Mental ________ Using the Right Word Matters

This is the second in a three-part series on mental health awareness.

Mental health. Mental wellness. Mental illness. It’s easy for mental health professionals to use these mental-healthwords almost interchangeably, but this is a mistake, according to Steve Baue, president and owner of ERC in De Pere, Wis. See

“We get sloppy with these terms,” says Baue. The Workplace Mental Health Promotion guide concurs. “Although the terms are often used interchangeably, mental health and mental illness is not the same thing; but they are also not mutually exclusive,” the guide states. “A fundamental difference between mental health and mental illness is that everyone has some level of mental health all of the time, just like physical health, whereas it is possible to be without mental illness.”

“…mental illness is a particularly dangerous word to misuse, because it can drive people from help who could really benefit from it the most.”

Baue and other sources illustrate and define the terms as follows:

* Mental wellness. This is the mental equivalent of going to the gym, eating a healthy diet, and getting a good night’s sleep, according to Baue. Like physical fitness, it involves being proactive and taking care of ourselves, while also recognizing that physical health also tends to promote mental wellness.

The World Health Organization defines it as follows: “A state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

ttc_mentalhealth_bloggerbadge* Mental illness. On the other end of the spectrum from mental wellness is mental illness. Like a physical illness, mental illness is a biological issue, often something people have a predisposition to from birth, says Baue. When we don’t focus on our mental wellness there can be an increased risk of sliding into mental illness.

Mental illness features a behavioral or mental pattern that may cause suffering or a poor ability to function in life. Such traits may be persistent, relapsing and remitting, or occur as a single episode.”

In other words, while most of us suffer from “the blues,” now and then, mental illness refers to an ongoing condition that negatively impacts a person’s daily life.

More importantly, mental illness is a particularly dangerous word to misuse, because it can drive people from help who could really benefit from it the most. When we describe a mental health condition as mental illness, a person may think, “I don’t feel like THAT, that’s an extreme of what I feel – my issue is small in comparison.” The result is someone not seeking care because they don’t feel their issue rises to the right level of need.

* Mental health. This is the overarching part of the equation. While not easy to pinpoint, it refers to an individual’s life events, particularly a person’s health and family, according to Baue. puts it this way: “Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”

Life events drive our mental condition; regardless of whether that is healthy (mental wellness), or unhealthy (mental illness). Factors that can tilt us toward illness include: biological conditions, such as genes or brain chemistry; life experiences, such as trauma or abuse; and a family history of mental health problems.

But much like heart disease and many other physical conditions, a person can live with and sometimes recover from mental illness. Learning more about mental health and mental illness – including the different distinctions – is a crucial step in dispelling stigma, stopping prejudice and promoting early identification, and receiving effective treatment. “Use the right word; choose wisely,” Baue concludes.


Suicide is Painless? Hardly

This is the first in a three-part series on mental health awareness.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

depressed1Did you know that there were words to the theme in the hit film and TV series M*A*S*H? The song was written for Ken Prymus (the actor playing Private Seidman), who sang it during the faux suicide of Walter “Painless Pole” Waldowski (John Schuck) in the “Last Supper” scene in the 1970 film. The tune was called, “Suicide is Painless.”

Now it’s true that the film’s director, Robert Altman, said the ditty had to be the “stupidest song ever written.” Still, I’d like to make the point that suicide is hardly painless, especially for the survivors. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide, leaving behind thousands of friends and family members to navigate the tragedy of their loss. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24; and these rates are increasing.

Why has suicide reached what many consider to be epidemic levels? Too many guns? Newsweek reports that, “the suicide rate has grown even as the portion of suicides by firearm has remained stable.” The economy? Newsweek points out that, “the shift in suicides began long before the recession…”

“Regardless of the circumstances, survivors of a suicide are haunted by the same questions and what-ifs that can never be answered.”

The truth is, there is no easy answer, but suffice it to say that this disturbing trend has affected a LOT of depressed2people, including myself. My late friend, I’ll call him “Allan” for confidentiality reasons, took his life eight years ago, and none of his close friends saw it coming. Allan didn’t seem to fit the profile. He was dealing with OCD, but otherwise seemed his usual generally upbeat, sociable, and physically fit self. (He was an avid jogger and lacked the paunch the rest of us had.)

Now it’s also true that Allan was recently being treated for some mental health issues (as I mentioned, he had OCD), and he was also coping with a very ill wife. But that had been going on for some time. Besides, Allan had always been incredibly resilient to life’s problems in the past. So, just as he always had, we assumed that Allan would pull through these setbacks as well. How wrong we were.

Regardless of the circumstances, survivors of a suicide are haunted by the same questions and what-ifs that can never be answered. All we know for sure is that they’re gone, but they’ll never be forgotten – and if keeping their memory alive and passing along even a snippet of their story helps keep someone else from taking their life – the effort is worth it.

As well as sharing the stories of our loved ones, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention lists other things that survivors can do, including: sponsor a walk to raise awareness of suicide, bring awareness about suicide prevention to a local school, or create a quilt square in memory of a loved one.

One thing is for sure, suicide is not painless, at least not for the survivors.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Bring a Dog to Work!

004Have you ever brought your dog to work? Seriously! If he doesn’t bark a lot, or shed all over your boss’s furniture, why not? The benefits of therapy dogs are well known, but even if your pooch isn’t trained as such, I’ll guarantee he’ll still bring a smile to people’s faces when you bring him into the office.

Don’t think so? You should see folks’ light up when they see me walk in the door with our cute Maltese, Baxter. “How much do you want for him?” I’ve been asked repeatedly. “Uh, he’s not for sale,” I respond, not entirely sure if this lady is serious or not.

Living in a small town, I’ve been able to bring our pooch into the library, post office, assisted living facility (many seniors especially seem to love dogs), and pharmacy. Since he’s small, I usually carry him because, well, he just might decide to “do his business” if I set him on the floor. Actually, he did once, and the pharmacist not only didn’t mind, but she cleaned it up and gave him a treat anyway!

My wife works in a bank, and I’ve brought him in there, too. Again, you should see folks eyes’ light up. Why? Besides being cute, it’s a break away from the usual humdrum. And more than that: Dogs have been known to reduce people’s blood pressure and heart rates, and decrease stress.

He was even welcome in a dealership when we bought a different car some months back. People smiled, t1larg-touchinglooked at him, smiled some more, petted him. You’d think he had a license to drive and mucho bucks in his wallet!

And what dogs are best to bring to the office? According to “The Best Dogs to Bring to Work” poll, it’s the Vizsla, something I didn’t quite get because I had never heard of the breed, and I’m quite the dog enthusiast. Nothing against the breed if you have one, I was just surprised.

Other dogs on this list included the Great Dane (wouldn’t that be pretty big?), Miniature Schnauzer (could be, cute enough, but would have to bark less than mine did), poodle, and a Golden Retriever.

Check out the list at

Of course, we’re all pretty prejudiced about something like dog breeds, but whatever type of dog you have, you can be sure there are a lot of people who would like to meet him.


Does Working from Home WORK for You?

In recognition of the author’s 400th post on this blog, we are re-running select posts from time to time.

working-from-home_colorWith Labor Day just past us, I am reminded that I have been working from home (WFH) for roughly five years. It definitely has its pros and cons (mostly pros). The flexibility in being able to work whatever hours you want is a plus. I’m not a big morning person, so I really enjoy being able to ease into the day. It’s also a real bonus not having to worry about commuting to work during the sometimes brutal winters we have here in the Upper Midwest.

But WFH does take a lot of self-discipline, which is still not always easy for me. For one thing, unlike a traditional office, you have the luxury of throwing in a load of laundry in between various work tasks, doing the dishes, and so on. This is good and bad: You get things done you wouldn’t normally until you got home from the office, but it’s easy to overdo it and not get enough for your “job” done.

For me, the biggest drawback when WFH is really hard is on a gorgeous day when I’d much rather be walking my dog or going for a bike ride. In such cases, you might go one better and just work outside that particular day. (See picture below right.)

One thing that helps regardless of the weather is to set “mini-goals” for yourself. For instance, tell yourself that you ARE going to get project X done today. Just make it something attainable or you’re just setting yourself up for a letdown. It doesn’t have to be a single project… in fact, it’s been my experience that sometimes it’s more realistic to set multiple goals for the same project; steps that you know you can accomplish in a given day, but which, when taken together, will keep you on track for getting the work done when you are supposed to have it completed. For instance, let’s say you’re working on a big proposal. Tell yourself on Monday you are going to have the first part written by the end of the day on Tuesday, and so on.

A detriment of WFH is definitely the lack of interaction with co-workers. outdoor-officePicking up the phone or emailing or texting can help, but it often isn’t the same thing. Most of us don’t handle isolation very well, so mix things up. If a big project keeps you chained to your computer on a given day, give yourself a break the next day and take an hour-long lunch at a local diner. Even better, invite a friend to join you!

However, if you are an extremely social person at work, chatting with everyone from the janitor and executive secretary to co-workers most of the day, I would NOT recommend WFH — at least not very often.

Many of us are working from home more than ever, and so while I hope these tips have helped, the truth is that you will probably have to experiment and find whatever schedule works best for you. A brief word of caution: Be prepared to explain a barking dog or meowing cat to an important client you are on the phone with! Good luck.


Letting Go is Never Easy

192859-I-m-Letting-GoRegardless of whether you are religious, chances are you have heard of the phrase, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s one of my favorites, but it is much harder to put into practice than it is to say or read! We all have a tendency to want to do things our own way, so it is difficult for us to accept the things we would like to change, but can’t.

I have had a lot of this going on in my life of late, and while confidentiality precludes me from getting into details, suffice it to say that change, or at least change you want to make, and are planning on making, can be a humbling, roller coaster experience. First, you think you are really making some headway toward a big change in your life, then things hit an impasse for whatever reason…. Then, there is progress yet again. THEN, even though you could have sworn you did everything right, even of a spiritual nature, and yet… still another roadblock.

It is very frustrating! It doesn’t pay to be a pity pot or to go back and cross-examine yourself on what you might have done differently, because there is anything you can do about it anyway. That’s where “letting go” comes in. Letting go to realize that while you can keep plugging away, the timing of when and how something is to happen (or not happen) is inevitably not up to you. Letting go to recognize that you just can’t keep driving yourself nuts because it’ll “eat you up inside.”

Letting go can help you better leave the chips where they may, to better enjoy the little things, and not to letting gokeep obsessing about whatever it is that you’ve had a hard time letting go of. For a habitual worrywart from a worrying family like the one I’m from, this is really difficult!

But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep trying to get better at letting go! I like to envision myself hanging on to rope, and handing it off to someone, as if I am physically letting go of a burden.

I also like to remember the burdens that other people are going through, and then I usually realize pretty quickly that what I’m facing is a piece of cake by comparison. It’s good to “see the big picture” as they say.

Easy, no. Something that takes time? You bet. But ultimately, “letting go” is a much better, less stressful, way to live, than “hanging on”. Would you agree?


Overcoming Blunders in ‘Tech-etiquette’

You are annoying your boss and co-workers any time you take your phone out at meetings, according to oopsresearch from USC’s Marshall School of Business. In fact, 86% of respondents to the survey think it’s inappropriate to answer phone calls during meetings.

The study also found that Millennials are three times more likely than those over 40 to think that smartphone use during meetings is okay, which is ironic considering Millennials are highly dependent upon the opinions of their older colleagues for career advancement.

Why do so many people find smartphone use in meetings to be inappropriate? When you take out your phone it shows:

* Lack of respect. You are showing that you consider the caller to be more important than the conversation at hand, and you view people outside of the meeting to be more important than those sitting right in front of you.

* Lack of attention and self-control. You are unable to stay focused on one thing at a time. You respond to the whims of others through the buzz of your phone.

* Lack of social awareness. You don’t understand how your behavior affects those around you.

The following are additional blunders in “tech-etiquette”:

* The distractor. This person may have good intentions in setting his/her phone to vibrate rather than torturing colleagues with a cheesy ringtone, but hearing it repeatedly buzz loudly on a desktop or during a meeting can be just as distracting. A better solution: Set the phone to silent or keep it in your pocket.

* The misguided multi-tasker. This goes back to the lack of respect mentioned earlier. The “misguided multi-tasker” thinks that texting or emailing during a meeting or conversation demonstrates efficiency. But others may regard it as a sign that this individual prizes his/her smartphone more than the company they keep.

handsMoral of the story: Unless you want to create potential animosity at work, use your handheld device only in an urgent situation and even then, step out of the room to reply. Your colleagues will appreciate it, and you’ll come across as more professional.

This post was compiled from articles by authors Kevin Kruse and Travis Bradberry, and from Robert Half Technology.

Journalism in the 21st Century Leaves a Lot to be Desired

isI’m going to seriously date myself here. When I started out in journalism, I typed my college papers on a typewriter. And the crude word processors we used at the campus newspaper limited you to X number of characters. When you ran out of characters, you had to start a new file on your floppy disk. Really!

Back then, you had to wait for the evening news to find out what was going on in the world, and in print, that meant waiting for the neighborhood newsboy to deliver that day’s paper to your parent’s front step. Can you imagine anyone being willing to “wait” for their news fix today?

While it’s possible today to get a story “out there” much faster than I would have ever dreamed possible decades ago, today’s breakneck media pace isn’t necessarily a good thing. Ryan Holiday, a media columnist and author of Ego is the Enemy, puts it so well that I’ll quote him here. “You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it.”

Let me read that first sentence again. “You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well.” In my day, an editor would not have accepted a story that didn’t have two sides to it. If you were talking to a Democratic candidate and you didn’t get the Republican’s point of view you didn’t have a story. Period. If you were under a really tight deadline, you “might” get away with saying something to the effect that…. “John Smith, Republican candidate for …. office, was not available for comment.” In that way, readers knew that you were at least trying to get a balanced story.

News takes time to gather, check facts, proofread, and have an editor look it over for grammar and context. downloadBut in today’s mad rush to fill the numerous news channels and electronic outlets, it’s more like write first, post first, and if something isn’t accurate or misleading? That’s okay, we’ll deal with that tomorrow, if at all. I “love” reporters’ statements like… “Unnamed sources said…” I was taught that if a source wanted to be anonymous, then you didn’t have a story … an individual had to be willing to “go on record”. Period.

I also liked the other part of Ryan’s statement about absurdly brief Twitter messages. Here is an example of a tweet that would likely be misunderstood. “Women are like bacon. They look good, smell good, and slowly kill men.” No doubt many women reading that would be pretty upset! But wait! The problem is, many people would probably miss the next tweets in which the “poster” said that “this was just in jest.” “This was a Sarcasm Society note.” And finally, “I just meant, you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t live without ‘em.” The point is, how many times hasn’t the intent of someone’s statement been misunderstood because what was reported was so brief?

Or what about videos? Post a picture these days of a police officer being rough on a suspect and right away people will scream abuse. “Look at that cop, how dare he restrain that man like that?” Now it’s certainly possible the officer abused the person he arrested, but what were the circumstances? “Did the man resist arrest?” “Did he threaten the officer?” “Was he high on drugs?” “Was he armed?” Put yourself in the officer’s place with a split second to make a difficult decision, and you might look at the situation differently. This is what Holiday meant by, “losing large parts of it [the news].” A story that’s done well will offer a proper context, and not just a brief video clip or sound bite that shows you something but doesn’t really tell you anything.

The information that’s available today is incredible. It’s mind boggling that you can find out something today in seconds on Wikipedia that would have taken hours to uncover in a library. But knowing something and understanding it isn’t the same thing. Knowledge is not the same thing as wisdom, and in today’s crazy, 24/7, go-go-go society, we need less knowledge and more wisdom, fewer pictures and videos, and more details and meaning.

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