Monthly Archives: June 2013

A depressing visit

One morning I visited a family whose son had ended his life. He’d tried to shake off his demons and had attempted to do so on a number of occasions which resulted in his being hospitalized. After suffering for many years, he gave up.

A social worker from the Mental Health Society had asked me if I would visit and try and help the family come to terms with what had happened – and show them that no matter how difficult it is, one can come to terms with it all in time, and learn coping techniques. Their daughter did most of the talking as her parents were unable to say much. but, after I shared my family’s experiences of living with our son who’d suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, they choked out their story and how it affected them all.

This family lives on the third floor of an apartment building without an elevator. There was not a single plant in their apartment. There was no greenery visible from a single window; not even a tree. there was no garden downstairs, and the view that they saw day after day was of the gray, concrete wall belonging to the soccer stadium situated directly opposite their home. I dread to think of the noise level in their apartment on the days when a soccer game was in progress. I didn’t dare ask whether they were the owners of a car.

Before I took my leave, they asked me to promise not to divulge what I had heard that day. I tried to explain that there was nothing to be ashamed of; that there was no blame attached to mental illness; that parents CANNOT CAUSE SCHIZOPHRENIA, but I had the feeling that my pleas fell on deaf ears.

The word golden agers flashed through my mind although they had not yet reached that age but there was nothing golden here to look forward to. I wished I could do more to help them. Then I became aware of the fact that quite unconsciously, I had swiveled my wedding ring to face the palm of my hand.

Stay safe and take care of yourself and your family

I know that I will always remember the words of the people I hold in high esteem. When I was a young girl and heard scary stuff on the radio, especially the news about impending war, my mother said; ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are prepared to help.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and am comforted when I realize that there are still many caring people around me.

It’s a very good idea to commit random acts of kindness to make life easier for the people we know and care about, and perhaps even more important for those  we don’t know.

 If someone is directly affected by a tragedy, I think that most of us do what we can to help. We might extend a helping hand to those who are more vulnerable than we are. There are many people out there willing to share their stories. It will be healing for them. It’s also healing for us.

Most of the people that I know are kind, compassionate and big-hearted. They are considerate, generous, loving and sympathetic. But, there are those who can be cruel, brutal, cold and mean. We deal with them when we have to do so but we should not let them corrupt us.

Most of us don’t feel resilient and may view ourselves as nervous; unable to deal with storm clouds and life when it goes wrong. Who doesn’t want to feel safe? Why shouldn’t we feel that way? But, we must recognize that life is fragile and that when tragedy strikes we can either become victims or survivors and, I believe that the latter is preferable. In time, we resolve to do what we can to make ourselves and our little corner of the world a better place. We rejoice in the wonder of life and feel blessed to be a part of it, no matter how difficult it is when bad things happen.

Left to sink, not swim

AR17-SWIM-01-RQAs I have written previously, swimming has been known to improve moods, and for someone living with a mental illness, it can vastly improve their quality of life. Unfortunately, exercise has not yet been recognized sufficiently by mainstream mental health organizations. There has been evidence to suggest that excercise may be a neglected intervention as far as mental health care is concerned.

What about cycling, jogging, swimming or even walking is concerned? I have met so many consumers; (as individuals with a mental illness choose to be called,) who do not move from their chairs or beds unless forced to do so. To add insult to injury, they don’t manage to stick to a healthy diet.

Inclusivity – including people who might be excluded due to …

After John Sylwestrzak, a Mental Health Promotion Coordinator from the Wheatbelt Public health Unit from Australia, found my website and read some of my blogs, he sent this to me and I am posting it now. Not only did I find it interesting, but I was amazed at the thoughtfulness displayed toward the disabled population.

Inclusivity is all about the policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized. Handicapped people, those with learning disabilites, individuals excluded on racial grounds, people suffering from HIV/AIDS, substance abusers, recently incarcerated people, sex industry workers, sexual minorities and  the people with a mental illness.

Inclusivity should be included in the facets of our work. When planning an event or program, do consider the following:

  • Use an inclusive statement on fliers such as All welcome – please let us know if you have any special requirements and include a contact phone number.
  • On fliers and brochures, use pictures/graphics that display inclusive practices or people with disabilities.
  • Consider the acoustics of venues and how this will affect people with hearing impairments. Avoid using halls or other large venues that have unpleasant acoustics, particularly for senior groups.
  • Inclusion can be achieved by changing the way in which the activity is presented. Consider what level of modification is suitable for your program/event. For example, would you modify your program to include people with specific needs, offer an alternative program/service or will you adapt a service specifically for people with special needs?
  • Consult with Disability Services.

When implementing an event/program, modify activities or break into smaller groups in order to manage group dynamics.

  • Use icebreaker activities i


music notesA couple of days ago, I posted a blog entitled Music in a psychiatric hospital and the response has amazed me. I am still trying to cope with the mails received in relation to the subject. I received the following from Andy Goldenson and Sabrina Schram explaining what they have done with music and giving me permission to post it here:

Our organization, Musical Minds was founded on the belief that music heals the soul. The mission of Musical Minds is to give a wellness tool to people in recovery from mental health and substance use challenges through musical participation. This unique peer-run and peer-based program, gets people involved in a collaborative music-making process by giving them the chance to play a variety of instruments and raise their voices in song. Previous musical knowledge or experience is not needed in order to participate. There is something to offer, benefit and teach everyone. Whether it is bringing up group-initiated selections of music or engaging in a jam/improvisation, this program guides the production of a collective sound full of meaningful, self-expressive exchanges between all of the program’s participants and co-founders.

We are not professional music therapists, rather, peers who have personally benefitted from the healing effects of music in our own lives. The healing effects of  music and specifically of Musical Minds are both immediate and long-term. Participants in our program commonly find phenomenally positive transformations in mood and spirit as they become immersed in the music-making process. Many participants go on to further pursue and expand on the skills that they establish at the programs they attend, using music as a tool for personal wellness.

Our organization has been going strong for a little over a year and has met with overwhelming success in the Maryland and Washington DC areas. Due to the great demand for programming that we are facing, we are looking to file for non-profit status in the coming months, as well as going full throttle with our program scheduling.

Your donation is greatly needed to help us with upcoming IRS filing fees for non-profit status and other related expenses; programming expansion, operating expenses, instrument maintenance and expansion and any other indirect costs and incidentals that need to be covered.

We thank you for your kind consideration and would like you to know that we have yet to see the power of music fail to turn a frown upside down. The smiles across the faces of our 100’s of participants,  are proof that our program is a huge success and is making a difference in their recovery.

For more information, here is a link to MUSICAL MINDS.

You created your own reality, you know?

You created your own reality, you know,’ was what someone said to my son while he was battling schizophrenia. I think it was one of the most hated sentences we ever heard. I thought then that it screamed of a middle-class-problemless-spoiled-rich person. Undoubtedly, people who have homes and families and health and happiness can make their own realities. They can fix the issues they have the same way that we repair blocked plumbing and get upset when the paperboy misses their front porch then have him fired.  This is possible, no doubt. BUT in the real world – like the one I live in, people do not create their own realities. Do people born into generations of poverty, those dying of starvation, create their own realities? What about people who suffer from seizures, those with no legs, people with mental illnesses. Do they get to pick or create their realities?

Maybe we can change the way we look at life. But there is only so much pain a life can handle. A patient with terminal cancer will still die, a person with seizures will still suffer them, a paraplegic will still have no legs and those with a mental illness still have sick brains. A person who thinks of taking his life day after day – well, there is no pleasant spin one can put on that is there? I dare anyone to tell a starving child somewhere out there in the world that they have made their own reality and that they can change life if they really have the willpower to do so.

“Because this what people are imparting to me every time they say that my brain isn’t sick. And I can tell you from experience that it’s the very worst thing they can say to me.”   Unquote.

***          ***          ***        ***          ***          ***          ***          ***

Watch out for MUSICAL MINDS. This guest blog will appear on my site tomorrow, June 20.

A swimming pool at a psychiatric hospital?

poolWe all know that swimming improves our moods and helps keep us healthy. Well, I noticed that when our son was ill, swimming improved his quality of life. He felt good, he interacted with the other swimmers, was out in the sun, and in general, smiled more often.

Unfortunately, exercise is not sufficiently recognized by mainstream mental health services as an effective intervention treatment in the program of mental health.  There has been evidence to suggest that exercise may be a neglected intervention. Most suburbs have swimming pools so why not build another one for each large psychiatric hospital? I am sure that if I suggest it I will hear; ‘Where do you think we’ll raise that kind of money?’ But it can be done. I am in favor of doing anything to improve the quality of life of people with brain illnesses in particular. Part of the psysiotherapy of people with handicaps is done in pools; so please let’s rethink this important subject.