In the Wake of the Recent Celebrity Suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

I am shaken by the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade.  Very shaken.  Although I was never much of a fan of Kate Spade’s hand bags, shoes, clothing and jewelry, I was a pretty big fan of Anthony Bourdain’s for the simple fact that he brought very different people together around the world through an appreciation, respect, and curiosity of the vast array of cuisines and cultures.

These very successful individuals that you never once heard had any issues with depression or other mental health issues are suddenly taking their own lives.  I’ve seen comments that there are so many veteran suicides each day.  Don’t they matter?  Well, everyone matters……

Veterans matter.
Celebrities matter.
Mothers matter.
Fathers matter.
Young people matter.
Old people matter.

Why are we making such a big deal out of these celebrities?  For one, you see them on television, in newspapers, on the news, etc.  When you see them, do you ever see them depressed?  Unhappy?  Nope.  Do you ever hear about them being depressed?  Unhappy?  In Kate’s and Anthony’s situations, I do not believe there has ever been any mention of any struggles with depression.  I truly hope that the good that comes from these recent, high profile suicides that took place one after another–all in less than a week’s time–is a greater understanding that you can’t base the well-being of a person on looks, societal status, race, and religion alone.  People may have a history of mental illness and you would never know by looking at them.

Poor people have mental health issues.
Rich people have mental health issues.
Outgoing people have mental health issues.
Shy people have mental health issues.
Self confident people have mental health issues.
People lacking self confidence have mental health issues.
People of every race have mental health issues.
People of every religion have mental health issues.
[Don’t kid yourself if you believe the above statements are not true.]

The other thing I keep seeing is something that totally pisses me off.  People bad-mouthing the deceased with “Suicide is selfish.”  How the heck would you even know what they were going through?  They could have been battling so much pain for so many years, but how would you know?  Tell me, because I would love to know.  Are you like an alien and can take over the person’s body so you can know exactly how that person is feeling?  This reminds me of a previous post that I want to bring up again here.  All it takes is one day for you to know the extent of suffering that a person experiences.  I wish the haters and people passing judgment could walk in the shoes of a person battling bipolar disorder, PTSD, and depression.  After you go through that experience, then let’s talk.  Until then….SHUT. UP.

What’s truly behind the surface can only be determined if we sit down and spend time with them.  So, think about your circle of friends–not all thousand people that may be in your FB circle cuz, let’s face it, not everyone in that circle is truly a friend–and create a list of people you haven’t spoken to, heard from and/or seen in a while.  And arrange to meet them over a meal, and if not a meal, then coffee.  Or invite them over to your house.  Or visit them at their home.  Whatever you do should facilitate a conversation.  A real conversation.  A good ol’ fashioned in-person chat.  No social media.  No texting.  No emails.   The way it was in the good ol’ days before all this “social media” got in the way of forging true relationships.  That’s what we need more of.

Which brings me to this….as it seems society has degenerated thanks to social media that we now need people to create places like Sip of Hope, just to have a place where people can (truly) talk.

I saw a video on my Facebook feed, posted by a Facebook page called Well-Rounded Life a couple days ago about the brand new  coffee shop, Sip of Hope, that opened  at Logan Square, Chicago, last month during mental health awareness month.  Sip of Hope is run by Hope for the Day, founded by Jonny Boucher.  Here’s the link to the Chicago Tribune article that talks about what the coffee shop hopes to accomplish.  Hope for the Day is a Chicago not for profit that aims to raise awareness around suicide prevention and mental illness.  All proceeds will go to Hope for the Day.  It presents a unique approach of opening up a coffee shop for the purpose of allowing people to come in and talk, as well as eliminate stigma of mental health issues.  Baristas double as mental health aides.  There are pamphlets/flyers containing info on local mental health resources.

Good on ya, Jonny Boucher, for coming up with this idea and having it come true.  I sincerely hope this coffee shop stays open for a very long time, and other Sip of Hopes will open across the country until every major city has one!

Below is the video that was on CBS News before the grand opening:

 

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The Recovery Letters

I just realized I haven’t posted for over a month, since the end of May!  Wow, where did June go?!  I posted on Facebook not long ago that I vowed to somehow make the most of the summer–my favorite season–because before you know it we will be in depressing winter again.

This is just a quick post on this sunny Saturday in July.  With only 13 days to go before the official release of the book The Recovery Letters, edited by James Withey and Olivia Sagan, I wanted to let you know that I had written a letter that is included in this anthology meant to give hope to those suffering from depression.  The book is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, and the book is available on a pre-sale basis via Amazon UK.

Recovery Letters

I am so honored to be included in this anthology.   Thank you, James, for giving me this wonderful opportunity to let my voice be included in this collection of letters written by folks far and wide….folks of different ages and stages in life that share a common bond: depression.

Depression is more common than you think.  Visit the WHO factsheet about depression to learn about it and to learn just how prevalent it really is.

Just to be clear, this is not a paid venture….my whole name is not even included in the book.  But I don’t care.

I want to help others, to make a difference in the lives of others.

I want to provide the kind of help I didn’t get when I was suffering and feeling all alone in what was happening to me.

I went into that experience not knowing what was wrong with me and why.

I went from not understanding what depression is like one day to the next day experiencing the following firsthand:   Insomnia, panic attacks, rapid weight loss, and not being able to control how I felt / *snap* out of it / pull myself out from the darkness that was engulfing me and dragging me into the pit of despair and feelings of hopelessness that I would never be myself again.

Knowing you’re not alone in a very isolating condition like depression can make a world of a difference for those who are suffering from it, which is why The Recovery Book will be good for so many people to read.

I am truly excited for James, as he has been collecting these letters since 2012.  I know what it’s like to dedicate many years toward a work of passion and to finally see it come to fruition.

Congrats, James!

Dear Evan Hansen: The Broadway Musical That Connects Us All

Congratulations to Dear Evan Hansen for its Tony Award nominations!  From the time I first heard Ben Platt sing “Waving Through A Window” weeks before the show even hit Broadway, I decided I had to see the show as soon as it came out.  So, see it I did during previews in November 2016.  AND IT WAS AMAZING!!!

And how a propos that the nomination occurred this past week during Mental Health Awareness Month, as the theme of the show is high school students struggling with social anxiety, drug addiction, depression and suicide.  Yes, it’s a pretty deep theme for a musical, but the cast, music and overall production are so amazing that the show has been sold out for weeks especially with the Tony Awards coming up on June 11th.  Thank you to the amazing cast, crew, director and producers for bringing such an important topic to the Broadway stage!

Ben Platt’s voice and acting were out-of-this-world-good.  No one else would be able to carry out the role of Evan the way he’s been carrying it out since the show hit the Broadway stage last November (oh, excuse me, since the show was first performed in Washington, DC from July 10, 2015-August 23, 2015 and then Off-Broadway from March 26, 2016-May 29, 2016).

It’s not surprising that Dear Evan Hansen has garnered 9 Tony nominations, and I would be extremely surprised–not to mention, disappointed–if it doesn’t win at least Best Actor in a Musical and Best Score for the amazing lyrics of Oscar-winning La La Land lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.  It was these lyrics in addition to the cast’s vocals that helped the musical’s cast recording to debut in the Billboard album chart’s top 10….the first time for a Broadway musical recording to do so since the 1960s.  Yes, you heard right!  Hamilton didn’t even debut in the Billboard album chart’s top 10 (it debuted at #12).  After the Dear Evan Hansen album was officially released on February 3, 2017,  it landed in the #8 spot on the Billboard 200 chart, and in so doing, it becomes the highest-charting musical since Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot debuted at #4 in 1961. Yes, you heard right!  It’s only one of 4 musicals to earn a top 10 Billboard spot in the past 50 years other than Hamilton, Book of Mormon, and the original 1969 production of Hair!

Here’s the video of the April 25, 2017 performance of “You Will Be Found” on the Today Show.  I cried from the moving lyrics while at the show, just as watching the intensity of the singers singing the emotional lyrics brings tears to my eyes each time I watch this video (I watched it about 5x in a row after I stumbled across it on the Internet this afternoon)…until I finally decided to write about this on my blog.  Here are the lyrics.

 

We need more shows like this (similar to Chicago Med) that show regular people–regular people like Evan or even like me (I had postpartum depression but most people around me didn’t know I even had the condition until I opened up months or even years later via my blog)–living around us that are struggling to cope with some sort of mental illness but you wouldn’t know it unless they shared that with you.  Mental illness is not just about some “nut” or “psycho” that’s dangerous to others…..nor is it something that you can control and “snap out of” at the blink of a finger or via spa treatment or buy buying yourself something nice.

We decrease stigma and shame by normalizing mental health issues. And why wouldn’t we?  After all, just to give you an example of how prevalent depression is, according to statistics, approximately 14.8 million adults–or 6.7% of Americans aged 18 and older–are affected by it in any given year.  Shows like Dear Evan Hansen brings much-needed awareness to mental health challenges that are very much a part of all too many people’s lives, people like Evan Hansen.  Like Evan, all too many people need help but go unnoticed.

Dear Evan Hansen connects us all.

If you live in the NY metro area, I recommend you see this show.  If you’re not in the NY metro area, I recommend you listen to the full Broadway recording on Youtube.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741

Here are some other important Suicide Prevention Resources:

Steve Bannon’s Ignorance on Mental Health

 *** This post may be triggering if you are suffering from postpartum depression (PPD) and are sensitive to negative news events***

Here I am, posting again….wow, it’s now 3x in one month.  I haven’t posted with such frequency in a long time.  Guess you can say the state of this country is heavy on my mind.  I had said in my last post that I wasn’t going to talk politics since this site is dedicated to maternal mental health.  I was planning to stick to that guideline.  But then I hit a snag in my plans, thanks to a post I read about Bannon, the individual that Trump has selected to be his chief strategist.  Bannon made a comment about mental health that triggered me so much it had me flashing back to the trigger that set me off on a 6-year journey to publish a book about my postpartum depression (PPD) experience.  What trigger is that?  Well, if you’ve been following my blog for some time and/or you read my author bio, you would know that Tom Cruise and his There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance comment triggered me back in 2005.  But the outcome of the trigger was good, as I have my blog and book as the end result. And yes, I do thank TC in my Acknowledgments.

There’s nothing good about this trigger related to Bannon, though.  TC is just an ignorant actor. But Bannon is an ignorant white supremacist who will have a role in the White House and will have far more negative consequences than TC ever had.  Bannon made a statement that the cure for mental illness is to spank your children more.  Excuse me?  What.The.Fuck. (oops, forgot to use $ or other symbol to fill in for the “u” for the very first time…..there’s a first time for everything, as they say).  I’ve truly had it with this whole election.  I’ve had it with all the hatred, misogyny and bigotry.  With the cheeto about to become our President and the alt right using him as a tool to ensure there are at least 4 years of revenge for the 8 years they had to suffer under President Obama, they have populated the leadership team with known racists (Bannon, Sessions, Flynn) and ensuring that racism becomes the new normal.  My passion for matters related to racism stems from my being bullied as a child for my race.  But I’m not going to digress here (even though anti-bullying is my other passion)……

Note: If you’re a Trump follower trolling this blog post and thinking I’m bullying Bannon or Trump, then think again.  Bullying is DIRECT harassment to them personally.  I’m exerting my 1st amendment right voicing my thoughts on my own blog.  Thank you very much.

<directing myself back on track….>

Bannon, just like I’ve been wishing to tell Tom Cruise in person, I wish I could tell YOU in person, if you’ve never been through mental illness yourself, then:
Shut the f*ck up.  
Shut.Your.Ignorant.Mouth.Up.  

And get educated about mental illness and how it REALLY works.  It’s not mind over matter, you dimwit.  Take a few minutes to read a blog post that may help you see the light when it comes to PPD.  There are plenty of articles from health organizations and blog posts on the Internet for you to learn the TRUTH behind mental illness.  But I’m pretty sure you won’t bother to spend a second to read anything because you think you know it all, don’t you.

Here’s where, if I could be granted 3 genie wishes, one of them would be to make all haters/bigots switch places with the ones being hated and the ones who keep insisting that mental illness is mind over matter to switch places with those who are battling a mental illness (e.g., depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.).  You will learn in an instant that the logic you’ve been upholding is COMPLETELY WRONG.  See my past post on this titled “All It Takes Is One Day.”  One day to experience a mental illness yourself, firsthand……THAT’S ALL IT TAKES to snap you to reality and stop living in a world based on assumptions (that only make a$$es out of you).

And speaking of backwards, as women, we should not let ourselves be dragged backwards when it comes to our rights. We must stand up for ourselves and for each other.  We must work harder than ever to support organizations that will help us stay on track when it comes to mental health and women’s rights, especially during the time that women are most vulnerable–i.e., before, during and after childbirth.  Please join me in doing this!

If you’re a mom suffering from PPD right now, please be comforted in knowing that there are plenty of people in this country and around the world who care enough to make it a goal to help moms like you.  Please reach out to me, reach out to others with blogs, Facebook pages….we will help you get through this.

You WILL get through this.  I got through it stronger than ever before, and so can you!

Peace to you.

Hats off to Chicago Med

I just watched my 3rd episode of “Chicago Med”….yet another brilliant TV show created by Dick Wolf of “Law & Order” fame. My only regret was not discovering this show sooner! This show has a thoughtfully-written script and characters realistically portrayed by a great cast in a way that–much like “House” in its first season–draws you into each episode.  Oliver Platt plays the Chief of Psychiatry at Chicago Med, and I think he’s doing an awesome job!  The best part about “Chicago Med,” IMO,  is the fact that it’s the only show, as far I’m aware, that affords a weekly story line delving into the realm of mental health.  Yes, MENTAL HEALTH.  There are multiple story lines happening concurrently with the cast, but from I’ve seen from the 3 episodes I’ve watched, the focus of each week’s episode is primarily about a situation involving mental health.  Not just an occasional acknowledgment here and there during a whole television season that yes, there are health issues that aren’t entirely medical in nature (think Dr. House and his addiction to vicodin for his “pain”) but a FULL story line each and every week dedicated to at least one person struggling with a mental health issue.

Finally, prime time television is taking a serious stab at shedding light on mental health!  For that, I am grateful.  You know why? Because we need to talk more about mental health conditions.


Depression…..PTSD…….Suicide……Obsessive Compulsive Disorder…..Bipolar Disorder….Self Harm….Eating Disorders…..Postpartum Depression…..Sociopathy……Borderline Personality Disorder…..Schizophrenia……etc.


 

Every single person out there knows someone who has experienced one or more of these mental health issues.  You wouldn’t know that, though, because the tendency is for people to hide these things thanks to misconceptions spawned by the very little that we do know about them.

Thank you, “Chicago Med,” for shining a light on mental health.  I look forward to future episodes, and hope that more and more people will start watching the show.  My hope is that “Chicago Med” will prompt other show producers/directors to create more shows like this, realizing the need to make mental health a part of our daily discourse and encourage discussions and curiosity about these conditions and create a mentality that “Hey, a mental health condition deserves to be diagnosed and treated the same way as, say, diabetes or a heart condition.”

Keeping mental health conditions swept under a rug and a mystery from the public create a taboo mentality that mental health conditions don’t deserve to be treated and you should just “snap out of it” or stop imagining that you even have any kind of condition in the first place.  Part of the problem is that mental health conditions are, as quoted in the episode tonight, “invisible.” In tonight’s episode, Dr. Ethan Choi (played by Brian Tee) continues to battle the effects of his PTSD from serving in the military.  His girlfriend Vicki makes a reference to mental health conditions as being difficult to diagnose/treat because they don’t necessarily exhibit any physical symptoms and/or there doesn’t appear to be a medical explanation for those symptoms.  Modern medicine and technologies are making headway–albeit slowly- in assisting doctors and psychiatrists to confirm and/or make diagnoses via brain scans.  The patient under Dr. Choi’s care in tonight’s episode appeared to also be a victim of PTSD from being in combat, but it was through Dr. Choi’s keen observations that they ultimately determined the patient had excessive scar tissues near his heart that caused the sound of his heart beating to echo loudly in the poor guy’s head.  So, he wasn’t imagining things and he most certainly wasn’t suffering from PTSD like he was insisting from the beginning!  And of course, no one believed him!  This is where I applaud the writers for writing a script that shows that, even though someone may appear to be suffering from a mental health condition, you can’t assume that there isn’t a physical or medical explanation for what the person is experiencing until you take the time to determine the root cause for a patient’s experience.  Just like depression has a scientific explanation, like a hormonal and/or neurotransmitter imbalance, there is a biological explanation behind every mental health disorder. And it’s the task of research scientists to figure that all out, and I pray they hurry the heck up because we are losing too many people each year to mental illnesses!  But I digress…..

I end this blog post with a call for “Chicago Med” to include an episode or two on postpartum depression. We desperately need an episode that informs the public of the difference between postpartum depression and other postpartum conditions like postpartum OCD, postpartum psychosis and postpartum bipolar.  Please, please, please, Dick Wolf and team of writers: please reach out to Postpartum Support International today and collaborate together on a series of episodes on postpartum mood disorders.

If you look at the statistics, how can people NOT produce more shows on a topic that touches so many lives?

 

 

History in the Making for Maternal Mental Health Advocates

I’ve been super busy at work these days, sometimes having to work at night, which is why I haven’t blogged much lately. But I couldn’t let today go by without mentioning the announcement today about a major step in the right direction….finally!  First thing this morning, I received a text from a friend to check out an article in the NY Times about postpartum depression (PPD), followed immediately by an email from my husband with a link to the same article.

Mental health advocates are excited not just about the news that splashed the headlines of today’s New York Times and NPR about the importance of screening adults for depression.  It’s the acknowledgment–finally–that new and pregnant moms need screening because catching and treating PPD early is crucial to the wellbeing of both the mother and the baby, and to the family unit as a whole.  I’ve blogged in the past about how screening and seeing someone experienced in treating PPD could have prevented my painful experience.  Having the screening recommendation come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is particularly meaningful, as its recommendations have far-reaching impact on things like healthcare (i.e., American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians) and health insurance in this country.  In fact, its recommendations appear in the current issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association).

This is a major milestone for maternal mental health advocates in this country.  And it’s about freaking time!  I attribute this milestone to the persistence, hard work, dedication and passion of many, many amazing people either independently acting or as part of organizations formed–too many to list here but foremost on the list is Postpartum Support International (of which I’ve been a member since 2006)–to spread awareness about an all too common condition suffered by mothers that even today people are not aware occurs in 1 out of 7 moms.  Seeing my friends’ names in these articles–Heidi Koss, a survivor/advocate/counselor and Wendy Davis, Executive Director of Postpartum Support International–mentioned makes them all the more meaningful to me.  They are passionate about what they do because they don’t want mothers and their families suffering unnecessarily.

You would think something like screening, which I’ve blogged about numerously in the past, would be mandated by all healthcare professionals who come in contact with expectant/new moms.  In one of my very first blog posts from back in June 2009, I included my suggestions for what screening would entail. Unfortunately, screening has not been embraced because, after all, where there is a positive, there is always a negative.  In this case, there are several negatives, with the biggest being none other than STIGMA, one of the 2 biggest barriers to progress for the battle against PPD.

Stigma–and the ignorance associated with it– comes from resistance to change and attitudes about what screening would mean (“Oh, once a mom is screened positively for PPD, then she will automatically be medicated”).  That, by the way, is totally false.  No one is deliberately trying to medicate every mother and give more business to the pharmaceutical companies.  Again, I have blogged plenty about this in the past, but medication is just one way to treat a perinatal mood disorder and in many cases critical to helping restore the neurochemical imbalance that childbirth has brought about.  Without medication, I might not have survived my PPD.  In most cases, it’s a combination of medication and therapy (like CBT) that is most effective.  In some, less serious cases of PPD, therapy or peer-to-peer support (with a PPD support group led by a survivor) and/or an alternative treatment like meditation or acupuncture is sufficient.

Speaking of which, there is another major barrier, which is what happens once an expectant or new mom screens positively for a perinatal mood disorder….can we find them immediate help?  Although there are more resources now than there were back when I suffered from PPD, we still have a very long way to go.  There is definitely a need for more help among the healthcare, mental healthcare, and peer-to-peer support communities who are experienced in treating perinatal mood disorders.  You’ll all too often hear that there is a long wait to see a psychiatrist (an MD who has the ability to prescribe meds), once you’ve found one that is near you that has experience treating perinatal mood disorders.  Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough mental healthcare practitioners who are experienced in treating perinatal mood disorders.  There aren’t enough mental healthcare practitioners, period.  And among general practitioners, not enough are experienced enough or even have adequate bedside manner to know how to treat/behave toward a mother struggling with a perinatal mood disorder.  I know, because I had seen one of those doctors, and it was a horrible, horrible experience for me.

These are the problems that we need to overcome if we want to truly be able to prevent any more mothers from falling through the cracks.  There are many steps to get where we need to be, but we have attained an important step in the right direction with the recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force!

Being Thankful for Freedom

I’ve never been able to come up with daily thanks for #30daysofthanks, but I do have a lot to be thankful for.  I don’t have a lot of time to write tonight because I have to go back to work after I put my daughter to bed.  Speaking of work, I am thankful for the job that I have, even though I have had to work ever night and every Saturday/Sunday for the past couple of weeks to wrap up a project by month end.   Work has been grueling since I started my new job in March, but I have learned a lot.  In general, it has been a great experience thus far.  I am exhausted.  But I am thankful.

First and foremost, I am thankful for FREEDOM.  Freedom that I would not have if it weren’t for so many of member of the US military sacrificing their lives, time that they would have spent with loved ones if they weren’t fighting for our FREEDOM.  In all too many cases these men and women may survive the wars they fight, but they come back home to find out they’ve lost everything they had–their homes, their families.  They even lost their mental health.  For the sake of our FREEDOM.   Well, you Senators out there claiming to have our people’s wellbeing at the heart of your legislation, you should show them you are thankful not just with lip service, but through actions.  Actions speak louder than words, right?  Well, then, develop mental health programs and make sure every veteran suffering from mental health issues gets the help he/she needs.  NOW!

In tonight’s episode of The Voice, Pharrell performed his song FREEDOM.  It was a performance that had a particularly special meaning, given what has been happening recently in Paris, in Mali, in Beirut, etc.  We in this country need to stop fighting among ourselves and realize what’s truly at stake here.  Our FREEDOM can be jeopardized if we don’t fight the real enemies TOGETHER.

Without freedom, I wouldn’t even be able to appreciate my and my family’s health.

Without freedom, I wouldn’t even be free to appreciate GORGEOUS SUNSETS like the one that many New Jerseyans were graced with last night.  I was standing in a local Michael’s and happened to look out the glass doors while standing on line to pay, when I saw the most gorgeous sky I have ever seen.  It was so gorgeous that everyone leaving the store was in awe and stopped to take pictures with their cell phones.  Sunset pictures from all over New Jersey appeared all over Twitter.

These are the shots I took with my cell phone.

ISL_sunset3_11_22_15

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung 11/22/15

Without FREEDOM, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate having the job that I have, working to help support my family, the ability to come home from a long day at work to watch my favorite program The Voice, and afterwards, blog about what I’m thankful about.

ISL_sunset_11_22_15

Photo: Ivy Shih Leung 11/22/15

 

I, for one, try to never take my FREEDOM and everything that matters to me for granted.  My family, my friends, my home, food, clothing, my job, being able to travel and see different cities, landmarks and scenery, taking in gorgeous sunset skies or rainbow skies or star-filled skies, music, dance, entertainment, and so on.

Be thankful that we are blessed to have the FREEDOM we have.