#BreakTheStigma: 3 Mental Disorder Myths We Need to Stop Using

Look left, look right, look in front of you, look behind you, and look in the mirror. One of you is affected by a mental health condition. Each year millions of Americans are facing the reality of a mental disorder of different nature and severity.

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May pays tribute to Mental Health Awareness by shedding light on the issues affecting so many and finding ways to provide support. Beyond money and time donations, education is one of the most powerful tools in fighting the stigmas that tag along with these conditions. Though this is a short start, here’s a couple of busted myths we need to never use again.

1. “Happy people can’t be depressed.”

Depression and anxiety are too often the poster child for mental disorders. When thinking of mental health going astray, many think about someone falling under severe feelings of restlessness and sadness. We see someone who is enjoying the fruits of life looking happy on the outside, and then put a mental block in our perception of them that tells us they simply can’t be suffering through depression.

“Happiness isn’t a permanent state; the experience of life includes every emotion,” says Dr. Patrick Wanis, Human Behavior Expert. “We can be fooled into thinking that someone who always has a smile on their face and appears to be so happy cannot actually be depressed, and yet they actually are deeply depressed.”

Depression is a serious illness with a huge stigma. No, a person can’t “just cheer up” like someone with a broken leg can’t “just put it back together.” It’s not about feeling sad or happy, it’s about feeling broken on the inside and creating a deep sense of hopelessness and despair that carries through their day-to-day activities.

2. “I don’t see how she can have an eating disorder.”

Whether we say she’s too big or too small to have a form of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, it’s often impossible to know the internal battles someone is struggling with from the outside. For Marcela Paguaga, a young thriving performer and blogger, her eating disorder started with her obsession toward achieving “the perfect body.” After countless fad diets she lost 74 pounds, but gained an eating disorder that she would carry through the next decade of her life.

“It was an addiction: losing weight and finally being accepted by society,” says Marcela. “I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I was actually proud because I was finally looking the way I thought everyone wanted me to look.”

The dark side of an eating disorder also lies in the other mental health symptoms it can cause: depression, anxiety and feelings of suicide. For Marcela, seeking treatment for an eating disorder didn’t come until she started feeling symptoms like these. Through support from her family and peers, she followed through with therapy and now works to raise awareness of these conditions through her craft. You can’t see living disorder, but you sure will live it.

3. “ADHD is for kids — they’ll outgrow it later.”

If there were any of these that I wish most true, it’s this one. The transition from high school to college was hard for me, and not because the workload was more challenging. College demanded that I become accountable for myself, work and relationships while I hadn’t “outgrown” my ADHD symptoms. I struggled to keep grasp of people and things I was passionate about without letting my impulsivity, anxiety, absent-mindedness, forgetfulness and short attention span getting in the way.

Dr. Daniel Bober, Medical Director of Pediatric Psychiatry at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital, says “about 60 percent of children with ADHD will become adults with ADHD and they will continue to struggle as adults in their personal and professional relationships, meaning their marriage and their work.”

Without help, adults with ADHD are highly vulnerable to depression, anxiety and substance abuse. But once you harness the power of condition, it turns into a gift. Unbeknownst to many of my peers, I started seeking treatment and counseling my sophomore year as an undergraduate and used my “Ferrari brain,” as the doctor called it, to be productive on campus and bring energy to the groups I belonged to.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides resources toward a stigma free society. Individuals, companies, organizations and others can take the pledge to learn more about mental illness, to see a person for who they are and take action on mental health issues.

1 in 5 Americans live with a mental health condition and each of them has their own story. Take time to lean in and offer support where you can.

Visit www.nami.org for more information.

If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

Wearable Technology Contributing to the Sexual Assault Awareness Conversation

Sexual Violence is a crime of power and control. It affects people of all ages, genders and cultures. April is dubbed Sexual Assault Awareness Month - an observance that serves to build momentum around the conversation of rape culture and those being affected by shocking statistics. It’s a month that celebrates survivors while working to use education as a tool for prevention.

While harassers and victims are both men and women, victims are predominantly women. Of the 12,510 charges of sexual harassment received by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2007, 84% were filed by women. A study by the National Victim Center finds that 1.3 women (age 18 and over) in the United States are forcibly raped each minute. That translates to 78 an hour, 1,871 per day, or 683,000 per year.

Revolar and ROAR for Good are just two companies looking to slash these statistics with wearable technology. Both companies were founded by women ready to disrupt the pattern of rape culture and change the way people keep themselves and those they love safe.

ROAR for Good built Athena as a simple device with a big mission: to protect women with the touch of a button. The coin-sized discreet device emits a loud alarm and sends your location to friends and family during an emergency. It’s GPS-enabled, rain and splash-proof to make it easy to tag along with you during exercise or while on a vacation.

How does it work? A recessed button, to prevent accidental presses, is held down for 3 seconds to emit a loud alarm and simultaneously text your location to pre-selected friends or family. Your loved ones can then opt to give you a call or get 911 on the line. The alarm can serve as a deterrent to an attacker, but Athena also has a SilentROAR™ option if you’d rather hide your alert from them. All messages and help alerts are sent without the invasive alarm. You can clip it to your clothing, bags or wear as a necklace.

Philadelphia-based entrepreneur Yasmine Mustafa created Athena after personal realizations of the urgency to protect women from sexual assault. She returned from a solo trip across South America, during which she was repeatedly warned of the risks of a young woman traveling alone, only to find someone had been assaulted in her neighborhood. Since then, she paired with co-founder Anthony Gold to launch their startup to help empower women.

Athena’s Indiegogo campaign was recently 667 percent funded - with more than $300 thousand raised to get it to market. 10 percent of proceeds from their campaign were allocated to raising awareness about the warning signs of abuse and helping end relationship violence. You can now pre-order the device at $79.99 and expect it in the mailbox this Fall. Available in black, rose gold and silver.

Revolar was born out of a passion to keep our loved ones safe in a smart, modern way. Founder and CEO Jacqueline Ros created Revolar out of love for her little sister who was assaulted as a teenager. Jacqueline found herself wishing her sister had been able to simply press a button to call for help, so that’s exactly what she built. Jacqueline and her team are a dedicated group of allies and survivors, who are all committed to building safety technology to empower people to keep themselves and those they love safe.

Similar to Athena, Revolar uses a discrete button to signal a personal emergency alert to loved ones via text message or e-mail. Emergency contacts are then provided with a web link that provides them with alert severity level (yellow or red), up-to-date location information, and path traversed since the alert was triggered. Their battery lasts up to year and the device itself is waterproof, which means you don’t have to worry about getting caught in the rain or using it near the water.

The startup recently raised $3 million from The Foundry Group which is also a backer to Fitbit. Revolar plans to build other wearable devices for use in fields such as solo running and travel, and adding features to Revolar itself. It’s available at www.revolar.com for $99. Their Give One Get One campaign asks for $119 to send you a Revolar and donate one to a woman in a domestic violence shelter on your behalf.

There have been overwhelmingly positive responses to wearables like Athena and Revolar, as well as other gadgets in the market seeking to prevent sexual assault. While these short-term strategies do not reach the core of the problem, they arm men and women with tools do defend themselves against becoming another number.

April is a month for action, but innovations like these are helping to push the conversation further and closer to positive, sustainable change on rape culture. They’re making safety “as easy as pressing a button,” because it is pressing a button.

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, please visit: www.notalone.gov for resources or call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE.

Pay It Forward Day: Contributing to 10 Million Acts of Kindness

The last Thursday in April marks International Pay It Forward Day, a celebration of altruism and the good of humanity. In 2015, people from 75 countries participated in Pay it Forward Day inspiring more than 5 million acts of kindness to date. This year marks the movement’s 10 year anniversary with a goal to hit 10 million random acts.

The practice involves regular people performing acts of kindness for others without expecting anything in return. Instead, they will pay it forward and do the same for someone else to create a ripple effect of generosity. The global phenomenon has inspired over 50 state and city proclamations for the day in the United States alone. What can you do?

1. Pay for someone’s cup of coffee

Buying a cup of coffee (or tea in my case) for a stranger is one of the easiest ways to do good and feel good. A gratis warm cup of Joe could be enough to make an angry businessman’s day or help lift a displaced person’s spirits.

Some countries encourage suspended coffee, or caffe sospeso, which asks that when customers buy coffee they also pay in advance for a cup to be given to someone else. The recipient is usually someone who otherwise couldn’t afford it.

2. Buy a meal for the homeless

If you often walk by the same stranger sitting outside of the grocery store or restaurant begging for some money, it may be likely that they are looking to get themselves food for the day. While we don’t know what their circumstances are, it’s nice to offer this stranger a meal. It can be as simple as going inside and grabbing a handful of fruits or a sandwich from the deli.

Another quick step in the right direction is finding a local homeless shelter and trading in your lunch hour to volunteer at theirs. You’ll still get to provide the gift of a warm meal without paying for it yourself.

3. Offer someone a ride

On a rainy, snowy or extra sizzling hot day, there is nothing better than finding a friend who is willing to give you a lift to your next stop. Especially if they’re on the way to where you’re going, this is a simple do-good task that will contribute making someone’s day a little more bearable.

This act of kindness is a fit for those who are rather trusting if you choose to help a stranger. And you never know, you may make yourself a new lifelong friend.

4. Donate to a charity or philanthropy

Whether you’ve got $1 or $1 billion, giving funds to a cause you’re passionate about is a great way to tap into the kindness of your heart. Opt out of your second cup of coffee for the day and opt in to reap the rewards of contributing dollars to helping programs, people and movements grow. A quick hack is shopping via Amazon Smile instead of its usual platform to streamline a percentage to the organization of your choice.

You don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference. If you have more time than money, you can also host a philanthropy to raise funds while gathering your community together.

5. Use your business

If you’re a leader among your company, you can use your influence for good to start a movement of your own that will contribute to 10 million acts. DoubleTree by Hilton, for example, is launching #NiceTravels, a multichannel movement driving random acts of kindness - complete with giveaways, contests and a photo mosaic - to prove that “nice” is contagious.

On a smaller scale, some businesses can even let their employees take a personal day in exchange for community service hours. Others have started to host collection drives for funds or goods to donate to their local organizations.

Kindness is dubbed a natural anti-depressant because it can cause a release of serotonin in our brain. Serotonin plays an important part in learning, memory, mood, sleep, health and digestion. These acts can also heighten our sense of wellbeing, increase overall energy and give us an overwhelming feeling of positivity and self-worth.

Today, I challenge you to pledge to pay it forward and to eventually turn it into a habit. Each act will get us closer to 10 million.

Visit www.payitforwardday.com to learn more.

The Tweet That Changed My Life

Crafting a masterpiece in 140-characters or less is a challenge. Toss in the pressures of winning a $10 thousand grand prize and the opportunity to launch your public relations career at age 20, and you’ve crafted the perfect environment for panic.

In February 2013, I received an invitation via Klout to enter Tic-Tac’s Shake It Up Pledge Contest. Followers were asked to describe how they pledge to “shake things up” in their life and attach an appropriate photo. With my heart set on moving to New York City for the summer, I took this opportunity as a chance to make the promise to myself:

“I pledge to shake things up by becoming the first in my family to move over 1,000 miles away on my own. #SIUPledge”

As this message made its way around cyberspace I kicked my internship-search to full speed. After weeks of interviews, compliments and rejections, I received the golden e-mail: “On behalf of The Hartman Group Public Relations, we want to officially invite you to become a summer intern.” The Hartman Group Public Relations is a high-profile firm in New York City focusing on Broadway and entertainment media relations. Remembering my pledge, I immediately said, “yes!”

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I have two days until I move to the city.

If you’ve ever experienced the New York City realty hunt, bless your soul. Turning to couch surfing, I immersed myself into a beautiful cultural experience. My host had couch surfers from all over the world in her quaint apartment located in the heart of Washington Heights. From a Parisian photographer to a Korean adventurer to a Brazilian model, I have stories for decades. Shortly after this experience, and eight moves later, I settled with an old colleague at an extended stay hotel in the Upper West Side.

What about my family?

As I pledged, I was making this move entirely on my own. Unfortunately, this meant leaving my family behind. Early in my trip, my father suffered from kidney failure, which later brought severe health complications, ending with a heart attack. More than a thousand miles away, I had to make it clear that I was there for my family and needed to prepare myself for the worst.

How was I going to afford it?

With my father’s medical bills climbing quickly through the roof, I knew it was entirely up to me to financially make this trip possible. Determined to stay the whole summer, I sought out a part-time job with BCBG Max Azria as a stylist. Because of this opportunity, I was reminded of how much I appreciate fashion and styling. It’s not about luxury, it’s about self-expression and using clothes as a vehicle for making people feel great about themselves.

With all this ‘bad,’ a ton of ‘good’ is sure to follow.

After the trials and tribulations of the first part of my New York City experience, I began to receive a windfall of epic proportions

Cue the plot twist.

It’s a Summer Friday in New York City and I open what seemed like another “one of those promotional mailers I’ll never use.” The letter reads, “Congratulations! Your tweet has been selected as Tic-Tac’s Shake It Up Contest winner. The Grand Prize? $10,000.” Forget about the hefty check, this quickly shifted my appreciation for this experience and work ethic.

This windfall of good luck, started with a tweet. I knew that Public Relations and communicating with, and for, others is the path my life will take. Soon after this news, The Zimmerman Agency asked me to execute a morning segment on FOX & Friends from start to finish for their Aruba client. I oversaw the set and made sure it reflected Aruba, worked with CEO of Aruba Tourism Authority Ronella Tjin Asjoe-Croes through her talking points, coordinated day-of-tasks with the producers at FOX, kept the Account Executives in Tallahassee, Fla. updated with happenings on set and maximized the publicity Aruba received during the show. Taking my experiences back to Florida, I jumped from promotion to promotion. I spent some time as the Regional Brand Manager for a local restaurant group, Campaign Manager for a student government political party and a press associate in the Florida Senate.

Most importantly, this tweet taught me how to inspire others and jump through fire to achieve great things. My peers and colleagues now see me as a leader in my communities, seeking advice on their personal social media matters and developing projects. Today, I am looking at open doors waiting to find out where my ‘shaken’ path takes me next.

Taking it back to the Twitter pledge, seconds of courage turned into endless minutes of opportunity and hours of experiences in the field I was passionate about. I quickly learned it doesn’t matter what state I am in, what matters is my state of mind.

December 21, 2013

One year ago, we were told our world would cease to exist on this day.

The world is still breathing.

What was most interesting, to me, is that one year ago people across the globe started “living life to the fullest,” loving their neighbor unconditionally and finally making the most out of the seconds we may or may not have had left.

I’m certain that’s where the beauty of 2013 comes from.

I hear it time and time and again, “2013 was my year.” 2013 was the year people felt most grateful for their accomplishments, company and selves. I’m certain that this is because life was almost “taken away” from us. But, why are we waiting for someone to tell us we’re going to die to start living?

‘Cause you only need the light when it’s burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow

Only know you’ve been high when you’re feeling low
Only hate the road when you’re missin’ home

My challenge to you: take these simple steps toward making 2014 just as magical as 2013. Don’t wait for the next conspiracy theorists to do it for you.

Be Grateful

Take inventory of all the beautiful things in your life. One year ago, my mother was diagnosed with a very dangerous cancer. It wasn’t until this dark moment that I started to appreciate her for the endless hours of love and support that she provided me with. This brought us closer together, and I will never again let an illness remind me how important she is.

An activity I’ve adopted, credit due to my SpeechWriting professor, is writing a ‘thank you’ card every week to someone. Write it to a friend, a family member, a classmate, a teammate, a mentor, a stranger, someone who you are thankful for in the universe. If opening up and communicating with others is too difficult for you, keep a journal and write down one thing you’re grateful for when you wake up, and one thing you appreciate from your day before you hit the sack.

Be Positive

Despite all the hardships you and I have been through, it’s the power of positivity that keeps us moving forward. Countless obstacles this year had the power to hold me back from reaching my fullest potential. Adopting gratefulness and clinging to all the good that exists, I very easily pushed through.

The law of attraction tells us that “if you think it, it shall happen.” But, the trick is to really embrace the power of positivity to attract all that you wish and need for your personal life. The power of positivity is difficult to explain in short, but learning to harness it benefits your mental and physical health. And most importantly, improves your quality of living. Next time the universe drops a bomb on your lap, slap a smile on and pick yourself right up!

Be Purposeful

Finding your purpose in life will be the most important step to living a fulfilling life. No, I’m not talking about declaring a major and writing a plan for what the next 10 years will look like. I’m asking you to find what you’re passionate about, find what makes you happy and find the things that launch you forward in the most enjoyable way. Putting these thoughts together help determine your purpose.

Discovering your purpose helps guide you in the right direction. How do we really know if we’re making the right decision when presented with a tricky opportunity? Make sure it aligns with that purpose. Mine? Building bridges for people and finding ‘the good.’ I discovered, this year, that my place on this planet is to help place people on this planet. Using public relations as a vehicle, I help people and brands find what’s positive about them and I reveal this to the world, hopefully building a bridge between the two.

Be a Dreamer

It’s important to set goals and accomplish them to feel as though you’re successful. But, just as important, dream about the insurmountable potential inside you and the multiple directions your life could take. Eventually, these dreams start to become your reality and before you know it, you’re at the center. Bonus points if you get risky: by challenging yourself, you’ll find that you land in far more satisfying places. Besides, what better way to lift yourself out of a slump than doing something extraordinary?

At the start of the year, I dreamt about all the places I could go this summer and complete my internship requirement. The most feasible option was right at home, at the agency I already worked at. But, the dream? New York City. Publicity. Fashion. Broadway. I got it all. I didn’t get it because I was lucky. I got it because as this became my reality, there was no way I was going to let it slip away. I sent tons of resumes and cover letters out, interviewed for days, and then selected the most incredible internship experience I could have for myself.

Now, as you jot down New Year Resolutions, my hope is that you stray from shedding pounds and head toward establishing more fulfilling days of your lives. Don’t let sunsets remind you of all the things you didn’t do during the day. Don’t let a cold breeze remind you of all the warmth you let go in your life.

Start living today, because we don’t know how much time we really have on this earth.