On Monday, June 18, following the suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, a hundred people gathered at The Assemblage Nomad in New York City for a touchpoint town hall about mental health.
Below is what I learned.
I hope it’s helpful.
Here. We. Go.
1. We should rebrand mental health as mental wellness.
When we think of mental health, we tend to think of mental illness — depression, anxiety, stress, medication, therapy, suicide, and more. We don’t often consider mental wellness — self-awareness, high self esteem, clarity, happiness, and emotional intelligence. Because while all of these things are related to mental health, generally only the negative ones come to mind.
By using the term mental wellness more often, we can avoid the stigmas that “mental health” already carries and begin to include the benefits of positive psychology, mindfulness, and community in the conversation around what it means to be mentally healthy.
2. Empathy is not always best expressed as “I’ve been there, too.”
To some, the word depression is a way of talking about the natural reactions to traumatic life events we may endure, i.e. relationships ending, people dying, etc. But to others, depression is a clinically diagnosable disorder that they work their entire lives to manage and overcome.
That’s why, when it comes to experiences like depression and anxiety, expressing empathy with phrases like I know how you feel or I’ve been there too can be a slippery slope that, sometimes, does more harm than good.
“As someone who has struggled with clinically diagnosed major depressive disorder since a young age, someone who has been on and off meds for 15+ years, someone who has been suicidal and attempted suicide both on and off meds, I have found that the single most harmful thing someone can do is try and empathize.”
As Brene Brown explains, “If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I’d rather you say I don’t even know what to say right now. I’m just so glad you told me. The truth is, rarely can a response make things better. What makes something better is connection.”
In other words, empathizing can often just be holding space for someone else’s pain.
3. We should stop shaming people for going to therapy.
At our town hall, people shared stories of being shamed by family and friends for even considering talking to therapists about their problems. It seems as though, sometimes, the people who love us want to feel like they are enough for us — that they can help us bear our burdens alone. But for many of us, they can’t. And that’s actually normal.
Many of us can benefit from sharing what we’re experiencing with someone who has no agenda but to listen and offer a clinical perspective as we work to navigate the emotional and often challenging experience of being alive.
4. Prescription drugs help a lot of people live productive, healthy lives.
The arguments around Big Pharma, the overprescription of drugs, and the evolving science around the neurological causes of mental illness are abundant and important. However, it’s equally important to call out that antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications have saved millions of lives.
At touchpoint, many people referenced psychological weights being lifted, clouds being cleared, and doors being opened as a result of finding the right meds at the right dosages.
We all need to be careful not to project our social or economic beliefs around pharmaceuticals at the expense of people who are truly suffering and looking for refuge and support, and ultimately find it in prescription drugs.
5. Prescription drugs have also not helped a lot of people.
Because each of us has a unique brain chemistry, in some instances, people shared that medications actually compounded their problems, causing side effects that were unbearable.
As a result, many people have chosen more holistic paths toward healing.
“After two decades of diagnosable schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, and attempted suicides, I realized that I needed to change my life without meds. I began meditating, changed my diet, and practicing yoga, and it saved my life.”
Many people told stories of finding balance and healing through practices such as yoga, meditation, reiki, breathwork, and more.
6. Ketamine, LSD, and MDMA may be the anti-depressants of the future.
A person shared that it was one 4-hour clinically facilitated MDMA journey that alleviated suffering from a lifetime of depression and anxiety.
This prompted several people to approach me afterwards and share about their own clinical experiences with Ketamine, LSD, and mushrooms that enabled them to relieve suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic depression, anxiety, and more.
7. Mental wellness issues affect everyone.
Mental wellness issues touch every human life — from those that suffer to the people who love those that suffer. It is not easy to witness and support a loved one experiencing serious bouts of depression, anxiety, paranoia, addiction, violence, and self-harm.
“My brother committed suicide and I’ve dedicated my life to working through my feelings consciously and helping others do the same.”
It’s important to remember that those who offer the support need support themselves.
8. There is no substitute for love and belonging.
Regardless of which path or paths we take — therapy, meds, yoga, psychedelics — it seems there is one thing that makes all the difference when working to achieve mental wellness: love and belonging.
In every instance, people who had found ways to manage and overcome their mental wellness challenges found support in the form of friends, romantic partners, family, and other intentional communities.
9. When we heal ourselves, we can heal others.
When we’re mentally well, we’re capable of being present for more than our own lives, but the lives of those we love.
“After finally finding a balance that gave me my life back, one of my dearest friends was diagnosed with a terminal illness and in need of my support. Because I was finally mentally healthy, I could be there for my friend. I could be a caretaker.”
Which brings me to the final and, arguably, most important take-away of the night…
10. There is nothing more precious than the motivation to live.
Whether we find it in our work, children, friends, creative pursuits, the great outdoors, whatever— finding motivation to live is often something many of us take for granted. But when it becomes unclear, the world can seem like a frightening place to be.
“This conversation gives me hope. To know we’re not alone. To know that there’s a way out.”
The good news is that many people who found themselves at a crossroads — who either considered suicide or attempted it — ultimately, did go on to find the support and treatment they needed to recover and regain their motivation to live. Which means it is possible to overcome. We are not alone. We can carry on. Together.
If you are having suicidal thoughts, you can call the Suicide Hotline at 1–800–273–8255.
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Big love to Erin Claire Jones, The Assemblage, Bianca Caampued, Larissa May, Lindsey Metsalaar, Chelsea Schoen, Cailtin Vander Weele, & David Yarus for helping put this town hall together so quickly.