BY JIM L. RUSSELL
I really like my job. Really, I do. I got into this
profession to make a difference in the world and although I have found that the
impacts I have made are in individual lives and not on a large scale, they have
value and give me a sense of personal fulfillment. Sure, it's not an easy job,
but it has not disappointed me in its challenges, moments of pride, fear,
triumph, and more. It's a cool way to make a living.
Of course, if you follow this website at all, or
me, then you know I have MDD, or major depressive disorder. It's a mental illness
that, without going into all the details, can make one feel really, really bad.
While this affliction is not caused by stress or the job, the stress associated
with the job can cause depressive episodes. Many of my colleagues deal with
PTSD, or post traumatic stress disorder. This is caused by exposure to trauma,
and like MDD, stress certainly does not help. It makes one feel terrible too.
So, a good career, but stressful and possibly mentally
damaging. I get that for sure. Every day. But, I do want to add that many days,
if not most, I feel pretty okay. I take my meds, I exercise, enjoy my friends
and family, and just live. I actually feel good sometimes. Like, at this very
moment. That's because I see a doctor.
I advocate a lot for the destigmatization of mental illness
and promote suicide prevention. I've met a lot of great mental health professionals, advocates, supporters, and survivors.
So many people who dedicate their time, energy, and personal resources to help those who are in trouble and get them to a
better place. But, there are undercurrents in advocacy that frankly, are not helping, and in fact promote hopelessness, helplessness,
and further isolation.
This is not limited to organizations claiming to help first responders. Log on to Facebook or Twitter, and search
depression, PTSD, eating disorders, and more, and you will quickly find dark sites that spew repeated messages of pain and
misery, with no positive themes to provide a light to readers. These sites and the people behind them outwardly claim to be
advocates, but I am convinced that often, they are self-promoters who seek the satisfaction of a large following who is looking
for others who suffer similarly. The problem is that constant immersion in the "problem" with no hope or solutions can drive
persons suffering toward self destructive actions, rather than toward professional help.
Unfortunately, there have emerged organizations,
"self help" promoters, website admins, not for profits, and dozens of social media authors who purport to support first responder
mental health, but instead divert those who are most in need of clinical help, away from it. Now, to be sure, there are many
very good and positive organizations who advocate responsibly and I am not talking about them. Rather, I speak of organizations
who base their "systems" on unproven, untested, and non-evidence-based techniques under the guise of helping those with serious
I have news. Mental illness is a complex thing and is often related to brain dysfunction, genetics, environmental
impacts, trauma, victimization, and more. It cannot be willed away or cured through positive thinking, exercise, motivational
speakers, massage, yoga, language patterns, fat free diets, or other skills. Sure, some of these DO help. Riding my bike does
help me feel better for short periods of time, but Zoloft is what keeps my brain balanced long term.
The sad part is that these organizations
that promote substantive improvements in severe mental conditions by pushing non-science based techniques and worse, without
knowing or understanding the medical histories of clients are playing a dangerous game. I have personally witnessed one self-proclaimed
"expert" congratulate a first responder with a mental condition who said he was able to stop taking his medication. Again,
brain chemical imbalances don't just fix themselves where one can stop taking medication. Doctors prescribe meds for a reason.
I've gone off my medication before. The results were not pretty and I ended up having a major, crippling anxiety attack.
So, here is the thing.
Not everyone who claims to help is a helper. Interlopers in the clinical world will declare themselves to be driven to make
a difference, but they lack the substance or knowledge to really help. Worse, some exist to exploit the pain of those who
suffer in order to make money. One easy way to spot them is their lack of affiliation with established mental health organizations
such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, or the lack of leadership
with solid and mainstream academic credentials. Recently, the highly regarded organization, Badge of Life, published a paper
about groups pushing into the mental health world, and who push those who need help away from it.
Advocates advocate to push people
in need toward people who can help. They do not pull them away from real help and towards themselves or their "ground-breaking"
and "revolutionary" systems.
I love my job, and I have continued to succeed because I found real help with real professionals with
Beware of helpers whose "help" is hocus pocus. They ultimately make hope disappear.
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