What is the Purpose of Mental Health Hospitals?

Feb 2

Recently, I had the privilege of appearing on HealthyPlace’s Facebook Live show. Host Emily Roberts, aka Guidance Girl Em (amazing!) and I talked about anxiety. (If you missed it live, catch the recording.) During the live show, audience members asked questions, and some of the questions were about mental hospitals, including what they’re like and how to know when you need one.

Perhaps the topic of hospitals came up because I mentioned it. I shared that part of my own anxiety treatment was in a behavioral health hospital. It can be hard to ask questions or have any sort of open discussions about mental health hospitals because the idea is intimidating and anxiety-provoking. Also, there is little understanding about what these hospitals are really like (images from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest seem indelibly burned into our collective memory). The stigma surrounding them silences questions as does the possibility of receiving inaccurate information.

The best way around these obstacles is to have conversations, like the one we had during the Facebook Live show. Further, seeking information so you can make an informed decision for yourself or a loved one is beneficial, too. Mental Health America provides comprehensive information about psychiatric hospitalization. This brief list provides a basic overview of some aspects of mental health hospitalization:

  • The purpose is to help and heal, not to punish and confine.
  • Hospitals can help you figure out what you’re experiencing (diagnoses aren’t always easy and clear)
  • The environment is safe and muted, with less stress than outside of the hospital so you can focus on getting better
  • Hospitals provide structure and activities focused on helping you get better

Hospitals are designed to be places where people can development a realistic treatment plan and set of coping skills to use in everyday life outside the hospital. They’re not designed to be long-term facilities but rather pit stops along the road of your life.

Of course, like anything in life, not all hospitals are created equal. Some are magnificent, others aren’t. People are different, too, so even within the same hospital, people can have different experiences — some positive, some negative.

In general, mental health hospitals are positive places (even if you don’t want to be there) where people can receive the proper help in order to thrive in life outside the hospital.

Tune in to Wellbeing & Words on YouTube, where I talk about how you know if you need a mental health hospital and describe what they’re like inside.

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Use the DEAR Method to Make Time for Wellbeing

Jan 19

Learn the DEAR method, or Drop Everything And Rejuvinate, to make time for mental health, wellbeing, and stress relief every day.

 

Someone recently submitted a question for the Wellbeing & Words Q&A show that is quite likely something we all struggle with: how to make sure we take time for wellbeing during our busy days.

Is there something I can do to make sure I de-stress during the day? Every morning I have great intentions, but almost every night I realize that I didn’t take time for my wellbeing.

Happily, there is a way to make sure we take time to rejuvenate during even the busiest of days. I call it the DEAR method. Tune in to this episode of Wellbeing & Words to learn about Dropping Everything And Rejuvenating.

 

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How to Reduce Stress When Reducing Stress Causes Anxiety

Jan 17

Reducing stress is healthy, but not when reducing stress causes anxiety. Here's how you can fear stress relief yet do it anyway to enhance your wellbeing.

 

It’s perhaps surprising, but true: the idea of reducing stress can actually cause anxiety rather than alleviate it. We do have legitimate reasons for clinging to stress despite wanting relief from it. Sometimes the mere idea of relaxing causes anxiety because we’re afraid that our performance will decline or that seeking stress relief will cause us to be judged as weak. Stress can come to be a badge of honor, too. High degrees of stress can show the world, and ourselves, how much we are achieving or how much we care about loved ones, and more.

Yes, we have reasons for clinging to stress, and feeling anxious about reducing it is normal and legitimate. That doesn’t mean, however, that stress isn’t harming our mental- and physical health. This list is just a sampling of what stress does to us. Stress can cause:

  • • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • High blood pressure
    • Heart disease
    • Angina (chest pain)
    • Obesity
    • Diabetes
    • Headaches
    • Fatigue
    • Digestive problems
    • Sleep disturbances, including insomnia

Additionally, stress exacerbates almost all existing mental disorders and physical illnesses.

You know that stress is harmful and preventing you from fully living the quality life you want to live. You know that it’s compromising your mental health, physical health, relationships, and general enjoyment of life. Yet just thinking about reducing stress causes (or increases) anxiety and fear. How on Earth do you deal with this conundrum?

Fixing the Stress Conundrum

Getting out of this trap will likely take some effort, but it is absolutely possible to reduce your stress in spite of being afraid to do so. Not only that, in the process, you can even begin to perform better than ever—which in turn will reduce stress even more.

The process of moving past your anxiety and reducing stress can involve these steps:

1. List what stress reduction means to you, both positive and negative possible outcomes. What are your goals, and what are your fears and anxieties? Be specific, and list all that comes to mind. No holding back.

Positive Outcomes That Could Come When I Reduce Stress

Example: I’ll feel great and will be able to bike long distances again.

 

Negative Outcomes that Might Happen When I Reduce Stress

Example: I wouldn’t be able to ride anyway because I’d lose my job and wouldn’t be able to afford the bike and all other equipment.

 

2. Explore your anxieties and fears about reducing stress. If they happen, what will it mean for you (what is the worst that can happen)

My Worries About the Consequences of Reducing Stress

Example: I’ll lose my job and won’t be able to afford any of the fun things that I could do.

 

What This Means To Me/The Worst that Can Happen

Example: Everyone would know that I had failed and that I don’t even have enough money for a stupid bike. I couldn’t show my face around people that know me as successful. 

 

3. Meet your fears where they are. Assume they come true. How can you use the result to work toward the positive goals/outcomes you listed above? Use the negative as an opportunity to achieve the positive.

Because This Happened (or Might Happen)…

Example: I lost my job and people are judging me as a failure.

 

…I Can Now…

Example: …pursue a different job or even a new career, something that I like better and actually would be less stressful. I might feel good enough to enjoy my life, and I really don’t have to buy $2000 worth of equipment to do so. Life isn’t all or nothing. 

 

By doing these exercises, you come to meet your anxiety about stress reduction right where it is: in your way. This helps you accept different possible outcomes, and it can also help you see that some of your worst case scenarios aren’t likely to happen. Will you really lose your job because you’re making time for a nightly walk? Will that stress-reducing activity make you perform less well? Or will it possibly make you do your job even better? Either way, you can see that you can create positive outcomes. This knowledge alone is an excellent wellbeing enhancer.

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Do Simple Things to Boost Long-Term Wellbeing

Jan 13

Our wellbeing—physical, mental, and the rest of the package that embodies who we are at our very core—is a lifelong journey. We make changes and choices that gradually increase it, and we take action to maintain it. Wellbeing isn’t a one-time deal. There are no shortcuts to wellbeing, mental health, and physical health.

While there aren’t shortcuts and cheat codes, there are steps and techniques. You can do simple things throughout your day, every day, to increase your wellbeing. When you choose to do such things regularly, you’ll notice positive changes in your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Challenges like anxiety and depression will decrease, and your enjoyment of yourself and your life will increase.

Just because wellbeing has no quick-fix solutions doesn’t mean that it has to be arduous. Building wellbeing involves doing simple things regularly.
In the below video (from my Wellbeing & Words YouTube channel), I offer two such simple things. I invite you to tune in and give them a try.

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5 Ways Reading Enhances Wellbeing

Nov 14

Books are our good buddies, and reading them boosts our wellbeing. Reading lets us escape and de-stress, and it adds positivity and enjoyment to our daily lives, helping us live a quality life, or as positive psychologists call it, a life worth living.

It’s the small things we do every day that add up to big results, such as the ability to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, negative thoughts, and more, and—the key—to replace those things with mental and physical health.

Books are among those small-but-big things. Here are five ways that reading enhances wellbeing:

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Checklist to Help Make an Emotionally Healthy School Year

Sep 12

 

Emotional health is just as important as academics when it comes to your child's or teen's wellbeing. Learn how to help them be emotionally healthy.

The school year is underway. Classes have begun, students are learning, and ideally, there’s a concerted effort among schools, home life, and other support systems to help students build academic success. Academics are important, but they’re not the only part of school. Our kids, no matter their grade, deal with an entire world of people and situations that impact their emotional health and wellbeing.

A child’s daily school experience involves learning, and it involves navigating the world of peers, teachers, other adults, expectations and routines that vary from classroom to classroom, lunchroom norms, playground dynamics, and more.

What’s often hard for parents is the fact that we can’t control much of what our kids experience during their school day. What parents can do, however, is to help their children create, fill, and maintain a school supply list for an emotionally healthy school year.

What, Exactly, Does Emotionally Healthy Mean for Kids and Teens?

Life isn’t perfect. School isn’t perfect. To be emotionally healthy doesn’t mean a child feels only happiness or other positive emotions. To be emotionally healthy means that a child (anyone, actually) is resilient, bouncing back from all of the bumps and potholes, and experiences wellbeing in spite of those bumps and potholes.

It’s sad but true: parents can’t control much of what their kids experience. Happy and true: parents can impact how their kids handle what comes their way every day at school. How? These supply-list concepts can help you help your child:

Help kids and teens identify and understand their emotions. Emotions are complex and can be difficult to understand. When kids’ can’t identify their emotions, the emotions become incredibly overwhelming and even harder to handle. Observe their body language, tone of voice, and content of their words, and reflect it back to them in a neutral, non-judgmental way. This will help them develop words for what they feel. When they can articulate their feelings, they begin to have power over them as opposed to letting the emotions control them. This leads to emotional intelligence and emotional regulation, both essential for emotional health.

 

Work with them to monitor their emotions and then choose thoughts. It’s common for kids to catastrophize, taking a bad experience and super-sizing it so that it encompasses everything in their world. For example, a child or teen who is shunned by a friend quite commonly will think that everyone hates him. When you notice this type of thinking, help him identify her emotions, and then help him put her thoughts in perspective. Have him name one person who was nice to him that day, and build from there. Helping kids and teens notice how their emotions are shaping their thoughts, and then helping them question their thoughts and look for other evidence is a very important part of helping them develop emotional health.

 

Allow kids to empower themselves through their actions. Emotional health involves three key principles: feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Kids can’t always control what will happen to them. They can, however, control what they do about it. Even the youngest elementary school student can begin to learn—and use—this lesson. The first step is item one on the school-supply list; kids need to learn to identify their emotions. Next comes monitoring both emotions and thoughts. With this awareness comes the ability to act. Help kids understand that they have a choice in how they behave. A crucial message for emotional health is you can’t always control how others act, but you can control how you react.

 

The positive. Help kids find the positive every day. I tell people, whether it was my students, it’s my own children, or it’s adults in my life, to make great moments in their day. “Have a good day” isn’t very empowering. Teaching your kids that they can make great moments in their day sends important messages; it tells them that they are in control of making their day great—they’re not dependent upon things they can’t control—and it tells them that even though an entire day might not be great, the day will have positive, great moments. This is a very important perspective for emotionally healthy kids.

 

An emotionally healthy child or teen views life realistically and positively. An emotionally healthy child or teen thrives in school, both academically and socially, despite problems. Creating an emotionally healthy school year means that you and your son or daughter are creating strategies for dealing with problems, keeping the problems separate from the self, and focusing on the positive. This, as much as anything else, is part of the foundation for life success.

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How to Quiet Your Mind

Aug 15

 

Quieting your mind is important for mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. With patience and practice, you can quiet your mind. Learn how.

 

The idea of quieting the mind seems like a foreign concept, esoteric and perhaps even the stuff of science fiction. As our society get busier and noisier and faster, so, too, do our minds. Stress levels have skyrocketed, tens of millions of people live with anxiety disorders and more than that experience bothersome anxiety that isn’t quite diagnosable as a disorder. “Agitated” has become the new form of “calm.” Because of this, experts in the fields of psychology, mental health, wellbeing, spirituality, and common sense agree: it is more important than ever to be able to step back and quiet the mind.

It’s a conundrum. Our mind races with thoughts of stressors, worries, and fears. Racing thoughts become broken records, and we begin to focus too much on these thoughts, strengthening and perpetuating them. We overthink. For our own health and wellbeing, we need to become still, to quiet our mind. But because of our racing thoughts, becoming still seems impossible. The harder we try to quiet our mind, the busier our mind grows.

To be sure, quieting your mind is challenging. Doing it, though, brings deep peace. Imagine facing the same stressors you face now but feeling at-ease in spite of them. Imagine, too, possessing the ability to believe fully in yourself and rise above stress and anxiety. Quieting your mind brings these mental health benefits. With patience, practice, and persistence, you can quiet your mind. These five tips can help you along your journey:

5 Tips to Learn How to Quiet Your Mind

  1. Become physically still and comfortable. The mind and body follow each other in a dance.
  2. Breathe slowly and deeply. Let your mind concentrate on your inhalations and exhalations (but don’t force it).
  3. Be mindful. Tune in to your senses. Pay more attention to what you see, hear, feel, and smell than your thoughts.
  4. Accept your thoughts rather than fighting against them. Allow negative thoughts to come and go while you do your own thing and practice mindfulness.
  5. Gently conjure images of positive things, such as your personal values and goals. Visualize yourself experiencing them.

For the visual among us, here are the principles in graphic form.

Quieting your mind is important for mental health, including reducing stress and anxiety. With patience and practice, you can quiet your mind. Here's how.

 

One of the approaches to mental health and wellbeing that promotes the above principles is acceptance and commitment therapy.  With ACT, you define what’s important to you and learn how to accept what you can’t change while taking charge of creating a high-quality life. For a workbook that shows you how to quiet your mind and create your life worth living, check out Break Free: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy in 3 Steps.

Using the five steps to quiet your mind will help you, over time, create inner peace and contentment. The stressors will remain, but you won’t become trapped in them.

 

 

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Enhance Your Emotional Health with a Bare Spot in a Garden

Aug 8

We can enhance our emotional health with a bare spot in a garden. Creating a bare spot helps shift perspective and appreciate beauty despite what’s around us.

 

Emotional health is an important component of our mental health and has to do with our subjective emotions like joy and sorrow, pride and shame, self-love and self-loathing, and more. While it’s true that emotions come and go, often striking us seemingly out of the blue, it’s also true that we are not powerless in the face of our feelings. While we might not entirely stop them, we can rise above negative emotions in order to live well in spite of them. One way to do so is by creating a bare spot in your garden.

A brief visualization exercise might be helpful here. Close your eyes and imagine a beautiful, lavish garden. What does it look like? What flowers or plants are present? Are there trees? Would you enjoy a pond, and if so, what is in it? How do you enjoy this garden? Are there comfortable benches or a swing within the garden or nearby? Perhaps there’s a winding path for walking meditation. Now become still and appreciate the beauty of this garden. As your eyes roam, your gaze falls on a patch of bare ground, dry and devoid of visible life.

Perspective and Emotional Health

As you continue to observe, where do you find your focus? Are you returning to the bare spot over and over again, are you seeing it while you’re looking at the beauty around it, or are you ignoring it and avoiding looking anywhere near it? Your response to the bare patch, a response you can learn to choose intentionally, is an important factor in your emotional health.

Our negative emotions are often responses to external events in our lives. We face stressors and problems on a daily basis. Some are chronic, such as toxic relationships, a hostile work environment, the effects of trauma, or caring for a loved one who is ill or disabled. Additionally, our negative emotions can be caused by internal factors such as mental illness or other mental health challenges.

Like everything in life, emotions are neither all good nor all bad. Just as there are negative emotions, there are positive ones, too. Some are a mix of both. Self-conscious emotions, those that deal with our feelings about ourselves, can be positive and motivating or negative and damaging. It’s actually not the emotions themselves but what we do about them that determine our emotional health.

The situations, whether external or internal, that cause unpleasant or life-disrupting emotions are the bare patches in the garden of life. Compared to everything else around them, they’re ugly. Barren. They seem to have nothing to offer. They ruin the garden. How can someone enjoy the garden of life and make it a garden worth being in when there are unsightly, dirty patches?

It’s a legitimate question that leads to some very important questions:

  • What is the rest of the garden like?
  • Is the bare patch truly capable of ruining the entire rest of the garden?
  • Does the spot make the nearby vegetation worthless?
  • Is the bare spot in control of what you see in the garden, or are you in control of your perspective?
  • Are you looking exclusively at the bare spot in the garden of your life?
  • Are you trying hard to avoid it but find yourself unwillingly focusing on it (because if you try not to think of X, you’re still thinking of X)?
  • Are you seeing the complete garden, all of it—flowers, bare spot, and all—and appreciating its beauty for what it is?

To Enhance Mental Health, Appreciate Beauty No Matter What Surrounds You

Reflecting on your complete garden allows you to appreciate real beauty, the wonderful flawed beauty that is life and people and gardens, and to develop the emotionally healthy perspective that allows you to see the good that exists despite the not-so-good. Appreciation of beauty, incidentally, is one of the character strengths that research in the field of positive psychology has shown to be a component of mental health and wellbeing.

I planted a small flower garden in my backyard, and I purposely left a bare spot as a reminder to check my perspective, appreciate beauty, and maintain emotional health and wellbeing. Negative and positive will always exist together. It’s how we see it that enhances our emotional health.

Consider planting a garden of your own. If you don’t have a place for a garden, you might buy plant and a flower pot that is bigger than necessary. You’ll have your own mini garden, complete with a bare spot, as a reminder of perspective and emotional health.

 

 

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Life, Mental Health are Balancing Acts

Aug 1
So be sure when you step.
Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act.
                              —Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss certainly knew his stuff. Life—and mental health—are indeed a Great Balancing Act. Specifically, they’re about balancing doing with being.

The Act of Doing

Doing is the stuff of life. We must do in order to live. We rise in the morning and forge ahead into the day of relationships, chores, work, and a seemingly endless to-do list of random yet crucial tasks. This doing is action and is vital for life-living, mental health, and wellbeing. Some of the benefits doing include:

  • meeting your needs—securing food, water, shelter, love and belonging, financial resources, etc.
  • creating a sense of empowerment—I can do it!
  • providing a source of energy—I am doing it and I’m charged up to keep going
  • building self-confidence and self-efficacy—”I didn’t think I could, I didn’t have the energy, but I did it anyway.”

Yes, taking action is crucial for our mental health and wellbeing. Taking even small steps, doing little things, goes a long way toward the place you want to be.

Despite the fact that doing is vital, too much action (or feeling too much pressure to act) can be damaging to our mental health and wellbeing. Living our lives on a hamster wheel can lead to

  • increased stressed, which negatively impacts mind, body, and spirit
  • fatigue, which is caused by too much emphasis on doing as well as the accompanying sleep disruptions
  • anxiety—the sense that nothing is ever done, is ever good enough and that you should be constantly working in order to be worthy, accepted, secure, etc.
  • depression— too much doing can throw us, including out brain chemistry, out of balance and negatively impact our mental health so significantly that we develop depression.

The Balancing Act: Doing and Being

If too much doing does more harm than good, its seems logical that we should stop doing that. Logical, perhaps, but it’s not always easy. Have you ever noticed that when you want to stop doing something, it becomes difficult? That’s because there’s an important piece missing: replacement.

To reduce something isn’t enough. We have to replace it with something else in order to fill in the hole left when we stop something. Replacement brings balance to our lives. In this case, to nurture our mental health by reducing our habit of frantically doing, we need to reduce the amount of harried action we’re taking and replace it with the opposite of doing: being.

Our being is our nature, the core of our self. Being is existing. It’s honoring who we are and allowing ourselves to be in each moment. Being involves mindfulness, using all of your senses to be fully present in the moment. It involves slowing down when you’re feeling agitated and taking slow, deep breaths to calm yourself down. Being is discovering what you like and doing more of it. In a state of simply being, we don’t feel pressured to do.  Being benefits our wellbeing in numerous ways, such as

  • quelling self-doubt—when we honor and accept ourselves for who we are, we begin to believe in ourselves more and more
  • relaxation—when we allow ourselves to just exist without the pressure to constantly do, we can let go of stress and reduce tension
  • stress-relief—when we allow ourselves to just be, our thinking slows, our muscles relax, breathing becomes slower and deeper, and we feel centered rather than pulled frantically in multiple directions.
  • enjoyment—when we slow down and let ourselves exist without self-judgment and rules for what we “should” be doing, we free ourselves up to discover what brings us meaning and to pursue it wholeheartedly.

Too much of either one, of being and doing, isn’t desirable. In excess, both disrupt our mental health and wellbeing because of a lack of balance between the two. We need to be do-ers, and wee need to be beings. We need a balance of doing and being, of action and relaxation.

Doing and Being: A Balance Budget

Achieving a balance between doing and being can be easier said than done. It’s one thing to know that this balance is important and another thing altogether to create and maintain that balance. First, know that it’s a process. It takes time to figure out what your personal balance looks like. Then, the balancing act takes practice. These two tips can help you achieve the balance:

  • Make lists, draw pictures, cut out images, or otherwise represent all of the things you have to do/want to do and all of the ways you like to relax, enjoy, and be—this will help you what’s important to you in both categories
  • Create a budget. Give yourself a certain number of “units” to spend in the doing category and in the being category each day. Track your spending to ensure you’re maintaining the balance you desire.

Striking a balance between doing (going, going, constantly going) and being (allowing yourself to relax and resist) will help you attain and sustain mental health and wellbeing.

 

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Talk about Mental Health in a New Way: Start a Book Club

Jul 25

 

Mental health book clubs allow us to talk about mental health in a new way. Explore the benefits of a mental health book club and get tips on starting one.

There’s much for us to gain by talking about mental health.

Globally, talking about mental health brings the topic of mental health and its challenges and disorders out of the dark shadows and into the sunlight. It can be seen and heard and felt. It can even be tasted: NAMI Seattle holds an annual Depressed Cake Shop (an event that began in the UK and is spreading around the planet), an event that raises both funds and awareness.

Individually, having mental health conversations legitimizes the fact that hey, we all face challenges—whether or not they’re diagnosable as a mental illness—and allows us to share experiences, feel normalized, and develop strategies for maintaining optimum mental health. How, though, does one easily and safely go about talking about mental health? Through a book club, of course.

I started a book club with my local NAMI chapter. In short, the National Alliance on Mental Illness is an organization that provides support and education for people living with mental illness and for family members/care givers of people living with mental illness. People whose lives have been touched by mental illness in some way can enhance their mental health and wellbeing through NAMI’s services.

Even in such a supportive environment, it can be difficult to talk about mental health when it’s so personal. The Wellbeing & Words Book Club, like all book clubs, offer a way to discuss tough issues in a safe way—through characters and setting and plot and storyline that is tucked safely between covers.

Books aren’t a way to hide, though; instead, they’re a way to express. They humanize the broad concept of mental illness. Books and their clubs spark open-ended questions and encourage exploration and discussion. Mental health books, both fiction and nonfiction, show what mental illness is like. They inspire hope of recovery.

In the Wellbeing and Words Book Club, participants naturally and comfortably share their own stories as they relate to the book. Books offer a safe platform on which to walk. Some participants prefer to discuss only the books themselves, and they can do so without the pressure to get personal. It is, after all, a book club rather than a support group. The support that happens comes naturally through the books themselves.

Interested in starting a mental health book club? These tips might be useful:

  • Find a local organization to host. Many organizations welcome new ideas and the chance to enhance the way they serve their communities.
  • Hate the idea of asking an organization to host? That’s okay! Start your own. Most general book clubs meet on their own, usually at someone’s house or a restaurant, and initially involve just a few friends or acquaintances.
  • Use Goodreads to develop a list of mental health books. You can search their lists for such books.
  • As you read, jot down topics that stand out to you and use those as starting points.
  • Focus on takeaways. What did each member gain from the book that he/she can use in daily life?

Perhaps I’m biased about the power of mental health books, as that’s what I write. I do so intentionally because books have the power to influence lives, to increase understanding, to develop empathy. Sharing books with others is a great way to talk about mental health in a new way.

 

 

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