For anyone who ever turned on daytime or reality television, enter- tainer Stephen Boss, also known as tWitch on “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” lit up any appearance and seemingly exuded happiness.
So, last month, on Dec. 13, 2022, when news of his death, by suicide, spread across social media and television, it hit hard.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 43.8 million, or 1 in 5 adults in the U.S., suffer from mental health issues annually.
Rates of seasonal depression, loneliness, and post-celebration blues are at an all-time high at the beginning of our new year.
January is Mental Wellness Month – a reminder to take better care of our mental health.
Local experts – Jennifer Emch, Ubuntu Wellness, of Chardon, co-owner and clinical team member, Kimberly Carter, NAMI Geauga County executive director and Brittain Paul, Ravenwood Health chief operating officer, of Chardon, shared timely advice highlighting, “You are not alone,” to anyone suffering from mental wellness issues.
“We are so blessed to live in a county that has such incredible mental health resources,” Emch said. “From the community agencies, private clinical practices, as well as the huge array of wellness businesses available to us, we can truly make a ‘well-being toolkit’ that is tailor fit to our needs.”
Paul added we are extremely fortunate to live in Geauga County where taxpayers overwhelming passed the last mental health levy.
“This levy supports many mental health services and helps supports those who might not otherwise been able to get the treatment they need,” Paul said.
A variety of county agencies and individuals offer resources, lifelines, and supports.
“Sometimes asking for help can be hard and sometimes the hardest part of getting well, Paul said. “If you see someone you think may be struggling, ask the difficult questions and help them get connected.”
Warning signs from all experts include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, reduced frustration tolerance, isolating from friends and family and hobbies.
No one is alone and help is available from clinical services like therapy, counseling, medications and a plethora of treatments.
How to navigate any healthcare system sometimes adds additional stress to an already stressful situation.
“That’s where NAMI can be helpful,” Carter said. “NAMI is not clinical – we are not professionals licensed to treat and diagnose mental illness. The niche that NAMI fills is we are subject matter experts and the voice of lived experience.
“When anyone reaches out to NAMI they will receive education, support and advocacy from someone that has already walked through, or is walking through, what they are experiencing. Talking to someone with lived experience brings hope and comfort to those living with mental health conditions and for those who love them…As a local affiliate to Geauga County, there is a network, knowledge bank, and so many proven resources available. We are the best kept secret and we do not wish to be a secret.”
“I think the most important step to self-care is recognizing that self-care is not being selfish,” Carter said. “Taking care of one’s own needs is the most important thing a person can do. Taking down time to do things you enjoy and reduce stress and anxiety is nothing to feel guilty about. In our society today we are always on the go and we move at such a fast pace, taking care of one’s self often takes the back burner, and it shouldn’t. The options to refill one’s emotional and mental tank are as varietal as there are interests that people may possess.”
Emch stressed self-care is not selfish.
“Self-care is the most loving thing we can do for ourselves, yet many of us struggle with creating time for it,” Emch said. “Society places so much emphasis on “productivity equals value,” thus promoting the continued culture of emotional and physical burnout.”
Limit Social Media
Limiting social media is always a good idea and depersonalizes our interactions, Paul said.
“People say things they never would consider if they were in person,” Paul said. “On the flip-side – some platforms people only show the best of their world. So, there is a personally detached and sometimes coming across rude side and a side that is unrealistically perfect. Both can have a negative impact. Recognizing both is important.”
She said having meaningful connections with each other where we ask how we are doing I believe are critical in promoting and leading by example positive well-being.
“Rather than asking (and thinking) what is wrong with you, ask how are you doing,” Paul said. “Or ask what is happening with you? You seem (for example) off? Is one way to get people to talk more freely about what they are feeling and going through…
It is important to listen and not make a judgement about the person, hear them out, offer support and if needed – assist in connecting them to a person or place that can help.”
Reach out Right Away
“In our world it is nearly impossible to find someone that is not going through something,” Carter said. “Perhaps someone is dealing with a past trauma, some current major life event, or just generalized stress and anxiety associated with daily living.
Recognizing that our words and actions toward others have power and impact, for good or otherwise, is essential to caring for those around us.”
If you’ve tried and tried again to find the perfect fit for a therapist, don’t give up.
“I would invite people to not stop trying; if you find that your 1st, 2nd or 3rd therapist isn’t a good fit, don’t be discouraged, keep looking until you find that connection that works for you,” Emch said. “If you feel disconnected from the mind/body connection, we are so blessed to have a wealth of offerings; from gyms, yoga studios, holistic care providers, etc. that can also help you find your path.”
Humans, as all said, are built for connection.
“Be kind,” Emch said. “Smile at a stranger. Pay it forward at the coffee shop. Tell your children how proud you are of them and how much you love them. Don’t underestimate the power and value in the “beautiful mundane.”
They may seem minor to you, Emch said, but you never know how much they can positively impact a person and make a huge difference in their life.
“The news of tWitch’s passing was shocking and unexpected to many, I’m sure,” Carter said. “He displayed such a joyous and happy demeanor all the time.That’s what makes his passing so baffling.
“Even with the best efforts to check on those we care about, the reality is that signs and symptoms can be missed, even when we’re watching for them, and in certain situations there may be no signs to be seen.”
She added sometimes people are very good at masking symptoms.
We should know the signs and symptoms to look for.
“We never know what a person is going through and we never want to assume,” Emch said, “Check in call, text, email, stop by. One of my favorite quotes is from Ram Dass, ‘We are all just walking each other home.’”