Published Date: 2015-02-05

Using Twitter To Track The State Of Mental Health

Twitter can be used to track all kinds of trends, from a “who wore it best?” during awards season, to hot button topics all across the political spectrum, but what many don’t realize is the sheer amount of just what this social media platform is able to do in regards to mental health. During the course of any given day, over 500,000,000 new tweets are composed from around the globe, tweets sharing all types of personal information, and Johns Hopkins University have found a way to use Twitter trends to help track both physical and mental health.

In previous years, Johns Hopkins researchers out of Baltimore, Maryland, have used Twitter trends to track flu cases in different areas, as Twitter users use the platform to express how they may be feeling once the flu reaches them, their family, or their particular area. Using the same methods used to track the flu, these same researchers are confident that they can turn this method into a way to track mental health as well.

The Hub, where Johns Hopkins University publishes their different research papers, explains just what the university does to pinpoint and track mental health in various areas across the United States or the globe. Through sifting through tweets mentioning a particular specific diagnosis, or tweets containing one of a myriad of mental health buzzwords, the university is able to collect various pieces of data regarding disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and a plethora of other mental health concerns.

This method is specifically being used to track and find correlations in different geographical locations when it comes to mental health, and to use these statistics to gauge where the overall mental health of an area may stand. Some rather eye-opening trends have already been found, and these statistics are slated to improve as researchers gain more experience using the technology and method. For instance, higher rates of PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, have been found on military bases, and areas with a higher rate of unemployment have been found to also carry a higher rate of depression.

At NAMI, we’re excited to see what this type of research can do in the realm of mental health, and how these findings will relate to improvements being made for those suffering. By finding patterns in certain locations that relate to mental health conditions, medical science can gain a firmer grasp on some of the biggest contributing factors of mental illnesses, and this can lead to an ability to find solutions even better. 


Published Date: 2015-01-27

The Science Of Depression

There are over 350 million people who are affected on any given day by depression across the world, making it no wonder why this is a condition that is treated as a very serious medical illness. Unfortunately, depression is also one of the most difficult mental illnesses to treat, and this creates a tough situation for all of those afflicted with the condition. There is no blanket cure or treatment for depression, and what may work beautifully for one individual could be useless for the next, so it’s important that science begins taking a good look at the big picture when it comes to fighting this disease.

In previous years, depression was often written off by medical science as simply “an imbalance of chemicals in the brain”, but research performed by modern science has come up with some rather interesting findings. One professor at the University of San Francisco’s department of Health Sciences made the connection between depression and genetics, stating that depression could be a hereditary condition passed down from generation to generation through genes.

Another scientific breakthrough on the topic of depression found that rather than a chemical problem in the brain, depression may actually be related to cell growth and brain connections. The hippocampus portion of the brain, the part in charge of memory and emotion, has been shown to shrink as a person experiences depression. As the hippocampus shrinks, the cells and networks that make up this portion of the brain will start to deteriorate, and this could be a huge contributing factor to the depression a person may experience.

While more research will be necessary on both theories involving genetics and brain cells and networks, these pose as huge breakthroughs concerning how depression will be diagnosed and treated in the future. By finding an accurate root cause, or root causes, treatment options can begin to really get to the base of the problem, and this could lead to better treatment plans and even a cure somewhere in the future. We love the advancements in medical science regarding depression at NAMI, and we look forward to seeing what this may mean for future generations afflicted with the disease.


Published Date: 2015-02-10

Breaking Away From Food As A Comfort Source

Mental health issues can cause a great deal of stress, and for many, food can be the easiest source of comfort. The problem with seeking comfort in food is that this is never a once and done method, and it’s easy to get your body into a habit where stress equals unhealthy food cravings. At NAMI, we know how dangerous it can be to get into the comfort food cycle, and we want to help you to break this habit in an effort to lead a healthier and happier life.

Maintaining a healthy diet is extremely important for those suffering from mental illnesses, as the way our bodies feel will always reflect what we put into them. Filling yourself with healthy meals, sweets in moderation, and good portions will help your body and your brain to feel its best, while seeking comfort in unhealthy foods will have the opposite effect.

A few ways to take yourself out of the comfort food cycle are:

  1. Get to the source – Without addressing your feelings, and what is causing you to seek comfort food, you can’t break the cycle. Getting to the source of how you feel the way you do, and why you seek out food for comfort, is the first and best way to take a step in establishing healthier habits. Using introspection or help from others, try to figure out the root cause of what may be causing you to feel that food is your best comfort source.
  2. Give your diet a switch – Nutritional science has proven that healthy foods can help to cut down stress, and that fatty or sugary foods can have the opposite effect. Changing your daily diet to one that is high in lean protein, healthy grains, and plenty of fruits and vegetables can actually help your body to cope with stresses better, thereby helping to eliminate your need for comfort through food.
  3. Take cues from your body – After a while of seeking comfort from food, it can be tough to determine when your craving is due to hunger, and when it is due to an emotional need. Before snacking, take time to listen to your body to determine if your need for food is a healthy one or simply a coping mechanism.

With a healthier diet, and a break away from comfort food, you can give your body a way to feel better throughout all types of situations. At NAMI, we know how beneficial adopting healthy eating can be for those suffering from a myriad of different mental illnesses, and breaking away from seeking food as a comfort source is a great place to start!


One Exercise Sure to Make You Feel Better About Yourself

With a minimum of effort, change the way you see your world.

Post published by Jennice Vilhauer Ph.D. on Jan 17, 2015 in Living Forward

I have been treating patients usingcognitive therapies for almost 15 years, and one of the most successful exercises I have ever seen work to help them re-engage their sense of well-being is so simple that each and every time I convince someone to do it, I am still remarkably struck by how effective it is.

Before I share this exercise with you, I want you to know that the difficult part is not doing the activity. It is making yourself believe that the activity will have enough benefit that you will put forth the actual effort to do it, and experience the results.

Often when I give this assignment to patients, they come back for two or three weeks afterward, still not having tried it. That’s OK; I’m so certain they will not try it initially, that I generally don’t even assign it until I have been working with them for several weeks and have had sufficient time to coach them into understanding the benefits of shifting their attention and thinking; how it relates to brain functioning; and how it affects their mood, so that they understand the value of what I am asking them to do.

OK, so what is the exercise?

  • Keep a pad of paper next to your bed and every night before you go to sleep, write down three things you liked about yourself that day.
  • In the morning, read the list before you get out of bed.
  • Do this everyday for 30 days.

These don’t have to be big things, like I am a kind person; they can be simple, such as I like that I held the door for my co-worker, or I like that I didn’t lose my temper in traffic today, or I like that I am making the effort to try this exercise even if I’m not sure it will work…

For someone who is depressed, this activity feels like a lot of effort. Why? Research shows that people with depression have what is referred to as an attentional bias for negative self-relevant materials. They also have impaired attentional control, which means that once a negative schema is activated, they tend to ruminate on it and have difficulty disengaging and shifting their attention to something else; consequently, there is sustained negative affect.(1) Essentially, people with depression generally spend a good deal of time thinking about what they don’t like about themselves—and they have a hard time stopping.

The more time you spend thinking about something, the more active it becomes in your mental space—and the easier it becomes to access. Also, the more you think of something, the more it primes your brain to keep looking for similar things in yourenvironment, creating a selective filter that not only causes you to sift your environment for things that match up with what you are thinking about, it actually causes you to distort ambiguous information in a way that matches up with your dominant thoughts.

Someone with depression who goes to a party might get 10 compliments, but if one person mentions the shirt he is wearing is “interesting,” that person may likely go home and fixate on the ambiguous comment and turn it into a stream of thinking like this: I wonder what was wrong with my shirt, I probably looked silly in it, I bet they all thought I looked like an idiot. What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I ever get anything right? This is so humiliating. The 10 compliments have long been forgotten.

So how will this exercise help you?

Research also shows that it requires more attentional effort to disengage from a negative thought process than a neutral one.(2) This simple-to-do but nonetheless effortful exercise essentially helps you build the strength to disengage from any negative thought stream; redirects your attention to positive aspects of yourself; and retrains your selective attention bias.

As you do this, you not only start to become aware of more of your positive attributes, they become more available to you as you interpret events around you. Compliments become something you can hear and accept because they are more congruent with your new view of yourself. You start to interpret events occurring around you in a less self-critical way. If you stick with it, over time this has a compounding effect that elevates your overall sense of self-worth—and, subsequently, your well-being.

But remember: There is no benefit to your mental health in just understanding how the exercise works, just as there is no benefit to your physical health in knowing how to use a treadmill. The benefit comes from the doing.


Young People, Not Alone in Their Despair

A lack of life experience may fuel youth suicide

Post published by Stephen Gray Wallace on Jun 17, 2015 in Decisions Teens Make

The recent, and exhaustive, article published by ESPN the Magazine, “Split Image,” served up a cautionary tale about image versus reality. It chronicles the life and times of Madison Holleran, a student at the University of Pennsylvania, who committed suicide by jumping from the roof of a Philadelphia parking garage. She was 19 (Fagan, 2015).

What is that cautionary tale? Things may not always—if ever—be as they seem.

Madison herself made that point in an Instagram post about a year before her death. It was a quote from Seventeen magazine: “Even people you think are perfect are going through something difficult” (Fagan, 2015).

Alas, the piece takes pains to reveal that, contrary to her online persona, a life replete with a great family, good friends and a long list of academic and athletic triumphs, Madison was struggling to keep it together.

Of course, she was not alone in despair.

Sixteen months after Madison’s death, Peter Cronkite, 22, grandson of famed CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite, took his own life at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He was just weeks away from commencement and the receipt of a major academic award (Morning Sentinel, 2015).

The deaths of Madison and Peter, along with thousands of others annually, put an exclamation point on the issue of youth suicide and beg questions about causality and prevention.

An epidemic of young people ending their own lives is fueled, in part, by rising rates ofstressanxiety and depression. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, resulting in more than 4,600 lives lost each year (CDC, 2015). Also, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center ranks suicide as a leading cause of death among college students (SPRC, 2015).

As for suicide prevention, there are many approaches to treating and, moreover, preventing mental health disorders.

On the treatment side, let’s start with Colby president David A. Greene who, in addition to offering chaplaincy and counseling services to students, urged members of the college’s community to “watch out for one another and seek support for yourself as needed.”

Good advice.

Yet on many college campuses that support may be hard to come by. Why? Because administrators often have trouble matching demand with supply. In a 2014 report, the American College Counseling Association states that 94 percent of counseling directors say they’ve seen an increase of students with severe psychological disturbances (Gallagher, 2014).

While some credit a slow, rolling destigmatization of mental health treatment with driving up the number of young people seeking help, it may be the case that changing societal dynamics also play a role (Wergin, 2015).

The Young Adult and Family Center (YAFC) at the University of California, San Francisco notes that “75 percent of all mental illness is present during adolescence,” but only about one-third of those suffering get treatment. YAFC goes on to report, “Five to ten years typically pass before an adolescent afflicted by anxiety or depression seeks help for their suffering and usually only after developing a comorbid condition such as substance abuseor after failing out of school” (YAFC, 2015).

Jason Brian, CEO of Redwood Recovery Solutions and a member of the national advisory board at the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), told me that his company’s website,, generates phone calls from young people similarly affected. He said, “While they are reaching out for substance use treatment, there is often an underlying mental health issue.”

With prevention in mind, YAFC believes that “grit”—or the ability to persevere in the face of adversity—is key to preventing such tragedies (YAFC, 2015).

So important is such resilience that Alex Lickerman, M.D., assistant vice president for Student Health and Counseling Services at the University of Chicago, has developed and tested a unique curriculum designed to help young people build resiliency. The Resilience Project covers a series of important topics (The Resilience Project, 2015).

– Leveraging the power of expectations
– Resisting discouragement
– Using the power of habit to achieve individual goals
– Self-modulating in the face of adverse events
– Learning to accept unpleasant feelings/outcomes and to move beyond losses
– Expressing gratitude for personal gifts and opportunities
– Defining one’s mission in life

Lickerman notes that short-term analysis of his resilience training shows reductions in anxiety and depression among youth of 60 percent and 35 percent, respectively.

According to Scott Poland, Ed.D., a professor at the Center for Psychological Studies and co-director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University, “Young people who have demonstrated the ability to bounce back from adversity tend to fare better when the chips are down. But if resiliency has not been modeled by family or experienced personally, then the individual will be more at risk.”

In addition to building resilience, or grit, it is imperative that adults talk with young people about the often-transitory nature of acute psychological pain. Many of them simply lack the life experience to truly understand that one day it is likely they’ll feel differently than they do during difficult times.

Indeed, it is sometimes hard to see that far down the road.

Dr. Poland, also a senior research fellow at CARE, adds, “Suicidal youth want to end unendurable pain and are unable to foresee things getting better. This is often referred to as ‘tunnel vision’ or ‘constriction.’”

It is at the opening to that tunnel where parents and other caring adults can step in to educate and emphasize that the future may not be as bleak as one might believe. Sometimes, it just requires looking further on.

Stephen Gray Wallace is director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), a national collaborative of institutions and organizations committed to increasing positive youth outcomes and reducing negative risk behaviors. He has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent/family counselor and serves as senior advisor to SADD, director of counseling and counselor training at Cape Cod Sea Camps, a member of the professional development faculty at the American Academy of Family Physicians and American Camp Association and a parenting expert at and NBCUniversal’s For more information about Stephen’s work, please visit

Mother Jones

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NAMI Statement: The White House Conference on Mental Health

ARLINGTON, Va., June 3, 2013 — Michael J. Fitzpatrick,  Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)  issued this statement after attending the White House Conference on Mental Health on June 3, 2013:
NAMI applauds President Obama’s leadership in convening the White House Conference on Mental Health.
NAMI is grateful for both the opportunity to participate in the conference directly and to have shared information and expertise for resources,  including the Obama administration’s new website, which features NAMI’s video interview with Yashi Brown as a voice for hope and recovery. We also look forward to our partnership with the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC) and North American Interfraternity Council (NIC), cited by the White House, for presentations on approximately 800 campuses starting this fall.
Today’s conference and many activities to follow in the weeks and months ahead are part of the national dialogue on mental health that the President promised after the Newtown, Conn. tragedy in December 2012.
It is a dialogue that must occur in communities throughout the country, but with a clear understanding that although talk must precede action, the result must be to stimulate action. The significance of the conference is that it reflects new kinds of collaborations and partnerships that extend beyond the traditional mental health community.
The challenge is to expand awareness and support for improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. That means creating a mental health care system that is truly accessible to all who need it, when they need it.
In 2000, President Clinton convened the first White House conference on Mental Health. In 2003, President Bush created a Presidential Commission on Mental Health. Progress resulted, leading particularly to enactment of mental health insurance parity.  But we still have a long, long way to go in building an effective mental health care system.
President Obama’s White House Conference is a call to keep building on progress.  It is a call to build new community partnerships. It is a call to expand mental health care-including Medicaid, which NAMI recently highlighted in a special report. It is a call for support of young people, veterans and others, goals that NAMI shares
NAMI looks forward to continuing to participate in the national dialogue.




When Medicine Got it Wrong


Now you can view the documentary about the founding of the landmark movement for consumer and family rights in California

Director: Katie Cadigan and Laura Murray 
Katie Cadigan and Laura Murray


Rita Moreno narrates the story of a small group of middle-class parents who, in the 1970s, got sick and tired of being blamed for causing their children’s schizophrenia. They built a grassroots movement and launched a multi-pronged rebellion.When Medicine Got it Wrong opens a hidden chapter of recent American history, one where parents declared “Yes We Can” and took on doctors, politicians and the cultural fear surrounding schizophrenia. Their battles played out amid the life-and-death consequences of medical misunderstanding – from the assassination attempt on President Reagan to rampant homelessness and incarceration for those not receiving treatment.

This family movement helped shape dramatic advances in brain research and an explosion of neuroscientific discoveries. By the 1990s the term “schizophrenogenic” mother disappeared from textbooks for good. Medicine now knows that people with schizophrenia can live fulfilling lives as long as good treatment, medications and services are in place.

The story is as much a human rights saga as a medical one, revealing one of the last acceptable prejudices in America: denying people with severe mental illnesses adequate care and treatment. ‘Imagine if half the people with Alzheimer’s disease were living on the streets or in jail: people would be outraged,’ says one of the world’s leading schizophrenia researchers. ‘But that’s the situation today for people with schizophrenia.’ Where is the outrage?



NAMI Peer to Peer
Changed My Life

Published Date: 2013-04-09

By Hugh Joseph McCormick, NAMI Peer Mentor

It’s not about the money. Money is nice, but it is not everything.

I’ve been through a lot in the last 11 years. In 2001 I was diagnosed with a mental illness. Since then I have experienced intense highs and cavernous lows. Before having my mental break I was a day trader. I recall instances of making a thousand dollars in less than ten minutes. Even losing 4200 dollars in the time it took me to drive over highway seventeen to school. It could be said that I was obsessed with the green paper.

When I dropped out of UC San Diego, (I wasn’t going to classes; just daytrading) and came back to Santa Cruz I was stripped of everything. Conserved, I became a ward of the state. I left a life of privilege and entered into a dark world full of scary roommates, powerful medications, and virtually no liberty whatsoever. I became angry, bitter, and scared. Doctors and psychiatrists told me that I would be this way forever. Recovery was not an option. It wasn’t even mentioned. My obsession with money turned into an obsession with survival.

Having a mental illness is a humbling experience. One in which a man or woman is taken from the world that they used to know and placed in to a whole different universe.

There are new customs to learn, rules to follow, and terminology that is used. For years I bounded from facility to facility and in and out of the behavioral health unit. I wanted my pain to end and tried suicide twice. I burned myself for a physical manifestation of my emotional pain. The scars on my wrists were more visible to others than the scars inside of me. It was a dark time that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.