Here’s one of several great videos recently released… and this link to a great website called “Press Pause.” There are more short videos on the topics of dealing with anger and schedule overload. These are created by “Half of Us.” I’m impressed with both of these sites and their content/approach–easy to navigate, bite-sized chunks of practical support and advice!
“Did you know that eating mashed potatoes causes Alzheimer’s?” During one of my annual checkups I told my doctor this–he looked at me in disbelief and asked why I thought that. I replied, “Well, everyone I know with Alzheimer’s has eaten mashed potatoes.”
He laughed and called me a statistical nihilist. I replied that I was merely trying to distinguish between “cause and correlation” since he had been citing some statistical risk factors I have. (This was, by the way, a very friendly conversation.)
With that background, I offer some statistics recently published by NAMI. With the notation that all statistics have limitations, I have confidence in their accuracy.
I do not “enjoy” publishing statistics like this and I confess I find myself sometimes wondering if their publication accomplishes the intent. If it’s not clear, the intent of this infographic is to encourage people to sign up for a Youth Mental First Aid Course.
I’ve taken it; it’s a good course and I highly recommend it. I truly believe, as the infographic suggests, it can help those who take it start a conversation that could save a life. Make no mistake, I’m not at all critical of the course or its intent. But if I’m going to be totally honest, I firmly believe more is needed.
Without opening a debate about the causes of mental illness, what we are looking at here is identifying a high-risk population. The question that is not being asked is “Why?” and “Are there are actions we could be taking that will reduce that high-risk population?”
I’m a bit troubled by the medical community’s increasing reliance on statistics. The conversation I cited at the beginning took place in part because my doctor was assessing my risk factors for certain health issues. Because data is so readily available, it’s in danger of becoming the holy grail. What happened to science and simple logic?
But I digress, probably because I don’t fully understand our approach to suicide prevention. We are very focused on crisis intervention. Again, that’s not a bad thing. But I see it as comparable to sending someone to the dentist when they have a toothache. Not a bad idea, certainly, but let’s not omit the importance of oral hygiene–aka brushing and flossing.
So why aren’t we teaching kids (and adults) how to “brush and floss” their minds? If we truly are committed to preventing suicide, can we back up and prevent the crisis? In much the same way we can avoid trips to the dentist with good oral hygiene, we just might avoid some of those 5,240 attempts in grades 7 – 12 every year by teaching and encouraging good mental hygiene starting at a very early age.
I’ll repeat–crisis intervention is valid and important. I’m simply using the occasion of “mental health month” to suggest we might be a bit more passionate, excited, and enthusiastic in some positive ways. If kids can learn how to take care of their teeth, they can learn how to take care of their minds.
Perhaps the bigger question is, “Can we teach them how?”
Three years ago chance circumstances meant a last minute opportunity to invite two young friends to attend a Christmas performance of the Nutcracker with us. We had a grand time and ultimately decided we would at least in some form repeat the tradition the next year. When we started discussing our plans, I’ll admit that I was a bit surprised when the girls’ choices were all repeats of what we’d done the first year. They wanted to attend the same performance and go to the same restaurant–even to order the same food! Their explanation was “It’s our tradition.”
I joked that I didn’t realize it was possible to establish a tradition by doing something once. But why not? After all, this is a season of traditions. Our annual event changes very little. We’ve all come to look forward to what some might see as repetition, but there is comfort and much excitement in it.
Another tradition is counting the number of houses decorated with Christmas lights on the way to the theater. The Christmas Season is about sights and sounds and, in a word, beauty. It’s a time to engage in tradition and enjoy the opportunity to see and hear beauty that ranges from a ballet to decorating our homes to how we (well, some of us) wrap gifts. For some, baking cookies becomes an art form. This truly is a season of beauty.
Several weeks ago I paused to stuff a few dollars into a Salvation Army kettle. When I commented that his kettle was pretty full, his smile widened as he said, “It’s the third one I’ve filled one today.” We chatted for a few minutes and I learned that this young man schedules his vacation every year so he can be a bell-ringer. That’s just as beautiful as the music and decorations.
Last year I stood and listened to over 200 individuals perform the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah, accompanied by a symphony orchestra. It gave me chills. This year I got to hear some high school kids (the Mount View Chamber Singers) perform a cappella and was equally moved.
Beauty comes in many shapes and sizes. While it wasn’t meant as a Christmas gift, I have a paper captain’s hat sitting on the shelf in my office. The kid who made it for me labeled the brim “Captain Boomsma.” As paper hats go, it’s a nice one. But the real beauty for me is that he made it for me and gave it to me.
My wish for you is that you see and experience much beauty during this season of opportunity. Make seeing and experiencing it a tradition (habit). Your world will be a better place.
My wish for the world is “Let’s make more beauty.” There will be no winners and there will be no losers. We’ll make our world a better place.
One of my more fun presentations is a series of stories beginning with one young fellow who spots a dead rainbow. Rainbows are, of course about hope and so are most of the stories. Some of the stories are sad, some are funny, but each leads to the inescapable conclusion that where we stand makes a difference. Sometimes it’s a difference to ourselves. Sometimes it’s a difference to someone else.
Two of the stories are about bullying. One is about a little guy named Rudolph who is a victim of some typical bullying. The story shows that, when it comes to bullying, where you stand (or in this case fly) can make all the difference.
The story is told in a simple song published by Montgomery Ward in 1939. While it may not have been originally intended as such, it really is a song about over-coming bullying. We didn’t call it bullying back then, but today we probably would. Fortunately, I don’t sing the song, I merely recite it as poetry with some editorial comment.
“You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
You know Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
But do you recall
The most famous reindeer of all?
Here’s a little experiment for you. Close your eyes and, without singing the song or reciting the line from “Twas the Night Before Christmas” try to list Santa’s Reindeer. You’ll probably find the song irresistible, but I’m betting the eight regular sleigh-pullers aren’t all that memorable. You don’t readily recall them, but you do recall the most famous reindeer of all. That’s significant. You recall him because…
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.
Rudolph stood out in a crowd because he didn’t exactly fit in with the crowd. He wasn’t like the other reindeer. While we don’t know how old he was, he’s often pictured with very small horns suggesting he’s an adolescent. We know that “fitting in” is very important during adolescence, so there’s little doubt Rudolph was not a very happy reindeer. He probably hated his nose. And it didn’t help that the other reindeer were bullies who made fun of him.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.
Reindeer can be mean, can’t they!? And so can kids. It’s a complicated social dynamic, but a kid who is different—maybe wears a different style clothing or has a different physical characteristic (a red nose?)—gets ostracized and maybe worse. Simply being ignored by others can be painful. Being the last one standing when teams are selected is bad enough. But when they start to laugh and call names, the hurt and pain can seem unbearable.
I think it’s interesting that Santa apparently doesn’t take action. He could have started an anti-bullying program. Maybe created a stop bullying policy and hung up some kindness posters in the barn. In fairness to Santa, we’re not sure if he knew what the other reindeer were doing to Rudolph. He was probably busy keeping an eye on the elves and all the kids. How else could he know if they’ve been bad or good? He clearly had plenty on his plate besides the milk and cookies kids often leave him. So we can perhaps forgive him for not knowing that his reindeer were being mean to Rudolph.
We might also wonder why the SPCA didn’t respond and try to protect Rudolph, although it’s not clear whether cruelty among or between animals is covered by their mission statements. They seem a bit more focused on human cruelty against and neglect of animals. Rudolph simply did not have much of a support system.
Let’s look at what did happen.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve,
Santa came to say,
“Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”
The song doesn’t record Rudolph’s answer. I suppose he could have said, “The heck with you—why should I help after what I’ve been put through by those other reindeer!?” We only know that Rudolph was finally recognized as having something to contribute. Ironically, the very thing that had separated him from the herd became the very thing that gave him status. Instead of cowering in the corner of the barn, Rudolph became the leader of the herd. And the results of that change were significant.
Then how the reindeer loved him,
As they shouted out with glee,
“Rudolph the red-nose Reindeer
You’ll go down in history!”
Consider what didn’t change. Rudolph didn’t get nose surgery and his nose didn’t dim. The eight other reindeer didn’t attend some anti-bullying intervention and suddenly become more loving and accepting.
Circumstances changed. It became foggy. (We could rightfully wonder how all of Santa’s previous trips were on clear nights, but that would spoil the song and story.)
What ultimately happened is, I think, most important. Santa does play an important role in the outcome of the story. He’s obviously more troubled over the foggy night than he had been regarding Rudolph’s status with the herd. That reality might put a little smudge on Santa’s image, but let’s be honest. He needed a solution to the foggy night problem.
And there was Rudolph with his nose all aglow—a solution to a problem. Santa saw him differently for the first time—not as a misfit reindeer with a defective nose. So, perhaps grudgingly, Rudolph steps to the front. He had to raise his head so the glow would light the way. And in that moment—as is so often the case with childrens’ stories—all is well! Everybody’s happy! Santa can make his deliveries. The eight bully reindeer no longer have to worry about running into things in the fog. They are shouting with glee! In all of the picture books I’ve seen, Rudolph is smiling and his head is held high, not just to light the way but because he feels valued.
The song doesn’t record whether or not the “other” reindeer change permanently. Sure, they were shouting out with glee but that was because they were able to complete their rounds without hazard. The question that remains unanswered is whether or not they became any kinder and accepting as a result of the experience. If another reindeer came to the barn with, say, a deformed antler, would they laugh and call him names? Would they let poor Bent Antler join in any reindeer games?
I don’t know.
One thing I am fairly certain of, though. I think Rudolph began to think differently of himself. While I am sorry for his pain, I’m also glad that no one stepped in and deprived him of the opportunity to do just that—to learn and discover who he was—uniquely and individually.
What we think of ourselves goes much farther in defining who we are than what others think. A change of circumstances may trigger it, but the real change lies within ourselves. Our own self-value beats a red nose or bent antler any day. Where we stand makes a difference
Like it or not, texting has become a huge part of many people’s lives. At least one estimate I saw recently suggested that the average high school student sends about 300 texts in the course of a day! While some of us are still adjusting to this way of communicating, it is growing by leaps and bounds. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover an amazing person and an amazing resource that’s all about texting. The amazing person is Nancy Lubin. The amazing resource is the Crisis Text Line.
There are some similarities to the traditional Crisis Phone Lines, but there are also some amazing differences. The program has already handled nearly ten million text messages ranging from addiction to sexual abuse to suicidal thoughts. Anyone can send the simple message “go” (or “Hello” or “start”) to 741-741. It’s confidential, anonymous, and free. An automated response will ask about the crisis… and here’s where this gets really amazing. Thanks to data and algorithms, the response to the question will ensure that the text goes to a counselor trained to handle that specific type of crisis.
I discovered the Crisis Text Line while preparing for the upcoming classes I’ll be teaching. I also just learned that an agency in the area is sending some of their employees to one of those Suicide Awareness Classes and that’s encouraging! These classes are not just for school employees, nor do they demand or expect more than you can give. Just helping make information like the crisis text line available can be an effective support to someone who’s troubled. (Information will be distributed during the class, but you can also access it at http://www.crisistextline.org/. There’s even a flyer you can post with the number to text as a tear-off portion.)
Someone who may not want to talk may be very willing to text. Let’s get this number out and available: 741-741.
You can learn more about this incredible program and the woman who started it by watching her ten minute TED Talk. I’m comfortable guaranteeing you’ll be impressed!