We need to question why we view mental illness any differently from physical illness.
I had the pleasure of interviewing author Robyn Cruze. Robyn is an internationally-recognized author and speaker and published Making Peace with Your Plate (Central Recovery Press) with Espra Andrus, LCSW, which will enter its second edition in January 2020. Her work and her recovery story have been featured internationally in media outlets including Refinery29, Yahoo Style, Good Morning Washington and NPR Radio. Having struggled and found recovery from mental health disorders, Robyn serves as a Director of Advocacy consultant for Eating Recovery Center and is the Co-Founder of a new mental health awareness grassroot movement, Wide Wonder. Wide Wonder aims to inspire and be inspired through community, connections, and a conversation that focuses on changing attitudes, language, and the way in which people who struggle with mental illness and/or use drugs are treated. Wide Wonder is zero stigma!
Wide Wonder is a grassroots movement that aims to inspire and be inspired through community, connections, and a conversation that focuses on changing attitudes, language, and the way in which people who struggle with mental illness and/or use drugs are treated.
Robyn Cruze has recovered from an eating disorder and has ongoing recovery from co-occurring illnesses of anxiety and depression. Robyn and Tim Harrington met in Los Angeles 15 years ago through a mutual friend. After meeting Tim, Robyn went on to form her own clothing line for pregnant women called Poems and Prayers, then co-authored a book about her experience with her eating disorder, called Making Peace with Your Plate. The book’s success led her to work with Eating Recovery Center as a Director of Recovery Advocacy, teaching substance use disorder treatment facilities how to recognize eating disorders and creating advocacy initiatives to support people in recovery sharing their stories to inspire others struggling mental illness.
Thank you so much for joining us Robyn, and thank you for all of your important work. 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?
Let’s also not forget the 25 million struggling with addiction, many of whom will have a co-occurring mental injury diagnosis, like depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder!
We think it is important to lead with this message of hope. To change the narrative surrounding mental health and addiction. A message that has been laced with stigma, secrecy and shame to something that promotes hope, honors courage and connection.
According to research, our society’s most widely-held beliefs are that people with addiction and mental injury are dangerous, bad and weak. The overarching belief is that you should be able to handle your own mental health — get it under control — especially in terms of your dependence on a substance.
In general, we believe these things because the social narrative perpetuated by the media is obsessed with symptoms and behaviors, not the actual causes and conditions that lead to mental injury and addiction. We give these health challenges no context, as if they exist in a vacuum.
For nearly two centuries, American media outlets have fueled moral panics surrounding mental health and drug addiction. To garner the maximum amount of attention, media campaigns have demonized illicit drugs, illicit drug users, and illicit drug sellers — all while serving as the primary advertising vehicle for legal drugs.
Eight main themes permeate these cyclical, media-generated moral panics:
- The drug is associated with a hated subgroup of society or a foreign enemy.
- The drug is identified as solely responsible for many problems in the culture — i.e., crime, violence, insanity.
- The survival of the culture is pictured as being dependent on the prohibition of the drug.
- The concept of “controlled” usage is destroyed and replaced by a “domino theory” of chemical progression.
- The drug is associated with corruption of young children, particularly their sexual corruption.
- Both the users and suppliers of the drug are defined as fiends, always in search of new victims; usage of the drug is considered “contagious.”
- The only policy options are presented as either total prohibition or total access.
- Anyone who questions any of the above assumptions is bitterly attacked and characterized as part of the problem that needs to be eliminated.”
Still families must do their absolute best to protect their family member who is struggling and sometimes, they don’t want the family member who is sick to experience prejudice.
This happened to me. My father grew up in the era where men never spoke about their feelings and when asking for help was a form of weakness. I remember one day I shared a poem with my dad about wanting to fly away for a moment in time because sometimes the world felt like a lot. Instead of responding with love, he responded from a place of fear for me. “That’s great,” he said about my poem, before quickly following it with, “But don’t share it with anyone; they might use it against you.” My dad is a loving man. He loves his family more than life itself. But the messages he sent me due to his own fear surrounding mental health have been something I have to continually fight to let go of.
We need to question why we view mental illness any differently from physical illness.
Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?
We are asking everyone to take the Wide Wonder Zero Stigma pledge #WW0Stigma to help those struggling, feel supported and safe seeking the help they need.
Our goal is to have 1 million people take the WW0Stigma pledge so that together we can change the narrative and support policy changes surrounding mental health and addiction.
We are doing this to bring a new narrative to the public. One of recovery, hope and the power of connection.
Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?
About a year ago, I had a flare up of generalized anxiety that led to panic attacks after coming back from placing my father into an assisted living facility at the grand age of 73 years young. The panic came on fast and hard, and I found myself struggling to ask for help. I remembered clocking my thoughts and noticing that I had personal stigma. Then I had a wake-up moment: If you, a mental health advocate, struggle with this stigma about getting help, imagine what your peers who do not have the education surrounding mental health must feel? It made the initiative urgent for me.
Stigma is what stands in the way of people seeking and accessing treatment. We — you and I — are responsible for breaking down the barriers of the stigma that gets in the way of someone living a full life with their mental illness. Yes, it is possible! We must be willing to reject the stigma and the shame surrounding mental health and addiction by talking about it out loud. Together. By sharing our stories, our family’s stories, and our community’s stories, we can bring these issues out of the darkness of shame and into the light. We can no longer allow other people to define us because of our silence.
Mental illness is not someone’s fault; it is not because of weakness or lack of character, but it is rather like an injured limb, so it simply needs to be healed by a doctor. We teach our daughters that we have the opportunity to equate physical fitness with mental fitness. We all have both, and we should be as motivated to strengthen our mentally health as we are to improve our physical health.
In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
a) For individuals to better support people who struggle with addiction and mental illness, we need to focus on connection rather than direction, meaning we stop trying to fix something or to control someone. Connection is rooted in the common human experience. We are more alike than we are different, regardless of any sort of personal diagnosis. We can all relate to being afraid, angry, frustrated, etc., so let’s share that and build compassion and empathy bridges rather than building walls.
b) Society must deconstruct the personal, the family, and the societal narrative that people with mental illness and addiction are dangerous, bad, or weak. We need to remember that it’s person first, not diagnosis.
We should speak out about our experiences with mental health and refuse to make mental illness some shameful secret.
c) Run a tireless, year-long, national media campaign exposing the myths about addiction and mental illness.
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?
- We promote our family’s mental fitness by eating three meals a day. We don’t believe in deprivation (removing any food) but we do focus on having protein, fruits, vegetables, and grains at every meal. We have found that food can make or break our moods.
- We practice mindfulness, meaning that we use our breath as an anchor, when triggered by something out of our control. Tim says to himself, “back to breath.” Taking deep breaths is a great way to self-regulate and get you back to the present moment.
- I use daily writing to center myself and my thoughts.
- We have found exercise to be key to mental fitness.
- Being curious. Continually keeping an open mind. Remaining teachable.
- Maintaining an attitude of gratitude.
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
• The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz & Katherine Ketcham
• Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
• Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change by Jeffery Foote, Ph.D., Carrie Wilkens, Ph.D., and Nicole Kosanke, Ph.D. with Stephanie Higgs
• Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche by Ethan Watters
• Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy
• Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
• The Summary of the Whole-Brain Child by Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson
• A Thousand Names for Joy by Byron Katie
• The Unbroken Brain by Maia Szalavitz
• The Values Factor by Dr. John Demartini
• The Journey of the Heroic Parent by Brad Reedy, Ph.D.
• Get Your Loved One Sober by Robert J. Meyers, Ph.D. and Brenda L. Wolle, Ph. D.
• The Awakened Family by Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D.
• Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence by Daniel J. Siegel, MD
• Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
• Resilient by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.
• Applied Empathy by Michael Ventura
• The Yes Brain by Daniel J. Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D.
• F*ck Feelings by Michael I. Bennet, MD and Sarah Bennett
• Inside Rehab by Anne M. Fletcher
• Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz, MD with Beverly Beyette
• The Imp of the Mind: Exploring the Silent Epidemic of Obsessive Bad Thoughts by Lee Baer, Ph.D.
• Apple News Feed
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• Texture — unlimited access to 200+ magazines
• “Good Life Project” Podcast
• Ted Radio Hour