Suicidal Ideation: A First-Person Account

I’m going to try my best to talk about my suicidal ideation and depression. Honestly, I still don’t completely understand how to explain.

Let me start by telling you what I call my depressive and suicidal moods/episodes: “Moments.”

I started calling them moments because it helps me remember that the way I’m feeling will pass soon. Even though I can’t understand myself during those moments, I can get through and overcome them. The word helps me build resiliency within myself. 

These moments feel like heavy storm clouds surrounding my head. I’m sad, mad, lazy, unmotivated, and tired. Some days it’s one or the other; some days I’m all of those things at once.

Then this thing called negative self-talk comes into play. Negative self-talk is very dangerous, it really can diminish a person and cause harm. If I am not able to speak positivity into my thoughts, I become stuck into a cycle of negative, intrusive, and harmful thoughts. During these stuck moments I feel blank, but my mind is going 1,000 mph.

When I’m deep into my moments, it’s hard for me to feel my worth.

These don’t always happen in this order or simultaneously, some of these things exist on their own in my mind. I start to just feel a sensation of numbness and loneliness. I began to abuse alcohol and marijuana. I have also used percs (Percocets ) and xans(Xanax) to numb and forget.

In the past, suicidal thoughts consumed me almost every day. I would have waves of sadness and randomly cry with little to no reason. I would cut myself and my hair (if you know me you know I love my hair) to sort of hurt myself but also to feel. My cutting was to focus my pain on something other than my depression and to also punish myself for not being “normal” in a sense.

And if you’re wondering: Yes, I’ve attempted suicide twice.

When speaking to my family about my attempts I felt guilty and ashamed. They didn’t really act like they cared or had much concern, more like they expected that from me. That honestly made me feel hurt and awkward. Until I started to learn that it wasn’t that they didn’t care but that they didn’t understand my mental health.

I’m glad to say I manage my moments way better nowadays. But it doesn’t mean I’m cured; I just understand and am able to identify my depression better. Suicidal ideation is very scary – to be consumed by thoughts of suicide.

About the Author: Deborah “DeeDee” Irby is a Community Outreach and Engagement Specialist with the Evidence-based Practice and Innovation Center and Philadelphia Alliance for Child Trauma Services. She is part of the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) Division of Community Behavioral Health.


Originally posted at Healthy Minds Philly

Addiction Recovery: there IS a way

“Twelve and a half years ago I was in active addiction . . . and eventually I ended up in a hospital for mental health. I am now 7 1/2 years clean and sober. For anyone who wakes up thinking ‘oh god not again,’ I promise you there’s a way,” tweets Stranger Things actor Jamie Campbell Bower.

His story of addiction recovery and mental health is one that resonates far and wide. Addiction affects about 22 million Americans. What most people don’t realize is the chances for healing are excellent.

It is not always easy, or fast, but it is most certainly possible

Mental health and addiction recovery

Mental illnesses and addiction tend to go hand in hand. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that substance abuse disorders and mental health issues share common risk factors such as genetics and early exposure to stress or trauma. In particular, those who live through trauma often feel fear, helplessness and horror and seek addictive substances to deal with emotional pain.

Just as mental illness can contribute to addiction, chronic use of drugs or alcohol can cause changes in the brain leading to depression, anxiety, paranoia and other problems.

Before, during and after addiction recovery it is normal to feel anxiety, depression and fear. What’s important to know is that support is available and there are proven methods to manage feelings and issues.

Here are four actions that can help:

  • Set up a daily routine – Having structure and activities increases self-esteem and confidence and reduces anxiety.
  • Volunteer – Focusing on others’ needs delivers unanticipated benefits of self-satisfaction and energy, lowering depression and fear.
  • Make music a part of daily life – The power of music for healing is well documented. It can help you connect to your feelings and learn more about yourself. Upbeat songs can release feel-good energy and classical or spa-like music can improve focus and create a sense of calm. 
  • Do something new and prioritize fun – Participating in healthy activities can help prevent relapse. Fill the time spent using drugs or alcohol with activities you used to enjoy or try new hobbies you’ve always thought about. In doing so, you might tap a new source of creativity and wonder, gain satisfaction and self-esteem and build a network of healthy friends.

September is Recovery Month—a time to “celebrate the gains made by those in recovery from substance use and mental health, just as we celebrate improvements made by those who are managing other health conditions,” writes Faces and Voices of Recovery.

While the media focuses on overdose statistics, this reporting obscures one key fact: three out of four people eventually recover from their addiction. It’s just a matter of time.

“Remember, we are all works in progress.”

– Jamie Campbell Bower


Originally posted on Healthy Minds Philly

How to Navigate Empty Nest Syndrome

Independence Blue Cross Vice President of Operations Nicole Gold has done a remarkable job of raising her son, Hayden. He was a valedictorian at his high school graduation and will be a freshman at The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in the fall. She has every reason to be confident that he’ll be fine as he makes the transition to living on his own.

So why does she have feelings of sadness and anxiety?

Empty nest syndrome refers to the distress and other complicated emotions that many parents experience when their children leave home. The feelings can range from loss and sadness to anxiety, grief, and fear.

“When you’re used to seeing your kid every day and checking in on him, you feel like you know what’s going on with him,” Nicole says, noting that she’ll need to learn how to give Hayden his space. The other concern is how she will use the time she spent raising her son now that she has more time on her hands.

“There’s a theory of depression that has to do with the loss of a role,” says clinical psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, PhD. “For those parents who are truly sad and feel depressive symptoms, it’s often because the role they saw themselves in is changing and they don’t yet have a plan for what their new role is going to be. It’s a loss of identity as well.”

Planning a Life Transition

In this circumstance, it can be helpful to frame the empty nest as a life transition. It’s healthy to feel the loss of that chapter of life, but then pivot to making plans for structuring your time and to building something for yourself, Dr. Chansky says.

Nicole says she’s going to take the opportunity to spend time at the gym and focus on her health, and maybe remodel some rooms in the house. While she was always a working mother, the family spent a lot more time together during the pandemic, so Hayden’s absence will be particularly felt.

Of course, not all parents are distressed when the kids fly the coop. At least one study, from the Journal of Developmental Psychology, concludes that empty nest syndrome is overblown and that the middle school years are more stressful for parents than sending the kids off to college or their own place to live.  So, if you feel relieved, or excited by a new sense of freedom and possibilities, that’s okay too.

A Wide Range of Experiences

“Everyone’s experience is valid. Every place on the continuum makes sense,” Dr. Chansky says, so there’s no need to feel guilty if you’re not feeling sad. “I urge gentleness with yourself with whatever you’re feeling,” says Dr. Chansky. “Everyone has a different journey.”  And, if you find that after a while you’re still having trouble making the transition, it’s a good idea to talk to a counselor or a friend.

For parents having trouble letting go, remember that this is the young adult’s time to grow into their new role. If you’re not hearing from them as often as you’d like, it’s probably because they’re doing well.

“Unless there is cause for concern, follow their lead about how often they want to talk,” Dr. Chansky suggests.

For more information about depression, self-care strategies, and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.


Originally Posted on: IBX Insights

For Black Women Who Say They’re Okay When They’re Not

How are you feeling? 

As leaders in our communities, workplaces, families, and homes, Black women are often carrying a physical and emotional load for themselves and those around them.

Earlier this year we got a sobering reminder of the invisible baggage we carry when we learned about the death of Cheslie Kryst, former Miss USA and entertainment news correspondent at Extra

From the outside, the 30-year-old appeared to have it all. With a pageant crown, multiple degrees, talent, and charisma, she exuded what some would describe as “Black Girl Magic.” But in a social media post confirming her suicide, Kryst’s mother, April Simpkins, revealed Cheslie was dealing with high functioning depression.  

What is high functioning depression? The clinical term is dysthymia. According to Psychology Today, three causes of high functioning depression are trauma, intergenerational depression, and unresolved frustration, something many Black women know about.

In 2007 the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development published the report “Cultural dysthymia: An unrecognized disorder among African Americans?” The report states, “After more than 250 years of enslavement, prejudice, and discrimination, dysthymia is reflected in chronic low-grade sadness, anger, hostility, aggression, self-hatred, hopelessness, and self-destructive behaviors.”

As we’re starting to emerge from the pandemic and the stress of the past two years, it’s OK to not be OK. But if you’re not, it’s important to get help.

Here are six ways to mind your mental health:

  1. Make a to-do list and a to-don’t list. Too often we try to take on everything and consequently suffer from burnout. Try this Trash, Transfer, Trim, Treasure exercise we use at The Ladipo Group to help you recognize responsibilities and activities you should stop doing, delegate, spend less time on, or continue doing because it brings you joy.
  2. Ask for help. There’s no shame in admitting your emotions might be too much to process on your own. Use resources like TherapyForBlackGirls.com to find a therapist in your area.
  3. Rest, rest, rest. Whether it’s getting the amount of sleep you need each night or taking small rest breaks throughout the day, allow time for your body and mind to stop moving, shut down, and rest.
  4. Move your body. Dance, exercise or do anything that gets your body moving daily. Movement boosts your mood by releasing endorphins which make us feel good.
  5. Curate your social media. Oftentimes we scroll through our phones and feel lousy. Review the people you follow and content you absorb, and delete those that don’t add joy.
  6. Intentionally cultivate and connect with your tribe. Our tribes of sister-friends get us through the darkest times and celebrate the joyful times as well. Don’t wait until you’re in the depths of despair to reach out. Sometimes a text or funny meme is all that’s needed.

If you struggle to take time out to care for your mental health, remember that you’ll be better able to care for others when you’re filled and refreshed from first caring for you!

Tonya Ladipo is the Founder and CEO of The Ladipo Group, the region’s only therapy, counseling, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consulting practice specializing in serving Black and African-American communities.

The Search for Culturally Competent Care

Fans of the award-winning TV series ‘This is Us’ may remember the episode where Randall decides to switch therapists. The character—a successful commodities trader turned Philadelphia City Councilman—is African American, was raised by a white family, and struggles with anxiety and PTSD. He admits that he isn’t comfortable sharing many of his feelings with his current therapist. His new doctor is “cool, smart, funny, Black, young father… we got a lot in common,” Randall explains.

Does your therapist ‘get’ you? The answer to this question is a key factor in mental health recovery. 

Finding a provider you trust, who you connect with and who has experience working with people like you, isn’t always easy. Yet it is especially important for members of minority groups—many of whom suffer generational trauma from systemic racism, yet don’t receive the treatment they need. 

The numbers are telling. Forty-five percent of U.S. adults with mental illness receive help, but just 23 percent of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) adults, 33 percent of Black adults, 34 percent of Hispanic/Latinx adults, and very few Native people with mental illness get treatment. 

This is National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month—a time to focus on the unique struggles around mental illness that minority communities in the United States face, along with the solutions. Finding culturally competent providers is one of them. 

What is cultural competence in mental health? 

Cultural competence is understanding that a person’s values, experiences, and personal beliefs are shaped by their ethnic and community identities and the influences that come with it. These factors can also explain why a patient avoids treatment and how they perceive and express symptoms, cope, adhere to treatment, and attach stigma to mental illness.

Exploring a patient’s cultural identity may help providers tailor mental health treatment. On the flip side, cultural incompetence likely contributes to underdiagnosis and/or misdiagnosis in Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities, writes Mental Health America. “Language differences between patient and provider, stigma of mental illness among BIPOC, and cultural presentation of symptoms are some of the many barriers to care that explain these errors in the diagnostic process.”

Assessing a provider’s level of cultural sensitivity 

It starts with asking the right questions. The National Alliance on Mental Illness advises that you ask:

  • Have you treated other people with my cultural background?
  • Have you received training in culturally competent care for members of my community?
  • How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
  • Do you have training in trauma-informed care?

Here are a few places to start your search for a culturally-competent mental health provider:

Psychology Today – Search for a therapist by zip code, ethnicity served, type of therapy and more.

Inclusive Therapists – Search by insurance, specialty, therapist identity, language, cultural knowledge, therapeutic approach, and location.

Open Path – A nonprofit serving clients who cannot afford current market rates for therapy through a network of affordable mental health professionals. Search by specialty, language, therapist ethnicity, age specialty, treatment orientation, and location.

You might also try:

Asian Mental Health Collective

The Association of Black Psychologists Therapist Resource Directory

Therapy for Latinx

Centers for Medicaid and Medicare American Indian/Native Behavioral Health Service Locator

Talking to Kids About Gun Violence

Like many U.S. cities, Philadelphia is struggling with a rising tide of gun violence. During this calendar year alone, there were 957 nonfatal and 242 fatal shootings in the city as of July 4, 2022. One hundred and five of these cases involved children under age 18.

These shootings take their toll on the mental health of our children. Research suggests that concern about school violence or shootings may be a risk factor for developing anxiety disorders.

In an article written for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), Faculty Member Aditi Vasan, M.D., MSHP writes, “As a pediatrician, I have often seen children come into the hospital or clinic with mental health-related symptoms, including depressed mood, anxiety, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, in the days and weeks following a shooting near their home or school.”

Children as young as two years old can be aware of gun violence, says Julie Campbell, LCSW, Trauma Services Director at the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center in Philadelphia. But because children are often exposed to gun violence on television and in video games, it can be hard for them to understand what it means when a person is shot.

It’s heartbreaking to watch a child struggle with the stress and anxiety that gun violence can provoke. But it’s not always easy to know how to respond, or what to say. Campbell encourages parents to take their cues from their kids, listening closely to what they know and what they fear, and responding at a level they can understand. “If we ask an open-ended question and then pause to listen deeply, the communication is much more meaningful and more likely to continue,” Campbell says.

Parents shouldn’t shy away from taking the lead to start the conversation, Campbell adds. And both parents and educators can help reassure children by talking about the safety measures that are in place to protect them.

Additional tips to help parents manage their children’s anxiety include:

  • Stay connected. After a first conversation, check in with your child every few days to see if they’re still feeling anxious.
  • Encourage kids to reach out to the adults around them if they’re worried or upset.
  • Turn the television off, especially if the news is replaying violent incidents.
  • Spend family time together. Have a game night or movie night so children feel that home is a safe and good place to be.
  • Support your child’s wellness, including helping them get enough exercise and sleep. Lack of sleep can make children more irritable and less able to manage their emotions.
  • Teach your child relaxation strategies such as deep breathing. A “4-7-8 breathing” exercise made popular by Dr. Andrew Weil has been found effective in managing anxiety and helping people fall asleep. Sesame Street offers several excellent video demonstrations of this breathing technique for children, including Learn to Belly Breathe with Rosita and Common and Colbie Caillat Sing Belly Breathing with Elmo.
  • Teach your child positive self-talk. “When we’re thinking fearful thoughts, we can hit the pause button in our brain and change them to positive thoughts, such as ‘I’m home, I’m safe, I know how to ask for help,’” Campbell says.
  • Maintain your own self-care. Getting support for yourself will trickle down to your children and make you more emotionally available for them.

Pediatricians can also be allies in helping support kids, Campbell notes. They are trained to talk to families about exposure to trauma and to detect signs of anxiety. Children might not have the words to express their feelings. But sleep problems, changes in eating habits, or complaints of headaches and stomach aches provide clues to problems that providers can address, she says. “Medical care is not just about your body, it’s also about your emotional health.”

The Importance of Violence Prevention

It’s a tragedy that gun violence has become so commonplace that we need strategies for helping our children manage the resulting anxiety. While we must provide them with this support, we also mustn’t accept this level of violence as a fact of life.

Greg Deavens, president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross, issued this statement on May 18, 2022: “Philadelphia – like so many other cities across the country – is experiencing an epidemic of gun violence. These senseless crimes destroy families and communities and take a toll on our collective mental well-being.” He added, “Independence strongly condemns all acts of violence, and we pledge to always be a force for positive change.”

Useful Links

If You Need Help

If you or someone you know is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

For more information about self-care strategies for mental health and where to find help, visit ibx.com/knowyourmind.

Take a Minute to Breathe

Ariana Grande’s popular song “breathin’” is an anthem to anxiety that speaks to a simple solution with a multitude of benefits. “Don’t know what else to try, but you tell me every time, just keep breathin’ and breathin’” chants the pop superstar.

Unfortunately, most of us weren’t taught the simple techniques and range of positive outcomes that come with—well—simply breathing.

It happens to all of us. Feelings like anxiety, stress, and fear cause our breathing to be shallow, irregular, or rapid. It’s entirely normal. Our body’s automatic response is to protect itself. The trick is to focus not on what’s happening around us, but to what is happening within us. We are breathing. It’s our most basic instinct.

Practicing steady, deep breathing delivers more oxygen to the body and brain, reduces your heart rate and decreases the release of cortisol—better known as the stress hormone. Deep breathing also releases endorphins. This in turn increases a sense of calm and can combat pain.

Other known benefits of deep breathing include:

  • Lower blood pressure –Relaxation opens the blood vessels and improves circulation
  • More energy—From increased oxygen to the circulatory system
  • Less headache pain – Due to reduced tension locked in the shoulders and neck (you’ll rest better, too!)

Practice Makes Perfect

Getting back to steadier breaths is within reach. All it takes is a few minutes of practice. The American Psychiatry Association (APA) created one solution called “Just Breathe.” For three to four minutes a day:

  • Think about your body. (Are you breathing rapidly, forgetting to take a breath altogether, or taking shallow gasps?)
  • Begin breathing slowly and deeply for a count of four
  • Hold that breath in for a count of four
  • Slowly let the breath out for a count of six

Why does this work? Our brains can tell when we have varying emotions. Taking a few minutes to exercise a large organ in our body – our lungs – refocuses precious energy and retrains the way our body responds to our feelings.

Self-Care is Good Care

Almost everyone can relate to Grande’s refrain, “Time goes by, and I can’t control my mind.”

When this does happen to you, remember to breathe. Better yet, be proactive and take a small step in self-care by scheduling 4 minutes of ‘me time’ on your iPhone or calendar. Devote that time to breathing exercises.

Then, the next time someone asks you “How are you,” it will ring true when you reply, “I am good!”