A Deep Dive Into Mental Health, An Interview with Rachel White, CSW

A Deep Dive Into Mental Health With Rachel White

A Deep Dive Into Mental Health: An Interview with Rachel White, CSW

In this interview, we asked one of our volunteer licensed therapists to clarify some mental health terms and explain the difference between anxiety and panic attacks.

“Your brother is a psychiatrist? So not a real doctor?”

“That ride was so scary! I’m going to have a panic attack.”

“I think you’re overreacting; I know people who’ve had real trauma.”

These statements may seem familiar to you if you’ve been in discussions about mental health. Unfortunately, these discussions can be riddled with misperceptions and misunderstandings about mental health terms and mental health itself, from what it is to how it manifests.

Understanding Mental Health Terms: Q&A

When it comes to mental health, terminology matters. In our ongoing efforts to promote understanding about mental health, we spoke with Rachel White, one of our volunteer licensed therapists who has practiced for more than a decade in northern Utah. We asked Rachel to clarify commonly confused mental health terms, and she answered some of the most asked questions in the mental health space.

Is a therapist the same as a psychiatrist or a psychologist? What’s the difference?

This is a question we get a lot in the mental health field. I don’t blame anybody because there are so many acronyms MFT, psychiatrist, PsyD, Ph.D., CSW — so there’s a lot of acronyms that can be overwhelming for someone looking for a therapist. First, there’s a whole slew of types of therapists: you can get a marriage and family therapist, you can get a licensed professional counselor, you can get a social worker—there are tons of different types. The biggest thing with a therapist is finding someone that fits you, right? So, look at their bio, and do the research.

  • A psychiatrist is actually an MD (Doctor of Medicine) of mental health and that’s more of the prescriber base of psychotropic medications. They go to medical school and then specialize in psychiatry. If they want to do child psychiatry, it’s an additional four years after medical school. It’s a very specialized kind of doctor for that, whereas a psychologist has a doctorate in psychology and a clinical base.
  • A therapist usually has just a master’s and they’re certified in therapy. So, there’s a lot of different questions with that, but the main one comes down to their education. That’s something you want to think about when you look for a therapist: Are you looking for medication? Are you looking for more advanced testing, which is more of a psychologist route, or are you needing mental health? They’re so intertwined. Starting out, someone usually goes to their medical doctor first and they’re like the gatekeeper. They help figure out exactly where you are and what route you might want to go. So that’s always a good starting point.

What’s the difference between a panic attack and an anxiety attack?

People use these mental health terms interchangeably, but they’re actually very different. There’s a somatic or a physiological difference in them. The first thing you want to know about panic and anxiety attacks is that it’s our adrenal glands secreting hormones, and they secrete them very differently based on panic or anxiety.

  • Anxiety releases cortisol, which is the worried or anxious hormone; we’re worried about something we’re perceiving as a threat, right? Where something might happen — maybe you have a test coming up, you’re really anxious about bills, or whatever it may be.
  • Panic secretes adrenaline, which is very interesting because adrenaline is more fear-based, life-threatening, dangerous. It wants you to take action quickly. There is an imminent threat. If someone comes in your room charging, or you see a tiger or something else that feels very life-threatening, you respond.
A man sitting on some steps covering his face while having a panic attack

When you have a panic attack versus an anxiety attack, you have a very different physical response. A lot of times it’s the anxiety, right? You have a perceived threat. You’re having these thoughts. Things are going on around you. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in that that it can lead to a panic attack. “Oh my goodness, this is going to happen.”

That can lead to adrenaline being released, so you need to be very careful and be very cognizant when you are a little anxious. It can be a good motivator to help you work through a test, help you study because there is the “Oh, what if I fail? I want to do well.” That can be a good motivator, but if it’s taken too far, it can lead to panic.

How to Alleviate a Panic or Anxiety Attack

The best thing that you can do to help with those panic attacks and anxiety attacks is through grounding. Grounding helps you realize, “Okay, where am I at? Is there a perceived threat? Is it okay to be worried about this?” Noticing what’s going on around you and what is relevant around you too. “It’s okay that I’m worried about this test. Is the world going to end if I fail this test?” Sometimes our thoughts take us to those extremes, so it’s important that we keep those in check and there are specific skills that we can talk about. Knowing the difference—that your body is responding differently to panic and to anxiety—and noticing your own triggers and your own responses is important as well.

“I feel that my problems aren’t nearly as bad as others,” is it still okay to see a therapist?

One of the big rules of mental health is you can’t compare. Don’t compare traumas; everyone has their own weaknesses, troubles, or traumas, and it’s important that you don’t compare them to somebody else’s. If we were to do that, no one would get the help that they need.

Same thing if you had a cut on your arm, went into the hospital, and saw that someone broke their back. Is your cut still important? Absolutely. We need to make sure that the cut is cleaned, taken care of—that’s part of the emotional first aid for mental health. We have to take care of ourselves in whatever capacity. So, when you feel like your problems aren’t as bad as somebody else—yeah, I can see where you might think they have it worse, but that doesn’t mean that they are. It’s something to be aware of. We have to take care of ourselves.

A woman wearing a coat and backpack walking along a small bridge in the woods

As Rachel White explains, it’s important to understand when and how to talk about topics like therapy and attacks. While the terminology around mental health matters, we hope our discussion will help you understand the context in which these terms are used. Using the right terminology and framing the discussion appropriately promotes compassion, understanding, and support in your community.

About Rachel

Rachel White is a clinical social worker who has worked in the mental health field for over a decade and has helped multiple populations overcome a wide range of challenges. Her specialties include trauma/PTSD, depression, anxiety, grief and loss, emotional healing, self-word, and overall wellness.

Rachel White | Family Solutions Counseling (familysolutionsutah.org)

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Signs You Might be in an Unhealthy Relationship, by Lori Schade

Signs You Might Be in an Unhealthy Relationship

Signs You Might Be In an Unhealthy Relationship, by Lori Schade

As human beings, we are driven to form healthy relationship attachments. From birth, we count on others for our survival, and it is normal to want safe interpersonal relationships where we are valued and encouraged to develop and grow. The world is stressful, and healthy relationships can enhance mental, emotional, and physical health, while unhealthy relationships do the opposite. So how do you actually know if you are in an unhealthy relationship?

Is my Relationship Unhealthy?

It’s normal to have some conflict and struggle in relationships, so when do you know what is ‘normal’ conflict and what is toxic? Relationship quality is expected to wax and wane. However, for various reasons, sometimes individuals find themselves feeling uneasy and uncertain about whether their relationships are normal and healthy. Often, people have a sense that something isn’t right, but doubt themselves and continue to struggle in situations that might compromise health and safety.

A person holds up a sign that reads "love shouldn't hurt"

Physical Signs and Actions in an Unhealthy Relationship:

In romantic relationships, physical attraction and interaction can play a big factor in how healthy your relationship is. Here are some examples:

  • You are experiencing any kind of abuse. Abuse comes in many forms: physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual. Preventing someone from leaving the situation by blocking the way and/or hiding the keys is a form of abuse. If you are confused about what constitutes abuse, this website offers help identifying abuse as well as advice for developing a safety plan and support for leaving an abusive situation: https://www.thehotline.org/ 
  • You feel coerced to engage in sex. If you constantly give in to sex when you don’t want to, this is an unhealthy pattern. It leads to resentment, in addition to feeling used and devalued.
  • You are so distant you feel like you are living with a roommate. This is usually a sign of burnout and hopelessness and doesn’t repair on its own.
  • You both engage in destructive patterns of communication. Marriage researcher John Gottman was famous for identifying communication patterns associated with relationship dissolution and calls them the “four horsemen of the apocalypse.” They are criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and contempt. If they are showing up, it doesn’t mean the relationship is over, but it does mean negative patterns need addressing.
  • You feel pressure to help your partner continue unhealthy behavior, such as an addiction. If you are pressured to make it easier for a partner to continue an addictive behavior, or if you make it easier for them to continue in addiction because it’s too hard to hold them accountable, this is codependency and is a warning sign. 
  • A pattern or lying or hiding. Trust is one of the main ingredients for a healthy relationship. Any type of hiding or deception destroys trust. If you find yourself having to lie or hide so you’re not “in trouble,” that’s a red flag. Lying and/or hiding will do nothing to fix existing problems.
  • You are always being watched and/or you are constantly monitoring your partner. This is a form of control and inappropriate exercising of power. If it has grown out of an injury that has compromised trust, then that must be addressed to restore relationship wellness over time.
  • Your partner threatens to commit suicide if you leave. This is an insidious form of manipulation and control. If someone is experiencing suicidality, it’s ok to access resources and get them help, but staying in a relationship so someone doesn’t commit suicide will lead to more toxicity over time.
A person sits against the back of a couch clasping their hands in front of their head

Emotional Signs That You’re in an Unhealthy Relationship

Being in love or thinking you are loved can easily confuse feelings such as self-worth, jealousy and ‘caring’. So where do you draw the line?

  • You are afraid that you are “mean” if you set boundaries or when your boundaries aren’t respected. Boundaries are protective, not just of the individual, but of the relationship. If you think setting boundaries is unkind, you might need more education and practice with them.
  • You don’t believe you deserve to be treated well. I have had clients who left situations they recognized as unhealthy only to find themselves compromising their values again in subsequent situations. I remember being confused when I was seeing a client who had worked so hard to separate herself from a toxic situation, only to report a few months later that she decided to move back in with him, even though the toxic circumstances hadn’t changed. When asked if she believed that was what she deserved, she tearfully explained that her father had been emotionally abusive, constantly criticizing her and telling her she was “worthless.” I empathized with her struggle. She had absorbed a belief that she didn’t deserve better. Ultimately, we are our own advocates and teach people how to treat us, based primarily on what we think we deserve. Everyone, regardless of background, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
  • You are slowly building resentment. Resentment is a huge sign of an unhealthy relationship but can take years to develop. Because it develops slowly, people sometimes ignore it, but it is one of the main relationship killers I see in my clinical practice and is hard to come back from once it has reached a critical point.
  • One of you is always getting your way at the expense of the other. Healthy relationships do require sacrifice and compromise, but in a way that is equitable overall. If one person is always getting their way (usually because the other person doesn’t think it’s “worth” the conflict to address it), it’s a bad sign for the relationship.
  • You constantly feel criticized. Even though it’s common for criticism to develop out of negative patterns couples create together, criticism kills intimacy. Criticism is one of the most common toxic characteristics I see in therapy. It is never motivating—it only shuts people down.
  • You wouldn’t want your child to be in the type of relationship you have. We all experience disappointment in relationships. That is normal and expected. Healthy relationships require ongoing flexibility and adaptation. You should expect your children to experience disappointment as well and hope they have the skills to grow and develop and tolerate some distress. However, if you recognize that you would never want your child to be in a similar situation, you might have serious issues to address.
  • You stay because you are afraid of being alone. Our society seems to privilege romantic love and connection over other emotional bonds. When someone is staying in a relationship only because they are afraid of being alone, it’s fundamentally unhealthy. There are many ways to find purpose and meaning, and given the fact that toxic relationships diminish one’s health and well-being are good reasons to get out of one and continue to grow and develop alone or in a new healthier one.
  • You start to feel crazy and unsure that you can trust yourself. This is a classic symptom that something isn’t healthy. To learn more about this phenomenon, look up the term “gaslighting.”
  • You don’t feel like you can reach out for needs to be met and/or you are always meeting your partner’s needs at the expense of your own. By definition, a healthy relationship is one in which both partners feel confident that they can reach out for comfort and reassurance, and their partners can reach out for comfort and reassurance with a favorable response. They can also explore individual interests and function autonomously. When this is out of balance, it’s a warning sign.
A woman wearing headphones stands in a field


Sometimes it can feel like everyone is against you, but you should consider what and who is raising the ‘red flag’ for you.

  • You are isolated from your friends and family and other support systems. One of the first signs of abuse is isolating a partner from other support systems. In healthy relationships, partners are encouraged to function autonomously and develop many supportive relationships.
  • You don’t want your friends and family to find out what is happening in your relationship. If you are trying to keep your friends and family from finding out what is going on, this is a major warning sign that your relationship is unhealthy.
  • Your friends and family see warning signs. Most of the time, people who have our best interests in mind don’t want to upset us frivolously. If you are getting messages from people who love you that they are concerned about your relationship, especially if you are hearing it from multiple sources, pay close attention and heed the warning. They are likely seeing something you are struggling to see from the inside.

What Should You Do?

Identifying problematic signs doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to sever a relationship. All relationships involve conflict and take work. However, be aware that some relationships are toxic enough to compromise health over time, and to be honest, they all aren’t worth saving. As a general rule, if your human dignity is compromised, it’s a problem, and there are lots of resources to help. Speak to your partner and try and overcome these challenges, seeking couples counseling could be an option. If you feel like there is no way ‘out’ from the actions and habits, you may need to step away from the relationship.

Lori Schade, Ph.D., LMFT, AAMFT


Lori Cluff Schade, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist and AAMFT-approved therapy supervisor running her own practice in Pleasant Grove, Utah. Loris specializes in couples’ therapy and she is also an adjunct faculty member in the marriage and family therapy department at Brigham Young University. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

The Power of Sharing Your Story, by Zachary Duty

The Power of Sharing Your Story

The Power of Sharing Your Story, by Zachary Duty

Everybody struggles. We all face adversity in some form. These are the challenges that shape us and allow us to grow. Without life’s challenges, we would never do anything. In the words of Dory in Finding Nemo when Marlon comments that he doesn’t want to let “anything happen” to his son. “Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.” One way we can better face the challenges of life is to take advantage of the benefits of sharing our story.

How Sharing Impacts Mental Health

It is valuable for anyone living with mental health conditions to know that they are not alone. Sharing a story about your mental health journey can be the catalyst to recovery. Sharing your story also helps promote understanding and empathy to those without mental illness. These challenges are necessary for our personal growth and development. Sure, some face more serious challenges than others but we all have struggles.

Unfortunately, with the advent of social media, it looks a bit like… no one has struggles. It looks a lot like everyone’s life is spectacular and ours is the only struggle, completely alone and unable to share because struggles don’t belong on the social media highlight reel.  There are of course ways to share your journey with others, and not just that awesome trip you took to Mexico to goes on your social media highlight reel. The Overt Foundation gives everyone the opportunity to share their story on their website.

Two people holding hands

What are the benefits of sharing?

Sharing can be a powerful and important part of the healing process (Rennick-Egglestone et al., 2019). Research has shown that the benefits of sharing one’s story can include:

  • increased connectedness
  • a greater sense of community
  • increased personal validation and hope
  • a sense of empowerment
  • reduced shame

The world we live in has more people than ever before, yet many of us feel isolated. It is now possible to live life with minimal interaction. The communities we once thrived in are disappearing and we no longer know our neighbors. As part of Overt’s program, participants are encouraged to share their stories publicly. If they choose they can share anonymously. This is a key part of the healing process, not only for the participant but for the greater community. Likely, someone will read your story and feel a connection because they are experiencing something similar. All of the sudden, they aren’t the only one, they aren’t alone anymore.

Person writing in a journal

The Benefits of Sharing Your Story Through Journaling

Another valuable benefit of sharing your story can come through the act of journaling. Multiple studies have shown journaling to be effective in reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety (2020). Sometimes getting our thoughts out of our heads and onto paper can be incredibly healing. One study showed a significant reduction in depressive symptoms after three days of expressive writing twenty minutes a day (Krpan, et.al, 2013). Journaling gives us the opportunity to release the emotions we have been holding in and keep a more positive mindset.

We will all struggle. This is part of life, but we don’t have to do it alone.

83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. (2020, October 12). Retrieved December 31, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-of-journaling/

Krpan, K. M., Kross, E., Berman, M. G., Deldin, P. J., Askren, M. K., & Jonides(2013). An everyday activity as a treatment for depression: The benefits of expressive writing for people diagnosed with major depressive disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 150, 1148-1151. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2013.05.065

Rennick-Egglestone, S., Ramsay, A., Mcgranahan, R., Llewellyn-Beardsley, J., Hui, A., Pollock, K., . . . Slade, M. (2019). The impact of mental health recovery narratives on recipients experiencing mental health problems: Qualitative analysis and change model. Plos One, 14(12). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0226201

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

How Debt Affects Mental Health

How Debt Affects Mental Health, by Zachary Duty

“I really want some pogs for Christmas!” This is what I told my parents in 1995. And little did I know this would lead my family to learn an important lesson about debt and mental health. Not only did I get my beloved pogs with a new slammer, but I also got some new rollerblades and a hockey stick. I was thrilled, Mighty Ducks 2 was still fresh on my mind so some new skates were a great way to fulfill my dream of leading the flying V. Sounds like a great Christmas right?

Well it wasn’t as great as it sounds. My folks had to work double-time to come up with the money to put presents under the tree for 6 kids. They even picked up a second job at the mall working a stocking booth trying to make the ends meet. It wasn’t enough and my parents ended up putting the majority of their Christmas purchases on a credit card.

How Debt Can Harm Your Mental Health

As we enter the season of spending you may ask yourself if going a little into the red is worth it. In the name of instant gratification, it may actually be worth it. In the long haul debt will wreak havoc on your mental health.

Initially, debt is great. We get the dopamine hit of purchasing the object of our desires. On Christmas morning, everybody’s happy…no problem right?

A concerned man using a computer

Eventually, the end of your credit card statement period comes due and you take a look at the bill. “But hey, the minimum payment is only 35 bucks, I can handle that.” Wrong, most credit cards have an interest rate in the 20% zone, so making the minimum payment will NEVER pay it off…well not never, but it will take a very long time. So now you’re starting to feel the stress of an additional bill every single month. And this is where debt begins to affect your mental health.

Debt Triggers the Stress Response

The initial dopamine hit is long gone and you’re starting to feel a little anxious about making this payment every month. Now you’re getting a Cortisol hit, which is not as fun as dopamine. Cortisol is the stress chemical and it increases the availability of sugar, which is helpful if you’re being attacked by a predator but not so helpful if trying to keep your head above water financially. Cortisol also puts other systems on hold so you can respond to the “fight or flight” situation at hand, only there is no “fight or flight,” just your immune system slowing down because your body thinks it needs to run from a predator.

So how do you behave in this state? The two leading causes of divorce are sex and money, so simply put, you are not very well behaved when facing financial stress. Your stress and anxiety spill over into your most valued relationships and because you can’t pay your bills and you aren’t sleeping well, you may start treating your loved ones poorly. This comes with resentment of those who brought on the issue, blaming your kids or your wife for wanting Christmas gifts even though it was your decision to spend the money. Obviously, this isn’t a perfect example, but you’re beginning to get the picture of the effect debt has on mental health, it can be devastating.

The Long-term Effects of Debt On Mental Health

And I’m not done yet. Those damaged relationships, stress, and anxiety, if not treated can lead to debilitating depression and the feeling that you have completely lost control of your life. Or not having what you feel everyone else has could lead to feelings of shame and embarrassment. People who feel shame tend to hide and avoid relationships so no one can point out their mistakes. The mental health concerns list goes on, and I’m not even going to get into how mental health struggles lead to physical health problems.

A woman sitting on a cushion in the fetal position with hands covering face

Suffice it to say, there is a domino effect of negativity on your mental health set off by overspending. I witnessed some of these struggles as a child when my parents had to dig their way out of debt. It took years but they did it. The funny thing is, I would have been happy with just the pogs. A gift of a couple of bucks. Most of the people on your gift list feel the same way; a small heartfelt gift is as good as a pile of money or some new rollerblades. If they don’t, maybe they don’t deserve a place on your gift list.

All of the negative effects I’ve noted can be avoided if you live within your means. When the bank account gets to zero, that’s it, no more spending. Avoid experiencing firsthand how debt affects mental health. Make a budget, keep track and keep yourself healthy during this holiday season.

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice.

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

What is Trauma? How to Move Forward, by Matthew Montano

What is Trauma? How to Move Forward

What is Trauma? How to Move Forward, by Matthew Montano

Trauma much like everything else, including things that say “one size fits all” is not a one size fits all. Traumatic experiences come in many different shapes and sizes and for many different reasons.  When most people think of trauma, they think of a war zone or a trauma unit in a hospital. While those examples are true and valid, trauma can also include getting straight a’s, getting fired from a job, a bad breakup, hearing the phrase “I’m disappointed in you” or something as simple as an unpleasant look from a loved one.

To simplify: trauma is how you define it.

Healing from Trauma

Once we identify our trauma, we must begin working on our own healing. With it being so personal, one thing that we shouldn’t do is compare our trauma to others. Rather, we should empathize with others when their traumatic experiences are shared with us. This can be something as simple as just sitting with them and listening while they share their story. Believe it or not, this can be a very positive and bonding experience both for you and the one sharing their trauma.

Two people embracing while looking at an ocean sunset

Adopting a Positive Outlook

When we think of a traumatic experience, the last thing we think about is how it can be viewed positively. While this idea may seem farfetched, it can be more realistic than we think! With a positive outlook on our individual traumatic experiences, we begin to recognize just how strong we truly are because we are living past our trauma. We no longer define ourselves by our traumatic experiences, rather by how we overcame them! Realizing that we are so much more than a traumatic experience, we become empowered to not only share our experiences with others but to realize that no matter what happens, we truly are never alone.

Matthew Montano, CFLE, LMFT

Matthew Montano • Utah Family Therapy Mental Health Clinic | Trauma | Anxiety | Intensive Outpatient Program

Matthew understands how important it is for clients to be in charge of their own process towards healing, love, and empowerment. His passion for therapy began early on in his life when he worked through his own trauma at a young age. Matthew now works side-by-side with clients throughout the healing process, in their timeframe. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Symptoms and Treatments of PTSD

Symptoms and Treatment of PTSD, by Curtis Duty

Post-traumatic stress disorder is among the most well-known mental health conditions in modern society. Our collective understanding of PTSD and its treatment has developed since the post-WWI era when military veterans returned home suffering from ‘shell shock’ and the enlightened public of today has achieved at least a certain awareness of the toll that the trauma of warfare can have on physiological wellness. The debilitating effects of warfare-induced PTSD are numerous and serious. As such, support and awareness for military veterans are increasing, as they should. What is often lost in the modern conception of PTSD is that the effects or symptoms of the illness are far more widespread than often portrayed in cinema and the media, and many, many sufferers live undiagnosed and perhaps unaware that the non-combat related trauma they have experienced is causing them suffering.

Non-Military Can Suffer from PTSD Too

Combat-related PTSD is so correlated with the illness that a quick google search of ‘NON-combat PTSD’ will return a list of resources for military veterans to prove that their trauma unrelated to warfare should qualify for VA disability status. I do not make this point as any statement about the VA and what should and should not be covered, but to say that non-military folks suffering from PTSD are far from the forefront of public awareness on mental health (even the APA website barely makes page 3 of a google search on the topic).

Understanding Symptoms and Treatments of PTSD

It is important that we understand the causes and symptoms of PTSD for all sufferers. The truth behind mental health usually requires some investment to understand, and PTSD is no exception. A formal PTSD diagnosis usually requires extended and severe symptoms (not everyone who experiences trauma will experience PTSD), though experiencing some degree of the disease is not a pass/fail test, it is a spectrum that can be caused by an event, series of events, relationship, situation, or any other stimulus that results in any degree of trauma. It is also closely related to other anxiety disorders such as acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, disinhibited social engagement disorder, and reactive attachment disorder. The effects of PTSD vary from mild annoyance to crippling debilitation. 

A sad woman covering her face with her hands

PTSD Symptoms

  • Intrusion: Have you ever been lying in bed becoming sleepy when all of a sudden, once again, your brain involuntarily recalls to your mind a very specific, very embarrassing moment from junior high school? That is a symptom of PTSD called intrusion. For those of us who have not experienced serious trauma these may be easily dismissed, fleeting thoughts. However, for individuals who have experienced serious or repeated trauma, these thoughts are not simple to disregard and can even result in waking visions of past scenes of intense pain.
  • Avoidance: Have you ever skipped past a song on the radio because of its association with a former partner, or because it was played on repeat at the fry shack where you worked 3 summers ago? This is another symptom of PTSD called avoidance. More serious examples include refusing to go to certain places, see certain people, or participate in certain activities because of their association with traumatic events. When I was young I had a teacher in a middle-aged man, a genius whom I respected very much. Years later I learned that this man had not driven on the interstate for the last 20 years to avoid driving on the road where his spouse had been killed in an auto accident. The possibilities for avoidance following trauma are endless.
  • Changes in Mood and Cognition: Most of us have, at one time or another, snapped undeservedly at a friend or family member after a long day. That’s because stress affects our mood. For those of us with a normal amount of stress and a lack of trauma, a few moments of relaxation or a good meal is enough to restore our usual temperament to equilibrium and we move on. For those still suffering from past trauma, that relief does not come. After an extended period without relief, the mood change seems permanent. This another symptom of PTSD. The inability to remove the stress from past trauma removes the joy from activities the sufferer once enjoyed.
  • Sensitivity to Environment or Surroundings: Have you ever been driving to a place you’ve never been, and as you struggle to concentrate on navigating, you find yourself turning down your radio? This is an example of how stress reduces cognition. Turning down your radio will not allow you to see the road better, but sound can be a form of stress, and by removing the stimulus of your radio, you can think better and your cognition improves. Now imagine that same scenario, except your radio is at full volume as you search for a location in your car, and you are not capable of turning the music down. This is similar to the loss of cognition a PTSD victim can experience as they are engulfed by the aftershocks of their traumatic experiences.  
  • Changes in Arousal and Reactivity: One of the most severe symptoms of PTSD, angry outbursts, and extreme irritability with seeming little provocation can occur. These episodes are the result of a PTSD sufferer running out of options. To continue our car radio example: If you were driving to an unfamiliar place and couldn’t turn your radio down to help focus, one option, an extreme option, might be to destroy the radio. Without any other option, this decision could seem rational. However, a passenger in the same car who was not feeling the stress would view the action of destroying the radio as completely rash and totally irrational. This is the same reaction many people in our society, without the context of a PTSD diagnosis, view mental health episodes associated with PTSD.

PTSD Treatments

“Time heals” is an adage that can be true for PTSD treatment. It is not uncommon for the lasting effects of trauma to fade with time and without the help of other treatments. A support structure can also be helpful. When the sufferer has a network of family and friends willing to provide latitude for recovery the odds of said recovery are increased.

A sad woman looking down while another woman looks at her with arms folded

In some cases though, further treatment is necessary for PTSD recovery. As a result, several types of therapy, researched and proven, have been developed:

  • Cognitive processing therapy: This form of therapy helps sufferers work through mood and cognition changes by addressing negative emotions and beliefs stemming from the trauma. For example, the victim of a crime suffering PTSD may develop the belief: “a person hurt me, so all people might hurt me.” As a treatment of PTSD, Cognitive processing therapy helps to walk that belief back, and thus undo the psychological damage caused by the trauma.
  • Prolonged Exposure Therapy: This commonsense form of therapy helps victims directly address the trauma causing their symptoms. To reference my friend who would not drive on the freeway after he lost his wife to an auto accident: Under prolonged exposure therapy he may have utilized a driving simulator for longer and longer durations until the act of driving on the freeway in a controlled and safe environment removed the stress from the activity.
  • Stress Inoculation: This form of therapy focuses on coping mechanisms. Earlier, I mentioned skipping a song that reminds me of an unpleasant time of my life.  Stress inoculation teaches ways to avoid many more types of stress triggers.
  • Medication: For those suffering from the most serious symptoms of PTSD, medication may be necessary to allow the sufferer to heal and return to a normal condition. Some antidepressants such as SSRIs and SNRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are commonly used as a treatment for the core symptoms of PTSD. They are used either alone or in combination with psychotherapy or other treatments. These decisions should always be made by professional and licensed mental health professionals.

Overcoming the Effects of PTSD

If any of the symptoms mentioned in this article resonate with you, consider taking steps to fortify your mental health. If you see these symptoms in others, I recommend advocating for anyone who may be suffering in the shadow of the trauma they have endured. Whether Henry David Thoreau’s statement “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” is true or not, I have found that treating everyone you meet as if they are in need of help is the best practice.

Curtis Duty

Curtis grew up in Texas and graduated from Southern Utah University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He has spent the majority of his career working in field operations and currently works as a talent acquisition manager. His passion for mental health comes from personally witnessing the struggles of individuals experiencing mental health challenges and their suffering from the social stigma with which such illnesses are often met. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

How to Get Enough Sleep: Proper Sleep Management, by Curtis Duty

How to Get Enough Sleep: Proper Sleep Management

How to Get Enough Sleep: Proper Sleep Management, by Curtis Duty

We frequently observe that humans spend roughly a third of their lives sleeping. In my twenties, I found that idea repulsive, as if sleep was absorbing my maximum capacity for living. A bi-product of this sentiment is an entire industry constructed to help keep us awake and limit the hours we sleep.

My Experience

I was in 7th grade the first time I took a caffeine pill (it had been marketed to truck drivers). I remember being tired before a baseball game and thought the pill would help me focus. Instead, I began to visibly shake and I missed several ground balls for which I in part blamed the caffeine and not my lack of athletic skill.

It was almost 10 years later when the “energy drink” gained popularity and I quickly formed a habit of consuming them if I felt sleepy before I was prepared to turn in for the evening. I knew this was a bad habit, but considered myself lucky I didn’t head down a worse rabbit hole. I was in college when the drug Adderall began to be commonly used on campus, and it seemed very normal (almost praiseworthy) to be burning the candle at both ends.

This approach to living is all wrong. An older and wiser me has discovered that proper sleep management is one of many levers we can use to maximize our capacity to live well.

It is true that the importance of sleep has been largely misunderstood throughout human history, and until recently scientists could not even answer the question of why it is required for mammals to sleep. In modern times, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN has published research out of the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center that provides these conclusions as to what happens to the brain during sleep:

Tired man lying on bed rubbing his eyes

The brain puts the body to sleep in a series of 5 stages

  • Stage 1: Your heart rate and body temperature drop. Your eyes transition from naturally open to naturally closed
  • Stage 2: Two groups of cells in your brain switch on (the hypothalamus and parafacial zone) causing unconsciousness and paralyzing the muscles
  • Stages 3 and 4: You are asleep. Your blood pressure drops, your muscles relax, and your breathing is slow. This is the most restorative phase of sleep
  • Stage 5 (AKA REM sleep): You experience rapid eye movement (REM) and brain cells become very active. This is the dream phase
  • This pattern repeats every 90-110 minutes.
  • During sleep the brain sends out growth hormones, consolidates memories, and forms connections

How to Get Enough Sleep

The arguments for getting enough sleep are not met with much criticism, as it is easy to feel the negative effects of too little sleep on the brain. How then can we maximize the usefulness of our sleep, and awake feeling well-rested and prepared for the tasks of the day?

It is a difficult question to answer, as brain chemistry varies widely from person to person, but here are some general guidelines that will lead the way to a good nights’ rest, and an easy path out of bed in the morning:

Be thoughtful about the use of sleep aids:

Though sleep aids are an option if you struggle to get to sleep, The Mayo Clinic warns that such remedies are not a magic cure. The choices consist of the following drugs under various brand names: Diphenhydramine, doxylamine succinate, melatonin, and valerian. The first two are sedating antihistamines and have similar negative side effects. Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and though it shortens the time to fall asleep, it can also cause daytime drowsiness. Valerian is a plant that is manufactured into supplements and studies find little to no evidence of the substance being useful in any regard.

The best advice around the use of these substances is that their use should be temporary. Long-term use results in the body developing a tolerance to these drugs, removing them as an effective option. As well, they become dangerous when mixed with other substances, particularly alcohol. Consult a doctor before considering any of these options and use them as a last resort if lifestyle changes and holistic approaches fail, and even then, only temporarily.

Sleepy woman resting on couch using her phone

Avoid screen time after dark:

Light and sound are both stimulants that affect the hormones produced in your brain; particularly melatonin production. Light and sound inhibit melatonin products because they confuse your body into believing you should still be awake. You will sleep better if you ban screen time in your bedroom.

Consider your sleeping situation:

Making some investment in your sleeping situation is worth the cost. Increased relaxation results in better sleep and more productive waking hours. Consider purchasing blackout curtains to eliminate light, a white noise option to drown out noise pollution, and a decent mattress and bedding. If you happen to share sleeping space with a partner, consider using separate bedding to avoid waking when your partner stirs in the night.

Consider different means of waking:

Despite the quality or duration of your sleep, the act of getting out of bed in the morning can still be difficult, particularly if you use an alarm clock that goes “ANCK! ANCK! ANCK!” in the wee hours of the morning. If this describes you, consider purchasing an alarm clock that simulates the rising sun. Any number of models are available that will allow you to awake gradually with slowly increasing levels of light and sound. If you have a particularly difficult struggle with this aspect of sleep management, I recommend positioning your alarm clock across your bedroom, requiring you to get out of bed in order to hit the snooze button.

Is your physical health a barrier to sleep?

Among common sleep disorders include sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome (RLS), insomnia, and narcolepsy. Each of these is a diagnosable illness and treatment is available from medical professionals. It is worthwhile to seek treatment if you feel your difficulty sleeping may be clinical.

Caffeine consumption is a physical factor affecting sleep as well. Not only is caffeine an addictive substance that robs your body of bone density and calcium economy, but it also greatly increases sleep onset (the amount of time it takes to fall asleep). If you are battling sleeplessness, avoid caffeine.

Woman sleeping in her bed with a cat

Is your mental health a barrier to sleep?

Stress and sleep exist in what can become a terrible cycle. It is no wonder that sleep deprivation has been used as a means of both psychological warfare and outright torture throughout history. Stress lowers the quality of sleep, and lack of sleep impairs brain function that often causes stress. There is no silver bullet to end stress, and a combination of lifestyle changes, therapy, and sometimes medication under the care of a professional can alleviate this hindrance to a good night’s rest.

Like most disciplines within health and wellness, a focused, multi-faceted approach using common sense and good judgment can help increase your quality of sleep, and as a result, your quality of life.

Curtis Duty

Curtis grew up in Texas and graduated from Southern Utah University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He has spent the majority of his career working in field operations and currently works as a talent acquisition manager. His passion for mental health comes from personally witnessing the struggles of individuals experiencing mental health challenges and their suffering from the social stigma with which such illnesses are often met. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

Navigating Mental Health Medication, by Zachary Duty

Navigating Mental Health Medication

Navigating Mental Health Medication, by Zachary Duty

Navigating medication for mental health can sometimes be a challenge. Imagine feeling overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and/or depression. For some, that may not be difficult to imagine because it is your reality. So, how do you handle those feelings? You may find yourself at your primary care doctor’s office to discuss your options. It is possible that this doctor knows you very well and has experience with mental health. The doctor may even advise you to speak with a clinical social worker to further discuss your mental health. Your doctor may prescribe the perfect combination of medication for your needs and it could be life-altering in the most positive way.

Common Challenges

Unfortunately, many experiences are much less positive. What if your doctor doesn’t know you at all and only has 15 minutes to meet with you? The doctor quickly writes a prescription for an anti-depressant and doesn’t give it a second thought. Many individuals take prescribed mental health medications for years with little to no benefit and may be experiencing subtle negative effects. Despite the lack of any positive change, you continue taking the medication as prescribed, simply because the doctor told you to, and doctors know best. Rather than continuing to take a medication that isn’t serving you, take some time to re-evaluate.

Doctors do not want you to be in this scenario of taking a medication that isn’t working. Any doctor would rather you come back to the office and discuss your needs further to manage your medication in a way that better serves you. However, many doctors have difficulty finding time for more than a quick 15-minute appointment and it is possible that your situation cannot be fully expressed in that time period.

A pile of various medication tablets and pills

Alternative Ways to Get the Right Mental Health Medication

There are other options to address your mental health struggles in regards to medications. There are other professionals that can consult with you on the topic of mental health and prescribe helpful medication. A Psychiatrist is a medical professional who specializes in mental health. Psychiatrists are required to complete medical school just like primary care doctors. They have a deep understanding of medication and mental health issues. Meeting with a psychiatrist is an option for getting a thorough analysis of your needs and being prescribed appropriate medication.

Another option is a Nurse Practitioner. In most states, Nurse Practitioners can prescribe medications and many specialize in mental health. Some therapists consult with Nurse Practitioners and/or Psychiatrists, to help their clients get necessary, life-changing medications.

Even when working with someone who understands your needs and makes their best judgment regarding a medication that could be helpful, sometimes a medication just isn’t the right fit for you. Follow-up appointments are required to determine whether the medication is working or not. It may even be a good idea to consult with family or friends who interact with you regularly to ask if they have noticed any changes in your behavior or mental health while taking a new medication.

A man wearing a backpack runs along a trail in the woods

Consider All Your Options

The right medication can help you become more balanced throughout your life, but medication isn’t a silver bullet that will fix everything for everyone. One individual may take a medication that works great for their mental health and no further action is needed. Others may need medication and clinical counseling from a therapist. Most still may further benefit from a lifestyle change like a new exercise routine and alteration in diet. There are many ways to become a more healthy individual following a mental health struggle. The medications available to us today are truly miraculous and there are teams of people ready to help you find the necessary balance in your life. Take the time to explore all of your options with a professional rather than accepting the status quo of a quick doctor visit and subsequent prescription.

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

5 Steps You Can Take Today to Ease Financial Stress, by Curtis Duty

5 Steps You Can Take Today to Ease Financial Stress

5 Steps You Can Take Today to Ease Financial Stress, by Curtis Duty

Financial stress has far-reaching negative effects even in prosperous times, and much more so in times of turmoil. It is well known that financial difficulties are the number one cause of divorce in the U.S. and the negative effects of debt, which the majority of Americans carry, are much farther reaching. In 2017 (during a time of prosperity and economic growth) the American Psychological Association reported that 62% of Americans indicated money troubles as their main source of anxiety and depression. The burden of anxiety on our mental health is one of the most common effects of financial stress, and as the two are ever entwined, our physical health can take a toll as a result.

Delayed healthcare is also an effect of dealing with financial stress: folks struggling to pay their rent are less likely to see their doctor at the warning signs of a medical problem. The long-lasting effects of this disparity are indicated by a study in The Journal of Gerontology showing that wealthy men at age fifty are likely to have 31 more healthy years, where 50-year-old men in poor countries will enjoy only 22 more healthy years. With this being so, how much more important is it to address financial questions during a global pandemic?

A man lying down with his arms resting on his chest

The weight of financial burden can be crushing, and for many, the problem feels like it has no solution. So it is easy to see that improving your finances improves your overall well-being. By taking steps towards addressing financial difficulties, anxieties can be eased and mental and physical health improved. Here are a number of steps anyone can take to ease financial stress in their lives:

1. Check your daily routine to guarantee you are using best practices in every avenue of mental and physical health

This is easier said than done, but mental, physical, and financial health are symbiotic, and correcting negative habits in one area will influence the health of another. Begin by following the advice of everyone’s favorite accountant, “The Office’s” Oscar Martinez, and eliminate “things that no one ever, ever needs, like multiple magic sets and professional bass fishing equipment.” You probably are not as bad off as Michael Scott, but most of us are guilty of some level of unnecessary spending. Next, consider ending discretionary spending for items that are also bad for your body and mind: Consider avoiding eating out, and think about your choices in alcohol consumption. Take a leap and eliminate tobacco products, cut back on entertainment spending, etc. The list of small routine changes can be endless, and through intentional practice, your mental/physical/financial health can begin improving in a few short weeks.

2. “Assess the damage” and complete a 360-degree review of your finances

The author C.S. Lewis is quoted: “If there is a wasp in the room, I’d like to be able to see it.” So it goes when dealing with finances. You cannot take control of your situation until you get into the weeds and know from whence you may be stung. If this task is overwhelming, begin by writing down what your take-home pay is each month. Next, make a list of all your monthly bills. Include everything that is owed each month, as well as your own discretionary spending. Looking at the money you have coming in versus the money going out will give you the best status report of your finances, and will hopefully spark some ideas of where to make changes.

For those of us suffering from financial stress, this exercise will no doubt be difficult. I promise you that the short-term anxiety you experience from completing a comprehensive review of your spending will lead you to greater peace as you respond to the challenge of taking control of your fiscal well-being.

3. Make a Plan to Deal with Your Financial Stress

Renowned shame researcher and TED talk presenter Brene Brown shared the following anecdote from her live session “The Power of Vulnerability:”

“I remember going to Diana (my therapist) and saying: ‘I am like a turtle with no shell in a briar patch. (…) I can’t be a turtle without a shell in a briar patch. I need a shell. What kind of shell – get some meds – what do you have for me? Give me a shell. Give me like a therapist-sanctified-you-know-whatever shell. Give me a shell!

She’s like: ‘Well… I’ve got an idea. Why don’t you get out of the briar patch?!…’

Why don’t you stop living the way you are living? Why don’t you get out the briar patch? And then you’ll be super happy without your shell. You’ll be comfortable, lightweight, move around, nimble…. You are getting poked and hurt all the time, not because you don’t have a shell, but because you’re living in a briar patch.’ ”

In the world of personal finance, we often find ourselves like the turtle in a briar patch of expenses; asking, hoping, praying, and working to obtain a shell in the form of a greater income to cover those expenses. We often neglect the option to remove ourselves from the briar patch by eliminating the lifestyle that has led us to mental breakdown brought on by financial stress.

Ease Financial Stress by Changing Your Lifestyle

Making a plan to reduce spending is the hard part of dealing with financial stress, and it requires discipline and sacrifice. By re-considering our lifestyle choices, many of us are able to downgrade some of our spending habits in order to gain the freedom of financial well-being. Costly items like late-model vehicles, spacious homes, recreation options, and exotic vacations are fun to have and experience, but you will find they are not worth the cost when you are up late worried about your overdue credit card bills and find yourself resenting your closet filled with expensive and outdated clothing.

We can remove ourselves from the briar patch of debt by weighing our purchases against the financial obligation that comes with them. Some of us may find the cost of a larger home worth the consideration it takes to foot the bill. Others may find it best to settle for a modest home and the security of a growing savings account. Only you can decide how much financial stress you should tolerate, though I would caution against debt of any kind. You may feel confident that you can handle a large car payment while you are standing on a dealerships’ showroom floor, but you may not feel that way in 6 months when the newer model is released and your shiny new car is only worth half what you paid.

Focus on the Essentials

For those in particularly dire straits, financial coach and radio host Dave Ramsey recommends that your financial plan focuses on what he calls ‘the four walls’ of Food, shelter and utilities, clothing, and transportation. Often, we forget that these are really the only necessities of life, and other purchases are non-essential. If you can feed, clothe, and shelter your family then you have what is required to sustain life. Taking comfort that you are not going to die from your financial situation is a great mindset for tackling debt and making decisions that will allow you to enjoy relief from money worries.

A woman moving a large box

If you feel that you have cut every luxury from your spending and still feel you are struggling, now is the time to consider ways to increase your income to help create some relief. If you are not working full-time and have the capacity to do so, begin seeking full-time employment. Job opportunities available, and though the open positions may not be the most desirable, it will be difficult to meet your needs without full-time employment. If you are fully employed and still struggle, consider working a “side hustle.” In the new “gig economy” there are many ways to earn money in the evenings or during weekends. Some examples include: Delivering food or packages, driving for rideshare companies, teaching courses online, completing odd jobs, etc.

4. Revisit your plan and communicate

As you take on the challenge of gaining and maintaining a healthy relationship with money, you need to enlist your family and loved ones to help you along the way. In particular, you need to communicate regularly with your spouse or significant other. No plan for greater financial health will be successful unless everyone on the boat is rowing together. Be thoughtful when talking money with your loved ones and remember that they are likely also concerned about money and might be dealing with financial stress too. Try to avoid accusations, and focus on how your household can achieve greater harmony.

Do not forget to communicate with your financial institutions during this time. As you walk through your expenses and guarantee that your “four walls” expenses are paid, you may find that some of your other bills cannot be paid on time. If you reach the end of the month and cannot make credit card or other payments please do not avoid them. These creditors will often make arrangements so you can make smaller payments until a time when you can cover what you owe. Avoiding these tough conversations can lead to huge surcharges and further debt, and even destroy your credit which may prohibit you from renting a home in the future, or financing a vehicle.

Track your budget and celebrate your victories. Working from a budget does not mean that you must feel guilt every time you pass through a drive-through window or sneak out to a movie after work. What it does allow you to do is work towards goals and feel a sense of relief and accomplishment as you hit benchmarks on your road to financial sustainability. How often and to what degree you scrutinize your personal cash flow sheet is up to you, but what is most important is that you are tracking it and that you focus on your goals. As Peter Drucker put it: “What gets measured gets managed.”

5. Take a continued interest in your fiscal well-being

Aside from dealing with the dollars and cents of your budget and spending, utilize any of the following good mental health practices:

Express gratitude for the resources you do have and find ways to give back. For those of us struggling to make the ends meet, it is easy to get into a selfish rhythm as we labor to pay our bills. It is important to still recognize the good in our lives as we work through our trials, and daily expressions of gratitude will improve your outlook as you strive to accomplish hard tasks. As well, donating time or funds to others will help you to know that you ARE going to make it!

Seek support people. Finding support people is helpful in any endeavor, but particularly so in the realm of financial well-being and self-reliance. Find people in your life who will encourage you to make and hit financial goals and provide you with advice along the way. Seek out information on financial wellness and consume as much of that material as possible. Some resources will be listed below that you can use to increase your knowledge and motivation to put your fiscal demons to bed.

Remain decisive: Jane McGrath of HowStuffWorks Inc writes:

“When you’re late on the rent and can’t keep the utilities on, the idea of opening a savings account may seem as far-fetched as a picnic on the moon; but the truth is that all of us, even the poorest, have financial choices. Finding those choices may feel impossible: the second you get ahead, you’re defeated by relatives needing loans, kids wanting designer sneakers, downsizing, layoffs, unexpected medical expenses, and a myriad of other obstacles.

The trick to ditching your defeatist attitude is finding a way to believe that somehow, even in the most untenable of circumstances, there is hope. Organizations like America Saves exist to help you find that hope. Simple things like making a gratitude list or visualizing yourself free of financial stress can also help you feel more hopeful.”

A man standing between bookcases while reading a book

Believe in Your Ability to Reduce Your Financial Stress

Setting and working towards financial goals is difficult, but it is the fastest way to lower your anxiety about your finances. If you feel that your mental health is keeping you from starting on the path to financial health, please enlist the help of a mental health professional to discuss ways to progress forward. The speed with which you make strides toward a better relationship with money and debt should depend on your unique situation, and you should exercise moderation in personal finance decisions. As you take control of your financial future, remember these words from New York Times columnist David Brooks: “Almost every successful person begins with two beliefs: The future can be better than the present, and I have the power to make it so.”


Advice on how to save money on purchases and handling creditors: https://clark.com/

Advice on budgeting and wealth-building: DaveRamsey.com

Curtis Duty

Curtis grew up in Texas and graduated from Southern Utah University with a master’s degree in Public Administration. He has spent the majority of his career working in field operations and currently works as a talent acquisition manager. His passion for mental health comes from personally witnessing the struggles of individuals experiencing mental health challenges and their suffering from the social stigma with which such illnesses are often met. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.

6 Ways to Handle Your Mental Health Crisis, by Zachary Duty

6 Ways to Handle Your Mental Health Crisis

6 Ways to Handle Your Mental Health Crisis, by Zachary Duty

Taking care of yourself during a mental health crisis is just as important as taking care of your physical health.

When I was 7 my brothers and I built a rope swing. We took a couple of test runs and our childhood handiwork seemed to be functional. I was a little nervous to try it out so my older brother decided to give me a tutorial. He showed me where to put my hands so I could hang on, and then he took a swing to show me how safe it was. Well… the swing broke and my brother fell off, breaking his arm.

We sounded the parental alarm and adults were soon at his side. They whisked him away to the hospital where his arm was set by an experienced physician. A week later he went back and the doctors put on a hard cast, which he wore for 6 weeks until his arm was healed. Even after the removal of his hard cast, he was advised to “take it easy,” working back towards normal full use. He fully recovered from the injury and has had no lasting effects of a broken arm.

The system we, as a society, have in place for physical health is fully operational. Anyone who suffers a physical injury knows they can go to a doctor and get the help they need. There is no shaming or stigma attached to visiting a doctor when you are experiencing some form of ailment. So why then are we so hesitant to visit a mental health professional?

Start by Acknowledging Your Mental Health Crisis

I have personally experienced trauma, addiction, and chemical imbalances that have caused real emotional suffering. Yet, for years I was hesitant to visit a therapist. My justification was that I was strong enough to handle my struggles on my own. After finally meeting with a therapist I came to the conclusion that it took more strength to ask for help.

Sad woman with person's arms on her shoulders

Like physical health, your mental health can be attacked from many different angles. You may get sick with a virus, appearing pale, sweaty, and vomiting. You may break your arm, walking around in a bright-colored cast. You may suffer a concussion, dilated pupils, blurred vision, vomiting, etc. Mental health is similar in variety, but the attacks are less apparent, at least on the surface. Most people won’t know you are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, etc. You may not even realize the extent of your own ailment. You may simply feel alone and afraid because everyone else seems to be enjoying life with ease while you are fighting for every moment. Without any knowledge of how to handle the pain, you may be looking for a way out.

Get Help with Your Mental Health Crisis

So how do you handle an imbalance of your mental health? When the path isn’t clear and you are suffering, options can seem very limited. Perhaps you feel like you can’t share your struggle because of what others may think about you. Just like you would go see a doctor if you broke your arm, you can visit a therapist for your mental health needs. A good therapist will listen judgment-free and provide you with some guidance on how to proceed.

There are people out there right now who are suffering silently. You may be one of them. You may be in need of something you can do right now to get through this mental health crisis. You may be looking for a way out. First off, if you or a loved one is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-8255). They are well trained and can provide you with local resources. They may even discuss some of these steps with you.

These are some things you can do right now and moving forward to work through this difficult moment:


Stay present in this moment. Is anything hurting you at this moment? Look around you. Notice your feet on the ground, feel your toes in your shoes, notice the wind on your face or the humming of an appliance in the background. These are things constantly going on around us that we may not notice if we aren’t being present. An exercise like this can ground you to the moment. You may experience intrusive thoughts, those are not part of the moment, watch them go by like leaves floating down a stream. Only focus on what is right here and right now. The past is over and the future hasn’t arrived. All there is, is right now.

A man meditates in a field

Take some deep breaths, grounding has a calming effect that will help you think more clearly.

Anchor Points

There are people who care about you and/or people who need you. Your work isn’t finished and the effect you will have on the world is extraordinary. What do you love? What would you say is your passion? If you can’t answer that, take some time to ponder and try to land on something you absolutely love to do. Who are the people in your life that love you? Don’t say no one. Instead, dig deep and be truthful. When was a time that you didn’t feel like this? Focus on that time and ask yourself what was different. If you are trying to support a loved one, ask lots of open-ended questions. The goal here is to open awareness that there is more in your life than this mental health crisis or pain and things can be different.

Building the Future

Look forward. The future has the potential to be a blank slate. What do you want to do with it? The painful thoughts you are experiencing can go away if you let them, and the future can be completely different. You may feel like nothing is in your control, but that isn’t true. You always have choices. And, depending on how you decide to make those choices, your world could open up to a wonderful variety of choices.

What do you want?

Are you reaching out? Is this a cry for help and support? Do you want/need to make some major life changes because your current life is not manageable? Is your mental health crisis plaguing you and keeping you from seeing the light in the world? What is it you truly want, and is your current course of action getting you what you want? So often our desires don’t match our actions. We may want someone to love, yet we constantly argue and fight against the people around us, who are likely trying to love us. So ask yourself what your deepest desire is and check to make sure your actions are building towards that desire.

Safety Plan

Make a list of things that work and help towards a more balanced and healthy future. Then make a list of things that are not helpful. You could come up with a specific plan, like calling someone specific when you are feeling down. Safety plans are as good as you make them and only work if you’re willing to follow them.

Access to Lethal Means

I always say that avoidance is the lowest level of overcoming a problem, but in many ways, it can also be a good first step. If you don’t want to drink alcohol, it’s probably a good idea to empty the liquor cabinet down the sink and skip the after-work trip to the bar. If you don’t want to end your life in an unstable moment, it is a good idea to get rid of lethal means from your house. Also, if you or a loved one have thought about a specific plan and has the means to carry it out please reach out immediately.

A man sitting on a bed with alcohol bottles on the floor

What to Do Post-Mental Health Crisis

Once you’re out of the crisis, you can work towards getting the help you need to stabilize and balance your mental health. This can be done through therapy and medication management. It is difficult, if not impossible to find that balance when you are in crisis. This can be done on your own but works even better with the support of a loved one and mental health professional.

We are working towards shining a more positive light on the very serious need for regular mental health care. Hopefully, it will become a familiar process like setting a broken arm. Unfortunately, a broken arm can’t be set if you never go to the hospital. So, please reach out

By the way, I never ended up taking my turn on that rope swing.

Zachary Duty, CSW

Zach Duty is a native Texan and a graduate of Southern Utah University with a bachelor’s degree in Outdoor Recreation. He went on to complete a master’s in social work at the University of Utah with an emphasis in child welfare. As a therapist, Zach has worked in residential treatment and for the state of Utah through the Division of Juvenile Justice. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

You can share how you’re feeling or about your experience, or apply to our subsidized therapy program.