Thursday, May 17, 2018

Guest Post #14 - Mental Health Awareness Month - Dr. Jason Holland of Lifespark

About the Author: Jason M. Holland, Ph.D., currently serves as the CEO and Editor of Lifespark, an online well-being magazine focused on finding meaning in life difficulties. He is a clinical psychologist and has worked as a researcher, instructor, and therapist in a number of academic and medical settings, including Stanford University. Dr. Holland is also presently the Associate Editor for Death Studies, an international peer-reviewed journal focusing on research, theory, and clinical issues related to death and dying.

1)   How old were you when you began to experience symptoms of mental illness?

I have had multiple periods of sadness and hopelessness in my life, which I primarily became aware of in my late teens and early twenties. During this time, I was very unsure about what I wanted to devote my life to and believed that I wasn’t measuring up. Unlike many of my college classmates who seemed to be having the time of their lives, I felt deeply troubled and alone.  

2)   Did you have support and seek treatment immediately? If not, why?

I initially sought counseling with a psychologist when I was 19. This first experience was not a very positive one. My therapist was a strict Freudian analyst who was very cold, rarely talked, and barely made any facial expressions. I once caught him dozing off in a session. In his defense, I probably was a raging bore, moaning on and on about the same tired concerns. But to my teenage ego, it hurt.

He returned the next session, large coffee in hand, and I confronted him about my concerns that he wasn’t listening to me and the sessions weren’t helping. Ultimately, we parted ways and I didn’t seek treatment again for several years.

In my free time I started walking the aisles of the self-help section at a used book store, and there I came across the writings of people like M. Scott Peck, Rollo May, Leo Buscaglia, Karen Horney, and Erich Fromm. The messages of hope contained in these books inspired me to keep pushing forward and working on myself.

From there, I went on to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and have spent much of my career working to improve the way mental health services are delivered and advocating for an approach that focuses on finding meaning in life difficulties. At various points in my personal journey, I sought counseling with three other therapists, all of whom helped me immensely. 

3)   What would you tell your younger self knowing what you know now about mental illness?

I would tell myself to keep at it. It’s easy to get discouraged when you put yourself out there, and it doesn’t work out the way you expected. But if you’re willing to keep your eyes open and your head up, there’s usually an important lesson buried in there somewhere.

For me, the lesson was that although the mental health system isn’t perfect, there are a lot of inspiring and useful ideas out there. And I can make a difference by learning more about self-improvement and sharing it with others.   

4)   What do you think are the biggest misconceptions those with mental illness have to face?

The biggest misconception about people with mental illness is that they are weak. Mental illness derives from an interaction between the environment and the person. In many ways it is culturally determined and reflects the conflicts and preoccupations of the larger society in which it’s situated. Some people seem to be more attuned to these conflicts than others. Although these individuals may be more distressed, they’re also uniquely positioned to empathize with others’ suffering and ultimately make the world a better place.      

5)   How do you feel about the stigma surrounding mental illness? Do you feel we’ve taken positive steps? In your opinion, what needs to be done in the future?

I believe there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to break down stigmas surrounding mental illness and improve the way care is delivered. I prefer models that view human suffering as a natural and inevitable part of living and that empower people to face difficult life challenges with dignity and purpose. 

6)   What do you do to get through the bad days?

I use several self-care strategies. Gratitude is important, and when I notice myself feeling sorry for myself, I reflect on my many blessings. I like getting out in nature too. There’s something about being outside that grounds me and makes my problems seem less overwhelming. I also tend to talk to myself, and when I find that I’m really lost, I’ll try to talk myself through the problem or seek advice from someone that I trust.       

7)   Do you have any projects that you’re working on that could benefit the mental health community?

Yes! In January of this year, I partnered with Wendy Lee to start Lifespark, a weekly online well-being magazine focused on finding meaning and purpose in life, even amid hard times. I believe that online services are the future of mental health and have the potential to break down many of the barriers people face when seeking treatment.

We hope to be part of this solution by offering online self-help exercises, quizzes, videos, advice, and articles in a relatable and engaging way. By focusing on finding meaning, we hope to unify groups of people who are struggling with diverse sets of problems. Both personally and professionally, I have found that issues of meaning and purpose in life underlie many different psychological problems. So, rather than further divide and classify people based on their mental disorders, we hope to normalize human struggles and inspire dialogue about mental health that moves beyond labels and stigma.  

8)   Please give us some of your social media screen names in case someone wants to get a hold of you.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lifespark, please like/follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, YouTube, LinkedIn, and/or Quora. You can also sign up to become a Lifespark Exclusive member for free and get full access to the site.   

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