12 Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent

Photo by Tina Dawson on Unsplash

A lot of people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and nail-painting. But that’s just not the case.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental wellbeing. That’s it. Through treating myself to some self-care on a daily basis (as well as engaging in therapy and taking my medication), I’ve been able to manage my bipolar disorder for the past several years. I am a stable–and happy!–woman with mental illness, so I am more than willing to share my favorite self-care strategies with you.

Here are 12 frugal, easy self-care ideas to help you treat your depression. Feel free to try as few or as many ideas on the list as you’re comfortable with.

Take a break from social media.

Social media is all-consuming. Perusing the curated feeds of your friends and family can make you think their lives are perfect and yours lacks something in comparison. Take a thirty-minute to an hour break from social media today.

Not everyone can be like me, who checks my Facebook account only once in a blue moon. I am, however, addicted to chatting on Discord, a chat service, so I do force myself to take breaks from the servers I’m a moderator of once in a while so I can refresh myself rather than being drained by constant pings. It’s a very similar strategy to putting my phone on DND, but it’s specifically tailored to Discord.

Go to your library’s website and put some books on hold.

Shopping for books gives a lot of people a thrill but can be expensive. Try perusing your local library’s website and place a few books on hold to pick up later.

I don’t read nearly as often as I’d like, but when I do read, I usually read fanfiction. The fanfic experience can be tailored to you; on archiveofourown.org, you can filter what fanfiction you’re looking for through tags.

You can do a similar search for books from your library’s website, looking up keywords and authors you’re interested in. If you

Write a short story.

Google the phrase “writing prompts” and see what you can come up with from the third prompt from the first result.

One of the best self-care strategies I ever practiced was allowing myself to write fanfiction. By disregarding the stigma and treating the activity as valuable, I was able to break through a 10-year writing dry spell where I wrote nothing at all. In a year’s time, I wrote over 500,000 words and improved my writing by leaps and bounds.

Creative writing is my special way to relax. Writing fiction, specifically fanfiction allows me to express my emotions through the characters’ actions and unpack facets of my own life, like how I starved when I was a child. I highly, highly recommend writing a story of your own.

Read one chapter of a book.

Reading is one of the best frugal activities out there. It engages your brain and promotes peace. Try reading one chapter of one of your favorite books.

Like I said earlier, I haven’t read a book in a while, but when I want to disengage after a long day and engage my brain in a different way, I read a fanfic from one of my favorite fandoms. I have specific authors that I follow, and I am good friends with some of them.

Reading is one way for you to “turn off” your working brain and “turn on” your relaxed brain.

Do something imperfectly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, and perfectionism is a killer. Give yourself permission to do something imperfectly, like coloring outside the lines on a coloring sheet.

When I started writing fanfic, I allowed myself not to obsess over whether I was using commas correctly. This small change opened the floodgates of my writing, and I wrote over 500,000 words in a year. Earlier, when I was driven to create a “perfect” piece, that killed my enthusiasm for writing entirely.

Allow yourself to try something doing something new or old imperfectly. Let go of the bad habit of perfectionism in a small, unique way.

Buy a pet plant.

Gardening is a fun activity with numerous health benefits. Caring for something small other than yourself can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Studies have shown that nurturing a plant promotes good feelings. Philodendrons are beautiful, green plants with heart-shaped leaves that are easy to keep alive. Head to the nursery section of your local grocery story and purchase a philodendron or other easy pet plant.

My front yard is full of plants that my mother put in the ground for me. I love seeing the delicate, blue flowers of my vinca plants blooming. Watching my large-leafed, heart-shaped hostas grow bigger and bigger is a treat. And when the corkscrew willow tree’s leaves unfurl for spring, it’s one of the best markers of the year.

Drink a cup of tea or coffee.

Especially on cold days, a cup of tea or coffee can be just what the doctor ordered. The caffeine kick can help you get through your day but even if you drink decaffeinated beverages, the warmth from the drinks can help soothe you.

When I read this in my post, I immediately stood up to go make tea for myself and my family. My favorite tea is Harvey & Son’s Hot Cinnamon Spice, a bracing black tea with a rich flavor of orange and cloves. Drinking a cup of tea is one of my favorite ways to warm up.

Practice gratitude.

If you concentrate on what you have and how grateful you are to have it, then you are less likely to ruminate on negative things. Practice gratitude by writing down five things you’re thankful for.

When I find myself getting spinning in circles because of how busy I am, I like to stop and count my blessings. I say a prayer to God thanking him for the big things–my health, my food, and my shelter–and then try to come up with something specific. This helps me focus on what I have rather than what I don’t have, preventing FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out.

Cross something off your to-do list.

If you have the energy, tackle something that you’ve been meaning to get done for a while. But before you do so, visualize how good it will feel to have the item done. Picture yourself having done the task, and how much more free you feel.

I love crossing items off my to-do list. One of the best ways for me to soothe myself is to pull up my sleeves and get something done, like writing this post.

Depression, unfortunately, makes getting even the smallest task done difficult. But do try. Even getting a small item done will give you a sense of accomplishment and that may be enough to get through the rest of your day.

Declutter the nearest surface to you.

If you’re stuck in bed, then spend five to ten minutes clearing off and dusting your nightstand. You don’t have to spend an hour or two decluttering to make progress. Decluttering the nearest surface to you will give you a clear space to look at and a feeling of satisfaction.

When I’m depressed, I tend to let the environment around me fall into squalor. Things surround me: pizza boxes, dirty diapers, moldy dishes–you name it. It’s not good. So when I’m deep in the depths, I try to tackle the mess one step at a time.

I usually start with the dishes, clearing off the counters, and then take a break. That sense of accomplishment enables me to move on to the next step: picking up the floor, and so on and so on.

Do a full-body check-in.

Starting with your toes and progressing upward to your shins, thighs, hips, stomach, etc., ask yourself how each of your body parts feel. Are you cramping or sore anywhere? Are you thirsty? Hungry? Address those issues. Get a drink if you’re thirsty. Eat something if you’re hungry. And stretch.

A full-body check in works in tandem for me with a meditation exercise: imagine the sun creeping up your body from your toes, spilling over your legs, warming up your hips, filling your belly, and suffusing your chest.

If I do this exercise after a full-body check-in and then address all the needs I’ve found in my body, that’s one of the best ways for me to perform physical self-care.

Take 3 deep breaths.

Breathing deeply is one of the best ways to center yourself. Try the box breathing method: Take seven seconds to breathe in through your nose, hold for six seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds through your mouth. This will help you feel calmer and detoxify your body.

I often have trouble remembering to breathe when I need to, instead getting more and more hyped up until I’m hyperventilating. When I do remember to take a breath (or when a dear friend reminds me to), I can calm myself down and take a moment to re-center myself.

Conclusion

So those are The Bipolar Parent’s easy, frugal, must-try self-care ideas for depression!

Self-care is not an indulgence. It’s caring for yourself in a way that puts your health front and center. And if you engage in self-care on a weekly or even daily basis, you’ll start to build up a reservoir of good feelings.

Feel free to try as many of these strategies as you feel like trying. There’s no pressure here.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

When and Why to Seek Out Professional Help

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The first step to handling an emergency situation involving physical injuries is triage. Stop the bleeding, make the environment safe, transport the patient to a hospital. The people to call in a dangerous situation are the professionals; untrained laypeople can help treat injures sometimes, but when it comes to major problems, you call your country’s emergency line (e.g. 911 in the US; 211 in the UK).

Mental illnesses are no different. Depression can lead to awful situations like feeling desperate to recover, enduring thoughts of self-harm, and potentially drastic actions like dying by suicide. If you’ve been floundering in a depressed state and you don’t appear to be recovering, it’s time to stop the bleeding. Call in the professionals; they can help you set you on the right path to recovery.

When and Why to Seek Out a Therapist 

A therapist has had multiple years of schooling (and if you’re fortunate, many years of practice) under their belt, so they should be able to help you. Talk therapy is one way to address anxiety and to help you build coping skills. Therapists can diagnose you with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder and offer you specific support tailored to that illness and how it affects you in your day-to-day life.

If you have a lot of past to untangle and feel that your baggage is impacting your everyday functioning or if you’re starting a new chapter in your life and you don’t want to be weighed down by past mistakes, then seeing a therapist is a good idea. Alternatively, if you’re absolutely miserable and not sure which problem to tackle first, a therapist may help you start to figure out your next steps.

My experiences with my therapists have been largely positive. When I fell pregnant with my son at 21, freshly graduated from college with a whole lot of baggage, I was overcome with anxiety. I thought I was going to fail this whole parenting thing and screw my son up. I wasn’t a functioning adult, so how could I raise a child to be? I was so anxious, I sought out a therapist online by Googlng “therapist [my town].”

Fortunately, I found one that I could see right away, which I know is not always the case. The doctor, whom I’ll call Dr. Smith, talked me through my anxiety. She helped me understand that my relationship with my children, unlike my relationship with my siblings, who I was almost-entirely responsible for every day at young age, was appropriate.

Dr. Smith was there for me when I suffered a subsequent postpartum psychotic breakdown and committed myself to a mental hospital. She diagnosed me as having Bipolar I, and worked closely with the hospital staff in order to convince me to take lifesaving medication, which I’ll address in the next part of this post.

I know you may be depressed, and if you are, you’d rather stick your hand in a box of tarantulas than search for a doctor or straighten out your insurance situation. But a therapist can help you. If you have a trusted friend who can help you find a therapist, call them and ask them if they can Google “therapist [my town]” and do some preliminary research for you. For a more in-depth look on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

You are worth treating. You can feel better. A therapist can help.

When and Why to Seek Out Psychiatric Medication

Medication can be a godsend. When I was suffering severe postpartum depression that was so horrific, I felt actively suicidal for the first two years of my son’s life, I was taking Depakote to manage my mania but nothing for depression. I couldn’t make simple decisions like what to eat or when to shower, and I isolated myself and my toddler. Once I weaned my son at age two-and-a-half, my psychiatrist placed me on lithium to manage my moods, and I suddenly found my life improving by leaps and bounds.

When you feel symptoms of your mental illness are out of control and you can no longer function during the day, then medication may help manage some of those symptoms. You need to handle your daily tasks, especially when you’re a parent and have people depending on you. Even when you’re not a parent, you deserve to be a happy, functioning human being who’s not only surviving from day-to-day, but thriving. If you’re sinking into a deep, dark pit without feeling an escape, medication may take the pressure off.

If you have a mental illness like depression or bipolar disorder that can be treated by chemical substances, why not take them? I understand your reluctance. I’ve been there. But when I did take my meds regularly, my life quickly stabilized, and I was able to be a happier person, devoting more time to being a present parent and partner. 

Psychiatric medications have a stigma. I get that. But the situation is like a diabetic needing insulin to survive. No one judges people who wear glasses. Psychiatric medication is just a means to an end and there’s no shame in helping yourself.

Yes, there are side effects. And yes, you’ll likely have to try a few. I myself searched for five years to find a medication cocktail that worked for me, but once I found it, the quality of my life vastly improved. Thanks to my medication, therapy, and other coping strategies I’ve developed like good sleep hygiene and self-care, I have been stable for seven straight years.

I highly, highly recommend finding a competent psychiatrist. You may also have to try a couple to find one you like who treats you well. But don’t give up, and don’t stop taking the meds just because they resolve symptoms and make you feel better in the moment. Just because you do

You deserve to feel better. If medication can help, why not try it?

For a post on how to acquire a psychiatric evaluation, click here. For a post on what to do if/when you run out of your medication, click here.

Conclusion

I work very closely with my treatment team (my therapist and psychiatrist), so I can address any issues as they arise. I haven’t had to go to therapy regularly for a few months now, so my doctor sees me on an as-needed basis. And my psychiatrist? Well, I check in with him once every six months because I, and my medication, manage my psychotic mania and depression so well.

Therapy and medication, in combination, drastically improved my life. Even if you can only afford just one, go for it. Therapy takes a while longer to start producing results, so I would recommend trying the medication first, so you can stop the bleeding and improve the most dramatic symptoms first.

You deserve to feel better. Your friends and family want to see you happy again. And you, as a precious human being, are worth proper treatment.

Take care of yourself.

Related Posts:

4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Bipolar Depressive Episode

Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Trigger Warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources. 

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here

For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Trigger Warning: This post has brief mentions of the 2020 covid pandemic.

4 Times You Should Call Your Doctor to Save Yourself from a Depressive Episode

People all over the world face mental health struggles, and with the 2020 covid pandemic isolating people and causing physical illness and death, the challenges have never been greater. But some people are still confused about what problems need professional help, especially when suffering a depressive illness.

Depression is a serious illness that can lead to people taking drastic actions such as committing self-harm or dying by suicide. Even when the depression “isn’t that bad,” you may still be sad, apathetic, or just tired all the time.

Your mental health might still be in the toilet, and that’s no way to live. 

If you’re living with a depressive illness, you deserve medical attention. The earlier you get treatment, the more effective it’ll be, but even if you’ve been living in the black, viscous pit of depression for years, you still have hope that therapy and/or medication can help.

But when should you, you personally, call your doctor? I’ll give you a few reasons below, as well as examples about when I’ve personally brought in my own treatment team.

A Note Before We Get Started

If you already have a psychiatrist and/or a therapist, awesome. That makes getting adequate treatment easier. But if you don’t have one available, ask for a consultation by a primary care physician (preferably yours, if you have one) to refer you to mental health services.

(For a more detailed post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here. For a more detailed post on how to get a psychiatric evaluation, click here.)

1. Call Your Doctor When… You’ve Lost Interest in Well, Everything

Anhedonia is the loss of interest in things you used to find pleasurable. It’s a deep well of apathy that’s one of the classic signs of depression. Food, hobbies, even sex don’t appeal to you anymore, and you have no desire to do anything except curl up in a blanket fort and hide for the rest of your life. 

This is no way to live. Call your doctor. They can help you.

As a person with bipolar disorder, one of the first signs of a depressive episode for me is when I’ve lost interest in writing. Writing is my lifeblood; I adore putting words to paper and either trying to inform my readers about something that can help them, or tugging at their heartstrings, or both. 

So when I find writing starting to be a chore to me, that’s a sign that I need to call my therapist and let her know that I’m sinking into a depressive episode.

2. Call Your Doctor When… Your Sleep Patterns Have Changed

Sleeping all day is not normal. Being tired constantly seemingly without reason can be a symptom of depression. Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep are also possible symptoms. If your sleep patterns have changed and you can’t pinpoint why, it’s time to call your doctor.

When I first put my daughter in preschool, I was suffering a massive depressive episode without realizing it. I would drop her off at 9am and then go home and collapse in bed, sleeping until 12pm, even after having slept 9 hours the night before. I was sleeping up to 12 hours a day and I was still exhausted. 

When I pulled my daughter out of preschool due to the covid pandemic, I realized I needed to wake up. She needed me to be a present parent; I couldn’t afford to sleep all day. 

So I called my doctor. He adjusted my medication, and I recovered from the depressive episode, which enabled me to be a better parent.

3. Call Your Doctor When… You Can’t Stop Crying

Crying releases endorphins and can be a release for some people. But crying during a depression isn’t usually a healthy release; it’s constant and exhausting and tends to rile people up, not help them. If you find yourself shedding tears and can’t stop, call your doctor.

I sobbed my way through my time committed to a mental hospital. I absolutely could not stop crying; everything was awful and my face was constantly wet. The sobfest may have been due to postpartum hormones; I had just given birth to my first child, but my tears never stopped for a solid week.

After starting medication, I stabilized and stopped crying. Now I’m a happy, present spouse and parent who only cries for release.

4. Call Your Doctor When… You Have Thoughts of Self-Harm or Suicide

Thoughts of self-harm and suicide are serious enough that you need to call your doctor immediately. If you have more than a fleeting, intrusive thought of driving your car into oncoming traffic and it starts to become a plan you could see yourself acting on, then please absolutely seek medical attention.

During my pregnancy with my son, when I was suffering thoughts of self-harm, I did not call my doctor. I was isolated and lonely from a recent move across the country, and while I told my obstetrician I felt sad, I didn’t let her know about my thoughts. 

I ended up making a suicide attempt five days after my son was born. Committing myself to a mental hospital and earning a diagnosis of bipolar disorder saved my life. I was given a referral to a psychiatrist, who gave me stabilizing medication. Now, 13 years later, I am a happy and stable parent and writer. 

Don’t be like me. Don’t prolong your suffering from these debilitating thoughts. Call your doctor.

Conclusion

Sunday, October 10th, 2021 is World Mental Health Day, an initiative by the World Federation by Mental Health intended to bring awareness to mental health issues faced by people globally. 

What better way to celebrate World Mental Health Day than to take charge of your own psychological well-being?

From losing interest in pleasurable activities, changing sleep patterns, constant crying, to thoughts of self-harm, depression has varied symptoms that add up to a debilitating condition. 

If you are facing any of these four challenges, don’t wait. Call your doctor today.

Related Posts:

National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 2

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.

Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some emotional self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.

Emotional Self-care

Emotional self-care involves increasing your ability to handle strong, uncomfortable emotions such as rage, nervousness, or despair. Emotional self-care practices involve your expression of your emotions on a regular basis.

One way to tell if you’re effectively practicing emotional self-care is if you feel recharged at the end of an activity rather than drained. Emotions, especially negative emotions, can be draining, but if you’ve properly processed them, you’ll be much better off.

Here’s a few ways to practice emotional self-care.

Say No

Setting boundaries is all about learning to protect your energy from others. If you are stretched too thin for others, you won’t have any time for yourself and your own self-care, which means you’ll be drained and possibly irritable.

I know that when I’m overstretched (which often happens before I realize it), I tend to snap at people. Instead of letting myself get to that point, I need to do is set boundaries and encourage other people to do the same.

One good way for you to cut down on your obligations is to say “no”. It’s a small but powerful word, and I know for a fact that it’s one of the hardest ones to say for most people.

But try it. Say “no” to at least one person asking you to take on more obligations. You need to draw shield around yourself and not take on anymore things, especially when trying to recover from depression.

I personally don’t like saying no and/or delegating tasks to others, but I’ve always found myself better off when I do. It’s been a long road for me to get to a place where I am confident enough to say no, but a journey begins with a single step.

You can take that first step today.

Call Others For Help When You Feel Overwhelmed

The corollary to saying no is calling for help when you feel overwhelmed. If you find that you really have stretched yourself too thin, you may have to call in people to help you.

Depression is overwhelming. There’s absolutely no shame in calling for help. Whether it’s visiting a therapist to process your day or asking friends to take care of your children so you can take a shower (physical self-care!), you can call someone.

When I’ve been depressed in the past, my greatest supporter has been my husband. He’s taken care of our children, listened patiently to me express my feelings (see the next section), and has given me great advice.

I couldn’t have recovered from my depression as quickly without his stalwart support. If you have a valued supporter, don’t take them for granted, but also don’t worry about calling them for help when you need them to step up.

Your friends want to help you. I know one of the biggest features of depression is the isolation. When we’re depressed, we withdraw from people and tear down our relationships, sometimes because we don’t think they’ll help, but also sometimes because we think we don’t deserve their help.

You deserve the love and help of your friends. Call one today.

And if you’re currently in crisis and believe you’re truly friendless, please, please Google “crisis center [my town],” so you can get the help you need. For a list of crisis lines in the U.S., click here. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Express Your Feelings

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a wise man. Bottling your feelings helps no one; if you can’t express your feelings properly, you cannot nurture your emotional health.

If you’re not honest with people when you don’t like something, you’re setting them up to fail. What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your feelings.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

You can start expressing your feelings in small ways. Keep a personal journal examining your emotions. Write or draw something creative. And try to tell people upfront when you don’t like something, starting small, like when someone calls you by the wrong name.

Over many years of therapy, I’ve learned to express myself in a variety of different ways. I am a writer, so I frequently write fiction that explores my own emotions through the characters and their actions. I write the world I want to see.

I’ve also learned that speaking directly to someone about a problem is worlds better than going behind their back and venting to a friend. I first heard that concept from a lesson in church, but it was only after personal experience where a relationship blew up in my face because I didn’t express my feelings properly that I took action on the idea.

You can express your feelings today. And if you need help, there’s no shame in calling in the professionals. A therapist can help you identify and untangle your emotions and teach you ways to express them in healthy ways.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Conclusion

Like physical self-care, emotional self-care is an absolute necessity. Without the building blocks of caring for your own emotions, recovering from depression will be an uphill battle–even more than it already is.

You don’t have to be a professional at self-care to recover. You can start small. Say no and set boundaries, call in people to help if you’re overwhelmed, and learn to express your feelings. These are the steps you can take to nurture your emotional health.

I’ve learned how to say no, call for aid, and express my feelings not only through talk therapy, but also through trial and error. I’ve accidentally hurt people and flagellated myself with self-recrimination, stalling my progress upwards.

Don’t be like me: care for yourself. Practice emotional self-care today.

I wish you well.

See part 1, the guide to depression recovery through physical self-care, here.

Related Posts:

National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 1

Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.

Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.

Physical Self-care

First, there’s the physical side of self-care. Taking care of your body can help you feel loads better and enable you to take on the day—or at least knock some small tasks off your to-do list, like getting the mail.

Physical self-care is an easy and basic way to meet the lowest tier of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs: the physiological section. Without meeting those needs (food, water, warmth, rest), you cannot move on to meeting the next levels of needs on the pyramid.

There are any number of things you can do to take care of your physical body. Hygiene is a big one. I love applying deodorant and brushing my (short) hair when I’m feeling rotten, which takes about 45 seconds.

I’ll outline some hygiene steps below, but please remember that you don’t have to do all or any of these things at first. One step at a time.

Shower

The best thing you can do for yourself if you’re at home and safe is take a shower. I know you don’t want to take a shower. I know you don’t want to get out of bed. But if you just can’t bring yourself to endure a full-on shower, at least wash your face.

Maybe from there, you’ll feel good enough that you’ll want to brush your hair. Stop there; if you’re truly in the pits of depression, then you don’t want to overload yourself.

I try to take a shower every night so I feel good when I go to sleep and am ready to wake up refreshed the next morning. It’s easy when I’m stable but a mountain to climb when I’m depressed.

But that mountain is worth climbing. I always feel a little better after a shower, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t, too.

Lotion

On occasion my legs are itchy because of dry skin, so one of my self-care rituals is to quickly apply lotion to my legs and arms from a pump bottle. My four-year-old daughter enjoys having me apply lotion to her little arms and legs as well! There’s a lot of laughter involved because the lotion tickles her.

You can try to apply lotion, too. A bottle with a pump spigot makes squirting the right amount in your hands easy, so I’d recommend buying one of those. If you take a shower at night, set the lotion on a flat surface near your bed so finding it when you need to apply it before bed is easy.

Brushing Your Teeth

Brushing your teeth takes two minutes. And you can do anything for two minutes. I have full faith in your ability to handle this task. If you want, brush your teeth and go back to bed until you feel you can manage another aspect of self-care.

Physical self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to cost too much, either. It means taking care of your body, which is linked to your mind and helps you re-center yourself.

Conclusion

Physical self-care is not an indulgence. It’s a necessity; without taking steps to take care of yourself, you’ll get to the point where someone else has to take care of you.

I’ve been there. My mom drove two hours to my university apartment and washed my hair once because I could no longer function. But after that, I soon started performing self-care and taking my own showers.

I recovered from that depression through a combination of talk therapy, medication, and self-care. Without the building blocks of self-care, I never would have found myself a therapist, which was the beginning of my recovery journey.

You are worth self-care. You are a valuable person who has worth beyond what you produce. And you deserve someone who loves you, even and especially if that person is yourself.

I wish you well.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post: Emotional Self-care.

Related Posts:

10 Self-Care Ideas for People Suffering from Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Loverna Journey on Unsplash

Note from the Editor: Please welcome the Bipolar Parent back from my hiatus! I will be posting weekly personal, informative pieces on how to manage your bipolar disorder on Friday mornings. I hope that these posts will help you deal with depressive or manic episodes, and that you’ll be able to stabilize soon. 

I wish you well!

***

Self-care. It seems self-explanatory; after all, the term indicates caring for the self. But why is self-care so hard to accomplish, especially for people who suffer from bipolar disorder?

The answer is easy. When we’re manic or hypomanic, we’re usually too busy to settle down and care for ourselves. If we’re depressed, caring for ourselves is the last thing we want to do (mostly because we don’t want to do anything at all).

That must change. Caring for ourselves is putting an oxygen mask on. Self-care is crucial for our daily functioning. We must take self-care seriously to make the most of our lives.

September is Self-Care Awareness Month. There’s no better time than to start giving yourself a sweet, sweet dose of self-care.

Some people believe the self-care is limited to taking bubble baths and painting their toenails. But there are so many more ways to take care of yourself. Read on for 10 self-care ideas for people suffering from bipolar disorder.

Self-care Ideas for When You’re Manic

When you’re manic, life is go go go. In my experience, I barely slow down enough to take a breath. Here are my recommendations for self-care when you’re manic:

1. Pause for two minutes and take deep breaths

I know stopping whatever you’re focused on when you’re manic is incredibly difficult and the last thing you want to do, but hear me out. Mania spends energy you don’t actually have. If you’re constantly on the go, you’re going to wear yourself out. Pausing for two minutes and taking deep breaths (in through the nose, hold for eight seconds, and exhale through the mouth) will help your brain reset.

I like to do the box breathing method. First, find a safe place. Then, breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and release for four seconds. This almost always works to calm me down.

2. Take a bath

When I’m suffering from a bipolar mood episode, my hygiene goes out the window. This is especially true during depressive episodes, but also can happen during mania. I highly recommend making a conscious effort to take a bath or shower during that time. Bubbles are optional. Being clean may help you feel better, and if you slow down enough to take a bath during mania, the hot water may relax you a little.

I like to use Epsom salts in my baths. Even if I can’t take a bath, a hot shower, even if it’s short, helps slow my brain down enough to make me realize I’m manic and need to chill out.

3. Sleep

During manic episodes, sleep is your best friend. Aside from medication, sleep is the number one way you can reset your brain back to a non-altered state. Please, try to get some good sleep. Dim the lights, stop using screens two hours before bed, do some deep breathing exercises (see tip #1), and by all means, rest.

I guard my sleep with the fierceness of Cerberus. Whether I’m manic, depressed, or stable, my sleep hygiene is the most important aspect of my day. I sleep in a cold, dark room with two thin blankets, having showered and brushed my teeth right before bed. I have no music or white noise, and I make sure I sleep at least 9-10 hours a night.

When I’m suffering from insomnia, I pray fiercely, and commit my sleep to God. If you’re not religious and you’re up for all hours of the night, you can try meditation and see if it helps. Definitely try the box breathing method.

4. Limit yourself to one project.

My mania manifests as crafting binges. I dive into embroidery or painting projects, and neglect everything around me and even myself until I produce something. I’m always rushing, so these projects never turn out well. I also bounce between projects. I highly recommend sticking to one project, so you’re not leaving half-finished projects lying around.

5. Exercise.

Since you have plenty of energy to burn during mania, burn it. Put on a workout video. Run some laps. Climb your stairs up and down. Anything to get your heart rate up and tire you out.

I can’t run due to knee issues, so when I’m manic and full of energy, I put on music and dance with my kids or talk walks around the park and neighborhood with them. I try to incorporate my kids into my manic phases as much as possible, and ask for their patience with me as I struggle to regain control of myself.

Self-care Ideas for When You’re Depressed

Depression is a beast. You feel awful and don’t have the energy to do anything.  So what can you do? Here are some self-care ideas for when you’re depressed:

1. Go outside

I know that when you’re depressed, you’d rather stick your hand in a box of tarantulas than get out of bed. Trust me, I’ve been there. But staying in bed all day doesn’t help. In fact, that can worsen or prolong feelings of intense sadness. If you go outside and breathe some fresh air, then your mood may lift even if only slightly.

I try to take my four-year-old to a park every single morning except on Sundays, when we have church services. Forcing myself to get outside on a daily basis is sometimes the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but standing outside in the sun helps me re-center and realize that my depression won’t last forever.

2. Clean the closest surface to you, like a nightstand

Clutter deepens and prolongs feelings of depression. If you can clean the closest surface to your bed, like a nightstand, then you’ll have both a feeling of accomplishment and a clear surface to look at.

I have a problem with my brain: every time I think I’m not doing enough, my brain screams at me that I am useless and unworthy of love. I am fixated on being useful, even though logically I know I have value as a person beyond what I produce.

And when I’m depressed, the screaming intensifies as I don’t tend to get anything done, nor do I want to get anything done. So rather than sinking fully into the pit of despair and allowing my brain to figuratively beat me over the head, I try to cross off at least three items on my (small) to-do list and call that good. I recognize that I can’t get as much done when I’m depressed as when I’m stable, but I do accomplish something everyday. That helps me a lot, and it could help you, too.

3. Drink water

Hydration is so important to a healthy body and mind. You’re not at your best when you’re dehydrated. Focus on drinking a gallon of water over the course of a day. Even if you do nothing else but drink, you’ll win the day.

I drink about 144 ounces of water a day. I bring water bottles with me whenever I’m out, and I have a 32-ounce cup at home that I continuously guzzle and refill at the tap all day long when I’m there.

When I’m even slightly dehydrated, I can feel it: I suffer headaches and a dry, scratchy throat, and my mood takes a nosedive. One of my symptoms of depression is a lack of self-care, and that starts with not drinking water, which only worsens my condition. So I would highly recommend putting drinking water as one of the three items on your to-do list. Hydration is crucial for your mental health. 

4. Socialize with an actual person

Call a supportive friend. Check in with your family. Even go out to the store and say hello to the cashier. When we’re depressed, we often isolate ourselves, which makes depression worse. Don’t do that.

When my brain is screaming at me that I’m worthless, I like tapping my online friends. I can sign on and leave them a message and say, “My brain is being mean to me today, and here’s why,” and they’ll respond to me whenever they’re available. Because they’ve been depressed themselves, they’ll listen and acknowledge my pain, and maybe even offer some suggestions about how to conquer my specific challenges that I’ve mentioned.

Relationships are so important to mental health. Don’t isolate yourself. Get out there and put yourself among people, and hopefully you’ll find someone who can support you. 

Your friends want to help you. They’re there to listen. Lean on them.

5. Say “no” to some things

Feeling overwhelmed is common when suffering from depression. If you can, say no to some things filling your schedule. Freeing up enough space to let yourself heal is one of the best things you can do for depression.

As I’ve touched on in previous points, when I’m depressed, I absolutely cannot do as much as I can when I’m stable (which is, admittedly, a lot). So when I’m suffering a depressive episode, I assess my capabilities and cut way, way back on everything I need to do.

I try to give myself three main things on my to-do list, one of which is drinking enough water. Other things that I’ve put on there may be brushing my teeth, showering, eating an easy meal, or socializing with a person. If I’ve done all three things, I win the day.

Final Thoughts

Self-care for people who suffer from bipolar disorder doesn’t have to be difficult. Keep in mind your various struggles when you’re depressed and manic, and tailor your self-care to those episodes. Showers, sleep, and indulging in things that make you happy are crucial to your well-being.

I believe you can conquer these mood episodes. Good luck.

Related Posts:

What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash

Note from the Editor: Please welcome the Bipolar Parent back from my hiatus! I will be posting weekly personal, informative pieces on how to manage your bipolar disorder on Friday mornings. I hope that these posts will help you deal with depressive or manic episodes, and that you’ll be able to stabilize soon. 

I wish you well!

***

Trigger Warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please:

  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255
  • Text TALK to 741741
  • Or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

For a post with a list of domestic crisis lines, click here. For a post with a list of international crisis lines, click here.

What My Experience Being Suicidal Taught Me — and What It Can Teach You, Too

During my pregnancy with my son, I was so miserable, I not only almost ended my life, but his, too.

I was lonely and isolated, having moved 1500 miles away from my family and friends. I endured morning sickness for nine months straight and vomited so much, I lost 30 pounds rather than gaining any weight, putting me on a forced bed rest for six months.

And I was suffering from an undiagnosed bipolar depressive episode. At that time, I couldn’t handle just drifting from day to day in an interminable fog. I wasn’t able to make basic decisions, like what to eat or whether to shower. And it wasn’t like I wanted to die, I just couldn’t live anymore.

After I made an attempt on my life, trying to drown myself in the bath immediately after my son was born, things got better. I committed myself to a mental hospital where I was stabilized on medication and asked to create a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan.

If you’ve faced suicidal thoughts and have no desire to return to that place or even if you suffer from depression and think you might be suicidal, one powerful preventative action you can take is to create one of these plans.

The plan is a written set of steps to follow if you start to think of harming yourself. The benefit to making a suicide prevention plan is simple: following pre-determined steps is much, much easier than trying to figure out your next moves when you’re actively suicidal.

September 5th-11th is National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign in the United States to raise awareness about suicide prevention techniques and the triggers of suicide. The week also tries to reduce the stigma surrounding suicide and normalize steps to prevent suicide and improve mental health. What better time to make a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan?

Are you ready to develop your plan? Find a template of the Brown Stanley Safety Plan, a plan recommended by the Suicide Prevention Lifeline website, here.

Have you printed your plan? Great. Here’s some information to include.

Warning Signs

Familiarize yourself with the warning signs of suicide, both in general and specifically how they manifest to you. The first step in making a plan is to write down your warning signs. During what sorts of moods and situations do you find yourself thinking about self-harm? List three to five experiences that lead you down dark paths.

Being a woman with bipolar disorder, I have a few warning signs for when I’m sliding into a depressive episodes and may end up facing suicidal thoughts that I added to my plan. The first and most obvious one is a total lack of self-care. I usually drink up to 144 ounces of water a day, shower daily, and eat three meals. When I stop doing any of those, it’s time for me to take a look at whether I’m sliding into a depression.

Other warning signs are more subtle. I may feel tired all the time and can’t get out of bed, or I may feel weepy and more emotional than usual. One notable sign that’s very specific to me is that I’m no longer creative. Writing flows through my blood; I adore informing my readers or tugging on their heartstrings or both, and when writing becomes a chore and I start dreading it, that sends off klaxons in my brain that let me know I need to take action to get on a more even keel.

Think hard about specific triggers that you may have for depression or suicidal thoughts. List them here.

Self-Care Techniques

Next, write down three to five self-care techniques. What can you do for yourself that will help you re-center? List out physical activities that calm you down, like taking a nap, getting a snack, or even something as simple as brushing your teeth. For a long list of self-care techniques, click here.

My personal plan from the hospital didn’t have this section, but because I love self-care, I think it’s a great one. One of the quickest and easiest ways for me to feel better about myself is to take a brief, hot shower. If I can’t do that because I’m too busy with my four-year-old, then I wash my face and arms, brush my hair, and apply deodorant, all of which takes less than five minutes.

Another self-care tactic I use is to eat a healthy snack, like a yogurt or a piece of cheese or, if I have time, some sautéed zucchini squash. Yet another self-care tactic I like is to go outside and breathe in some fresh air, which helps me re-center and realize that life isn’t all about my problems.

Think about what helps you the most in the moment. List your specific self-care techniques here.

Distractions

Step three is to write down three to five names and numbers of people who are good distractions for you. Who can you rely on to cheer you up with something other than focusing on yourself? If you have no one, write down social situations or place where you feel calm instead, such as in a library.

I wrote down my sister’s number. When my brain is screaming at me that I’m worthless, she can always acknowledge my pain and cheer me up by reminding me that I am valuable as a person to her specifically.

I also tap my online friends. I can message them with something like, “My brain is being mean to me and here’s why,” and they can respond whenever they’re available with virtual hugs and advice on the challenges I may be facing.

Think hard about trusted people in your life that you can rely on. If you do not have any, think about places with people that you can go to instead, like a park.

People You Can Ask for Help

After you write down distractions, write down three to five names and numbers of people you can ask for help. I know it’s hard to think of people who are genuinely interested in your problems and can help you. You may feel as if you have no friends. But think hard. There are likely people out there who want to help you.

This is where I wrote down my husband’s number, as he’s the person closest to me. It’s saved in my phone and I have it memorized, but he is the one who needs to know that I’m thinking of these things so he can tailor his approach, and possibly call in the big guns for me, such as:

Professionals or Agencies

Step five is to list out the names and numbers of doctors and addresses of crisis centers that you can go to in times of trouble. If you have a therapist, list him or her here. (If you need help finding a therapist, click here.) If you have a psychiatrist, this is where he or she needs to be. (For help getting a psychiatric evaluation, click here.) Write down the crisis center numbers and addresses as well. Then write down a suicide hotline for your country.

At the time of my hospitalization, I did not have a psychiatrist, but I did have a therapist. I wrote her number down, and then I wrote down the information for the psychiatrist that the hospital referred me to.

I filled this plan out at a discharge appointment with a doctor, so they were there to help me figure out what numbers to write down. But the crisis centers in your area are only a simple Google search away.

Making the Environment Safe

If you’ve followed all the steps in your plan up to this point, having called the professionals to help you with your suicidal thoughts, you need to make your environment safe until they can help you. What this means is that when making your plan, you need to joy down the two most effective ways to ensure your safety.

Be it withdrawing from other people or putting yourself among them, make sure these instructions resonate with you. You need to be able to take these steps, and if you’re on step six already and you’ve already called your doctors or an emergency number, then keep yourself from acting rashly. Take away anything that will help you enact your suicide plan to the best of your ability. Call a friend to help (step four) and ask them to remove temptations from your home, like knives or pills.

For my plan, I wrote down that I needed to secure child care for my infant son. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt him or even leave him behind in a place where he could get hurt, so making my environment safe was all about making the environment safe for him, too.

Reason

Finally, write down the most important positive aspect of your life. What is the one thing worth living for? What is your reason not to give up? What’s the driving force of your life that you would hate to leave behind? Hopefully the reason comes to you quickly, but if not, take some time to think hard and figure something out.

At the time of my hospitalization, my clear reason for living was to take care of my newborn. I printed a picture of him from the hospital’s computer, writing on the bottom, “The Reason I Am Here!” in bold, black and red markers.

Focusing on the care of my son helped me survive through suicidal thoughts.

Find your reason.

Conclusion

My experience with suicidal thoughts gave me the tools to use if I ever found myself in a situation again, such as if my medication ever stopped working or external or internal factors sent me back into a deep depression. The Suicide Prevention Safety Plan is one of those tools.

Now I am a happy, stable woman who happens to have a mental illness, one which I treat with a combination of medication, talk therapy, and self-care. While I’ve had hypomanic and depressive episodes in the interim years since my son’s birth, they’ve been nothing like my deep, debilitating depression during my pregnancy.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have learned how to manage my mental illness, but I still follow my plan when I need it.

I would highly recommend filling out a Suicide Prevention Safety Plan to use as one of the tools to help yourself. It will not only benefit you, but it’ll also benefit your loved ones as well. No one wants you to hurt yourself. And filling out a plan when you’re not in a time of crisis will help you know what to do when a problem hits.

Fill out the plan and place it in a spot where you and your loved ones can find it in times of trouble. You may not be able to prevent thoughts of self-harm but you can take steps to prevent yourself from leaving your life behind.

Related Posts:


How to Support Someone Who Has Experienced the Death of a Loved One by Suicide

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge of Unsplash.com. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Trigger warning: This post contains a discussions of suicide. If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.

When a loved one dies by suicide, the survivors are shattered. Facing a death by suicide can easily overwhelm a survivor with grief. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2018, suicide claimed the lives of over 48,000 American people. In 1999, U.S. Senator Harry Reid, reeling from the suicide of his father, introduced a resolution that created International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. 

Also known as Survivor Day, the awareness day was intended for those who survived the loss of a loved one to suicide to come together for support and healing. Survivor Day always falls on the Saturday before American Thanksgiving (November 21, 2020), as the holidays are difficult for many suicide loss survivors.

But how can you slupport a friend who is dealing with the poignant loss of a loved one by suicide? 

Be There and Listen

One of the best ways to support a friend whose loved one died by suicide is to simply be there for them. Your friend will be suffering a world of conflicting emotions such as grief, anger, and helplessness, and they will need you to listen to their anxious worries. 

Listening to your friend’s concerns means trying not to offer solutions to their problems. Most people who are overwhelmed by grief don’t want to listen to advice you can give them. They simply want you to listen.

Ask how they feel. Don’t assume you know how the bereaved person feels on any given day; they might feel differently from moment to moment. 

The Dos and Don’ts of What to Say

Oftentimes when dealing with a grieving friend, we want to say the right thing. As it turns out, there are a few good things to say and a lot of bad things to say. Here are the dos and don’ts of what to say.

The Dos:

  • Do tell them that you love them and are thinking of them. Let them know you will be there for them no matter what.
  • Do tell them that you are sorry for their loss. You can and should of course offer your condolences.
  • Do tell them that you want to listen to stories about their loved one. Do reminisce with your friend. If you have good memories of their loved one, share those memories with them.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t tell them that you understand their pain. Even if you’ve been through a similar situation, everyone’s grief is different. 
  • Don’t tell them that they’ll get over it soon. You do not know when your friend will recover from the loss of their loved one, if ever. Don’t presume to know when their grieving cycle will finish.
  • Don’t tell them they are lucky to have other loved ones, especially children. Nothing will substitute for the loved one they have lost.

If you are with someone who is grieving but you don’t know what to say, you don’t have to say anything. Simply placing your arms around your friend’s shoulders and letting them cry in silence can help them feel less alone.

And remember: Finding the right words to say is less important than simply listening.

Don’t Judge

Grief makes people do ridiculous things. In the course of their grief, your friend may want to rail against God, or scream about the deceased not getting help, or yell at anyone and everyone who failed their loved one. 

Let your friend scream. Let them say whatever they want to say without judging them or trying to offer them advice. Don’t show off your skills in psychology. Your friend will need you to be there for them, not lecture them.

Tell them, “I love you and I am here for you.” In their moments of difficulty, calm, non-judgemental acceptance can be incredibly powerful. 

Be Available

Night time can be particularly difficult for survivors of suicide loss. Your friend may struggle with their sleep. They may need a listening ear at three in the morning. 

Keep your phone on. Your friend may feel awkward or tell you that they won’t call, but when it comes to long nights, they may need you to be available at any time of the day for them.

Try to let them wake you up with grace. Their grief won’t be a permanent thing–they’ll only need you temporarily. But do be there for them.

Remember Your Friend Throughout the Year

Your friend will undoubtedly find that the first year after the loss of their loved one is difficult. And about two weeks after the loved one dies, most of the cards and flowers and well wishers dissipate. 

Don’t forget your friend. Send them a note on the month markers–for example, if their loved one died on the 6th of March, then the 6th of April may be difficult, as well as the 6th of May, and so on. 

Other important dates to remember are birthdays and special holidays that the deceased loved, especially Christmas and the other holidays in the November-December-January season. If your friend lost a spouse, the anniversary of their wedding date is incredibly important to remember.

Send your friend a note or give them a call on these important days. Let them know you are thinking of them and their loved one hasn’t been forgotten.

Watch for Warning Signs

After the death of a loved one, your friend may spiral into a deep depression. If your friend exhibits any of the warning signs of suicide themselves, encourage them to talk to a mental health professional.

Watch for these warning signs, especially up to two months after the death:

  • Extreme focus on the death
  • Declining grades or work performance
  • Lack of concern for personal welfare
  • Isolation
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use
  • Anhedonia – the lack of pleasure in normal activities
  • Hopelessness
  • Extreme and persistent anger, bitterness, or guilt
  • Talking about needing to escape the pain
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Planning a suicide attempt

If your friend is acting strangely and trying to say goodbye to their life, they may be planning a suicide attempt. If you suspect that they will act on their plan, call 911 immediately.

Conclusion

People who are grieving will never “get over”  their loss. They will constantly have a loved-one-shaped hole in their life. The best you can do to support them is to help them begin to heal.

Be there for your friend, listen actively and ask them how they feel, don’t judge them, be available anytime, remember them throughout the year, and watch for warning signs of deeper problems.

You can help your friend who is suffering suicide loss. You can be there for them.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Links:

October 21st: National Check Your Meds Day

Medication interactions are serious business. You could take two medications which counteract each other, which could make you sick enough to end up in the emergency room, or even die. October 21st is National Check Your Meds Day in the US. Making sure that you’re safely consuming the right combination of medications is important for everyone who takes them. This is true for any condition, but especially so for those who suffer from mental illnesses like bipolar disorder.

On National Check Your Meds Day, you can take your medications–including prescription drugs, supplements, and over-the-counter medicines–into a pharmacy for a review. You can then ask a pharmacist for advice on medication combinations, and adverse reactions of side effects.

How Will Checking My Meds Help Me?

The purpose of this review is to check whether your medications are interacting properly. If your psychiatrist and rheumatologist both prescribe medications for you and don’t talk to each other, then you may end up with two different drugs that don’t interact safely. In addition, prescribing drugs in the mental health field is incredibly patchwork and subjective; two psychiatrists looking at the same patient might prescribe a completely different cocktail of medications. And people on your mental health team often don’t talk to each other either, unless you insist.

A Consumer Reports study found that, in 2014 alone, nearly 1.3 million people visited an emergency room due to prescription drug interactions or overdose issues, which cost over $200 billion to the people visiting the ER. The steep cost of ER visits is in addition to any costs incurred due to missed work and health insurance changes. The price of medication interactions is substantial.

There is also a human cost. In January of 2000, the Institute of Medicine reported that up to 98,000 deaths occurred from medical errors on a yearly basis. Up to 7,000 of those deaths were due to adverse drug interactions. That doesn’t seem like much, but to put this in perspective, keep in mind that 6,000 Americans die annually from workplace injuries.

This problem is easy to mitigate. Any experienced pharmacist will be able to inform you about the side effects are of your medicines, especially if you’re taking two or more medications that might contradict each other.

History of National Check Your Meds Day

With the passage of the Durham Humphrey Bill in 1951, all drugs were classified as over-the-counter medications or prescription drugs.

After the Consumer Reports study found that so many people were ending up in the ER due to medication interactions, the study’s editors collaborated with the US Department of Health and Human Services to create a holiday where people could address this issue. Then, on October 17, 2017, National Check Your Meds Day was born.

Other Services the Pharmacist Can Offer You

Other services the pharmacist can offer when examining your medications include:

  • Sometimes, doctors prescribe drugs to manage your side effects when a lifestyle change will control those better or just as well. The pharmacist can suggest ways for you to talk to your doctor about reducing your reliance on prescription drugs.
  • Check if your dosages are potentially too high or too low. This advice will not replace a qualified doctor’s, but can give you a starting point to talk to your doctor about lowering or raising a dose, or stopping a medication.
  • Encourage you to talk to your doctor about refills lasting 30 to 90 days.

Final Thoughts

Getting your meds reviewed by a pharmacist on Check Your Meds Day is a good idea. If you have medications that don’t work with each other, addressing that will safeguard your physical and mental health, and save on costs. Your pharmacist can even advise you on whether you’re taking the right prescription drugs and give you ways to talk to your doctors if you want to change your meds. Your pharmacist is there to help you. Call your local pharmacy to see if the business is participating in National Check Your Meds Day, on October 21, 2019.

Related:

How Mental Illness Affects Police Shooting Fatalities

A version of this post first appeared here on the International Bipolar Foundation’s website, here.

In 2015, the Washington Post conducted the first ongoing tally of officer-involved shooting deaths of the mentally ill. Nationwide, at least 25% of people who are shot and killed by police officers suffer from acute mental illness at the time of their death. People with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be fatally shot during an encounter with police than people with their mental illnesses under control.

According to the Post’s 2018 tally, 1,165 civilians were fatally shot by police. Of those, more than 200 were confirmed to be mentally ill. Someone needs to be paying attention.

How Mental Illness Affects Police Shooting FatalitiesUnarguably, mental illness isn’t the only factor involved in fatal police encounters. Race is one that is often talked about. But the link of mental illness to police brutality doesn’t have the same publicity.

In 2015, the New York City Police Department responded to more than 400 mental health calls per day, more than 12,000 per month. But why do the police respond to mental health crises, and not EMTs? Historically and correctly, law enforcement has been paid to transport people suffering breakdowns to hospitals. And for many mental wards, police involvement is a requirement for involuntary admittance. In Washington state, for example, “under almost all circumstances police involvement is the primary factor in determining whether referral will result in commitment” (Carr, Durham, and Pierce 1984). This happens often enough that the state of Oklahoma’s mental health department includes a budget line item specifically for reimbursing police to transport patients.

The perception of people suffering mental illness as violent and dangerous is another reason police are called. Officers are the only people often perceived by the public to be able to deescalate mental health crises. According to the American Psychiatric Association, most people with mental illness are not violent, but using the law enforcement as a blunt instrument contributes to the stigma that they are. In fact, people with mental illness are more likely than others to be victims of a crime, not perpetuate them.

A Call to Action for Governments

The December 2015 report from The Treatment Advocacy Center, “Overlooked in the Undercounted: The Role of Mental Illness in Fatal Law Enforcement Encounters,” urges lawmakers to make sweeping changes to this broken system. The authors recommended that the lawmakers:

  • Restore the mental health system so that people who suffer from mental illnesses will be treated before they end up in encounters with law enforcement;
  • Accurately count and report all situations involving deadly force by police officers;
  • Identify the number of times those with mental illnesses are fatally shot in an official report, so lawmakers can’t ignore the impact of police fatalities related to mental illness.

Since that study, there has been marginal progress. The 21st Century Cures Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in December 2016, mandated that data on the role of mental illness in fatal police encounters be collected and reported. Soon after, the Bureau of Justice Statistics started using a new methodology in reporting arrest-related death statistics. Using the new methodology, the number of arrest-related deaths that were verified and reported to the Department of Justice doubled.

But the act is not as robust as it could be. According to the Post’s tally, police killed about two dozen more people in 2017 than in 2016, and even more in 2018. The numbers don’t lie; things have not improved much, despite more accurate reporting.

What Can I Do?

Progress is slow, and this may feel like an insurmountable problem. But there are things you can do to help. Contact your House representative and let them know that you are concerned about fatal police shootings. Read books like Breakdown: A Clinician’s Experience in a Broken System of Emergency Psychiatry, which describes why psychotic patients need involuntary commitments. Champion police body cameras and mandated government reporting of the role of mental illness in shootings. Advocate for mental health funding at all levels of government. If you are a police officer, rely on your crisis training to deescalate crises involving the mentally ill.

Final Thoughts

Fatal police shootings, especially of when they involve people suffering from mental illness, are not new or rare. Nor are they going away. But there are things you can do to help. We’ve got to stop this trend. With consistent pressure on our lawmakers and law enforcement, we can fix this.

  1. Durham, Mary & Carr, Harold & Pierce, Glenn. (1984). Police Involvement and Influence in Involuntary Civil Commitment. Hospital & community psychiatry. 35. 580-4. 10.1176/ps.35.6.580.

Related:

How Mental Illness Affects Police Shooting Fatalities - CassandraStout.com