Growing up, I dreamed of being a ballerina, a marine biologist, a globe-trotting anthropologist, but never about being a middle-school teacher. But we all awoke last week, and presto, we are teachers (as well as therapists, bankers, architects, nurses, artists, caregivers…).

With or without school-aged kids, these are incredibly stressful times for Americans, many of whom are working from home (if they still have jobs). We are all in this infected boat together – rowing to keep our jobs, health, connection, safety, financial security – and sanity.

How we navigate these choppy waters, teaches our bosses, co-workers, kids, and ourselves a lot about who we are. We can escalate the fear and anxiety or we can tamp it down with evidence-based strategies.

As a mental health counselor, I am working hard to employ these strategies in my own life. When I do and faithfully, they work. I feel better, calmer and more equipped to survive – maybe even to thrive.

Let me add, this crisis happened so quickly, many of us are still shaking our heads, thinking ‘wake up’. This can’t be real. Or we’re in denial as to how real it is. Or we’re feeling overwhelmed, depressed, afraid… All of this is normal. Be gentle with yourself. Keep breathing deeply and employ these strategies – and if the pressure or wakeful nights or dark thoughts become too much, help is available. I’ve included some resources at the end. Be well.

7 Strategies for Staying Physically & Mentally Well

  1. Meditate DailyStart the day with five minutes of quiet reflection (10 or more is better). Just sit and breathe with your eyes closed and try to focus on your breath (or the hum of the refrigerator). Just let it all be. (If you’re new to meditation, there are many apps to get you started, Headspace, Aura and my personal favorite, CALM. On Calm, I highly recommend the 30-day “How to Meditate” by Jeff Warren. (Great for teens too.)
  2. Move – Get OutsideResearch shows that even a 10-minute walk in nature reduces stress as does moving – biking, running, gardening. Moving releases endorphins and reduces stress hormones. And now there are many Yoga, Zumba, Barre and other fitness classes being offered online. This is one of the most important ways to improve your mental AND physical health. Keep moving!
  3. Connect – Zoom, Facetime, Call With social distancing, we have a greater need than ever to connect. (Real connections – not Facebook browsing.) There is data to suggest that “loneliness is the new smoking”, that is, isolation can have health consequences as grave as those of smoking. So if you’re not enjoying group chats with folks sharing hilarious memes, consider creating one . One of my groups has regular Zoom Happy Hours. (Zoom is the most downloaded App in recent weeks.)
  4. LAUGH! – Like a magic elixir, laughter makes us us feel safer and more relaxed. It floods our bodies and brains with good chemicals that wash or psyches clean – if only for the moment. No, laughter doesn’t solve problems, but it gives us a boost, a break, a moment to collect ourselves and be in a more resourceful state to tackle what lies ahead. Think about what makes you laugh – movies, memes, books, cat or dog videos? Binge watch and see if you don’t feel better. For more, check out this excellent article.
  5. Sleep – Sleep is foundational to our physical and mental health. If we don’t get enough or high-quality sleep, everything suffers and depresses our immune systems, putting us at increased risk for illness, including diabetes, obesity, dementia, poor concentration, irritability, etc. Fitbits, Apple Watches and many “smart devices” can help track and log sleep (paper works too). Tracking may confirm what you’ve suspected – you’re not getting sufficient sleep. If so, here’s a good resource about better sleep hygiene.
  6. Limit TV and Social Media Like chain smoking, constant news watching or internet/social media surfing is bad for us. But in the early days of this crisis, we were all like chain smokers, watching breaking news reports one after another. Hopefully you’re down to a few exposures a day. Get what you need and turn it off. Leaving the TV on continuously keeps you in a state of hyper-arousal over things for which you have little to no control. Turn it off, put the phone on silent and only check in a few times a day (and not right before bedtime).
  7. Focus on what You can Control – Let the Rest Go. Many successful, good people are control freaks. (I might or might not be a recovering one.) I know times like these get control freaks going, working overtime. Right now, pretty much everything is out of our control. But remember, no matter how much energy and time we spend wishing for this to be different, it is what it is. The sooner we accept and start from there, the better equipped we’ll be to deal with the reality of this, or any, situation. This Inc. article on Control is excellent, as is the often-cited “Serenity Prayer” used in 12-step programs, paraphrased here, which perhaps says it best:May we accept the things we cannot change, have the courage to change the things we can, and possess the wisdom to know the difference.Final Note: If the stress becomes overwhelming, there are local and national resources to help you navigate – emotionally and financially. Below are two good ones.National Suicide Prevention Hotline – call 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), to talk with trained counselors if you are having thoughts of suicide, feeling depressed or just need someone to talk to. It’s free and available 24 hours a day.

    2-1-1 – United Way’s helpline offers trained counselors who can assist with many needs from rent and utility assistance to tax prep, childcare and more. (Like 4-1-1, simply dial 2-1-1.)

How prophetic is this Italian proverb as COVID 19 wreaks havoc in Italy, across the globe and in our community too?

The house most certainly is on fire, so we may as well warm ourselves. I saw people doing just that on my four-mile run/walk through Winter Park. Kids were roller skating, playing hopscotch, riding bikes with parents, and I even saw a child playing in a sprinkler, while mom, in a mom bathing suit, chased her around. The nostalgic moment reminded me of my own childhood in Central Florida and made my heart swell.

Something is happening. People who are supposed to be distancing are connecting. No, not physically and not everyone. And yes, there is plenty of misery and more to come. But we have to grab these little moments of joy when they appear. And with more people outside (at a safe distance), maybe, just maybe they’re moving more and getting/staying healthy.

In the morning and in evenings, neighbors are out – at the ends of driveways with coffee or wine. Talking six feet away in the street, on trails or on sidewalks. More people than I have EVER seen outside in my community in my life. And others have said they’ve noticed this too.

It reminds me of the neighborhood where I grew up in south Orlando, kids and adults were outside all the time. Not on computers, not on couches, but outside walking, talking, playing. Somehow, as bad and serious as all this is, there may be a seed of something good. Maybe we won’t forget this time when things return to “normal”. Whatever and whenever that will be.

I hope that is the case. I hope that kids continue to play hopscotch and we continue to connect and share moments like one I had with a mom and her daughter today. The mom lifted her toddler out of her wagon to smell flowers in a neighbor’s yard. The little girl sighed an audible,  cheerful “Ohhhhh.”  Mom and I watched with total delight, at the little girl’s pleasure at the fragrance of a flower and the joy of discovering something beautiful.  Connection. Joy. Humanity.

As a licensed mental health counselor, I know how harmful isolation can be. As they say, “loneliness is the new smoking”.  I also know that nature is very therapeutic and even a 10-minute walk can reduce stress. Of course a walk or a chat with a neighbor doesn’t “solve anything”, but it helps us to feel not so alone. Even a brisk walk relieves anxiety and releases endorphins, so we can deal with the stress of what we’re living through just a little bit better.

Our world needs joy and connections now more than ever. We need to stop the virus, we need to distance socially and we need masks, gowns, ventilators (and toilet paper), but we need human connection and nature too. Together, while apart, we will get through this.

Note: If the stress becomes overwhelming, there are local and national resources to help you navigate the stressful times ahead. Below are two good ones.

2-1-1 – United Way’s helpline offers trained counselors who can assist with many needs from rent and utility assistance to tax prep, childcare and more. (Like 4-1-1, simply dial 2-1-1)

National Suicide Prevention Hotline – call 1-800-273-8255, to talk with trained counselors if you are having thoughts of suicide or just need someone to talk to. It’s free and available 24 hours a day.

Are you among the 88% of Americans who find the holidays stressful instead of blissful? If you’re female, the answer is more likely to be yes.  After all, women do most of the shopping, decorating, cooking, baking, party-planning and memory-making for our families.

And honestly, wasn’t your schedule already jam-packed before the holidays? The answer is no doubt, yes.  So, how can you reclaim calm, peace and joy this holiday season?

Start with the following: Pause for just a moment and take a deep breath. Then another. And remember you have choices about what you do and don’t do for the holidays. Seriously, you do. There is no mandate that you run yourself ragged buying gifts, going to parties and over-doing… everything.

So, pause, breathe and be intentional. Get clear on what works for you now, this year, in this season of life. Things change. We change, children grow up. People move away or leave us. What worked or what we did in past years may need to be updated. Clean the slate and reinvent your holiday plans.

For instance, do you still get joy out of creating and sending personalized cards or is this a year to take a break? Do you want to give and exchange gifts with a multitude of folks or make a single larger donation to the Red Cross or your preferred charity for Bahamas relief, human trafficking or animal welfare – and do so in the names of those you love?

Do you want to escape and go away for a white, green or blue Christmas – skiing, camping or playing at the beach? Our kids remember and benefit from experiences far more than they do from mounds of the latest games and gadgets. Give them the greatest gift of all – time with you and/or an adventure.

Now for you… What warms your soul? What makes you happy? What do you want out of YOUR holiday season? This isn’t entirely a selfish fantasy.  In fact, if you are happy and peaceful, those around you are more likely to be as well. Studies show that stress is a “social contagion” and can be spread like a virus. We have “mirror neurons” that mimic what we see in others, which helps us bond.  We often take on and mimic the emotions of those close to us without even being aware. So, your stress can be spread to your children, your partner and your friends (and vice versa).

If instead of getting frazzled, we actually care for ourselves and enjoy the season, our loved ones feel that calm and joy too.  Everybody wins when you are at your best.

Here are a few more tips to reduce your stress and spark joy this season:

Connections – Have you heard – “loneliness is the new smoking”? It’s true loneliness or isolation can have negative health consequences, as serious as those of smoking. So, if you’re feeling lonely, if you’ve lost someone dear to you, reach out. Connect with a friend or a group. Or, if you know someone who is lonely, include them this year. There is always room at the table.

Giving – There is no shame in dialing down the excesses of the past. Who really needs more stuff? It may be a season to reduce, reuse (regift) or to give an experience or time together. Doing so eliminates the frenzy of holiday shopping while boosting relationships, saving our planet and/or helping those in need.

Grace – Give this to yourself. A little grace for not being “perfect”. A burned (or undercooked turkey – mine was ready about the time everyone finished dessert last year!), sometimes makes the best stories. Stories that get told for years – or generations. You’re doing your best. That’s all you can do. So, be mindful, intentional and full of grace – for yourself and others this year.

Less is More. Why not make this the year of less? Less running around buying meaning-less stuff.  Instead, focus on finding more connection. More meaning. More togetherness. Maybe this is a good time for a new family tradition, a new you tradition for a more joyful holiday season.

This article was originally written for and published in Orange Appeal Magazine, Nov./Dec 2019). Thanks to Christi Ashby and the OA Team!


Do you notice that you just feel better on days like this? The weather started in the low 60’s, with low humidity and a brilliant, cloudless blue sky. Ahhh.

Well there is actually science behind that.  We’re all drawn to nature and feel happier, according to many studies, when we see trees, water, birds and sky.

Similarly, an unpleasant environment, such as noisy traffic, planes overhead, jackhammers and construction (think I-4 and seemingly endless new apartment complexes being built), can stress us out.

Today, on Earth Day, it’s good to pause and remember that we are actually animals who were designed to sleep under the stars and live outdoors. Our stress and immune systems weren’t designed for this 24-7, warp-speed digital age. We need down time, nature and quiet, to recover and recharge.

Even a short walk outside on your lunch hour can help.  And, interestingly, even placing a plant in your office or home can help calm anxiety. There is research from hospitals and offices that demonstrate this impact. (Getting outside is especially helpful to calm children and their mounting stress.)

So, to celebrate Earth Day today and all days, consider a walk outdoors, a bike ride on a trail, or time in your yard to watch and listen to the birds. At a minimum, consider adding a live plant to your living or work space and remember to stop and BREATHE.

For more about the healing affects of nature exposure, click here.

Laughter is good stress medicine too.  Check out this award-winning brief video below. 


In honor of International Happiness Day, I’m sharing this story about one of the happiest moments of my life.

I was running in my neighborhood on a summer morning years ago and the temperature was already in the high 80’s and super humid. I was icky, sticky and sweaty (stay with me, this detail matters).

As I rounded a corner I saw a big yellow house with a circular driveway and a bunch of little girls, who from a distance, appeared to be selling lemonade.  I was wishing I had tucked a couple of dollars into my pocket because I could use an ice-cold lemonade. But I had nothing.  Darn, no lemonade for me and no sale for them.

As I got closer, there was no lemonade stand.  What in the world were they selling?

When I got very close, all of them, about six little girls, ranging in age from six to eight years old, ran toward me and excitedly started talking – each of them saying the same thing:

“Can we give you a makeover?! Please?!”

All the reasons why I should not get a makeover raced through my head.  First, I’m sooo sweaty!  I’ll ruin your mother’s good makeup.  Next, I have no money.  I can’t afford a makeover. And as always, I was on a schedule.  I needed to be somewhere soon.

But as each of them pleaded, I looked deeply at those precious little faces. I was putty. I would have done whatever they were asking. “Sure!” I said. But…

“I don’t have any money.  I can’t pay,” I apologized.  “I can bring you money later?”

“It’s okay. It’s free,” they assured me.

“Okay, awesome! I’d love a makeover” I said.

And with that, like the kids fixing Charlie Brown’s sad little Christmas tree, many hands started to apply liquid base, powder, pink blush, blue eye shadow and pencil. Fully focused, they worked in unison, like a pit crew patting, primping and sprucing me up.

I soaked in the attention and their magical energy as they made me look like a princess (or a streetwalker).  My heart was full as I savored this moment of feeling 100% happy.

Why? Because it was a complete surprise. It was a gift given with love and joy. And it offered a true connection with a stranger (a bunch of them) which, if you’ve ever had one – a real connection with a random stranger, it can be magical (especially with kids).  It reminds us we are connected.  We just need to let our guard down and look into each other’s eyes.  Or souls.

After about 20 minutes, they finished and I got to look in the mirror.  Wow! I definitely looked better than when I set out, a little theatrical for my taste, but glowing.  Glowing from being filled with joy.  My heart still swells when I think of that morning and my free, surprise makeover.

My advice is say “yes” to happiness whenever you have a chance encounter.  You’ll be prettier inside and out.

(And NEVER pass up a lemonade stand! Last weekend I was again out for a run and there it was – a lemonade stand which also made me incredibly happy!  A bunch of neighbors, two cops, and two precious little girls dressed up for St. Patrick’s Day. A cold drink, warm connections and Happiness!)

As a mental health professional and the former executive director of a healthy community initiative, I’ve long recognized the nexus between mental and physical well-being. It’s extremely difficult to have one without the other.

I am absolutely not saying that depression, trauma or the loss of a loved one can magically be healed with a brisk walk or adding salad to your diet, but research shows very clearly that mental health is strongly impacted by physical health. If you’ve experienced trauma or have depression, your treatment plan should include strategies that care for your body — as well as your mind.

If you start a walking program, it’s just about guaranteed that your mental health will improve. Simply said, you’ll feel better and happier with increased and regular physical activity. Dance, garden, swim or walk. Just get moving and better yet, do so with a friend.

Likewise, if you cut out sugary, processed foods and replace them with healthier options, “whole foods”, fruits and vegetables, that too will improve your mental (and physical) health. Food is medicine and affects your brain chemistry. Good foods enhance good moods. Bad foods, well…

Your Therapist (and your physician) should be asking questions like:

  • Are you getting enough sleep – high quality sleep?
  • Are you getting enough exercise? Any exercise?
  • Are you connecting? Do you have regular contact with friends and family that makes you know you are important and loved?
  • Do you ever (or better yet, regularly) take time to meditate, pray or reflect? Are you quiet and unplugged for periods of time that allow you to be still and listen to that important inner voice that guides you toward wise decisions and actions?

Because I know how important this approach to mental health is, that treating and caring for the whole body is the best way — both from studying it, practicing it with myself and my son, and by working with clients and with community residents, I was thrilled when I recently found a workbook that encompasses everything I believe in and recommend: Wild 5 Wellness.

This evidence-based program encourages people to reset their emotional well-being through a program that encompasses the following:

  • Movement (exercise) Walk, work in your garden, ride a bike, jog, Zumba – just get moving (recommend 30 minutes a day).
  • Meditation – Practice mindfulness, quiet, prayer, reflection (10 minutes a day)
  • Nutrition – Log what you eat to become aware of what and how much you’re consuming. Research shows that this alone can help changes bad habits. (They recommend the MIND diet –takes two proven diets – DASH and Mediterranean – and keys in on foods in each that specifically affect brain health.  Anything that staves off dementia has my attention.)
  • Sleep – I encourage clients to find out how much sleep they need (we’re all different) and then commit to getting it. Wild5 has 6 sleep hygiene strategies to choose from nightly.
  • Social Connections – Wild5 encourages participants to have at least two social interactions daily (call someone or meet in person – family or friend). I strongly concur. Loneliness is rampant in our digital, disconnected, increasingly isolated age. This is especially acute for older adults. Being with other people makes us happier.  It’s that simple and it’s true for all ages.

The workbook is only $10.58 on Amazon if you’re interested. ( I am not a paid spokesperson. I get nothing from recommending it, I am just a fan.) It’s a rigorous program but it works so I’m doing it personally and recommending it to clients too.

I plan to lead a Wild5 group starting in February. So, stay tuned if you’d like to join in – more details soon. You can watch my Facebook page or check back here.

Again, for trauma, depression, bipolar or other more serious mental health issues, this would be only one component of treatment – but a very important one on the road to recovery. I would welcome a discussion or look forward to hearing from you if you try the program and have success.

I wish you happy, healthy holidays and peace and joy in the new year.

Be well, Jill

I had the unique good fortune of being adopted and raised by maternal grandparents who got me as a baby when they were both in their early 50s. Despite their advanced age, they were awesome parents and my friends loved hanging out at our house all throughout my school years.

In elementary school, my mom, who played a mean piano, would push back all the furniture in our living room and neighborhood kids would pair up and glide around our terrazzo floors while she plunked out a waltz. I can still hear the melody in my mind.

In junior high school, I frequently had sleep-overs with a house full of giggling girls and in high school, it was more of the same. My dad would tell war stories to anyone who would listen and he never met a stranger. My parents were active in the church and were good and kind people from an era that seems so distant now. Sigh.

By my late twenties, my mother was suffering severely from dementia and daddy was her caretaker till he suffered a stroke, which left this brave air force officer wheel-chair bound and dependent on our family for his care.

I recall one time when I was bathing him and he slipped – not badly but it was awkward to say the least. As I struggled to get him back in his chair, I said, “Daddy, are you hurt?”

“Only my pride,” he said quietly. I blinked back tears. I can still feel the sting of this desperately sad moment for both of us, but especially for my father who was accustomed to being the tough guy, the one always in command. The Colonel.

Aging is challenging when you are well and able-bodied. It’s even more difficult when you’re not. And it’s challenging for everyone as the roles change and the physical and mental challenges can mount.

Recognizing, acknowledging and navigating these challenges can include addressing issues like:

  • Loss – Loss of spouse, family, friends, physical or mental capabilities
  • Reduced Independence – Someone may have to help them or “look after them” because they can’t manage their daily living or affairs
  • Pain – physical or mental. With age, often pain can be a constant companion – arthritis, inflammation, old injuries that now plague backs, shoulders, etc. Or mental pain from mourning, depression, loneliness, which is said to be very damaging to physical health.
  • Loneliness – With the loss of a spouse or when adult children live far away or for those who have long been divorced or never married, aging can be isolating – especially if someone no longer drives, has trouble hearing and feels left out… there are so many reasons that loneliness increases with age. And we all need human interaction to stay well.
  • Identity Questions – Who am I Now? Often older adults have to struggle to maintain relevance. They held jobs, supported families, traveled or coached little league. Some were bank presidents and others teachers. They were productive members of their communities and now, they may have nothing to do or contribute. Who are they now? What is their role now? Without purpose or a reason to get up, life can lose its meaning.
  • Depression, Anxiety, or Fear – Due to all of the above, some older adults fall into depression or develop anxiety about their own mortality or that of their spouse or partner. Or they fear losing their independence. Given loss, pain or loneliness, this seems only natural.

What can we do to support our aging parents, partners, neighbors or friends?

Attention. Give them our full attention when we are with them. Sometimes older adults talk a little slower, move a little slower and we may get impatient. Give them the gift of slowing down and giving them your full attention. Resist looking at the phone. Be fully present.

Listen to their Stories – even if it is for the 100th time. It means so much for them to share their stories with you. Give them those few moments of joy to hear about a moment in time that touched them, shaped them or made them proud.

Love them. Many older people have lost someone – a spouse, partner, siblings, friends. Often they are hungry for touch. A hug. Connection. Sit close. Hold their hand. Give them a hug when you come and go. Most humans (although not all) really do need human touch. So if your loved one likes this, go for it. Give great big hugs.

If you have an older loved one who might benefit from talking with a caring professional — in my office or walking and talking (albeit slowly) outside to get fresh air, I would be honored to work with them.

My email is or phone me at 321-754-7548.

Do you want to cry – or scream right about now? I sure do.

Pittsburgh. Package bombs. Hate, blaming, mind games and hateful political ads 24/7. The news was already too much – and then, another mass shooting. In a place of worship. What has happened to our country?

I’ve been around a lot of years and I’ve never experienced anything like the current state of affairs or state of anxiety in our country – in children or adults. I’m hearing the same thing from friends and colleagues. And that goes for people on both sides of the aisle.

In addition to the recent violence, the testimony of Dr. Ford seemed to have touched a deep nerve for many women, bringing up their own experience of sexual assault – or of someone they know and love. The #MeToo movement has been arousing our collective angst, sadness and fury over the injustice women have endured for too long.

Add to that the hourly barrage of news of murders, rapes, abductions and the “end of our democracy”. It’s enough to make the most even-keeled moderate a basket case (not a clinical term).

My unofficial poll of local women shows that nearly all are “far more stressed” than usual. They are worried about the state of the country and the world; they’re worrying about their kids and their health (which has been affected by stress, sleepless nights, too much Fortnite!, etc.).

What you choose to do about the state of our democracy and our world is up to you. (But please, VOTE.) After that, here are some things we can all do to adjust the dial on stress. Extreme times call for extreme self-care.

  • Unplug. Seriously, turn off cable news and reduce social media. You’ve heard this before but have you ever tried it? I have and it helps. A lot. Give it a serious try for a week and you’ll be hooked (or unhooked).
  • Journal. Either free-form like you did when you kept a diary as a kid or try keeping a gratitude journal. Research shows writing down the things you are grateful for daily is therapeutic. Try “The Morning Pages” a pen and paper writing practice espoused by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way (you don’t have to be artistic to benefit).
  • Connect. Health experts say “loneliness” is an American health epidemic with serious health consequences on par with obesity and smoking. Are you tending to your close relationships? If not, make the time. Seriously, go call a friend. Or, if you need to, talk to a professional. Get the support you need and realize you’re not alone because you’re not. We’re social creatures and we need friends, encouragement and connection.
  • Volunteer. A great way to connect with others is through volunteering. Often when we’re feeling down, helping others is a nearly instantaneous way to shift our mental state. We get perspective, purpose and we make a difference in the lives of others. Everybody wins.
  • Move. Take a walk, run or work in a garden. For general stress there is no better way to detoxify than a good workout, whatever that is for you. Get your heart rate up and get moving. Fresh air and nature are a magic elixir for stress.
  • Breathe. Meditate and/or Pray. Be still and listen. What do you really need now? What is calling to you? What changes do you long to make to be happier, healthier and living on purpose? If you have a hard time being still, apps like CALM and Headspace can help you ease into a practice.
  • Sleep. Get more of this brain and beauty treatment. Lack of sleep contributes to obesity, dementia and depression. If nothing else, those are very good reasons to prioritize quality and quantity of sleep. Keep a log, track sleep on your Fitbit or AppleWatch and notice if you feel better when you sleep more. What’s your ideal number (some people need 9 hours – others 7)? Find your sweet spot, set a goal to get that amount and sleep your way to better health.
  • Cat Videos. Pets in all forms are good medicine. Studies show that petting our pets does calm us and makes us happier.  So hug your cat – or dog or watch funny pet videos. Check out this cute kitten – and bat all the bad things away. Laughter is great medicine too!

These are all evidence-based strategies that will help boost your mood, increase endorphins, reduce feelings of isolation and help to calm you in this storm that is this crazy, modern life. And if misery does indeed love company, just know you have A LOT of company.

Dana was just 19-years-old and a sophomore at the University of Florida, when she put a stack of albums on the record player, turned it up loud, drove her car into the family garage and asphyxiated herself.

She was one of my best friends and we were home for Christmas break, when I arrived at her house for a visit a few days before we were headed back to school. Suitcases, furniture, tools – stuff was all over the driveway as she cleaned out her parent’s garage which hadn’t been emptied for 20 years. We talked about our recent summer abroad in Colombia and the upcoming semester at Florida.

Although this was decades ago, I remember it well and have gone over the details of that day a hundred times in my mind.  What did I miss?

I’ll never know. Two days later, she put her car in the empty garage, turned the key and was gone.

It was unimaginable that this beautiful, smart, funny, popular girl would end her life in such a well-planned and calculated manner. But it happens all the time. Sometimes a suicide attempt is foolproof and designed carefully to succeed. Other times it is a cry for help that accidentally succeeds. Regardless of the intention, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. And more than half (54%) who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.

Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide for college students, according to, a non-profit organization raising awareness about suicide. Other risk factors for suicide include:

      • A family history of suicide
  • Substance abuse
  • Isolation
  • Access to guns
  • Recent loss or trauma
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • A history of abuse
  • Prolonged stress
  • Sleep deprivation

Here’s the thing – none of us is immune from potentially developing a mental illness and neither are our children. According to the World Health Organization, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.

For some it’s hereditary, i.e., depression runs in the family. For others, experiencing a traumatic event, like being the victim of a crime, a first responder to a tragedy, or enduring the loss of a child or of a loved one, can cause symptoms to develop. Sometimes the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness or a pro-longed battle with one can bring about depression or lead someone to contemplate suicide.

Even elementary school kids as young as seven or eight are being Baker Acted in Central Florida (involuntarily committed) for mental illness. Sometimes this is done to protect them from killing themselves. Let that sink in.  Seven or eight (and younger).

Since any one of us could be affected, and since we all know or love someone who has battled mental illness, we are left wondering why any stigma remains. But it does. Getting help for a mental illness is no different than seeking help for cancer, diabetes or arthritis. There should be no shame.

That is one reason the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) designated October 7-13 as Mental Health Awareness Week. They are striving to increase awareness and to reduce the stigma of mental illness.

So, if you are feeling depressed, overwhelmed or have thoughts about suicide, please seek help. There are many great therapists locally and other resources locally and nationally to help you or someone you love. Mental illness is treatable and healing is possible. Don’t wait.

Below are additional resources:

Dana’s name was changed to protect her identity but I went to high school with her and she is fondly remembered today and always. 

Special Thanks: Garage/old car and record player respectively by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash – Christin Hume on Unsplash

“STOP!!” I demanded, repeatedly as I wrestled a man much bigger than me. He would not stop…

Has this ever happened to you? If you are female and live in the United States, chances are you’ve experienced something similar, or worse. Statistics show that:

  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men experience some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.
  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.
  • 51.1% of female victims of rape reported being raped by an intimate partner and 40.8% by an acquaintance.

My memories from college came flooding back during the senate hearing with Dr. Blasey Ford. As I watched, I found myself weeping at her experience, at the experience of one in three women in our country – and at my own. I had never told a soul till that day.

I had gone out a few times with this guy, a fellow student, whom I met through friends at the University of Florida. He was a “nice guy”, an engineering student who was smart, handsome and fun – until he wasn’t.

A group of friends had gone to a Gator game as we always did on Saturdays and afterwards, he and I went back to my apartment. Suddenly, once inside, he was all over me. Luckily, I hadn’t been drinking. From the moment he began mauling me, I fought back ferociously.

“What’s wrong with you?! STOP!!” I commanded. I tried to reason but he appeared possessed and laughed, like it was a game. It was NOT a game for me. I was fearful and furious at the same time. I was shocked this was happening and that I couldn’t stop it.

Finally, I suspect due to his drunken state, he got worn out and realized I was NOT giving in. I got louder too with my pleas to stop, hoping people in the next apartment would hear me. Perhaps that scared him off.

Finally, he left. I was exhausted and dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what had happened – and I was grateful for what had not happened.

I never told anyone about this assault, till now. When my husband came home from work, I told him while I cried – for all of us – for the thousands of victims of sexual assault, the vast majority of whom are little girls and women.

Let’s be clear. It was not my fault nor is it any woman’s fault if she is raped or assaulted. But our culture makes women believe they are responsible – because of the clothing they wear; the drinks they have; or the sidewalk they take home. It is never a woman’s fault when she says no. No means no – ALWAYS.

If you have been the victim of sexual abuse, as a child or as an adult, and you haven’t spoken to anyone about it, I encourage you to do so. It is one of the worst traumas a child or adult can experience in her or his life. There is help available. Remember, it’s not your fault.

For Adults

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

National Sexual Assault Hotline – 1-800-656-4673

Victim Service Center of Central Florida

National Intimate Parter Sexual Violence Survey – 2010

For children, there are trained teams to help abused children and their families investigate, prosecute and recover from sexual abuse.

Orange County

Children’s Advocacy Center / The Healing Tree Counseling

Seminole County

Kid’s House

*Statistics cited are from the CDC and National Intimate Partner Sexual Violence Survey

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