. His most recent book, The i’M Possible Project: Changing Minds, Breaking Stigma, Achieving the Impossible will be available later in 2017. Josh knows that people are possible, and he graciously agreed to be a guest on the Wellbeing & Words radio show in March, 2017.

If you miss it live on various radio stations during the month of March, that’s okay! Tune into our discussion about making people possible online, at or  [Links available after March 5.] Hear Josh read from his new book and enjoy positive, realistic messages about how people are absolutely possible.

Check out this sneak preview:

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 21

Psychological Flexibility: Making Us Pliable So We Don’t Break

Psychological Flexibility? You’ve likely heard of flexibility, and chances are when you think of the term you think of the body – as in, when you do forward bends, can you touch your toes, your knees, or your thighs? (I’m working toward the goal of consistently reaching my knees.) Flexibility most definitely involves our physical selves, but it’s more than that. It’s psychological, too. Psychological flexibility involves our entire being, and it directly impacts the life we live and our sense of wellbeing.

Psychological flexibility comes to us largely from the field of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT — said like the word). ACT is researched-based approach to mental health that puts people in charge of their lives and provides tools that people can use to create their own version of a quality life, a life worth living. Like physical flexibility, psychological flexibility improves how we feel, how we move, and how we live our lives.

Benefits of physical flexibility are widely known, and we can use them to increase our understanding of psychological flexibility.


When we have psychological flexibility, our mental health and wellbeing improve dramatically. Psychological flexibility doesn’t erase our problems and challenges. Whether they’re the symptoms and effects of mental illness, difficulties in relationships, life stressors such as more tasks ahead of us than there is times, and much, much more, problems are part of our lives. When we struggle with them, fighting against them, we make them stronger. They hold us tighter and tighter, and our ability to move and live fully becomes increasingly restricted. Psychological flexibility allows us to stop struggling and start moving freely.

“When we can be flexible about how we feel, think, and behave, we can adapt to all situations, even the most challenging. Instead of fusing and then fighting with the painful realities of our lives, we can take action to make our lives meaningful and purposeful, no matter what else is going on.” —Break Free, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps

When we have psychological flexibility, we’re not rigid. We’re not stuck in patterns of struggle. To be flexible is to be pliable. According Merriam-Webster, when we’re pliable, we’re “supple enough to bend freely or repeatedly without breaking.” That is the essence of mental health and wellbeing.

Psychological flexibility is a great concept, one that’s easy enough to get on board with. Easy concept, yes. But is it easy to attain? Up next week is a look at becoming more psychologically flexible so you can bend freely without breaking.



C. (n.d.). The importance and purpose of flexibility.

Peterson, T.J. (2016). Break free: Acceptance and commitment therapy in 3 steps. Berkeley, CA: Althea Press.

Publications, Harvard Health (n.d.). Benefits of flexibility exercises.

Therien, S. (2015, June 02). What are the benefits of good flexibility?

What is psychological flexibility? (2013, May 10).

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 14

6 Signs of Toxic Behavior for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

Teen dating violence happens. This can be hard to believe. We don’t want to think of our teenagers as being victims of relationship abuse, nor do we want to believe our teenagers are behaving in harmful ways toward their girlfriends and boyfriends. We’d also like to think that our adolescents, who are nearing adulthood, wouldn’t put up with someone hurting them. But it happens, and it can happen to any teen. That’s why Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month is essential. Knowing the signs of toxic relationships can help teens distance themselves from them, and it can help parents, teachers, and other adults help teens navigate the world of relationships.

It's Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Learn these 6 signs of a toxic relationship.(Note: Sometimes, these relationships and behaviors are referred to as toxic. Toxic describes something harmful and poisonous. I think that’s fitting here, plus it broadens the concept of abuse, which can conjure images primarily of physical violence.)

Teen dating violence is more common than we’d like to think. This can be surprising; after all, the hallways of our middle- and high schools aren’t filled with bruised and bandaged students. Abuse isn’t always visible. Teen dating violence—abuse—happens on many levels and to the entire person. It can involve physical abuse, yes, and sexual abuse; it also involves verbal abuse and emotional abuse. While there are always subtle signs that someone is being abused, abuse isn’t always obvious.

When I was a high school teacher and counselor, I saw too many teenagers, boys and girls alike, become trapped in toxic relationships. reports that

  • One in three teens is subjected to physical, sexual, emotional, or verbal abuse from a dating partner
  • 80 percent of girls who are victims of physical abuse in their dating relationship continue to date the abusive partner

Those are staggering statistics. Why would so many teens become trapped in toxic relationships? Wouldn’t the signs be obvious, and wouldn’t they get out of a relationship where they were controlled and abused? If the signs were immediately obvious, the answer would likely be yes, they would preserve themselves by walking away. Unfortunately, coupled with the fact that teens are inexperienced and often unsure when it comes to romantic relationships, the signs of toxic behavior are subtle, especially in the beginning.

Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month exists to make teens and adults alike aware of toxic relationships so they avoid becoming trapped and put a stop to abuse that’s happening to them.
For Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, here are six early warning signs of toxic behavior. Examples are from the book Losing Elizabeth.

6 Early Warning Signs of Toxic Behavior
  1. Choosing things for the other person, without consulting him/her. (In their first interaction, Brad ordered Cokes for Elizabeth and himself without asking her what she wanted.)
  2. Comments that border on sarcastic, but just innocent enough to slide by. (“Were you planning on coming to tell me that you made the varsity team, or do I have to read about it in the school paper?”)
  3. Compliments with a hint of an insult (“Wow! You look great. Are you sure you’re the same Elizabeth Carter I saw just two hours ago?”)
  4. Disinterest in the other person’s friends, family; acting polite when necessary but uncompromising (Brad brushes off Meg; Brad is nice to Elizabeth’s mom when he picks up Elizabeth but firmly refuses to go inside for snacks she had made)
  5. Wants to be with the other person, without others (At school, Brad insists that he and Elizabeth eat together and with no one else, ever.)
  6. Quick-tempered, going from calm to angry in an instant (Brad is enraged when someone accidentally bumps his and Elizabeth’s table at a crowded hang-out, spilling soda.)

These signs (especially 1-5) are subtle and tricky. We don’t want to read into everything people say and do, because that’s not healthy for us. The key is to be aware of the nature of toxic behavior and look for repeated patterns. Letting so many subtle things slide can lead to a trap.

Helping people see the warning signs of toxic behavior is an important purpose of Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. The more teens know, the more they can empower themselves to resist toxic people and relationships.

For information on Losing Elizabeth and the accompanying curriculum for schools, community groups, and parent groups, see Losing Elizabeth: Groups, Classes, & Programs.

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 7

Wellbeing: There’s a Radio Show to Empower You for That

Wellbeing is something in reach of each and every one of us, and there’s a radio show to empower you for just that: creating your own wellbeing, your own life worth living. My radio show, Wellbeing & Words, is a monthly show that provides information and inspiration to help us all craft the lives we each want to live.

What, Exactly, is Wellbeing?

Technically, wellbeing is the state of being well, but that just breaks down the word. It doesn’t do justice to the concept. There’s much more to wellbeing than a simple definition, just like there is so much more to each and every one of us than a description or a list of what we do. A few key principles that comprise the complex state we call wellbeing:

  • Wellbeing doesn’t mean the absence of problems, challenges, and hardships.
  • Wellbeing is empowering yourself to thrive despite those things. People can create their own life worth living, and thus experience wellbeing, no matter what challenges they face.
  • Wellbeing is an attitude, a mind-set, a determination.
  • Wellbeing is action.
  • Wellbeing is experiencing physical health and mental health as they apply to you personally. People face illnesses, but within the parameters of the illness, we can empower ourselves. I had a friend who was diagnosed with rapidly spreading cancer. Determined to live to the fullest what was left of his life, he continued to take walks with his wife to enjoy his world and his love. The walks grew shorter until he no longer had the strength for them. He got himself a walker so he could move in and out of the house, and he would shuffle outside and enjoy the fresh air with his wife. Cancer did impose cruel limits on my friend, but he took action to thrive in spite of it. This man empowered himself to have wellbeing until the end.

Where Does Wellbeing Come From?

Wellbeing comes from being human. Wellbeing comes from having the grit, determination, and resilience to, in the face of challenges, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again (that’s a phrase from Captain Kangaroo that has empowered me since I was four years old).

Wellbeing also involves action. Action, in fact, is the main ingredient in wellbeing. What little things can you do every day to live your values and accomplish your important goals?

One key to living a high-quality life is to take action that will move you toward your values and goals, no matter what difficulties and negative situations you may be facing. Accept the challenges and keep going!” — Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps.



A Radio Show to Empower You to Create Wellbeing

Wellbeing involves a set of tools to orchestrate attitude, mind-set, action, and more. The radio show Wellbeing  Words provides listeners with the right tools to enhance their lives, empowering them to create their own wellbeing and live their life worth living.

The Wellbeing & Words radio show draws from the fields of positive psychology, solution-focused therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, and more to help you shape and live a life that brings you joy. It reminds us all that en-JOY is an action verb. Every month, I’ll talk with an expert in the field of mental heath and wellbeing to share tips on living well. Many shows will incorporate readings from books—the “words” part of the show. The online shows also incorporate a video or a whiteboard presentation.

Each month the show airs over the radio airwaves on multiple stations as well as online at and, so you’ll have many chances to empower yourself to create wellbeing with the Wellbeing & Words radio show. Take action for your mental health and wellbeing by tuning in often.

Oh, and in addition to being a radio show, Wellbeing & Words is also a monthly newsletter. There are many ways to empower yourself to create wellbeing!

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Feb 5

College Student Suicides: Let’s Fix this Mental Health Crisis

As a world of humans, we’re facing a mental health crisis; when fellow humans turn to suicide because they feel, for various reasons, that their future is so bleak it’s non-existent and turn to death as what seems like the sole option, it’s a mental health crisis. Suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide), attempts, and completions are mental health tragedies that affect people of all ages, ethnicities, and nationalities. No group is exempt. Suicide can and does impact anyone. College students are no exception. College student suicides are a tragic problem at universities and colleges worldwide, and as a caring society who believes that mental health and wellbeing are possible for everyone, it’s time to fix this mental health crisis.

Between September, 2016 and January, 2017, a university in Ontario, Canada (locations in Guelph, Toronto and Ridgetown) has seen the deaths of four students by suicide. Understandably, the Guelph University community is seeking solutions. College student suicide (one completed suicide is too much, and four in half a school year is unthinkable) is a mental health crisis that must be fixed.

But how? Is it possible to help college students—people of all ages and backgrounds—create hope even in times of despair? Can we help each other, when blinded by overwhelming depression or other mental illness or crushing stress, see a way through?

It is possible. An important step is to be able to talk, to speak openly and frankly and be heard, for it is in this action that we can talk ourselves into solutions.

In light of the current suicides and stories from the University of Guelph TranQool has decided to donate 20 sessions for students to see registered therapists from home this week….We want the students to know that they in addition to the campus efforts to help student’s mental health they have access to TranQool. Learn more: TranQool Stands With Guelph University Students

The Basics: Information to Understand and to Help

College Student Suicide: Let's Fix This Mental Health CrisisThe Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) has a wealth of information to help reduce the mental health crisis that is suicide. Among their resources is an excellent fact sheet entitled Suicide Among College and University Students in the United States(The statistics included in this resource apply to US colleges and universities, but the information within applies to colleges and college students worldwide and can be very useful to the Guelph University students and greater community).

Mental health experts look at suicide and suicidal ideation from an in-depth perspective. They examine suicide from a problem-oriented point of view: what is it that creates such a depth of despair in people that they think of death as the only viable option? What mental health issues, specific mental illnesses, are interfering in someone’s will to live? SPRC, in the above-linked handout, delineates risk factors that include

  • behavioral health disorders
  • individual characteristics
  • stressful life situations
  • family characteristics
  • school/community factors

Knowing what risk factors to watch for in each other can help us know how to reach out with an offer to talk, or to help take someone to a professional who will listen and help.

Beyond the risk factors are protective factors. Looking at protective factors is an incredibly powerful way to fix this mental health crisis of college student (and all) suicides. The risk factors help us identify things that are wrong so we can do something about them. The protective factors help us all know what it is that we can do about them. Protective factors are strengths within each and every one of us, and protective factors are those things around us, in our circles and our communities, that help us overcome even the greatest obstacles.

SPRC identifies these categories of protective factors that we can use to transcend real challenges to thrive again:

  • individual characteristics and behaviors
  • social support
  • school and community factors

Again, the above link takes you to SPRC’s fact sheet with more information within each category, useful resources, and statistics.

It’s Possible to End the Mental Health Crisis, College Student Suicide

Hope is never lost. When people, such as college students at Guelph University and elsewhere, feel as though there is no hope for a better future, that is a mental health crisis. When people act on this very real feeling and belief and seek and end by suicide, that is a mental health crisis.

It can very much seem like hope is lost, and that’s when as a world of humans we band together and help see each other through. We can be there for each other as we wrestle with problems that, when we’re alone, seem insurmountable. We can build up each others’ protective factors and resilience. Together, we all can enhance each others’ mental health and wellbeing, and we can fix the mental health crisis that is college student suicides.

On #BellLetsTalk day we pledged to donate free sessions to those on hospital waitlists but we are now opening these free sessions up to University of Guelph students. We are also pledging to donate up to $1000 to help our inspiring TranQool ambassadors at Guelph University provide access and resources to the students. We want to ensure that every Guelph student knows that there is always help available. We stand with you. To join in the solution, help TranQool connect Guelph University students with counselors. Visit their GoFundMe campaign to make a donation of any size.

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Jan 31

What’s Dissociative Identity Disorder? An Infographic Look at DID

It can be hard to know just what dissociative identity disorder (DID) is. DID is among those mental illnesses that are incredibly misunderstood. Part of the reason is that the human brain is complex, DID is complex, and researchers are just now beginning to uncover answers. Understanding is increasing so much that experts have even changed the name from multiple personality disorder to dissociative identity disorder, a much more accurate term (because someone with DID has one personality just like everyone else; with DID, someone has different identities within his or her psyche, each with his or her own single personality).

Another reason that DID is misunderstood is because there are many books and movies that tell an entertaining story but care very little for accuracy. Recently, the moving Split was released. It had some nice surprises in that parts of the movie portrayed DID accurately. Because the movie was a thriller, though, other aspects of it misrepresented DID. Split possesses the good, the bad, and the weird. With so much misunderstanding, it’s difficult to know what dissociative identity disorder really is. Here’s an infographic look at some basic facts about DID, drawn from the realistic novel Twenty-Four Shadows.


What is dissociative identity disorder? Stories, novels, can show just what DID is and what it’s like for people in the real world to live with.

Sign up for my free monthly newsletter, Wellbeing & Words. Each issue is packed with useful tips for enhancing mental health and wellbeing, reading-related tidbits, and updates about my own mental health writing and activities. (I never share e-mail addresses with anyone.) 

Jan 24

Split and Dissociative Identity Disorder: The Good, the Bad, and the Weird

A look at how the movie Split portrays dissociative identity disorder (DID).  Why is Split a mix of good, bad, and weird?


Split is a movie that portrays a man living with dissociative identity disorder (DID), a mental disorder that develops in childhood as a defense mechanism against severe trauma, usually in the form of abuse. My daughter first introduced me to the existence of the movie, and she stated in her text message, “This is why the world needs your writing. To balance out crap like this.” (Okay, she’s maybe biased in her opinion of my writing, but I’m fine with it.) She’s right about what I do (or attempt to do). As a mental health writer, certified counselor, person who was diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after a traumatic brain injury, and general human being, I write to increase understanding and empathy.

When I read the description of Split and saw its trailers, I wondered if this would be yet another movie that gets mental illness, specifically DID, completely wrong. Would this stigmatize? Villainize? Dehumanize?

Ironically, my most recent novel, Twenty-Four Shadows (Apprentice House Press, 2016) is about a man newly diagnosed with DID and the effects it has not just on him but on his wife, young son, and best friend. The fact that Twenty-Four Shadows has been acclaimed by critics and readers alike and was named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2016 indicates that realistic stories of mental illness are becoming okay. Box office movies, though, aren’t always realistic.

The movie Split surprised me. It wasn’t all bad. Split splits its portrayal of DID into two parts, human and disorder. This is also the split between the good and the bad.

Split: The Human, the Good

The movie is about Kevin and his system of alters, the other identities that are a real part of Kevin’s mind. They see a psychiatrist by the name of Dr. Fletcher, who tells a friend, “We look at the people who have been shattered and are different as ‘less than.’ What if they’re ‘more than?’”

Spot-on, Dr. Fletcher. People living with DID are real human beings, not inferior or “less than.” While Split is a thriller and involves the kidnapping of three teenage girls, the movie does not vilify Kevin or any of his alters, although Dennis and Patricia, the two responsible for the kidnapping, are certainly not seen favorably.

In Split, the human is good—the entire human, Kevin and the alters. They’re seen as individuals in their own right, and Dr. Fletcher treats each with respect. She gets it. Split gets it. Other things that Split gets right:

  • * Different alters can and do have different traits (handedness, IQ, strengths, need for glasses, medical issues, and more)
  • * Someone with DID can function in life (Kevin’s system has held a job for 10 years, sees a therapist, lives on their own)
  • * Use of the terms “we” or “us” rather than “I” or “me”
  • * Brain scans are unique for each alter
  • * The idea of protection (alters Dennis and Patricia believe they’re the only one who can protect Kevin; in reality, all alters serve the function of protecting the primary identity, each in different ways)
  • * The presence of a structure, a place for the alters to be when they’re not out in the world (in Split it’s very  simple, just a room with a chair for each alter, but in reality, the structure is often more complex. In Twenty-Four Shadows, the structure is an elaborate blanket fort.)

Another good: many different alters e-mail Dr. Fletcher requesting emergency appointments. They are seeking help. They’re not evil.

During the movie, the audience actually chuckled playfully in reaction to Hedwig, one of the alters who is a nine-year-old boy but of course in the body of the adult character. To me, this is a very good sign. It shows that people really saw Hedwig as a child, separate from the kidnapper. Maybe in this regard, Split helps people connect with people who have DID.

Split: The bad and the Weird

Split is a thriller. Thrillers must scare, and to do so this movie uses a mental illness.

To scare, thrillers must be real enough to invade our psyche and put us on edge. Split is real enough. The bad guy is a real person with a real disorder portrayed, for the most part, in a very realistic way. For full fright effect, a thriller must go beyond the real into that which is unthinkable outside of the movie theatre. Split achieves the real and the beyond-the-real. It achieves the good, the bad, and the weird.

The good thing about Split is that it humanizes Kevin and his system of alters. The bad thing is that the disorder itself is villainized. The weird thing is that the disorder isn’t just villainized but dehumanized. The system morphs into a beast. Eye-roll. Huge you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me element.

To set the record straight and counter the bad and the weird parts of Split:

  • * The person with DID is not a monster, nor does he or she host a monster inside.
  • * The Incredible Hulk stuff like super-human size, strength, and speed, is the stuff of movies and comic books.
  • * DID isn’t in the realm of the supernatural.
  • * People with DID can’t scale walls like salamanders.

Split: A Step in the Right Direction?

Is this movie a step in the right direction? To a certain extent, it does separate the person from the illness. It humanizes the human (it’s too bad that that is necessary). But as a thriller, it does enter into the realm of the bad and the weird. It humanizes the people but dehumanizes the disorder.

We need books and movies that treat people and disorders exactly as they are. People and disorders are neither villains nor beasts.

Twenty-Four Shadows is a critically acclaimed novel about dissociative identity disorder.