Artwork Inspires a Message of Hope Among Students

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April 4th, 2014 was a day of true celebration.  Students gathered in the heart of campus at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte to witness the dedication of a beautiful piece of artwork.  But it is the powerful and inspiring message that the sunflower sculpture displays that will continue to touch the lives of all who view it.

The sunflowers stand to honor the 350 million who suffer worldwide from depression and other forms of mental illness.  With that honor, it serves as a reminder that no one student or person should ever have to stand alone.  Help and Hope are always available in our greatest time of need.  A plaque reads:

This sunflower sculpture is donated to the University in recognition for those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.  The sunflower is yellow, the color of joy; it naturally grows toward the sunlight and likewise, this sunflower sculpture symbolizes turning away from the darkness and embracing the light.  Embrace the light that surrounds us, as no amount of darkness can overpower the light that is available to all.

The Graduate Team and the Inspiring Story Behind Their Project

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 Pictured from left to right:  Bhargavi Golluru, Chris Yoder, Paul Franklin, Samantha Howie, and Tim Seckler

Their passion came from the heart with each student having known someone or been impacted in their life in some way by mental illness.  When learning about iFred’s Field for Hope project, the team initially wanted to do a sunflower planting on campus to help raise awareness and reduce the stigma of depression.

Early into their project, they were met with their first obstacle.  A viable location did not exist for the planting or care of sunflowers.  The team did not give up hope!  Instead, they decided to engineer and construct a sculpture in the form of a sunflower.  This course of action opened up the opportunity for creating awareness and sharing the message with campus inhabitants, faculty and visitors year round.

They put in an incredible amount of time and effort to see the sculpture come to life in a matter of weeks.  The team posted fliers announcing the unveiling, as well as creating an event on social media to invite the student body, faculty, and visitors.  Please visit Artwork for Hope for a visual display of their creative process.

The Dedication

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 The entire team was present to welcome attendees and share the story of their project.  Sunflower pins and brochures were distributed near a bright colored sign displaying the message “Help Bring Sunshine Into The Lives of Others”.  Samantha Howie stated, “Our ultimate goal is to let those with depression know that they are not alone.  There is help available.”

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Melissa Marshburn from Cardinal Innovations and Penny Tate from iFred were proud to attend, speak, and personally thank the students.
Cindy Ballaro was so inspired by the event, she has plans to carry on the message with her own sunflower sculpture displayCindy-Ballaro at The Respite: A Centre for Grief and Hope.  What a beautiful way to deliver hope through the creative process of art.

iFred extends a heartfelt thank you to the following students on the “To Give Them A Choice” Team.  These individuals deserve the highest recognition for all of their hard work in shining their light.  Their vision was brought to a reality and will impact the lives of students, faculty, and visitors to come.

A new article written by Penny Tate

#sharehope #endstigma #shinelight

Shining a Light for Depression: An Invitation to Plant Hope

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Many of us recognize the unfortunate stigma that remains in society when it comes to openly discussing our own or our loved ones depression and/or mental health.  Yet, as Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W and Director of Mental Health at SAMHSA shares on his recent blog, less than 1/3 of those with mental health challenges receive treatment.  This must change.

Many of the images we are bombarded with in the media depict colorless and isolating scenes of those with depression, full of silent expressions of shame, hopelessness, and grief.  While this may be a key symptom of someone in the middle of a major depressive episode, the fact remains that depression is treatable and many find this experience their greatest gift.  All that is needed is for them to make it through the pain and find their way to light.

iFredBlogLogoToday on this Mental Health Blog Day, I would like to share my journey out of isolation.  It all started with planting a sunflower.

In 2009, I lost my mom to suicide.  She fell into a clinical depression in 2008 after undergoing some medication changes.  She suffered silently and lived in great fear of anyone finding out.  My dad and I knew of her struggle and did our best with the information we had at the time to help her.  But we also lived in isolation.

She begged for us not to ever share her suffering.  She saw herself as damaged goods and less than others.  As family members, we honored her request for privacy.  We only spoke to her doctors.  No one else in our family knew of her struggle.  She hid it from her siblings, extended family, and dear friends; the people who truly loved and cared for her happiness and well-being.  The stigma of depression had robbed our family of much needed guidance and support.

In my time of healing, I came across iFred’s message to “Shine a Light on Depression”.  When researching the topic, this was something I had never seen.  Seeing the beautiful sunflowers accompanied by the inspirational message that there is hope was very welcoming.  All around the world, sunflowers were being planted to honor the World Health Organization’s most recent statistic of the 350 million who experience depression.  I read about their Field for Hope project and knew I wanted to be a part of it.  I initially donated one dollar to have a sunflower planted in my mom’s honor, and it spiraled from there.

Next, I decided to plant my own garden which inspired Gardens for Hope. The sight of the sunflowers outside my window I knew would help cheer me.  I printed a sign from the website and posted it in my yard that I was “Shining a Light of Hope on Depression.”  What happened next came as a wonderful surprise.  Conversations were started in regards to my sunflower planting with my family and friends…and then neighbors.  People wanted to know about the project and its message.  Having the opportunity to open up the subject in such a positive way connected me to others in a way I never thought possible.  I was amazed at the response I received.  It truly opened the door for sharing experiences.

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From my backyard, I saw my own pathway to continue the conversation.  A farm located behind my home grows sunflowers in their field each season.  So I decided to approach the farmer and ask if they would be interested in donating their sunflowers to the cause by displaying a Field for Hope sign.  She immediately agreed and had her own stories to share.  With every visitor to her local farm stand, another community member was reached.

Once the conversations got started, I found it easier to share.  After posting on Facebook and Twitter, I received hundreds of messages.  People thanked me for talking about it.  Many then shared their stories with me.  I began to see that by shining my light on depression, it encouraged others to shine theirs.  I believe as we continue to have the conversation, we will indeed reduce the stigma by creating awareness and knowledge…and that all of us are most definitely not alone.

iFred saw the work I was doing, and asked me to come on their team to help #teachhope to kids dealing with depression and talk to celebrities like Rick Springfield to help end stigma with #famousfaces.  When I learned that research suggests HOPE is teachable, I got on board.  So we are now creating a curriculum that is being tested in schools across the country called Schools for Hope.

For me, it started with planting a sunflower and sharing my story.  Now I am no longer isolated.  My fear has dissipated.  I talk about depression.  I talk about available treatment.  I am the voice for my mom.  I am proud to talk about the wonderful human being she was and I do not define her life by her death.  She was an amazing mother, wife, sister, friend, and the list goes on.  And she had depression.  She lost her life to an illness that we are afraid to talk about.  This needs to change.

Never underestimate the power of your own voice and your own story.  Someone will be listening.  Just begin the conversation and plant your seed.  Shine Your Light for Hope.

A new article written by Penny Tate

#mhblogday #planthope #shinelight #endstigma #teachhope

 

 

The Concept of “Mental (In)capacity” can never be a basis to deprive people with psychosocial disabilities and mental health problems of “legal capacity”

by Jagannath Lamichhane

Last week, I came across a Facebook post of a dear friend, which moved me to tears. Gabor Gombos, a former United Nations member of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) — and a man whom I always looked at with high esteem as a source of knowledge and inspiration for the millions of people in the mental health and psychosocial disability rights movement across the world — was in a state of utter despair.

Gabor had written on his wall page: “Doctors say there is no hope for Kati, my only wife in my life, my co-worker, the mother of our child, who survived three days. We jointly did what I became famous of. We had hard times recently as well. Now she is slowly dying. I am dying too. Life is meaningless and impossible”.

His message affected me deeply and I felt depressed the entire day. I never thought I’d have to read such words of despair coming from a man of such strength and accomplishment in the field. Gabor had even gone as far as to indicate he was most inclined to hang himself. In response, there were hundreds of comments on his Facebook page praying for the good health of his wife and his own strength. I also wrote a few words: “My prayers Gabor, stay strong’.

A few days passed through which time and again I would think of Gabor and the loss to the movement and myself were he to really take his own life. I was quite worried actually.

A couple of days later, I heard about the United Nations Committee on the CRPD General Comment on article 12 ie legal equality (legal capacity) of people with disabilities, including psychosocial and mental health problems.  Although article 12 of the disability convention was already a revolutionary article giving equal legal recognition of people with disabilities — including mental health problems and psychosocial disabilities — in absence of the United Nations CRPD Committee’s authoritative interpretation of the article, its interpretation remained controversial since the adoption of the CRPD in 2006.

However, this general comment brought an end to the ongoing controversy, endorsing equal rights and equal recognition of people with disabilities before the law. The general comment has explicitly interpreted that legal discrimination on the basis of disability or in the name of mental (in)capacity is clearly a violation of human rights and against international human rights principles. The general comment has highlighted that there has been a general failure to understand that the human rights-based model of disability implies a shift from the substitute decision-making paradigm to one that is based on supported decision-making.

The general comment discards the concept of “mental capacity” as a social and political construct lacking an objective, scientific and naturally occurring phenomenon. The CRPD Committee explicitly recommends the state parties to guarantee civil and political rights for people with disabilities, even if they might require support in decision-making. While developing a policy framework in the country level, the Committee clearly recommends that support in decision-making must not be used as a justification for limiting other fundamental rights of persons with disabilities, especially the right to vote, the right to marry (or establish a civil partnership) and found a family, reproductive rights, parental rights, medical treatment and the right to liberty.

Most importantly, the interpretation heralds an end to the era of forced psychiatry, a long and much-awaited battle in the fields of psychiatry and human rights. Following this committee report, involuntary detention in psychiatric or mental health facilities without consent is now considered a violation of human rights and punishment can be sought.

It was great news. I had not expected such a bold and clear interpretation of the article 12 of the CRPD so early. And it is because of people like Gabor and so many others, who fought their whole lives to establish equal rights and stop the practice of involuntary detention, that the interpretation has been possible. This general comment is the greatest victory yet for the thousands of millions of people living with psychosocial disabilities and mental health problems across the world.

But while the community was celebrating this this historical moment, I couldn’t help but think of Gabor’s tragic situation. All of the sudden, I saw a thank you message from Gabor on his Facebook page–full of emotion, hope and victory. He wrote: “thank you all for your empathy, love and support. That means a lot. Kati’s health is slightly improved. No immediate danger. This morning, she was much more attentive than before. I spoke to her about the General Comment on the CRPD article 12. I can’t know how much she understood. Once I heard about the general comment I felt some peace. Pain is very much there and sorrow, but also peace”.

It was upon reading this that my eyes filled with tears. I reminded myself how indispensable liberty and freedom is in an individual’s life.  We do not have control over our future and destiny and at any time, we might suffer from disease, disability, mental illness, tragedy and the like. However, no misery can be a cause to take away an individual’s right to live as he/she pleases. Now a new era has begun where mental illness cannot be the reason or justification to deprive people of equal legal and human rights. I salute Gabor and the countless others who made it possible.

 

 

 

Why the Global Movement for Mental Health? Time to Join.

Countries in crisis are a breeding ground for ill health. The social, political and economic conditions harbored by crises – from Tsunamis and earthquakes to conflicts – make countries ripe for disease. That’s why we see figures related to infant and maternal mortality, life expectancy and most communicable and non-communicable diseases posing a real threat to the livelihoods of a good chunk of the population in countries like the Sudan, Afghanistan or Iraq.

These factors of instability, destruction and violence have a huge impact on the mental health of a population as well. In fact, it has been proven that in countries where conflict is present the rate of mental health problems are higher. Take Afghanistan for example: it is estimated that 73% of Afghan women show symptoms of depression, 84% suffer from anxiety, and 48% from post-traumatic stress disorder. Of course, the figures are not much better for men either, but, women being the most vulnerable group, suffer most.

In many African countries, the situation concerning mental health is simply diabolical. Decades of conflict and violence matched by extreme poverty and destitution have left huge populations in a mental crisis. However, as dire as the situation is, these populations are the “forgotten,” “condemned” to a life of “misery and abuse,” according to photographer and journalist Robin Hammond, who recently published a collection of revealing photographs depicting the suffering of those with mental health problems in African countries which are most in crisis.

The images are telling in themselves and speak volumes about the unthinkable extent to which men, women and children are being treated as sub-human – caged, locked-up, chained, abused, beaten and bruised – within their own communities. In many instances, as the photos describe, there seems to be no alternative available in the context of abject poverty, lack of awareness and access.

One photograph which stands out is of a 13 year- old Ahmed Adan Ahmed, who “spends his days walking in circles, or sitting running his hands through the sand at his feet,” as “for 10 years, he has been tied to a stick under the tarpaulin of a tent in a camp for Internally Displaced People in Galkayo, Somalia.” What is painstakingly hard to digest is that his mother Fawzia “sees no other option – if she doesn’t tie him he will run away,” she told the photographer.

Ahmed Adan Ahmed

In another photograph from Nigeria, the image is perhaps even more distressing: a “patient” is tied to a tree with his hands joined as if begging. The caption for the image reads: “Native Doctor Lekwe Deezia claims to heal mental illness through the power of prayer and traditional herbal medicines. While receiving treatment, which can sometimes take months, his patients are chained to trees in his courtyard. They begged the photographer for food – they say they are only fed once a day, sometimes only once every 3 days. The Niger Delta, Nigeria.”

Nigerian Man Chained to Tree

These photos and the collection by Robin Hammond is perhaps one of the most comprehensive collections of images which portray the devastating reality of the negligence of mental health issues and of those who suffer on the ground in some of the world’s most marginalized countries in communities. In the midst of upheaval, they are left to suffer in silence.

In countries like Somalia, ravaged by over two decades of civil conflict, the World Health organization says that at least one in three people have some kind of mental health problem. And yet, the way in which such a major problem is being dealt with is by not dealing with it at all. The victims of disaster are being made to bear the brunt of their countries’ crisis — well demonstrated in the way in which those who suffer from mental illness are living across Africa.

But I have to admit that when I saw these photographs, I couldn’t help but think about the situation in my own country, Nepal. Centuries of exploitation and poverty, followed by a brutal civil conflict and social, political and economic instability has left the country ravaged. In many ways, those who suffer from mental health problems in Nepal share a similar fate to those as shown in Robin’s photographs. One image, in particular, of a 12-year old boy, Prabin, whom I came across years ago, keeps coming to mind. He was chained and locked up for seven years because he “lost his mind”. His father had to leave his job as a policeman during the Maoist insurgency because of the fear of violence. And when Prabin was two and half years old, his father went to Malaysia for work and returned home only after four years. Since then, no one had been employed in the family and one family member needed always to be around to look after Prabin.

There were many cross-cutting issues I saw in Prabin’s family which are symptomatic of all countries in crisis— poverty, disability, mental illness, trauma from the conflict, lack of healthcare, migration and unemployment — all of which collectively pushed the whole family into a predicament, with Prabin at the centre of the suffering. Prabin is no longer in chains thanks to a few well-wishers, but thousands like him, young boys and girls across Asia and Africa, are still being chained, locked up and abused. Prabin’s photo is pasted below.

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If the simple fact that massive human rights abuses and violations don’t inspire you to act, consider this.

If the simple fact that massive human rights abuses and violations don’t inspire you to act, consider this:  Some of the most famous people in the world, contributing the most to our global prosperity, had mental health issues they faced.  The only difference is they were treated with respect, had access to quality social and health care services, and used their mental anguish to fuel their trade .  Some of the greats include Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Oprah Winfrey, and others mentioned on our Famous Faces page.  Imagine a world where all those with mental health issues received timely support and treatment, and used their emotional depth as a force for good?

Today’s blog post is just a reminder, to myself and others who are working towards achieving the goals of the Movement for Global Mental Health, of why we need to pool our efforts to address this immediate crisis. Sometimes, it’s easy to forget why we do what we do. I hope this serves as a reminder to us all.

by Jagannath Lamichhane

With support from Bidushi Dhungel

A Touching Message from a South African Sacred Activist; Her Thoughts on Mandela, Healing, and Hope

Dear fellow Sacred Activists:
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I have a heavy heart and many tears I am shedding this morning.  I am crying for my beloved country.  My heart is aching for all those who sacrificed so much in service to a just and civil society, and continue to do so. I pray that those who are currently in power in South Africa will pause as they mourn our beloved Madiba, and remember that he transformed from freedom fighter and enemy to a revered leader who sought reconciliation. Mandela was arrested after being found by a CIA agent.  My great-uncle (by marriage) Bram Fischer, was Mandela’s attorney during his trial. I remember as a child seeing Robben Island and learning of the prison that held many who are now famous and a number who have died.  During my political activism I came to know people who had served at “the university” as it was called. Colleagues and friends would just disappear without explanation. When they ended up on Robben Island they would be part of conversations orchestrated by the leaders incarcerated there.  And then, on being released, would teach those of us working in townships and squatter camps, trade unions and community organizations, giving us word of what the leadership’s plans were.  Each and every one of their legacies lives on. In South Africa during that time we were not allowed to have images of Nelson Mandela.  Possession of the Freedom Charter that became the most progressive constitution on the planet was grounds for being imprisoned without trial.  We were all imprisoned by the draconian system, even the most privileged, even those who never saw the inside of a cell. When I left South Africa in 1986 during a State of Emergency, and into political exile, I never imagined that in my lifetime Mandela would be released. I never imagined I would ever be able to return to South Africa.  I never imagined that my mixed race daughter would have children who could be friends with children of different colors and cultures.  I never imagined that South Africa would ever be embraced by the rest of Africa because it had always been such a pariah in the eyes of the rest of the continent.  I never imagined that the world would support the change we all fought for and made huge sacrifices for – my imagination was limited by the oppression I grew up in. One never knows how the tides of change will shift the sands.  One never knows how orchestrated insignificant acts can create a crescendo of change such as was experienced in my homeland.   There have been rare moments in my life, as a 5th generation white South African, that I have felt proud to have that legacy.  Today, my pride is mixed with a depth of grief because I am not there on South African soil, to be caught up in the crowds of mourners honoring and remembering. As South Africa moves towards a presidential election, may we all pray that the current  leaders remember that power is to be shared, not hoarded and used to corrupt. In solidarity with all around the globe who mourn with me. Lyndall Hare

Schools for Hope; New Campaign to Prevent Suicide in Youth

High School Teens at Oak Park River Forest High School Planting Hope, 2013

Did you know 1 in 9 kids attempt suicide prior to graduating high school, and that 40% of those kids are in grade school?  (Journal of Adolescent Health via Family Matters, 2011).  And that the number one autofill on google is ‘Hope makes me…  depressed’?  We don’t know exactly why, but what we do know is that the primary predictors of suicide include hopelessness and depression.  (Association of Physicians, 2004).

The Good news?  HOPE is teachable and depression is treatable? (Rand and Cheavens, 2008),  It is true.  Research suggests that Hope can be taught  and that the greater the hope, the greater the level of well-being (Scioli, 2009).  Hope is defined as the perceived ability to create pathways to a desired result, and the motivation to follow those pathways through to the desired result (Rand and Cheavens, 2008).  Higher Hope corresponds to greater emotional and psychological well-being, greater academic performance, and enhanced personal relationships (Snyder, 2005).

With your help, we can bring a lesson plan of HOPE with activities to the classroom.  Our goal is to raise $85,000 throughout December for this project through our Indiegogo campaign, and then to spend January and February creating the research-based curriculum to launch in ten test schools in April of 2014.  Our goal is then to take the finalized curriculum global in 2015.

Our Overall Vision for Schools for Hope:

Our aim is to expand on our Field for Hope project that cultivates Hope through seeing through a planting of sunflowers; from seed to flower and back to seed.  With your help we aim to take this project further and share messages and symbols of hope with others; creating curriculum around the planting specifically to teach Hope to children.  And then to nurture Hope and through peer to peer support to teach this to the next classroom.

  • Engaging children through a 360° support and wisdom sharing system—peer-to-peer, teachers, counselors/psychologists and parents.
  • Partnering with mental health education experts, curriculum will be targeted, self-paced and ready to implement into school systems.
  • Leverage online and new social mobile application technology to implement the program. Content will be engaging and inspirational and delivered on a relevant youth-oriented platform.
  • Integrate a yearly sunflower planting symbolic of HOPE in the Spring, writing messages of Hope to those that then harvest the seeds in the fall, starting the infinite spiral for Hope.
  • Garner research through metrics analysis, evaluation and optimization.
  • Pilot in Chicago schools; adapt to deploy tailored program focused in PTSD and tragedy to those areas as needed. (i.e. Sandy Hook, Columbine, Oklahoma, etc.)

Please help us make this campaign a success!  With your generous donation of time, brain power, and/or contacts we can get this moving.  Hope is teachable, depression is treatable. Let’s help make ALL kids feel value and like there is always a way to resolve problems in a positive, productive way.

Please visit www.schoolsforhope.org and help us make this project a reality.

The Past, Present, and Future for Depression; A Perspective of Hope from Geneva

 

As I sit here at a crowded Starbucks in sunny Geneva Switzerland, preparing for the meeting tomorrow at the headquarters of the World Health Organization, I marvel at how far we have come in the field of mental health since my father’s suicide over 20 years ago.  In those days, we looked upon suicide as a poor choice a person made and simply did not talk about it.  Today, while we still have a long way to go, we are starting to understand that it is more than a choice; it is a complicated combination of life circumstances, chemical processes of the brain, genetics, and childhood trauma.

Last year I had the privilege of attending the discussion of the ground breaking resolution for the UN to make global mental health a priority throughout the world with a proposed Global Mental Health Action Plan.  On May 27th, 2013 the World Health Assembly adopted the “Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020“, putting the world on notice that mental health must be a priority.   I have the honor of attending the WHO follow-up conference tomorrow October 7th, during Global Mental Health week, to hear across the globe how member states and affiliated organizations are going to put the plan into action.

In 2004 when I began my work to end the stigma of depression through rebranding, less than 25% were receiving treatment leaving a full 75% of the world population untreated.  Last year, the World Health Organization statistics reported that the number untreated is now 50%, so while progress might not be evident it is improving.  These statistics bring me joy and gratitude that the tireless work of the people in the field of mental health, creating awareness and bringing services to the 350 million with depression, is not happening in vain.

That being said, there is much left to do.  Depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, yet it is treatable.  It is significantly underfunded and still highly stigmatized and there is much more to do to bring treatment numbers to 100%.

I encourage you to join us October 10th, Global Mental Health Day, to learn more about depression.  Join us in watching the free, live Global Web Screening of Hidden Pictures, the first feature documentary on global mental health.  Read and share information on mental health from organizations like Psyhcentral and Webmd with perspectives from both the medical profession and patients.  Or take the pledge to plant a virtual sunflower, showing your solidarity in our movement to bring dignity and respect to those living with depression.

Follow us on Twitter and join our Facebook community for posts throughout Global Mental Health week.  There is Hope.  Depression is treatable.  Share the word and help save a life today.

 

 

World Health Organization Adopts Mental Health Action Plan

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We recently learned that the 66th World Health Assembly has adopted the World Health Organization’s comprehensive mental health action plan (2013-2020). The action plan is the outcome of extensive global and regional consultations over the last year with a broad array of stakeholders including: 135 Member States; 60 WHO CCs and other academic centers; 76 NGOs and 17 other stakeholders and experts.

As one of the 76 contributing nonprofit organizations at the forum, we are proud to have played a role in the development of this Action Plan as we feel it is a critical step in the right direction of eradicating the stigma of depression and meeting the needs of the 350 million worldwide living with the disease.

As part of our ongoing efforts to be leaders and advocates for the disease, we plan to have International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred) representatives once again at the mhGAP Forum in October to discuss the launch of the plan and its implementation.

The four major objectives of the action plan are to:

  • Strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health.
  • Provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social care services in community-based settings.
  • Implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health.
  • Strengthen information systems, evidence and research for mental health.

We look forward to continuing collaboration with WHO representatives and working towards solutions that will give hope to millions living with depression.

For more information about the Action Plan click here.

“Four simple words…I suffer from depression”

I recently came across this video of Kevin Breel speaking to a group of people at a recent TED-X conference and was blown away by his poignant account of what it’s been like living with depression and his hopes for a future without stigma.

As you may remember from my earlier posts, I lost my father when I was Kevin’s age to suicide and I consider myself a depression survivor. It is through the sharing of these stories and personal accounts that I believe we will be able to shine a light of HOPE for the 350 million worldwide living with depression.

I hope you’ll take 11 minutes to watch this video of Kevin. If you live with depression, someone in your life lives with depression, or you don’t think you know anyone living with depression – you need to watch this video. It will be well worth your time.

Watch Kevin’s video here: http://www.causes.com/causes/101854/updates/793004

 

 

Stories from the Field

Americans across the country are getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July holiday tomorrow, a holiday all about the human spirit and a renewal of #HOPE. So it seemed like a fitting time to bring you our first Story from the Field, stories about the people we have had the honor and privilege to meet through the Field for Hope campaign. These narratives, pictures and videos are our way of helping spark positive conversations around depression and mental health in order to help chip away at the negative stigma surrounding the disease.

Earlier this year we met Tim Kahlor at the PRISM Awards in Los Angeles, an annual awards show that honors TV, movie, music, DVD and comic book entertainment that accurately depict mental health issues. Tim’s son Ryan is a military veteran who lives with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We asked Tim to share his incredible story with us to help kick off our Stories from the Field series.

Contributed by Tim Kahlor

Ryan joined the military in 2002 when he was 18-years-old on a delayed entry program so he could get his braces off his teeth before basic training. He was promised a $12,000 sign-on bonus and told he would be stationed in Germany. We’d sent him to Europe when he was in high school and he loved it. Ryan was always an adventurous kid and loved playing sports; the thought of being paid to keep in shape was his dream job. The military offered him adventure, the ability to work out and stay in shape, all while seeing the world.

Photo of Ryan Kahlor and his rescued shelter cat taken by Hannah Kahlor.

Photo of Ryan Kahlor and his rescued shelter cat taken by Hannah Kahlor.

He left for basic training on March 18, 2003, the day before the war in Iraq started. Ryan was a member of the 1st Armored Division based out of Baumholder, Germany, and was being sent to Holenfeld, Germany, to a non-deployable unit. However when they offered him rank quicker and no tax on his combat pay if he went to Iraq, he accepted the offer. In 2003 Ryan served as an Infantryman in Bagdad, guarding the green zone and then was later sent out on missions in other areas. There was a lot of action, but it was the next deployment that caused the most damage to Ryan. When we saw him next in 2004 he was friendly, but guarded.   

Ryan was married in December of 2005 and deployed to Iraq again in January 2006. That November Ryan endured many struggles, as he was involved in several horrible firefights leaving him to handle many of the dead and wounded. During his two deployments Ryan received repeated injuries to his head and body, including a Traumatic Brain Injury. When he returned to the U.S. they finally sent him to Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego to be part of the Wounded Warrior Project for Army members who are injured in combat. There, Ryan’s PTSD really began to erupt, resulting in fighting and explosive yelling. One day I found him rolled up in a ball in the middle of the living room. Ryan was sent to Palo Alto’s in-patient program for PTSD at the VA hospital there. Which I believe, to this day, is still the best program I’ve seen Ryan come out of since 2007 for dealing with PTSD.  

When your child is killed in combat the pain of war is over for the soldier or marine, but continues on for their family. When your child lives through combat and comes home with PTSD the mental war of combat is brought from the battlefield into the living room, kitchen, bedroom and to the surrounding community. Ryan was the poster child in 2007 and 2008 for getting and responding to PTSD treatment, but there are always going to be relapses no matter how well treatment has served in addressing the problem. That is the hardest part to get through; the rough times that disillude the thought that the struggle is over after everything seems to be going so well. My family has found that being willing to listen to him when he wants to talk about it and always letting him know I am there for him is one of the most helpful things we can do. I don’t ask questions unless he opens a door that will allow me to ask a questions. There are people that think you can “shake it out of them” or “tell them some story about a cousin, uncle or buddy they knew that was in combat” or the guy that says “you got to pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with your life” (my response to that one is ‘what if the boot straps are already broken?’)  Then you have the people who want you to explain why there is more PTSD now than in past wars. I ignore things like the above and celebrate Ryan’s success; I often text him about how proud I am of what he is doing.  

Ryan just finished a semester of college with great grades and we celebrated it as a family going out to dinner. This is major because in the past he couldn’t sit in a classroom long enough to finish a semester. We set goals and plans for future outings together that I know Ryan enjoys. Last summer, Ryan and his wife Hannah took me to Yosemite camping and it was like heaven for us all. I saw the joy in my son’s face taking me someplace that I loved and he loved it too. This year we already have a trip planned at the Kern River and Yosemite hiking the whole time and playing in the river. Ryan teaches surfing and kayaking to wounded warriors during the summer, so we encourage him to keep doing that when he can as well as cycling.  

It is so important that families don’t forget to find time to get help for themselves and the knowledge to help a loved one suffering from PTSD. They should always be aware of signs of isolation and frustration to be readily to supportive. Families dealing with a loved one with PTSD should remember that there will be good days and bad days, and you have to hope that the good days get longer and the bad days get shorter.

Tim’s story exhibits one main and powerful fact: being open and honest about the reality of PTSD can enable our sons, daughters, fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, and friends to hold their heads up high, walk around unashamed and seek treatment in spite of the stigma. This example further promotes the belief that above all we must love, care, support and advocate on behalf of our loved ones living with conditions like PTSD and depression. Liberate yourself and your loved ones by taking a stand and joining us in the cause to end the negative stigma associated with the disease. Speak out, volunteer, contribute and help us build a community. Take the Pledge to Plant, spread the word and join iFred in honoring the 350 million around the world living with depression.