By Emmie Pombo | Mar. 09, 2018

Living with mental illness is not easy. It’s a consistent problem without a clear solution. While treatments like medication and psychotherapy are incredibly helpful, sometimes people experiencing mental health conditions need to do more day-in and day-out to feel good or even just okay.

Some common self-help suggestions people receive are to exercise, meditate and be more present, which are helpful and work for many people. However, other proven methods aren’t mentioned as often. Many of them are quick and simple techniques that can easily be added to daily routines.

Finding the right coping mechanism takes time and patience, but it can enormously impact how you feel. If you haven’t had success with techniques you’ve tried, or you’re looking to add a few more to your toolkit, here are seven coping mechanisms recommended by mental health professionals worth trying out.
Radical Acceptance

Radical acceptance is “completely and totally accepting something from the depths of your soul, with your heart and your mind,” according to Marsha Linehan (creator of dialectal behavior therapy). Included in this definition is the idea that no matter what, you cannot change a situation. For example, imagine a tornado is coming your way. Obviously, you can’t do anything to stop the tornado; that’s not possible. But if you accept the fact that it’s coming, then you can act, prepare and keep yourself safe. If you sit around trying to will the tornado to stop or pretend that there is no tornado, you’re going to be in real trouble when it comes.

The same applies to mental illness. You cannot change the fact that you have a mental illness, so any time you spend trying to “get rid of it” or pretend it doesn’t exist is only draining you of valuable energy. Accept yourself. Accept your condition. Then take the necessary steps to take care of yourself.
Deep Breathing

Breathing is an annoying cliché at this point, but that’s because the best way to calm anxiety really is to breathe deeply. When battling my own anxiety, I turned to the concept of “5 3 7” breathing:

Breathe in for 5 seconds
Hold the breath for 3 seconds
Breathe out for 7 seconds

This gentle repetition sends a message to the brain that everything is okay (or it will be soon). Before long, your heart will slow its pace and you will begin to relax—sometimes without even realizing it.
Opposite-to-Emotion Thinking

Opposite-to-emotion thinking is how it sounds: You act in the opposite way your emotions tell you to act. Say you’re feeling upset and you have the urge to isolate. Opposite-to-emotion tells you to go out and be around people—the opposite action of isolation. When you feel anxious, combat that with something calming like meditation. When you feel manic, turn to something that stabilizes you. This technique is probably one of the hardest to put into play, but if you can manage it, the results are incredible.
The 5 Senses

Another effective way to use your physical space to ground you through a crisis is by employing a technique called “The 5 Senses.” Instead of focusing on a specific object, with “The 5 Senses” you run through what each of your senses is experiencing in that moment. As an example, imagine a PTSD flashback comes on in the middle of class. Stop! Look around you. See the movement of a clock’s hands. Feel the chair beneath you. Listen to your teacher’s voice. Smell the faint aroma of the chalkboard. Chew a piece of gum.

Running through your senses will take only a few seconds and will help keep you present and focused on what is real, on what is happening right now.
Mental Reframing

Mental reframing involves taking an emotion or stressor and thinking of it in a different way. Take, for example, getting stuck in traffic. Sure, you could think to yourself, “Wow, my life is horrible. I’m going to be late because of this traffic. Why does this always happen to me?”

Or you can reframe that thought, which might look something like, “This traffic is bad, but I’ll still get to where I’m going. There’s nothing I can do about it, so I’ll just listen to music or an audiobook to pass the time.” Perfecting this technique can literally change your perspective in tough situations. But as you might imagine, this skill takes time and practice.
Emotion Awareness

If you live in denial of your emotions, it will take far longer to take care of them, because once we recognize what we’re feeling, we can tackle it or whatever is causing it. So, if you’re feeling anxious, let yourself be anxious for a couple of minutes—then meditate. If you’re feeling angry, let yourself be angry—then listen to some calming music. Be in touch with your emotions. Accept that you are feeling a certain way, let yourself feel that way and then take action to diminish unhealthy feelings.

You can’t control that you have mental illness, but you can control how you respond to your symptoms. This is not simple or easy (like everything else with mental illness), but learning, practicing and perfecting coping techniques can help you feel better emotionally, spiritually and physically. I’ve tried all the above techniques, and they have transformed the way I cope with my mental health struggles.

It takes strength and persistence to recover from mental illness—to keep fighting symptoms in the hopes of feeling better. Even if you feel weak or powerless against the battles you face every day, you are incredibly strong for living through them. Practical and simple methods can help you in your fight. Take these techniques into consideration, and there will be a clear change in the way you feel and live your life.

Emmie Pombo is a student striving to crush mental illness and addiction stigma. She also advocates for the people who haven’t yet spoken honestly about their struggles. Rooted in Florida, Emmie hopes to eventually diminish any lies surrounding the treatable mental disorders that are becoming more and more prevalent throughout the world.

Note: This piece is a reprint from the Fall 2017 Advocate.

By: Hugh Brady

On Thursday evening, April 5, 110 fired up NAMIans gathered at the Barrington library for a legislative town hall / forum on mental health issues.

The evening kicked off with Jeanne Ang, Director of Community Heath for Advocate Health Care and Dr. Manorama M. Khare, PhD, Research Professor, University of Illinois College of Medicine presenting the latest Community Health Needs Assessment Research Results for the Barrington Area. Click here to read the full report

Five state legislators, including Senators Pam Althoff (McHenry) and Dan McConchie (Lake Zurich) and Representatives Steve Andersson (Geneva), Michelle Mussman (Schaumburg) and Nick Sauer (Libertyville). Representatives Andersson and Mussman serve on the House Mental Health Committee. And the Senate does not have a Mental Health Committee, but if it did, Senator Althoff would be on it.

More than a dozen members of the audience came to the microphone and told their stories, stories of their difficulties in getting mental health services for themselves or their family members, stories about problems with insurance, problems with Medicaid, inadequate or inappropriate hospitalizations, run ins with law enforcement and more. The legislators got an earful of what’s wrong with Illinois’s mental health system.

The NAM chapters that sponsored the event, NAMI Barrington Area, NAMI Kane County North (Elgin), NAMI Lake County, NAMI McHenry County, NAMI Northwest Suburban and NAMI Schaumburg, also had three “asks.:”

· Support HB 5285 to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for psychiatry. (See accompanying article.)
· Restore NAMI Illinois’s state funding which Governor Rauner eliminated in 2015, and
· Support HB 4950 and its Senate companion SB 2951 which would set up a state pilot program to expand insurance coverage for early diagnosis and treatment for mental illnesses in young people.

The legislators also had some advice for us: Reach out to your legislators and tell your stories. Tell them what needs fixing in Illinois’s mental health system, and keep after them. Don’t let up. In other words, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease; in other words, time to start squeaking.

The event was a great success. It was supposed to end at 8:30 but people stayed around talking to the panel and to each other until the library closed at 9:00.

Thank you to everyone who attended. Same time next year!


By Marjorie Baldwin | Mar. 19, 2018

A recent survey reports that 47% of adults living with schizophrenia drop out of college, compared to the 27% college dropout rate in the U.S. overall. Another study reports that students diagnosed with bipolar disorder are 70% more likely to drop out of college than students with no psychiatric diagnosis.

My son was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his junior year of college. I was devastated by what I perceived to be the loss of hope for his future, but he was determined to return to school and complete his degree. His university, which had been eager to help him withdraw when he became ill, was most unwilling to help him re-enroll after his symptoms were under control. When I called the Disability Services Office for help, a staff member told me, “Your son got in trouble…”

I responded, “My son did not get in trouble, my son got sick.”

This kind of negative attitude from a university is tragic. Many young people with schizophrenia or other serious mental health conditions are perfectly capable of completing a college education. There is no reason for universities to discriminate against students living with mental illness—in fact, such discrimination is against the law.
What Universities Should be Doing

It is the role of university faculty to enable the success of their students, not to impede it. Rather than assume a student living with schizophrenia will never return to campus, a university should:

Maintain contact with students and families after a diagnosis, and encourage the student’s return to school when their symptoms are stable.
Ensure that there is a person with expertise/experience with mental illness on their disability services staff.
Provide counseling and support services to assist in a student’s success when they re-enter school.

What Parents Can Do

Unfortunately, most universities, and society at large, have not adopted such enlightened policies towards students living with mental illness. Until they do, parents have to be the advocates for their children who want to return to school. Rather than losing hope, as I did in the beginning, here’s what parents can do:

Assume that your son or daughter will recover, return to school and complete their degree. They may need to take a lighter course load, change majors, or take longer to graduate, but so long as their symptoms are under control, they can succeed.
Enlist the support of mental health providers. You will likely need the approval of a psychiatrist before your child can re-enroll in school. Mental health providers should encourage a return to school as soon as symptoms are in remission. If they’re telling you, “It’s not possible to graduate from college with schizophrenia,” then find a doctor with a more positive outlook.
Understand your child’s rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) prohibits colleges and universities from discriminating against students living with a mental illness, so long as the student meets the academic and behavioral requirements of the school. A college or university may not deny access to a student solely on the basis of mental illness, or refuse to implement appropriate accommodations that will help a student achieve their educational goals.

When my son prepared to return to school, his psychiatrist approved readmission on the condition that he take a reduced course load. An unenlightened staff member in the Disability Services Office told me, “If your son is not prepared to take a full-time load, he shouldn’t be coming back to school at all.” That position is illegal under the ADA: A reduced course load is a reasonable accommodation for students living with mental illness.

Returning to school has both short and long-term benefits for students, like my son, who experience a psychotic break in the midst of their college career. In the short run, returning to classes provides structure for their days, re-establishes their identity as a student, and helps restore their self-esteem. In the long run, completing their degree helps counteract the stigma that persons with mental illness are incompetent, and increases the likelihood of stable employment. Best of all, as my son said when he graduated,

“Mom, whatever happens now, they can’t take this away from me.”

Marjorie L. Baldwin is a health economist in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, and mother of a young man with schizophrenia. Her recently published book, Beyond Schizophrenia: Living and Working with a Serious Mental Illness, describes her efforts to help her son recover, together with the latest research on education and employment for persons with SMI.

By Jennifer Pellecchia | Apr. 11, 2018

My name is Jennifer, and I’ve lived with mental illness for most of my life. I’m diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety and an eating disorder.

I have high-functioning mental illness, so even at my worst, I appear to be at my best. I’ve been able to live a full life, and, on the outside, I seem to have everything together. My parents didn’t know, my family and friends didn’t know, and even I pushed my symptoms down and thought if I worked hard enough and was a good person, they would just go away on their own.

I’ve always felt blessed in a way to have my brain, because it gave me the drive to succeed. I worked hard at everything I did in order to prove something. So, my mental illness never held me back—it drove me forward. But it’s still taken a huge toll on me along the way.

My purpose in sharing my story is to give a face to that famous quote: “Everybody you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about… be kind.”

People with mental illness are not “crazy,” they are sick and trying to live a full life with real health conditions. Please try to remember that and show compassion, even if you don’t understand why someone is struggling. Take time to educate yourself as you would do with any other medical issue. And if somebody opens up to you, please try to listen.

While we’ve certainly come a long way in understanding mental health conditions, there is still so much stigma and misinformation out there. And after three decades of battling my brain, I thought it was time for me to do something to help people understand.

That’s why I decided last year to use my annual PlanksGiving event to support mental health advocacy and NAMI.

I started PlanksGiving in 2012 to do my small part in this world to try to make a difference. I am a fitness professional, so planking is something I use with my clients as a core exercise, but for me, it’s always been so much more.

Planking helps me “feel” at times when I feel numb and lost inside my illness. When I plank, it’s like a kind of meditation. It makes me feel strong physically and has taught me I am strong mentally too.

In the past six years, I have raised over $25,000 for various causes through PlanksGiving, other physical challenges and by selling my artwork. I’m very blessed to have been shown a great deal of support from amazing friends along the way.

And on November 30, 2017, I planked five minutes for each donation made to my NAMI DIY fundraising campaign. The result was $2,445 raised and four hours and 45 minutes of planking. It was challenging, exhausting, but so very fulfilling!

There are three keys to fundraising that I have found helpful:

Share your personal connection – People are much more willing to support you if they know the reason behind your advocacy. You don’t need to be an open book but sharing as much as you’re comfortable with gives a “face” to the cause and a reason to contribute.

Send reminders, updates and thank-you’s – People want to donate, but then life gets in the way. Posting friendly reminders and progress updates via social media is helpful. I also send emails to introduce the event, another at a mid-way point, another just before the event and one more after the event to wrap up. I try to individually thank everybody for their support as well.

Smile and have fun with it – While fundraising is important and geared toward helping serious causes, I find that by getting creative and thinking outside the box, I’m able to reach a larger audience. I say “smile” not because I take my events lightly, but because bringing people together and uniting for a cause is always a good thing and truly brings a smile to my face.

In the future, I hope to do more fundraising for NAMI through their DIY program and to continue sharing my story to help others. I’m not ashamed of my journey. I’m proud of how long and hard I’ve fought to survive.

Jennifer Pellecchia is a wife, mother, fitness professional, and artist. A life-long Jersey girl, she planks wherever she goes and hopes to change the world one plank at a time.

By Laura Greenstein | Mar. 12, 2018 NAMI NATIONAL



Each year, about 100,000 youth and young adults experience psychosis for the first time. They might see or hear things that aren’t there. They may believe things that aren’t true. It’s like “having a nightmare while you’re awake,” describes Elyn Saks, a legal scholar and mental health-policy advocate.

Unfortunately, when someone starts having these frightening experiences, doctors and medical professionals often tell them that their life won’t ever be the same. That they may never get better. That the best-case scenario is a sub-par existence where every goal they have is limited by their mental state.

Saks, for example, was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman after multiple visits to a psychiatric hospital. “My doctors gave me a prognosis of ‘grave.’ That is, at best, I was expected to live in a boarding house and work at menial jobs.”

This narrative is not only exaggerated, but it’s also inaccurate. It’s akin to telling someone who recently went into diabetic shock that their life is pretty much over. Having diabetes does require proper treatment and lifestyle adjustments. It isn’t an easy health condition—nor is any illness—but you can still live a productive life. The same goes for psychosis and the mental health conditions it accompanies.
Understanding Recovery

There are two categories of recovery for mental health conditions that involve psychosis: clinical recovery, which refers to decreasing/eliminating symptoms and the time spent in the hospital, and personal recovery, which is “a unique process rather an end point with key recovery themes including hope, rebuilding self and rebuilding life.” This form of recovery involves personal goals and values that make life fulfilling.

Personal recovery has received more attention in recent research to help combat the myth that you can’t lead a good, fulfilling life with psychosis. Even if a person hasn’t achieved a complete clinical recovery (yet), they can still work towards personal recovery. According to a 2017 study, “We should make efforts to scientifically characterize the conceptual framework of personal recovery, so that users, family members, caregivers, and professionals can understand and contribute to the users’ personal recovery and subjective well-being.”

Clinical recovery takes time. And during that time, life shouldn’t be on hold. While a person is in treatment, they can still work towards theirs goals and do things that make them feel fulfilled. That way, once they leave a treatment program or a hospital visit, they have a foundation to continue building the life they want.
Setting Goals Leads to Better Outcomes

Clinical recovery and personal recovery work together and complement each other. According to NIMH’s research project, Recovery After Initial Schizophrenia Episode, it is essential for people experiencing psychosis to have personal goals that drive their treatment. For example, getting a degree for the career they want or getting involved with a specific cause. Working towards clinical recovery is incredibly hard, and having aspirations for the future helps individuals stay motivated and engaged in their recovery process.

This is why giving someone a “grave prognosis” can be harmful and counter-intuitive: Because people experiencing psychosis have better outcomes when they are focused on achieving future aspirations. That’s hard to do when you’re feeling hopeless about your future.

“Fortunately, I did not actually enact that grave prognosis” states Saks, who refused to accept that the psychosis associated with schizophrenia would define her life. “Instead, I’m a chair professor of law, psychology and psychiatry at the USC Gold School of Law; I have many close friends; and I have a beloved husband.” Saks isn’t an exception to the rule. In fact, many medical experts today believe there is potential for all individuals to recover from psychosis, to some extent.

Experiencing psychosis may feel like a nightmare, but being told your life is over after having your first episode is just as scary. Both personal recovery and clinical recovery are possible—that’s the message we should be spreading to the thousands of young people experiencing episodes of psychosis.

Laura Greenstein is communications manager at NAMI.

“Be strong!”

“Toughen up!”

“Don’t cry!”

Never did someone stand over me as a kid and yell, “Let it out! It’s okay to cry! It’s human to hurt!” From my football coaches to my own father, it seems as though the social norm for men is to be some kind of impenetrable mountain of muscle that feels no pain and has no emotion. If we’re not hunting or fighting or eating a bloody, rare steak, then we’re not men. As a kid, I idolized the manly behemoths on TV. From Arnold Schwarzenegger to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, I wanted to be just like them. And I didn’t only want to mimic their physical appearance, but I wanted to be as happy and carefree as they seemed.

Our culture depicts men as heroes and symbols of strength and popularity, almost to the point of being invincible. Every little boy wants to be invincible. When my parents fought—yelling and breaking things in the house—all I wanted to be was invincible against how sad they made me feel. I wanted to be invincible against the feelings I had when that girl I had a crush on in 5th grade said, “No thanks, you’re too fat for me” after I finally worked up the courage to ask her to be my girlfriend; instead, I ran away and cried in the boy’s bathroom during second period. I wanted to be invincible when my youth football coach called me a “pussy” because I got hit and I said it hurt; instead, I questioned why feeling pain made me less of a man.

All these feelings, emotions and a twisted view of masculinity had a hold on me. Rather than accept and process my emotions, I learned to ignore and compartmentalize them. I kept my issues and pains to myself and tried my hardest to push them down as deep and far away from the surface as I could.

Then, the day came when the flood couldn’t be held back any longer and the levees broke. For so long I had hidden my pain, my confusion, my depression and I had become good at pretending to be “okay” with everything life was throwing at me. But one day it was not “okay” anymore. My mental illness had been ignored for so long and it would not be quieted any longer.

I couldn’t find any more strength or courage or fight just to keep those around me from finding out how bad I truly felt. I was so conditioned to “man up” that when the pain, sorrow and thoughts of suicide ran through my mind, I had no answer. I couldn’t yell or puff my chest at depression. Depression didn’t care how much I could lift or what car I drove or how many girls I had been with. Depression knew the real me. It knew the little boy who could never face his real problems head-on because the society in which he grew up wouldn’t let him. He was too busy pretending to be strong, too busy pretending to be a “man” to admit he lived with depression.

After my attempted suicide and rehabilitation, things started to become clearer. I learned that pain, sorrow, anger and sadness are a part of life—emotions don’t care if you are a man or woman or household pet. For the first time, I could accept and acknowledge my weaknesses and my pain. Finally, I found myself and have never felt stronger or more of a man.

Coming out about my depression was one of the most freeing and courageous things I have ever done. No longer am I silent or fearful about who I really am. I am comfortable and confident enough in myself to accept and face my demons. I’m no longer ashamed of my depression. And being self-aware and brave enough to face my emotions fills me with more manly strength and pride than any action hero ever did.

I can now step in front of my mental illness and accept it as a part of me, instead of always living in its shadow. And I’m here to tell you fellas to be bold and fearless about who you are. Be strong enough to admit your pains. Be courageous to acknowledge your struggles—regardless of how “un-manly” they may seem.

Depression affects 6 million men per year. So, next time you’re in the locker room talking, I hope that the conversation becomes deeper than football plays and girls. For being a man is what we men make it.

Rob “Roro” Asmar is a chef and restaurateur in the DC area. He passionately advocates for mental health through his volunteer and awareness raising efforts and seeks to break the stigma surrounding mental health & men. His open and positive attitude are expressed through his social media platform @RoroMeetsWorld where you can find his cooking and refreshing take on life.

Educational topics always serve well. Also, having lay counselors who know the community resources may be important for their congregations and their communities. Supports for families that are trying to support a loved one with mental health issues. Last, they can talk about mental health from the pulpit to help real the stigma.

By Ethan S. Smith | Mar. 05, 2018 NAMI NATIONAL



I hear comments all the time:

“My place is so perfect. I’m so OCD.”
“No, it has to be neat and clean. I’m so OCD.”
“You should see how I organized my Star Wars collection. I’m so OCD.”

I was born with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I struggled throughout my childhood, through multiple high schools and left college after just one semester—consumed by my obsessive thoughts. I barely made it through my twenties. In my early thirties, I hit rock bottom. I was bedridden in my parent’s guest bedroom, paralyzed by OCD.

One year included three psychiatric hospitals; intensive outpatient therapy; two months at the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital in Boston; being kicked out of said OCD Institute; and living on the streets of Boston in the middle of winter with little money, no transportation, no job and severe OCD and separation anxiety.

It took hitting rock bottom to get the help I needed. After eight scary therapeutic months, I was “reborn” and moved to Los Angeles a healthy, happy and thriving member of society. I finally understand the point of the therapy my loved ones had desperately been trying to get me into.

Why do most people believe the myth that OCD is just about a hyper-organized desk or color-coordinated closet? The reality is that most of the 3 million people with OCD in this country struggle just to function on a daily basis. They’re not bragging about the “benefits” of OCD.

Well, Hollywood’s general portrayal and perspective of OCD is limited. Movies and TV present OCD as quirky or fun. Characters often use their symptoms to their advantage, almost like a skill or superpower. Hollywood has created the belief that OCD is just double-checking, hand washing or a strong dislike of germs. Hollywood and the media rarely address the reality of this serious condition—it simply seems funny to watch, and not too difficult to live with. So, many individuals with OCD continue to struggle in silence, afraid to seek help.

OCD typically looks nothing like what you see on television. I didn’t wash my hands; I didn’t check, organize or clean; I wasn’t afraid of germs. My OCD was based in my fear of losing control. OCD is complicated like that; it preys on your unique fears and anxieties that have no basis in reality. For some people that’s germs, for others (like me) it’s extremely taboo topics, like self-harm.

To you, these fears and anxieties seem irrational and easy to brush aside, but the actual experience of having OCD is losing that rational perspective. Your brain can’t shrug off these fears. It’s a constant battle between uncertainty and truth inside your brain. That’s why the disorder is a far cry from: “I love when my kitchen is put away perfectly. I’m a little OCD.”


Ethan S. Smith currently lives in the Los Angeles area working as a successful writer/director/producer/author and OCD Advocate. Ethan was born with OCD and struggled most of his life until receiving life-changing treatment in 2010. Ethan was the keynote speaker at the 2014 annual OCD conference in Los Angeles and is the current International OCD Foundation’s National Ambassador.