“The mentally ill frighten us and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance. What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation.” – Glenn Close
Mental illness carries a stigma. The mentally ill carry it with them at all times, like a big, ugly, hairy mole on one’s face that people try to avoid looking at. It’s sad and it’s frustrating. Regardless of how far mental health has come with trying to eliminate such stigma, it’s still very much alive. A majority of Americans continue to remain misinformed and even fearful of the mentally ill. Just watch the news in the days following a mass shooting. You will hear the question loud and clear: Was the shooter mentally ill?
The truth is, there are an awfully lot of myths out there about mental illness that too many people still believe. It’s important to debunk these myths. By dispelling such myths, we take a powerful step toward eradicating the stigma and the public’s fears surrounding mental disorders. Following, you will find 12 common myths about mental illness, as well as the facts, the reality, of mental health in the United States.
Fact: Mental health problems are actually very common, and it’s very likely that if they don’t affect you now, they will at some point during your lifetime.
Fact: Mental disorders are legitimate medical illnesses, just like cancer and heart disease. Research has shown time and time again that there are genetic and biological causes for mental illness.
Fact: Mental illness has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. Mental illness is the result of changes in brain chemistry or brain function.
Fact: Here are some statistics that suggest otherwise:
Fact: Only 3 to 5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are actually 10 times more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the general population (MentalHealth.gov).
Fact: Approximately 20% of state prisoners and 21% of local jail prisoners have a recent history of a mental health condition (NAMI).
Fact: First off, kids who become involved with the juvenile justice system aren’t necessarily “bad” kids; they are kids who have most likely made some very poor choices. According to NAMI, 70% of youth in the juvenile justice system have at least one mental health condition and at least 20% suffer from serious mental illness. Many factors can contribute to mental health problems (MentalHealth.gov), including:
Fact: Kids can and do develop mental illness, depression and anxiety disorders included. In fact, this can happen to anyone at any age. Half of chronic mental illness begins by age 14. Unfortunately, just over half (50.6%) of kids aged 8 to 15 are reported to receive mental health services.
Fact: It is not normal for older adults to be depressed.
Fact: Addiction is a disease that generally results from changes in brain chemistry. Few, if any, choose to become addicted to substances. Addiction has nothing to do with being a “bad” person. Among the 20.7 million adults in the U.S. who experience a substance use disorder, 40.7% (8.4 million) had a co-occurring mental illness.
Fact: People with mental health problems are just as productive as other employees. Employers who hire people with mental health problems report that their workers have good attendance and punctuality, motivation, good work, and job tenure to be on par or greater than other employees.
Fact: These sad statistics unfortunately suggest otherwise:
“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” – Bill Clinton
“Misconceptions About Mental Illness – Pervasive and Damaging” NARSAD Research Newsletter, Volume 13, Issue 4, Winter 2001/2002, p. 28
I love using games in therapy, and kids love playing games in therapy! Last week I posted about the use of the Jenga game as a therapeutic intervention during counseling sessions. It’s an excellent resource for just about any topic or skill that you’re trying to teach to kids, adolescents, and adults alike. I use a number of games in therapy sessions, both therapeutic and “non-therapeutic.” The difference between the two is what their intent and purpose was when the game makers created them. “Non-therapeutic” games are simply those that you can find at your local department store in the game aisle, like Candy Land, Jenga, and Operation, but in my experience, ANY game, regardless of its intent during creation, can be made therapeutic. Today’s game can be found in both therapy resource catalogs AND the game aisle.
Find It as a Therapeutic Intervention
Find It, like Jenga, is another one of my favorite “non-therapeutic” games to use as a therapeutic intervention with children and adolescents. Find It is a classic I Spy game that comes in a nice sturdy cylindrical container filled with miscellaneous small objects to find (e.g., a rubber band, an eraser, a feather, etc.) that are hidden in a colorful array of beads, pebbles, or dried rice (depending on which version of Find It that you choose). I primarily use the game with children and teens that I’m treating for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or who have other issues in which they have difficulty with focus and attention. I use the game to help improve their concentration and focus, as well as to informally assess their distress tolerance. The object of the game is simple: Find as many objects from an included list as you can. You can do this activity timed or take as long as you need.
The first time I give a child the Find It game during session, I collect baseline data by setting a time limit (for example, 10 or 15 minutes) and assess how many objects they can find within that given time frame. The game itself includes a small notepad checklist, so we mark each item off as it is found. I write down the time limit I give the child (whether it was 10 or 15 minutes) and the number of objects found, and then I put the information in the child’s file so I can access it in future sessions.
How Often to Use Find It in Session
We play the game intermittently; the next time we play the game is generally a few sessions after I’ve collected the initial baseline data. The sessions in between are spent doing other focus improving activities in order to help the child develop his or her skills. When we play the game again, I give the child the same time limit as before. Again the child is asked to perform the same task: Find as many objects as possible before time is up. The objects are never in the same place as they were initially, as each movement of the container shakes and jumbles the objects around. I record the data afterward, just as I did the first time the child played. This time I’m looking to assess whether the child’s scores (number of objects found in a given time) have improved as a result of our working on their focus, concentration, and attention span.
Find It as a Tool to Improve Distress Tolerance
Find It also allows me to see how a child tolerates the distress and frustration that comes with sometimes having difficulty finding the small objects. During game play, if a child is becoming noticeably distressed, I teach coping and self-regulation methods that they can use to slow down and bring their focus back to the game again. Between sessions, we will work on improving the child’s distress tolerance and learning effective coping skills to help handle frustration.
How Long to Use the Find It Game
I generally give the child the Find It game and assess their focus once every few sessions until I see that their scores have significantly improved and/or their distress tolerance is handled appropriately on a consistent basis. Once I see that the child has improved, we put the game away, though the child usually ends up getting it out at the beginning or end of future sessions as a transition activity.
Games are wonderful to use in therapy, especially with kids! I utilize a number of games in therapy sessions, both therapeutic and “non-therapeutic,” the difference being what their intent and purpose was when the game makers created them. “Non-therapeutic” games are those that you can find at your local department store and find in the game aisle, like Scrabble, Monopoly, and Battleship. In my experience, ANY game, regardless of its intent during creation, can be therapeutic. I’ve taken many, many “non-therapeutic” games and turned them into awesome therapeutic interventions in therapy. The results are always amazing. Kids love that they’re playing a game, and they don’t even mind that I may have changed it up a little. My next few posts will be about some of my most favorite “non-therapeutic” games to play in therapy.
Jenga is a gem! I have used Jenga hundreds of times as a therapeutic intervention. The game can be used in so many ways and with practically any topic you think of. Additionally, I’ve found that I can use Jenga with any age group: children, adolescents, and even adults!
When I first started using Jenga, I would write various tasks and questions based on the skill I was trying to teach on the individual wooden blocks. This isn’t necessarily a bad idea, but it didn’t take long before I had spent a small fortune on Jenga games. If you walk into my office, you’ll find several Jenga games, each covering different topics and for different age groups, all created before I eventually realized that it was significantly more cost effective to just purchase one Jenga game, color code the blocks with stickers or markers, and create prompt and task cards to use instead. You can create your own Therapeutic Jenga any way you wish, but if you plan to use the game for several different skill teachings, I’d advise the latter method.
Therapeutic Jenga is played by following the game’s original game instructions, regardless of what topic or skill is being taught. Simply color code your individual blocks with various colored stickers or by using different colored markers prior to play. Have color coded task/prompt and/or question cards prepared as well. During game play, a task card is drawn according to the color code on the block that is plucked from the tower. The person who picks the block is the one who answers or completes the question/prompt. Just for fun, I intentionally leave a few of the blocks blank (with no color code), which are used as free passes, meaning there’s no question/prompt to complete – the kids and teens especially love when they choose one of these!
What therapeutic skills can be taught using Therapeutic Jenga?
Among other topics, I’ve used Therapeutic Jenga for rapport building, reinforcing positive relationship skills, social skills, teaching emotion identification and expression, communication techniques, anxiety reduction, impulse control, and even to teach all ages how to dispute irrational self-talk. I’m yet to witness even one person complain about not wanting to play Therapeutic Jenga. It’s a game that is always met with an excited and receptive attitude!