Together We Heal

Together We Heal is for any who suffer from the trauma of Childhood Sexual Abuse. We are here to provide a safe forum for survivors of abuse to share, learn and heal, give direction to those seeking guidance and to expose sexual predators for what they are and their methods of getting into our lives.


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Decisions…Decisions…

This week I received a phone call from a grandmother in turmoil. It was evident in her voice just how scared and desperate she was for help.

 Her dilemma was the same I’ve heard, tragically, too many times before. She said, “my son-in-law is sexually abusing my grandchildren but I have no proof, I just KNOW it.”

So I continued the conversation with her as I had done so many times before, by asking questions.

 

I asked, “Have you seen him touch them inappropriately? Have the children told you anything to alert you? Have you spoken to your daughter, their mother? Have you filed a police report?” And on and on we went.

And again, her responses were like ones I’ve heard countless times. “Yes, I’ve seen him touch one child in a way I knew was wrong and he smiled at me while he did it, knowing there was no way I could say anything. He was a cop so he knows people. They’ve stopped letting me see the kids. My daughter doesn’t believe me.”

As we went further, she said the following statement that made me want to cry. She said, “I’m scared that if I do something about this, if I go to the police, who I don’t think will help anyway, that I will lose the relationship with my daughter. I want to have a relationship with her. What do I do??”

 

So I paused…and I answered her question with a question. I asked her what I’ve asked of parents and guardians, churches and parishes, person after person…

 

What is your priority?

 

What is more important to you; the safety of a child, or a “relationship” with your child built on denial and the potential enabling of a sexual predator?

 

Because it’s more likely than not that one day you will have to choose…what is more important to you, what is more sacred to you. If what you believe in your heart of hearts is true, then you can’t have both if your child chooses to stay with and protect the one harming your grandchildren.

 

And let’s say, worst case scenario, you’re wrong. Then what? Will a child who truly loves you hold it against you forever that you were trying to protect their
child? I don’t believe so. And if so, then the relationship has many more
issues than this one.

 

Now, if you just don’t like your son-in-law and this is some sick, perverted way to drive a wedge, then you will be held accountable for that one day. But if not, if your intentions are pure, as are your concerns, then you really only have one choice.

 

Those babies have NO VOICE, NO DEFENSE, NO ONE TO PROTECT THEM. And you MUST be THEIR defender, THEIR voice. If not you, then who???

 

It’s what we all must ask ourselves…IF NOT US, THEN WHO?!?

 

God how I wish someone who had concerns back in 81 or 82 or 84 or 85 or 91 or 92 or, or, OR (and there were PLENTY of them) would’ve had the courage to stand up and say, what the hell is this man doing with these little boys at his house overnight?!?!

 

So that leaves us with these decisions…decisions…

 

…what will you do?

 

 


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Feeling the Weight of the World…Alone

This month we partnered with Rachel Grant to do a 2-part blog series and a tele-seminar, all for male survivors. The seminar can be heard here – 

Below is part 1 of our combined blog series

 

Feeling the Weight of the World…Alone

Over the last 3 years I have had the good fortune of working with an amazing advocate for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and someone who has become more than just a colleague, but also a valued friend: Ms. Rachel Grant. So when she asked if I would write two articles and do a tele-seminar together, as we have in the past, it was my honor to say “yes”.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, it has been an arduous path of pain and healing. For over 35 years it has felt as though there have been many more “downs” than “ups”.

While I could spend an entire article just listing the challenges associated with the trauma of childhood sexual abuse; for me there were two major issues that caused the most tribulation and confusion.

The first was feeling as if I were completely alone. I thought for so long I was the only person this crime was perpetrated against and therefore it was on me alone to “deal with it”.

The second was the confusion a young boy feels when sexually abused by a man.

Today we’ll start with the first…

…feeling totally alone. 

Although feeling alone is not unique to male survivors, it is only from this perspective that I can speak. So I promise to talk openly and honestly about my own journey.

But before I begin discussing the challenges associated with abuse I want to first let all know who are reading this, that there is light at the end of the tunnel…and it’s not an oncoming train. 

Hope and joy can be attained. It won’t always be easy, but if you work with the right folks, and believe that those who have gone before you mean what they say, healing awaits.

So let’s talk about that most awful of feelings, being alone. And I don’t mean loneliness. While in and of itself, loneliness can feel horrible, it’s not quite the same as “feeling alone”. It incorporates so much more. It’s a feeling of betrayal and dismissal. It’s as if the whole world is moving along, happy and well. And you have been left behind, utterly abandoned. 

Additionally, you feel isolated and different from everyone else around you. You see others around you leading “regular”, happy lives but you feel different and separate from everyone due to the abuse.

As I wrote once before about this topic, “Feeling Alone, it’s a familiar feeling. It’s altogether too familiar. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I struggled for decades with it. I had it twisted around me like a straight-jacket of discomfort. The result was a never-ending quest for love and acceptance in all the wrong places with none of the right people.”

Here at “Together We Heal”, we work to provide support groups and counseling to fellow survivors. And whenever we get a call or email, or are contacted in any way, the VERY FIRST thing we say is…you are NOT alone. We are here for you, with you and will be as long as you will allow us. The reason for this is because of what I mentioned earlier, my own feelings of being alone. Once I finally came forward, I learned a couple of important factors. 

The first thing I learned was that I wasn’t the only little boy to be sexually abused by the same man. This person was my minister, and was therefore trusted by myself, my family and all who knew him. In 1981 when the abuse began, there were no talk shows about it, no news stories reporting it, no support groups that I could open up to. Hell, I didn’t even know what to call what was happening to me because I had never heard the words “childhood sexual abuse”. 

And the second was that others, both men and women, told me they had the same feelings. Once I was told the truth about childhood sexual abuse; that I wasn’t alone, it was then I felt as though a weight the size of the world on Atlas’ shoulders was finally lifted from my own.

And that was the turning point for my own healing. Once I learned I didn’t have to carry this burden alone, and that others would help me, it was then I finally understood the meaning of the word “hope”.

More than anything it is my “hope” that everyone who reads these posts or listens to when Rachel and I talk on her show, is that you can KNOW that hope and healing are a reality, and if she and I can have and live it, you can too! 

Please…reach out, tell someone…we will be here for you.

Next week we’ll discuss a topic that so many male survivors struggle with but don’t feel the ability or freedom to talk about, the sexual confusion caused when abused by a man.

http://rachelgrantcoaching.blogspot.com/2015/08/feeling-weight-of-worldalone.html


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Sometimes I Just Get So Tired…

Sometimes, not always, I get so tired of fighting a battle with those who are supposed to be the one doing the protecting… 

Sometimes, not always, I get so tired of losing said battles to churches, fundamentalist “Christians” and other so-called “people of faith” who seem only to care about the money in their church coffers and potential lawsuits against their precious denominations. Tragically and simultaneously these same folks don’t appear to give a rat’s ass about the innocence, lives and souls of children…

It feels like everyday we turn on the news and hear of another case. This week was no different with Josh Duggar from the TLC show, “19 Kids and Counting” and the news he admitted to sexually abusing at least 5 girls in his family.

It’s 6:24 am and I’m tired. No that doesn’t accurately describe how I’m feeling. In truth, I’m exhausted. Exhausted because I’ve been awake since around 4 a.m., due to screaming myself awake from ANOTHER nightmare of seeing Frankie Wiley’s face over mine and feeling him holding my childhood frame down while he sexually abused me over and over, just as he did for almost 3 years.

I have no doubt this was triggered from the reports of the Duggar family doing more to protect the offender than the victims. Much the same way I feel how the Southern and Georgia Baptist Convention treats myself and countless others who’ve fallen prey to predators they continue to protect.

The only solace I had this morning was my beloved wife, Linda. Because of her, I was once again gently awakened with her loving touch and soothing voice before the nightmare became too much for me to handle.

She asked if I wanted to talk about but at that moment it was simply too much. So I’m doing now what I’ve always done since I began therapy for the sexual abuse I endured, I write. It’s one of my few true releases from the torture, torment and pain.

And in some small way I hope it reveals to other victims/survivors who’ve been through a similar trauma that they are not alone, that we are not alone…that I am not alone…

With every post or article I publish, I try to extend some measure of hope and potential for healing for what we’ve been through. And this one will be no different. It’s just that in the moment I’m too tired to feel like much of an encouragement. Instead, this time I sure would like to hear from you. To hear you say, I know what you mean David.

Over the next 2 weeks I’ll be standing in front of countless numbers of parents, guardians and other adults, looking to me for answers. And I will provide guidance, solutions and direction. I will do so with confidence, conviction and courage. But right now, at this very moment I’m just tired, hurting and scared.

Thank you to all of my friends, family and fellow survivors and advocates. It’s because of y’all I can manage to move forward on my own healing path. And for this same reason you can too.

Thank you for “listening” to me today. This is another example of why it’s so VERY important that we all be there for one another. We all need each other because as we say here…

Not alone, but…together we heal

Thank you to our TWH family. You mean so very much to me. You’ve helped me through and to overcome so much. This is the 8th year since I first came forward about having been sexually abused as a child and in October I will celebrate 10 years of being clean from narcotics. None of this would’ve been possible without your love and support and I genuinely love and appreciate you all from the core of my being and bottom of my heart.

David

Copyright © 2015 Together We Heal, Inc.


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What is Required to Have a Life of Hope and Healing?

Last week we talked about about something all survivors of abuse grapple with, feeling alone. So now what, how do we get beyond these helpless and hopeless feelings?

Part 2

What is Required to Have a Life of Hope and Healing?

The following article might seem a bit short, when considering what we are talking about. I just want to make it as straightforward as possible. Now within each of these three areas lies a multitude of layers and steps. But for our purposes, I just want it to be succinct.

I would be happy to delve into each one in more detail, and will do so in the near future. For now, I just want us all to grasp the basics for what is required.

Once you open your mind and heart to hope and healing you can begin to experience what myself and other survivors have. A life that is rewarding and fulfilling.

It requires three things; Work, Support and Belief.

WORK

Like anything in life, nothing worth having comes easy. And recovery and healing are no different. As I sat in a room with fellow survivors one evening, one asked, “when does this begin to get easier?” We all let out a nervous chuckle of sorts because we knew what they meant. We had either previously wondered this same question or were currently asking the same thing.

For those of us who were a little farther down the “recovery road”, we chimed in and said, “it’s a back and forth, up and down ride.” You’re going to have good days and bad. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’ve gotten things manageable and that’s when a trigger will occur and out of the blue something bites you in the tail. But no matter where you’re at; day 1 or year 20, it’s a process, and one that’s ongoing. What we all agreed upon is that the work was worth the effort. The alternatives; keeping it bottled up, ignoring it, disregarding the emotions – none of them worked long-term and would eventually lead to bad results.

So what kind of work you ask? Saying the following word is easy, following through is the work. Therapy, whether it’s one-on-one counseling, or in a group setting, it is essential. Recovery takes the help and guidance from others who are either trained and/or have been through what you have. Believe me when I say, I’ve tried doing this on my own, and I know many others who have as well, and none of us were able to make any progress until we enlisted the help of others. It’s doesn’t mean we are weak. To the contrary, admitting we needed help was both a strong and brave thing to do. It meant we cared enough about ourselves and those that love us to get that help, begin to heal and work toward becoming the person we were capable of being.

SUPPORT

We all need it. When we first come forward about being sexually abused, how we are received can determine what happens next. So the person or people we reach out to can be key. I can’t stress this enough. Think carefully about to whom it is you first disclose. I have seen too many survivors hurt by the very ones they went to for help. That’s why we always say, please know we are here to help. And fortunately now, there are many other organizations out there who will offer this same type of real, positive and caring reception of what you’ve been through.

No matter whether it’s a friend, your family or an organization; take that step, reach out and receive the love and support they are willing to provide. And build upon it. Grow your support structure. Sometimes one person might not be available at that exact moment, so develop a group of people you can turn to during those tough times or when triggered.

BELIEF

I’m actually ending where I believe it begins, with belief. The first part is a belief in yourself. From there, it’s a belief that hope and healing ARE possible. And you CAN believe because there are so many who have gone before you and have constructed such a life. We aren’t different from you. We are just like you.

I’d like to say there’s something special about us, or that we have some secret recipe for recovery. But like most things in life, the simplicity is the “work”. So there’s no magic potion, no secret pill.

And that means the hope and healing we are now experiencing are within your grasp as well. As I’ve said, it just takes the work and support.

And I can promise you it’s worth it!

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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How Long Have I Felt Alone?

Feeling Alone, it’s a familiar feeling. It’s altogether too familiar. As a survivor of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA), I struggled for decades with it. I had it twisted around me like a straight-jacket of discomfort. The result was a never-ending quest for love and acceptance in all the wrong places with none of the right people.

This desperate pursuit eventually had me asking many questions about myself and my life.

Is that why I spent so many years seeking intimacy through empty sexual encounters?

Is that why I would take enough narcotics to drop a work mule and then get out on the road looking for party after party, person after person, hook-up after hook-up, connection after connection.

After I reread that last sentence it dawned on me. It’s that’s word, “connection”. I was looking for a true connection but in the most vile of environments, from the least genuine of people, and in the sketchiest of places with the most dangerous of drugs.

Sadly, when I’d meet a decent person, I’d find a way to sabotage whatever connection was made.

Over the last few years I’ve learned there are different types of “survivors” of CSA. First, there’s the type who grew up with abuse being so much a part of their lives, having no memory of life without it, that it was their “norm”. The second type consists of those who had, up until the abuse began, some sort of “regular” childhood. Once the abuse began, everything changed. Either they became withdrawn or they acted out, with combinations and variations of the two.

From listening to fellow survivors stories, It’s been my understanding that it depended on how old they were when the abuse began, how many years it lasted, who their abuser(s) were, plus a multitude of other factors. But please don’t misunderstand, whether the abuse occurred once or a thousand times, victims are left feeling alone.

To anyone looking at my life, I gave the appearance as if all was fantastic in my world! It would seem as if nothing so evil and certainly crimes so heinous could not be happening to me. After all, my abuser had total control over me. He was in the position of both male AND spiritual authority over me. In essence, he had possession of my mind, body and soul. He convinced me that no one would believe me anyway. And on top of that, the time and place where I grew up, we did not talk about anything negative and we certainly didn’t tell anyone else outside the family about such things. Who am I kidding, we didn’t even tell our family.

For the three years the sexual abuse occurred, no one knew what my youth minister, Frankie Wiley was doing to me, or to any of the boys he was molesting, abusing and raping at the same time. And since all of us felt we were the only ones to which it was happening, we felt completely alone. As I said, a feeling that would become more familiar than any other, and the driving force behind my desire to be loved, to be wanted, to feel “warm and fuzzy”, as the sex and narcotics both temporarily and falsely made me feel.

So as victims of these crimes, what do we do with this feeling of being “alone”? I have described how I dealt with it for the better part of 30 years. In doing so, I destroyed multiple careers, many relationships and almost lost my life.

Once I finally got clean and removed the fog of narcotics hanging over me, I was able to seek the help of one-on-one counseling and support groups that taught me proper coping skills. Now I know what to do when “triggered” or when I become overcome with the guilt, shame and self-blame associated with being sexually abused. I was also very fortunate to have a family willing to help me when I came forward about the abuse. Not everyone is so lucky. They assisted me in getting clean by keeping food in my belly and a roof over my head while I got my head clear.

I’m so thankful for all those who have helped me in the past and still help me to this day. And the reason I’m telling you all of this is to let my fellow survivors and their loved ones know what I’ve learned…help, healing and recovery are all possible.

As many of you know, I’m now married to the most amazing woman who loves me for who I am. Together, we work with victims and survivors. We see their healing begin and are witness to lives changing on a weekly basis.

I am now even able to be an active member of a church again. Having been abused by a minister, I had sworn at one time never to darken the doors of any religious institution. In my heart at that time, I believed God had allowed this and I hated Him for it. I eventually understood there was only one person to blame for the pain; my abuser, Frankie Wiley. And I see clearly now from his actions, he is not a Christian. A true Christian would not sexually abuse multiple boys at various churches over decades of time. Nor should I discount my belief because of what this sexual predator did to me and so many other little boys. I have decided not to allow his crimes to prevent me from receiving joy and peace from my belief.

My life now is one I had not dreamed possible. But when I opened my mind and heart to hope and healing, I began to finally experience what is possible for us all.

And that’s why I want all survivors to know THIS story, MY story, can be THEIR story. Turning your life into one that is both productive and fulfilling is within your reach, if only you’ll reach out to those willing to help you.

We are here to help. And together, we can truly heal.

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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The Sexual Exploitation of Children: What If Anything is The Church Going to Do About It?

The following was posted on August 30th, 2014 at our friend and colleague, Boz Tchividjian’s blog, “Rhymes With Religion”. Boz has been a consistent advocate for children from his time as a prosecutor to his current position as the founder of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment),

Being a grandson of Billy Graham, one would reasonably assume the work he does would be welcomed at churches, especially Southern Baptist, whose numbers are an approximate 15.75 million among 46,000 congregations.

We are learning, quite tragically, most churches only do the work of eradicating sexual predators in their midst when forced to do so. And even then, seldom to never is there any acceptance of responsibility or “heaven” forbid an actual apology to the victims and their families. Even more egregious are the few times a conviction for sex crimes against a child are secured.

Thankfully there are groups like GRACE, SharedHope, Together We Heal and others doing what we would all expect and should demand of the Church – protect children and care for those who’ve fallen victim to this most heinous of crimes. But until that occurs, we will continue to do the work. Our children are worthy of and owed protection; and survivors of the trauma of childhood sexual abuse deserve to be cared for and shown compassion and love.

Thank you Boz and thank you SharedHope for the work you do to advocate for all children and those already harmed by the wickedness of sexual predators and those who protect and defend the indefensible.

In the past few years, a there has been a growing interest amongst many Americans in raising awareness and combatting the international commercial sexual exploitation of children. This is when an adult solicits or engages in a sexual act with a child in exchange for something of value. Many incredible individuals and organizations are focusing on this global horror and are beginning to make a real difference in the lives of untold numbers of vulnerable children around the world. Only recently are our eyes beginning to open to the ugly fact that this evil also permeates in the small towns and big cities of this nation. This has been clearly evidenced in a report released this past week by SharedHope, a Christian organization that is combating sex trafficking and serving abuse survivors. The Demanding Justice Report is one of the first comprehensive studies of its kind that examines the domestic commercial sexual exploitation of children. The heartbreaking and eye-opening findings of this study are a loud call to action to every American. Especially to those of us who call ourselves Christ followers.

Everyone should take the time to read this report. In this short post, I want to highlight just a small sample of its findings and what they mean for those of us who are a part of a faith community:

Who are the buyers? The age of those who commit these sexual offenses against children ranged from 18-89 years of age, with the average age being 42. Ninety-nine percent of these offenders were male. In the cases where the profession of the perpetrator was available, over 65 percent were in professions of authority such as attorneys, police officers, and ministers. Fifty-six percent were identified as working in occupations that had regular access to children, including teachers, coaches, and youth service organizations.

Who are the victims? Of the cases studied, almost 80 percent of the child victims were female. Approximately 10 percent of the victims were under the age of eleven, while almost 42 percent were between the ages of 11 and 15. The rest were between the ages of 16 and 18. In at least five of the cases reviewed during this study, children who were abused were actually charged with prostitution! Surprisingly, in only a small number of the cases were the young victims identified as being a runaway.

How do perpetrators access the child victims? The study found that the most common way those who engage in the commercial sexual exploitation of children access their prey is through direct contact in person, via text message, email, or phone. In almost 50 percent of the studied cases, the perpetrator was given access to the child through a third party such as a parent, older sibling, or a pimp.

What happens to buyers who get caught? This report studied four large urban locations and identified 134 cases of commercial sexual exploitation of children offenses. Of those cases, 118 were officially prosecuted.

Unfortunately, only 44 of those prosecuted cases resulted in convictions for offenses related to the commercial sexual exploitation of children. For example, 38 of the perpetrators arrested for paying to engage in sexual contact with a child were only convicted of a prostitution solicitation offense!

What does our society communicate to child sexual abuse offenders when they get caught and only get charged with a prostitution related offense? Even worse, what are we communicating to precious children when they learn that the adult who violated them merely got convicted of soliciting a prostitute?

Only five percent of the 118 prosecuted cases resulted in the defendant receiving a sentence that included incarceration. This means that 95 percent of the buyers who were prosecuted for some form of commercial sexual exploitation of a child never served a day behind bars!

This past week, I have spent a bit of time struggling with what these extremely disturbing results mean to those of us who identify ourselves as Christians? Though I am still struggling, here are just a few of my initial thoughts that I’d like to share:

We often think of the commercial sexual exploitation of children being perpetrated by large organized trafficking rings upon children who are almost exclusively runaways. Though that is tragically true in way too many cases, this report seems to indicate that this abuse is being perpetrated by the adults in our community that we least expect upon children that we so often assume are not at risk. This report opens our eyes to the grave reality that the commercial sexual exploitation of children has no boundaries. All children are at risk.

There is little doubt that those who will pay money to sexually victimize a child are not limited to just those whom they pay to abuse. For every lawyer, doctor, coach, teacher, or pastor who is paying for sexual contact with a child, one can only wonder how many are doing so without the need to pay anything. This tells me that the prevalence of this heinous crime is far greater than we can determine. Furthermore, this study reminds us of how it is very common for perpetrators to intentionally seek out professions of trust and that most make direct contact with their victims in person, or using some form of technology. Do we truly grasp these alarming realities about dangerous adults who are members of our faith communities? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?

This report confirms the horror that no age is off limits to those who sexually assault children. We are also exposed to the lesser-known horror that a large number of these child victims are being delivered into the hands of offenders by their very own family members. Do we truly grasp these dark realities about the precious child victims who are members of our faith communities? Should we not be equally concerned about the children who are outside of our faith communities? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?

As a former prosecutor, I was extremely bothered to learn that so few offenders are sent to prison for raping children in exchange for money. What does it say about a culture when an adult who pays to sexually victimize a child is only charged with prostitution solicitation? What does it say about a culture that actually prosecutes sexually victimized children as prostitutes? Do we truly grasp these dark realities that demonstrate such little concern about those who sexually exploit children? If so, what if anything is the Church going to do about it? Aren’t we the Church?

Questions are a certainly a good starting point. However, simply asking questions isn’t enough. It’s too easy for many of us to feel like we have sufficiently responded to these dark realities by simply asking tough questions. In my experience, questions that are not followed up by actions are nothing more than indifference hiding behind a pretty mask. As Christians, we embrace a different reality. A reality about a God who doesn’t simply respond to the dark realities with questions. He actually poured himself out to the point of death in order to bring light to that darkness. That is the beautiful redemption story. Our response to this mind-blowing truth is to follow Jesus into the dark realities as we pour our own lives out in actions that will make a difference. Actions that expose the dark deeds of offenders, protect and serve children, and help to transform a culture that all too often protects those who must be punished and punishes those who must be protected.

May each question propel us forward into action. It’s time to get moving.

This article can be viewed at its original location here:

http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/08/30/sexual-exploitation-children-anything-church-going/

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.


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Suicide Prevention Doesn’t End In September!

Although September was the official “Suicide Prevention Month”, I want to pass along some information I feel both compelled to share and do so in part as it relates to both survivors of childhood sexual abuse and any others who have been through trauma that has left them feeling as if there’s no hope.

At Together We Heal, one of our primary functions is to let fellow survivors know they are NOT ALONE. And since one of the many reasons leading to suicide is this feeling of hopelessness and/or abandonment, please read, take it to heart and share with others.

Let your friends, family and loved ones TRULY KNOW they are loved, appreciated and above all…they are NOT alone and help IS available.

Need help? In the U.S., call 800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

I read an article the other day from Ross Szaba, CEO of the Human Power Project. In it, he made some articulate points on this issue:

“Yesterday, the White House had a briefing on mental health and suicide prevention in honor of Suicide Prevention month. Advocates, professionals and organizations often use the words, “mental health,” in a way that assumes everyone knows what mental health is. Unfortunately, that’s not true. If we’re going to decrease stigma and have an honest conversation about mental health, then we need to take a step back and make sure all of us are on the same page.

Here are three things to clear up the confusion.

1. Mental Health is not having a mental illness.
Oftentimes when people hear the words mental health they only think of mental illnesses, celebrity breakdowns or worst-case scenarios. They do not think of healthy images. The word mental has a stigma attached to it that can immediately trigger scenes from horror movies, school shootings and epic celebrity breakdowns like Charlie Sheen, Britney Spears, Amanda Bynes or Lindsey Lohan.

However, mental health is not having a problem. It’s how you address all of the challenges in your life. It’s how you handle stress, break-ups, rejection, lack of sleep, loss and everything else. We need a clear definition of mental health as a baseline. The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

2. Mental health is as important as physical health.
Teaching people solely about mental illnesses isn’t the best way to be preventative or proactive in preparing them for their lives. We need to teach mental health the same way we teach physical health. The education needs to start at the youngest age possible and carry through all levels of school.

When people are asked to describe physical health they use words like diet, exercise, muscles, CrossFit, yoga, Pilates, gluten-free, the Bar Method etc., (I live in LA) or any other description that implies taking care of yourself. Again, when people are asked to describe mental health they rarely use words that have a positive connotation.

Your brain is one of the most important parts of your body. You can exercise, develop and strengthen your brain as much as you do your body. There are obvious exercises like memory, crosswords and puzzles. Another thing you can do is to evaluate your coping mechanisms. People strengthen their muscles with exercise and stretching. You can strengthen your mental health by creating effective coping mechanisms.

3. Mental health is for everyone.
I give a lot of presentations about mental health. Not surprisingly, most of the presentations I give are mandatory, because what college student is sitting in his dorm room thinking, “I wish there were more mental health speakers coming to campus. I’m tired of going to parties and having fun.”

My favorite person in my audiences is the person who upon learning he is at a mental health presentation rationalizes it by thinking, “I’ll listen to this, so I know what to do for other people.” Balanced mental health is something all of us should have. I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features. Someone else may only experience small levels of stress. In both of these cases our goal should be to have balanced mental health.

So in the immortal words of Oprah. You get mental health. You get mental health. You get mental health…”

—–

Additionally, a colleague of ours, Claire Quiney, forwarded the following showing the warning signs, impact of, and putting in an easily understandable graphic why it’s so important for us to pay attention to this challenge faced by so many.

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The graphic can be seen at its original location here:

http://www.socialworkdegreecenter.com/suicide-notes/

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But above and beyond all we’ve covered today, take home this point made by all the previous authors and contributors…If we will take just a moment to talk WITH those around us, we might be the one who stands between them and making this fateful decision. Please reach out to those you know and love! And as I say all the time…Together We Can Truly Heal!

Copyright © 2014 Together We Heal, Inc.