Mental Health and Listening to News

I used to be gung-ho about listening to the news and making sure that others listened to the news as well. That deep desire to listen to the news drove me toward a highly successful speech and debate career in high school,[1]  among other things.

However, in light of recent events in my life, I’ve needed to reevaluate my attitude towards listening to the news. You see, I’ve gone through some difficult things lately, and during these difficult times the last thing I wanted to hear was more bad news for half an hour every night.

So what is it? Should I (and we) avoid the news like I have sometimes done recently, or should I (and we) closely follow the news, no matter what?

I do think that it is still important to listen to the news; however, I do not think that news should be listened to at the expense of one’s own mental health.

It is important to listen to the news because we should know what is going on with our cities, states, countries, and the entire world. By listening to what is going on around us, we can (hopefully) make informed decisions in our own lives and in cases where the lives of others could be affected.[2]  It can give us wise information on how we vote, on which parts of our cities and states are particularly rough, and on what the appropriate clothing is considering the weather outside. Clearly, we gain a great deal of value by listening to the news.

However, speaking from personal experience, that value of listening to the news is lost when we are mentally exhausted. Indeed, in my personal life in recent months, I’ve dealt with both of my dad’s parents being sick (one of them passed away); on a number of occasions during this time (especially when I spent a full day trying to help my grandparents), I would just tune out of the news on the television and not really absorb the information being given to me. And if I, a news nut, tune out when trying to listen to the news when I’m mentally exhausted, that’s a sign that we should all not invest much time in the news when we are mentally exhausted.

Furthermore, speaking from what I’ve seen friends and family experience, the value of listening to the news is also lost if a news story triggers emotions related to a past traumatic event in their lives.[3]  When the emotions triggered by an event are so big that you struggle to listen to the news, then maybe that’s a sign to change the channel for the time being.

Yes, the news is valuable. But the news is not so valuable that we should ignore our own mental health. Especially considering the fact that you can read news stories two or three days after they appear on television, it’s more than okay to wait those few days and then read the news at that time.

Note: I will not be publishing for the next two Tuesdays because of the holidays. I will share some old content and make some other posts on my Facebook and Twitter pages, though. I hope everyone has a good holiday season!


[1] I qualified for a statewide speech and debate championship all four years of high school, and a nationwide speech and debate championship for three years of high school.
[2] I am talking about actual news journalism reporting, not the editorializing that we sometimes get on some of the cable news networks in the United States.
[3] This has especially been the case recently with various stories that have come out about sexual misconduct.

Self-Care is Not Selfish

If you told me at this time last year that I would have the above statement anywhere in my writing, let alone as the title of a blog post, I might call you crazy.

Needless to say, life circumstances can change your outlook.

The past year has been an absolute whirlwind for me. From changes and promotions professionally, to the loss of two relatives (including my grandpa, who was the sort of person I aspire to be), to having yet another relative experience worsening Alzheimer’s, I have experienced many changes in my life. Those changes, both good and bad, were so great and happened so quickly that they ended up taking a major toll on my own mental health.

But, even as my mental health was on the decline in early autumn, I had this attitude that “I should take care of others and not really worry about myself.” I was worried about others instead of myself.

And then, a good friend of mine gave me a nice little reality check through what she said: “I know you want to worry about everyone else and make sure they’re taken care of, but you need to take care of yourself too Brendan. You need to take some time for yourself.”

Thankfully, that reality check came at the right time (a time when my mental health was quite poor) and with someone who really was looking out for my best interests. She knew that I was really worried about others and not caring enough for myself. And, of course, she knew that I was wrong to think that way.

I was wrong to think that way for so many reasons, but I will touch on a couple of major reasons that might resonate with people who, like me, always look to help others no matter how they are doing themselves. For one thing, it is hard to take care of others when you are not doing well, physically or mentally. For another thing, if you personally are not doing well physically or mentally, then the biggest help you can often be to friends is to take care of yourself.[1]  Ultimately, even if you’re someone like me (someone who wants to help others all the time), the biggest help you can be to those you want to help is to take care of yourself.

As such, I therefore hope that what I’m about to say is also coming at the right time for someone out there: “Whether you are struggling or not, you need to take care of yourself physically and mentally. You need to exercise self-care, and self-care is not selfish.”

Note: As taking care of oneself is something I consider “blindly just,” this is a “blindly just” post.

[1] Believe me…after the occasions I kept roommates awake at night because of my coughing when I was sick, I truly believe that sometimes, the biggest help you can be to friends is to take care of yourself.

On So-Called Slacktivism

Many of my readers have probably heard the term “slacktivism” by now—a term used to characterize “the practice of supporting a political or social cause by means such as social media or online petitions, characterized as involving very little effort or commitment.”[1] We will probably hear that term even more leading up to elections in November as some of us shame others of us for being “slacktivists.”

That being said, I am going to do something here that may ignite some controversy. I am coming to the defense of so-called slacktivists—some of them.

But why?

The short answer is that there are many people who don’t have the time or ability to do anything more than sign an online petition or do other online activism, and that should be respected instead of degraded.

A longer answer must explore life circumstances that result in someone not being able to do more than what many activists call slacktivism:

  1. Professional responsibilities. I have heard about my fair share of midday rallies and protests (and have even been at a few of them). The only problem is that such rallies can’t be attended even by someone who works a normal 9-5 job, unless that person lives in the area of the rally and is able to take a lunch break during the rally. Evenings and weekends give better access to rallies for regular 9-5 workers, but there are still many people who work weekends and/or evenings instead of, or in addition to, 9-5 work. For people who are at work while rallies and protests happen, the most they can do is what’s labeled as slacktivism, and that should be respected.
  2. Family responsibilities. Parents have to take care of their children and other family. Grownups have to make sure that all the utility bills are paid for their houses, or that rent is paid for their apartments. These responsibilities exist in addition to, not instead of, professional responsibilities. Some rallies have tried to take away the burden of parents taking care of children by including childcare at rallies (though I’m sure some parents would feel uneasy about the thought of leaving their child or children in the hands of complete strangers, and I might feel the same way when/if I become a parent). Once one combines professional responsibilities with family responsibilities, then there may be little time to do more than so-called slacktivism, and that fact shouldn’t be demonized.
  3. Physical limitations. Some people are flat-out physically unable to get to, or participate in, a rally or protest. Back when I had my bad ankle earlier this year, I was one of those people. I know many others who, like me during my bad ankle, would’ve been completely unable to participate in rallies and protests even if we wanted to. Sometimes, slacktivism is the most that some of our bodies can handle.
  4. Emotional limitations. There are some rallies that may be emotionally just too much for people. For example, a rally protesting gun violence may be too much for some family or friends of people who’ve been victimized by gun violence. The emotional limitations that bring people towards slacktivism, and away from what many activists view as activism, should be respected.

I acknowledge that there are, no doubt, many people who are capable of more than the signing of online petitions and involvement of online movements that is often associated with slacktivism. Such people who are capable of higher levels of involvement should be more involved. However, I hope that my list brings to mind the fact that there are probably millions of people in the United States who are unable to do anything more than what is labeled as slacktivism. Those people should not be demonized for what they’re unable to do, but thanked for what they are able to do.


[1] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/slacktivism

On the Acceptance of LGBTQ+ People in Families

In my Christian denomination, which is Catholicism, there is significant emphasis on protecting all human life, from conception to a natural death. However, some of us only talk about abortion, while in the process ignoring a variety of other pro-life issues.

With LGBT Pride Month drawing to a close at the end of June, I want to put a spotlight on a pro-life issue that rarely gets discussed among many pro-lifers: the treatment of LGBTQ+ people. How is this a pro-life issue? I’ll tell you.

The statistics on LGBTQ+ people and suicide are absolutely staggering. According to The Trevor Project, LGB youth are three times as likely to contemplate suicide, and five times as likely to actually attempt suicide, as heterosexual youth. 40% of transgender adults also attempt suicide.

It is no coincidence that suicide attempts and rates are so high among LGBTQ+ people, because this population experiences high levels of rejection. This rejection makes a major difference in suicide rates—”LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.”[1] The same goes for transgender individuals: rejection from family is one reason why somewhere between 32% and 50% of transgender individuals in various countries attempt suicide.[2]

On the other hand, people within the LGBTQ+ community who experience little or no rejection from their families often have much better outcomes. According to the National Institute of Health, “Social support from family is found to be a general protective factor which is associated with reduced risk for lifetime suicide attempts among transgender persons.”[3] Many other organizations, including The Trevor Project (which I cited earlier), note that low or no family rejection significantly reduces suicide risk for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals.[4]

I could cite even more statistics and quotes, but my point is that the treatment of LGBTQ+ people could save (or take away) many lives.

While being accepting and even affirming of someone who’s not “straight male” or “straight female” may go against some people’s personal or religious beliefs, such affirmation is extremely important.

I understand that there is a conflict-of-values here with LGBTQ+ issues for many individuals: supporting “right to life, from conception to natural death,” on one hand, and the moral difficulty of someone identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or some other identity, on the other hand. This conflict may make some of us feel uncomfortable. However, I challenge us to break through this discomfort and uphold the dignity of all individuals, including people who identify as LGBTQ+.


[1] https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.0001yyaiwhn8gds8r6z2r9ksp1fyj
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5178031/
[3] Ibid.
[4] https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.0001yyaiwhn8gds8r6z2r9ksp1fyj

President Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration: Still a Mental Health Crisis

Last week, I wrote a blog post on how separating families of illegal immigrants was creating a mental health crisis.

The day after I wrote that post, President Trump signed an executive order saying that families of illegal immigrants who are detained can stay together. Some praised the move because it would keep families together while others criticized Trump for still having a zero-tolerance approach on immigration.

However, both sides of this argument need to seriously examine the catastrophic mental health consequences that will continue for families affected by this policy, as well as continuing mental health consequences for families who were already separated.

I will start by saying that this executive order does not eliminate mental health complications for the families who were already separated. Even for families who will be able to reunite with their children,[1] the mental health implications of temporary separation will not go away; if anything, numerous mental health experts cite other complications that may come about during family reunifications such as the trauma that comes from kids thinking that their parents abandoned them. For families who remain separated (and even the Department of Homeland Security concedes that many families remain separated), the mental health implications will certainly not go away and may actually get worse. Mental health advocates should be disappointed because this executive order fails to address the mental health of families who were/are separated..

Furthermore, detaining entire families—something that will seemingly be a result of the executive order (because what “keeping families together” seems to mean is that entire families may now be detained)—also comes with serious mental health consequences. Steve Lee, the President of the Society of Clinical Childhood and Adolescent Psychology, said about the policy of detaining entire families that, “It really does influence the child’s response to the environment going forward, even if it’s not as acute as with forced separation.” Alphonso Mercado, an assistant professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley who publishes research on Latino mental health, found that there is a “clear connection between the status of parents and their children” with regards to detained families.[2] While most of the attention on immigration policy and mental health has focused on the separation of families, detaining entire families has negative consequences on mental health as well.

So, to answer the question on how the executive order will have an impact on the mental health of illegal immigrant children and their families, it’s difficult to find any positives. The families who remain separated post-executive order will continue to experience mental health issues. The families who are lucky enough to reunite will face their own mental health concerns. Finally, families who get detained together instead of separated will also be at a risk for mental health problems. President Trump’s executive order to “fix” the crisis of separating illegal immigrant families is not a fix from a mental health perspective.

Note: I wrote this piece within hours of publishing this post. I therefore apologize for any mistakes that may exist here.


[1] As far as I can tell, the executive order does not call for when, if, or how families would be reunified. If I’m wrong, please let me know in the comments section.

[2] My two quotes come from this piece in Time Magazine.

Detained Children image
Above is an image of detained children at a detention facility known as “Ursula” in McAllen< Texas. Wikimedia Commons Contributors, “File:Ursula (detention center) 2.jpg. Wikimedia Commons: The Free Media Repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Ursula_(detention_center)_2.jpg&oldid=307239262 (accessed June 25, 2018).