OSMI Blog

A Greener Childhood Boosts Mental Health in Adulthood

Author: Aaron Saray
April 17th, 2019

Monday, I dug a hole. It was so large and deep that my German Shepherd fell into it, and my dad had to get him out. Tuesday, I went for a walk in a corn field next door and got lost. For hours, I wandered around until I finally found my way back home (and to think some people go to corn mazes during Halloween - not me!). Wednesday, I went into the woods and started to make a tree fort.

The year was 1990, and I was seven years old. I grew up in a rural area surrounded by trees, fields, and lots of greenery. I didn’t know it at the time, but this could have been one of the best gifts I got during my childhood.

According to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), access to green space in childhood is associated with stronger mental health in adults. The researchers found that a child growing up near greenery was associated with up to a 55 percent lower risk of mental health disorders as an adult.

Kristine Engemann, the biologist who led the study, cautions against making a definitive link between these two conditions, however. She says the data is purely correlational. That being said, the study is based on nearly 1 million people in the Danish Civil Registration System. The data provided is so detailed that the PNAS paper was able to weight, compare, and limit other conditions like social-economic status and location.

It turns out, you don’t have to grow up in a rustic area like me to experience these benefits. Even urban dwellers surrounded by green spaces have the reduced risk. So, there’s no excuse - it’s time to walk to the park!

You can access the entire details of this peer-reviewed paper titled “Residential green space in childhood is associated with lower risk of psychiatric disorders from adolescence into adulthood” online. Otherwise, stop by this NPR article for a detailed summary.

New Film Highlights Bipolar Disorder

Author: Beth Tucker Long
April 3rd, 2019

The passing of surfing legend Andy Irons in 2010 at the age of 32 stunned fans everywhere. Now, a new film looks at his life and reveals that he struggled with bipolar disorder since age 18. Not only is this film meant to celebrate the life and career of Irons, but it’s also working to shed light on bipolar disorder and its symptoms. “We want people who suffer from bipolar disorder to realize that they are not alone,” says director Steve Jones.

Bipolar disorder is debilitating, but treatable. Some of the most common symptoms are periods of depression mixed with periods of mania, a decreased need for sleep, uncharacteristic thrill-seeking behavior, and alcohol or drug abuse. You can learn more about the symptoms of bipolar disorder and the film about Irons’ life in the article, “5 Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder You Should Know” by Men’s Health.

Having Deipnophobia

Author: Beth Tucker Long
March 27th, 2019

For many of us, having dinner out with friends or family is an enjoyable treat. For those suffering from deipnophobia, though, this treat transforms into an anxiety-riddled torment. In a Women’s Health article, Krissy Brady shares how deipnophobia, a fear of dining and dinner conversations, affected her life. It started out easier to hide. As time passed, though, it got to the point where she felt unable to eat with anyone else and began to withdraw.

“As with most phobias, avoidance is not the best solution,” says clinical psychologist Anna Kress, Psy.D. “In fact, avoidance typically reinforces the fear associated with a phobia.” This proved true for Brady, and her symptoms did not improve even when she avoided eating with others. Her realization point came when she was watching a movie on TV where two characters were eating in a restaurant, and she had a panic attack just seeing a fictional depiction of a meal out. She knew she had to deal with this.

She started being more open about her struggles while getting help, and even discovered that her mother suffers from the same thing. Brady is not at the end of the road yet, but she’s proud of the progress she is making. Learn more about what deipnophobia and what Brady experiences in her own words, 'I Have A Severe Phobia—Here's What It's Like'.

2019 Mental Health in Tech Survey Now Open

Author: Beth Tucker Long
March 22nd, 2019

One of the most ambitious projects that OSMI undertakes is our large-scale survey on prevalence and attitudes towards mental health among tech workers. We are excited to announce the launch of the 2019 Mental Health in Tech survey! The survey aims to measure attitudes towards mental health in the tech workplace and examine the frequency of mental health disorders among tech workers. The audience for the survey is everyone at a technical organization, whether they have a mental health disorder or not - this helps us get a better idea of the scale and scope of the effects. At OSMI, we will be using this data to help drive our work in raising awareness and improving conditions for those with mental health disorders in the IT workplace. We hope others will be able to use this data to further improve mental health education, awareness, and accommodations. The results from previous years are available on Kaggle, a service for searching and analyzing public datasets. You can view the data or download a CSV of the results for your own analysis from https://www.kaggle.com/osmihelp/datasets.

Please Help

The 2019 Mental Health in Tech Survey is now open. The survey is completely anonymous. Please take a moment to help OSMI and our work by filling out the survey. When you are done, please share the survey with others. The more responses we get, the better the data we have to help with our work. https://osmi.us/survey2019

Finding Angels

Author: Beth Tucker Long
February 12th, 2019

When Alyssa Milano was pregnant, she had everything planned out. But when she gave birth, nothing was what she expected. She was very scared and felt like a failure. She thought things would get better once she got home, but the very first night, Milano suffered her first anxiety attack. Infrequent at first, the attacks came more often until they were happening daily.

Milano felt as though no one knew what she was going through. Her doctor dismissed her symptoms and her co-workers did not understand her pain. She finally reached a breaking point and went to the emergency room at 2am one morning asking to be committed.

Through this process, she found angels in her psychiatrist and therapist. They helped her see that she has value, that her symptoms are real, and that she has the bravery to face this illness.

Milano is now an activist working to help spread information and encourage people to talk about mental health. Her focus: “Let’s rededicate ourselves to talking about mental health. Let’s demand that our lawmakers pass policies that open — not restrict — our access to mental health services. Let’s remind each other that no one should have to face these challenges by themselves.”

You can read more about her journey in her own words in TIME’s article “Alyssa Milano: How I Came to Terms With My Anxiety Disorder”.

Ways You Can Help

Author: Beth Tucker Long
February 4th, 2019

When a friend or family member is suffering from depression, it can be difficult to know how to help them, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. Let them know that you want to help, and then be present for them. Ask them how they are doing, and be a good listener for them when they answer. “For a depressed individual to learn that someone is there for them is huge,” says psychologist Dr. John Grohol, founder and chief executive of PsychCentral.com.

Many people suffering from depression can also get stuck worrying about how a past event went. You can help distract them by taking them out to do something that is both mentally and physically engaging, like taking a walk or going to an exercise class.

Equally important are the things you should not do or say to someone who is struggling with depression. Make sure you are not framing your statements in a way which places blame on them for being depressed. Depression is a medical condition, and it is not their fault. Do not tell them they need to try harder or ask them why they don’t want to get better.

To learn more, check out the article “What to say (and not say) to someone who is depressed”, published by NBC News’ Today which has some great suggestions for reaching out and supporting your loved ones.

Sharing Resources on Campus

Author: Beth Tucker Long
November 29th, 2018

After Conlin Bass lost a friend and an uncle to suicide while he was in high school, he got involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Bass’s work with the organization helped him realize how widespread mental illness is, so when he started school at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, he was determined to find a way to raise awareness about mental health.

Bass got the idea to start The Bandana Project while talking to a friend at another university. Their professor had recently lost a son to suicide, and the class wore white bandanas on their backpacks to show support. The Bandana Project volunteers wear a lime green bandana on their backpacks to signal that they are willing to be a mental health resource and that they are carrying cards containing contact information for campus and local mental health support organizations. The bandanas also help make mental health more prominent on campus, and Bass hopes this will help remove some of the stigma around talking about mental health or seeking assistance for mental health issues.

The Bandana Project has been spreading to other campuses around the United States. To learn more about how Bass started the movement, check out the Verona Press article, “VAHS grad leads mental health awareness movement at UW-Madison” or visit The Bandana Project’s UW-NAMI website.

Sitting Too Long May Hurt Your Brain

Author: Beth Tucker Long
October 31st, 2018

We’ve always known activity is good for us, but a new study published in the journal Plos One shows sitting for extended periods of time can negatively affect your brain. Unfortunately, being active during other times of the day does not counteract these negative effects. Their study, which looked at middle-aged and older adults, associated self-reported hours per day spent sitting and less thickness in the medial temporal lobe (MTL) substructures. Atrophy of the MTL substructures occurs naturally as we get older and impairs memory.

A second study shows you should try to get in at least two hours of movement in every day, so plan some breaks into your next extended sitting session or find some exercises you can do to stay active while sitting at your desk.

Read more in the article: Sitting Too Long Could Put Your Brain Health at Risk.

Being Frank About Mental Health

Author: Beth Tucker Long
October 24th, 2018

Chlöe Swarbrick is a member of New Zealand’s Parliament who is speaking out on the importance of mental health. She states, “...in an environment where mental health concerns permeate near every community across our country, I believe there's a responsibility to be frank and real about the issue.”

Swarbrick is not only encouraging others to be open about mental health, but she has also opened up publicly about her own struggles with mental health. “I see my psychologist regularly. I have a history of anxiety and depression. I'm the one-in-six New Zealand adults who has been diagnosed with a "common mental disorder" at some point in their lives.”

This came just a few days after the New Zealand Chief Coroner released their annual suicide statistics. “They are the highest they've ever been. Each of those figures is the life of an incredible person with whānau and friends who'll be experiencing immense loss. Each of those numbers is a tragedy,” says Swarbrick.

Read more about Swarbrick’s stance on opening up about mental health in the NZ Herald’s article, “Chlöe Swarbrick: There's a responsibility to be frank and real about mental health”.

A Supportive Workplace

Author: Beth Tucker Long
October 17th, 2018

Teri Koski knew she had issues with depression, but she kept them to herself when she moved to a new city and started a new job. When her depression started causing issues at work, though, Koski’s supervisors called her in to find a solution. “We don’t want to fire you,” they said, and at that moment, Koski recognized she was struggling and decided to open up about her depression and mental illness. Koski started seeing a therapist, and not only was she able to save her job, but she was able to get back to a happy place.

“If my supervisors had never sat me down that day, I don’t know if or when I would have started therapy. I don’t think I ever would have brought up my mental illness to them either. Bringing such a personal part of my life into the workplace just seemed unnecessary and unnatural. Mental illness is an uncomfortable topic to discuss with anyone, let alone someone whose respect and trust you’ve worked to earn,” Koski says. Yet because of her bravery in opening up, she now has support at work and is able to get the resources she needs to manage her mental health.

Koski is now an advocate for mental health awareness making presentations at work and even becoming the president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Spokane.

After one of her presentations, a co-worker told her, “You’ve just said what I can’t say yet,” and these kinds of interactions inspire Koski to continue talking to others about leading a full life and improving mental health. “It's been incredibly empowering, and it's reminded me to keep fighting the stigma surrounding mental health.”

Read more about Koski’s experience in the Women’s Health article, 'How I Told My Boss About My Depression'.