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“I believe the stigma about mental illness is changing. It is more openly discussed in all aspects of media and social media.” with Iris Waichler

There are false stereotypes and misinformation disseminated about people with mental illness. This causes people to misunderstand what it really means. I believe the stigma about mental illness is changing. It is more openly discussed in all aspects of media and social media. Famous people like Michelle Obama are courageously stepping forward and sharing their […]


There are false stereotypes and misinformation disseminated about people with mental illness. This causes people to misunderstand what it really means. I believe the stigma about mental illness is changing. It is more openly discussed in all aspects of media and social media. Famous people like Michelle Obama are courageously stepping forward and sharing their struggles. This offers hope and more understanding about what a mental health diagnosis really means. This also encourages people who have a mental health condition to step forward and ask for help with less shame or fear. In addition, people can anonymously learn about others with a similar diagnosis through social media. My hope is that this all will help normalize a mental health diagnosis and make it feel safer for people to get the help they deserve and need.

I had the pleasure to interview Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW. Iris has been a licensed clinical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing catastrophic illnesses. Ms. Waichler is the award winning author of the book Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire which received 4 major book awards. Her third book, How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents, received 8 major book awards. Iris has been a freelance writer for 18 years authoring hundreds of articles on health related topics. She has been featured in Parade, Redbook, and Next Avenue Magazines. Ms. Waichler has done workshops and speeches on infertility and caregiving topics. She is a regular contributor to infertility and caregiving websites. Her website is @ http://iriswaichler.com/media/


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I was in high school I knew I wanted to work at a nearby hospital. In college i discovered social work. I have been a medical social worker and patient advocate for 40 years. Much of my work has focused on counseling people to help them cope with catastrophic, life changing illnesses, that impact them, their families, and how they function in their daily lives. Their lives can be changed forever sometimes in an instant. I am especially interested in caregiving. In addition to my work I personally was a caregiver for my parents and 2 of my friends who were given terminal cancer diagnosis. My friends had no local family so friends joined together to offer them care, support, and to help them die with dignity honoring their wishes.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

There are false stereotypes and misinformation disseminated about people with mental illness. This causes people to misunderstand what it really means. I believe the stigma about mental illness is changing. It is more openly discussed in all aspects of media and social media. Famous people like Michelle Obama are courageously stepping forward and sharing their struggles. This offers hope and more understanding about what a mental health diagnosis really means. This also encourages people who have a mental health condition to step forward and ask for help with less shame or fear. In addition, people can anonymously learn about others with a similar diagnosis through social media. My hope is that this all will help normalize a mental health diagnosis and make it feel safer for people to get the help they deserve and need.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

I do speeches and workshops for patients, family members, and healthcare professionals. My focus is to look at the emotional and psychological components that are associated with medical, mental, cognitive, and memory function changes that can arise as we age. I authored an award winning book called Role Reversal How to Take Care of Yourself and Your Aging Parents. It looks at universal themes that occur for those who need care and those who become the caregivers. I also have been a freelance writer for 18 years writing hundreds of articles about healthcare related issues. My goal is to help people be better prepared to understand and cope with these life challenges. It is important to help people understand the emotional ramifications that occur. In addition, it is critical to prepare them by giving them the skills, resources, and information to tackle the changing relationships and dynamics that happen. This way they feel less helpless and alone.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

I originally became interested in mental health when I worked in a hospital on their rehabilitation unit in the 1980’s. I saw how a medical problem could cause so many psychological and mental health issues for my patients. Its impact on family members was enormous. When one family member has a health crisis it affects the other family members in profound ways. Originally my book, Role Reversal, was going to be a memoir about my dad’s life. I was his caregiver. People asked me what I was working on and it was clear how many people are currently struggling with trying to help aging loved ones or other family members who depend on them for care. It is so overwhelming for all concerned. I expanded the concept of my book to address the complexity of caregiving. I wanted to give people information and to help them understand the relationship/emotional dynamics to help them cope and be more effective in their role as a caregiver.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

The first thing that comes to mind is not to label them. It feeds into the negative stigma addressed in the earlier question. We should recognize that mental illness is a disease just like medical conditions. People don’t choose to be mentally ill. They need to be supported, not judged by individuals or society. We need more funding from our state and Federal Government to ensure that proper programs and treatment options are available for those that need it. Health Insurance needs to do a better job of covering healthcare for the mentally ill. That means all levels of treatment and coverage for medications and counseling which are very important components of treatment for those that are mentally ill. It would be great if people could volunteer their time, energy, or money, to support programs impacting the mentally ill. Individual can select a charity or program that has special meaning for them and engage in a way that feels comfortable.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. I exercise regularly- I have learned if I don’t get out and exercise I don’t feel as good mentally or physically. When I was pregnant with my daughter I was on bedrest for a 6 weeks. I noticed that immobility and not being able to exercise caused me to feel depressed.

2. Socialization- I have a strong network of friends and family. I have built a community of friends and family I love and trust. I can go to them whenever I need support. They are there for me when I need them and I try to do the same for them. In my work I learned that social isolation is a critical factor in living a longer, healthier life. I really believe this.

3. Mindfulness- I practice mindfulness techniques. I try hard to be present and in the moment whatever I am doing. This means when I am making a speech to a large crowd or talking one on one with somebody. I try to do the best I can to focus on what is being said and how I am responding to it. I try to give people my full attention. I was at an assisted living program to sell my books. We spontaneously decided to have a group session. Patients, family members and staff all participated. They candidly shared feelings and experiences around being in assisted living. People told me they heard things that had never been discussed before. They were so grateful and happy to have been a part of it.

4. I keep my mind active. I try to do things every day to keep my mind active. This includes reading magazines, newspapers, listening to the news. I also do jigsaw puzzles and play guitar every day. It is important to me to be aware of what is going on in the world around me. The guitar and puzzles keep me thinking and improve my cognitive abilities. I want to keep my mind active. This is another area that I have learned tends to help people live longer.

5. Writing-I love to write. It is something that centers me and helps me to formulate my ideas and solidify my beliefs and values. It is a skill that requires concentration and practice to make you better. When I am done I have something tangible I can look at. It is something I can revisit years from now to help me reflect on where I am presently and how I how my ideas and thoughts have changed and evolved. That is an important self reflective exercise.

6. Social Media-I have social media sites where I post articles I have written or articles I have found on infertility and caregiving topics. I have done a lot of work in the area of infertility.

My goal in posting these articles is to help people have access to information that may be very useful to them. I love connecting with people who respond to what I post or when they read my books and connect with me. It is a source of comfort and gratitude when I learn my work has touched people helped them in meaningful ways.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

We are so fortunate to have so many resources at our fingertips that we can go to. Some of my favorite books include When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Before We Sleep by Elizabeth Berg, Disturbances in the Field by Lynn Sharon Schwartz, Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. I love books that look at relationships and how people overcome life challenges that seem overwhelming. They survive and grow in surprising ways learning about strengths they didn’t know they had along the way. There are great online sites I go to as resources. They include The National Alliance for Caregiving, A Place for Mom, Alzheimers Association. Good Podcasts include The Hilarious World of Depression and First Day Back. I also like This American Life which shares incredible life stories.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

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