What Glee Taught Me About Resilience

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I have to admit that I have asked that question…what is resiliency in mental health and psychology?

It’s a concept that is mentioned in mental health all the time.

Here’s what I knew before tonight:

  • It’s something we’re supposed to build
  • It’s something that can protect us from experiencing mental illness in some cases
  • Having resilience can help us cope with the ups, downs, traumas and tragedies in life

I knew these things. But I didn’t really know what resilience looked like.  Until tonight.

Gleeks will know that tonight was the season premiere of Glee; and the first episode after the death of it’s star Cory Monteith.  We all knew it was going to be a tear-jerker. But what I didn’t anticipate is that we would get to see psychological resilience personified in Lea Michele as she opens the show by singing Yesterday by The Beatles.

It must have been difficult; returning to work after her co-star and boyfriend’s death.  And it must have been a struggle to sing; let alone sing a sing so filled with meaning.  And I can’t even imagine the strength it took to do it all, in front of all of us.

But she did.  And that’s resilience.

Thank you Glee and Lea Michele for teaching me something about psychology tonight.



Grieving Cory Monteith and Coming Clean About Addiction

It has taken me the 13 days since Cory Monteith’s death to write this post.  And I am still not sure what to say.

Regular Dr. Stephanie readers know that I am a Gleek. I have often written about the show’s messages about mental health and diversity. More than anything I simply love the characters and the music.

So, like many others around the world I was heartbroken to hear about Cory Monteith’s death of what turns out was a mixture of heroine and alcohol.

What can I say, and what can we learn from this extremely sad event?

  • Life is short
  • The death of a friend, a lover, a co-worker and even a TV idol can be tremendously painful
  • Substance abuse can happen to anyone, any family and in any circle of friends

Perhaps it is this last bit that can be the most shocking: anyone – no matter how rich, popular, talented, loved or good looking – can fall prey to substance abuse and addiction.  Addiction knows no bounds, and it is one heck of a liar; making it tough for even the closest of friends to spot its presence. Most of us know that sheer force of will can’t stop an addict from using, but we do know that support of friends and family can help make the path to sobriety a bit less arduous.

If you have a friend or family member who you believe is struggling with addiction, or has come to you for help check out the resources below:

RIP Cory Monteith.





Mental Health and TV – Good for All of Us

Today I posted an article over at the American Psychological Association’s blog, Your Mind. Your Body.  In it I write about the importance of portraying mental health issues, struggles and solutions in TV and movies.  Check it out here.

Some of my favorite TV shows regularly integrate important topics in mental health including bullying, suicide, mental illness and family struggles.  The folks over at Glee do a pretty good job (most of the time) accurately portraying mental illness and treatment. Gossip Girl, Hoarders, Parenthood, Monk and Friday Night Lights are other shows that include characters with psychiatric disorders.

Of course there are tons of movies whose main subject is mental illness.  Check out this cool list on Wikipedia listing movies featuring mental illness organized by diagnosis.  Silver Linings Playbook is just 1 of 14 movies listed in the Bipolar Disorder category.

If you want to learn more about some of the great work being done in TV and films, check out SAMHSA’s Voice Awards.  Here’s a description:

Join the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Voice Awards program in recognizing consumer/peer leaders and TV and film professionals who educate the public about the real experiences of people with behavioral health problems. Through their work and personal stories of resilience, both groups of leaders demonstrate that people can and do recover from mental health and substance use disorders and lead full and meaningful lives in their communities.

Today is the deadline to nominate producers and programs! Check out SAMHSA’s site to submit your favorite show by the end of the day!

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Sexuality, Gender and Glee

It’s been a while since I have written about my fave TV show, Glee.  While my newish subscription to Netflix has opened up great new worlds of television programming (Downton Abbey, anyone?), I am still partial to Glee.  As I’ve written before, I love the music, the dancing, and the over the top dialogue.  But this year – perhaps even more than previous seasons – I am appreciative of Glee’s portrayal of gay teens.

Everyone loves Glease!
Photo: Glee on Fox

Glee and its actors have received awards in past years for their representation of teenage homosexuality.  These awards have been well-deserved.  But the cool thing about this season is that the fanfare seems to have died down, but the writers are still doing their thing, writing about love affairs of the straight and gay variety.  It seems to me that sexual preference  has become a bit of a non-issue over at McKinley High.  In fact, one of the newest students seems to be questioning his gender, together with his sexuality.  The sort of live-and-let-live attitude embraced by the fictional folks at McKinley High may not be representative of what is happening at all real life high schools.  But if life does in fact imitate art, sexuality and gender may one day be a sideline issue for all of us.  Something we notice in people but don’t allow to define them.  Something we allow young (and old!) people to explore and express as they may, when they may.

Adolescence can be rough on mental health.  Coping with the stressors of changing bodies, hormones, friends, academics, and the future – even the luckiest kids can struggle with bouts of depression and worry.  Add to the mix questions of sexuality and gender (and perhaps bullying by peers) and the chance of psychological distress can go up significantly.  Programs like Glee which normalize a wide range of sexual expression and gender orientation give all our kids a better chance at navigating the rough road of adolescence with a steady hand.

*Know a LGBTQ teen who is in crisis and in need of help?  Check out the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.  Click here for their website, or call 866-488-7386 for their Life Line.

The Power of a Single Moment

Image by Pabo76 via Flickr

Did you see Glee this week?  It was the much-anticipated Michael Jackson episode – and it was pretty darn good! The part of the show I’m focusing on is not MJ, however, but a conversation that took place between Kurt and his dad Bert.  Bert is one of my favorite characters because his advice and relationship with his gay son is never what one would expect given his tough, mechanic exterior.  During this episode he brought Kurt the good news that he had been short-listed for admission into his college of choice.  Bert said to his son something like:  “This will be one of the moments that changes the course of your life and you will remember it forever.”

It got me thinking about the power of single moments in life.  Can one moment, one action, one exchange, one event really change the course of our lives?  You bet.  And the cool thing is that these moments often aren’t what we think they might be.  Sure getting married, or divorced, or having a baby, experiencing a death are all life-changing events – but so are “smaller,” seemingly less significant events.

In the spirit of Glee, a single moment that changed my life was when I discovered that I had made it into my high school’s show choir.  Even now, many years later, I see this as a pivotal moment in my life.  It shaped my high school experience, provided me with friends I count among my closest to this day, and – perhaps most importantly – gave me the confidence to do lots of other things in life.

The other cool thing about single moments that change our lives is that they are fun to look back on and reminisce about. It can even be entertaining to play the “what-if” game (i.e., what if I never would have made the choir and gone out for volleyball instead?).

What are some of moments that have changed the course of your life?

Role Models for 2012

Good role models are hard to come by.  TV news, print media, and the internet are filled with stories of people making bad decisions, acting selfishly, and treating others poorly.  It can get downright depressing watching all this bad behavior.  It makes me wonder who my kids might look up to as they grow up.  Are there any “good” people out there anymore?

The answer is yes.  There are plenty.  In fact, there are probably many more kind, giving people in the world than there are nasty ones – we just don’t hear about them much.  So I’ve tried to come up with several of my favorite make-me-happy, positive-role-model type folks.  Here are a few:

Ron Weasley.  Ok, so he’s not a “real” person – but a good role model nonetheless.  Sure, his BFF Harry Potter was the easy pick, but Ron’s the one I really like.  He’s less popular than Harry, not as smart, rich, or athletic, but he is a true and constant friend.  He has a sort of stick-to-it-iveness that I admire, and he isn’t above admitting his mistakes.  On top of all that, he gets the girl in the end.

The Cast of Glee.  All my regular readers know that I am a HUGE gleek.  One of the reasons I like the show is its unabashed enthusiasm and happiness.  Could a show choir really be a show choir without those qualities?  Probably not – with all those jazz hands and everything.  Glee has the added benefit of promoting acceptance of differing cultural backgrounds, sexual preference, and physical and cognitive ability.  Keep it up, Glee!

Tim Tebow.  Colorado has pretty much gone crazy for Tim Tebow.  I have to admit that I am on the bandwagon, too.  Now, I don’t know enough about football to be able to analyze Tebow’s quarterbacking skills, but what I do know is that my mother (never previously a football fan), and 2 young daughters (who still have trouble telling football and basketball apart) all have Tebow Fever.  Why?  Because of his positive energy and his refusal to say or do the negative things his colleagues often do.  He’s grateful, humble, a super hard worker, and I once heard him say “golly” in an interview.  Now that’s someone to look up to.

Photo: timtebow.com

Lady Gaga/Taylor Swift.  These two singers are likely not friends, but they embody several things that are important to me in female role models: They are smart, mature, and successful – and they don’t make excuses about it.  If you’ve never seen interviews with Ms. Gaga or Ms. Swift, I highly suggest watching one on YouTube.  While both are in their twenties, they are poised and well-spoken and know exactly what they are doing with their careers.  In addition they are supremely grateful to their fans, and stick up for the underdogs among us.  Sing on, ladies!

Who am I missing? Who are your favorite role models?


Teen Sex and Glee

Oh boy.  Last night’s Glee was a good one, and chock full of great potential blog topics: love triangles forming, childhood dreams dashed, and underage

Image: Glee on Fox

drinking.  For those who devoured watched last night’s episode though, it’s obvious that the most important topic was teen sex.  Rachel and Finn (Finchel) and Kurt and Blaine (Klaine) both “did it” for the first time in the episode – storylines that are burning up the blogosphere at this very moment (read some of the buzz here here and here).

Here’s my two cents:  In the best of all possible worlds, teenagers wouldn’t be thinking about such weighty topics as sexual relationships, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and sexual orientation.  Instead they would be busy singing and dancing, running and playing, reading and writing.  But, we don’t live in a fantasy world: we live here.  And where I live, teens have sex on the brain.  Almost all the time.  And guess what?  It’s been that way for a long time – generations in fact.  To deny this is dangerous and narrow-minded, and can lead to some scary consequences for teens and parents (unwanted pregnancies, life-threatning diseases, sexual abuse, and more).

So while I would have liked to see at least one of the couples decide to wait to have sex (in the interest of showing both sides of the argument), I think the folks over at Glee did a nice job portraying Finchel and Klaine’s first times.  Safe sex was discussed, the pros and cons of sexual intimacy were presented, and no hot-and-heavy scenes were shown.  Moving forward, I hope the writers include the heartbreak and regret that can – and often does – accompany a teen’s first sexual experience.  In the interest of showing teen sexuality as it really exists, I think this is essential.  Perhaps Rachel might begin to regret the event, Blaine might become jealous of Kurt’s other friends, Finn might realize that sex with Rachel isn’t all that much fun, or someone posts details of the event on Facebook.  I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what’s in store in the episodes to come.

In the meantime, here are some ideas for talking to the teens in your life about sex:

Mayo Clinic

Dr. Laura Berman

Psychology Today

Glee, Twilight, Harry Potter and Stress Management

This week I have been talking about the chronic economic stress many of us have been under for the past 3+ years. Yesterday I wrote about the importance of taking action – actually doing something – as an essential part of maintaining mental health through tough times.  Today, I have another tip: maintain a rich fantasy life.  This may seem a little silly on the surface, but as you look around you will notice that many of us are already doing it.  Ever wonder why this story took the world by storm:

Image: Warner Bros Pictures

What about this one?

Image: Stephenie Meyer

It’s not just that J.K. Rowling is a brilliant storyteller, or that Edward Cullen is super-dreamy, it’s also that escaping our individual realities – whatever they may be – is a great way to manage stress.  And thanks to the internet, many of us have almost constant, immediate access to whichever fantasies make us forget the woes of the day.

Now, I’m not suggesting we should duck our responsibilities and spend our days obsessing over the new Twilight movie:

or memorizing the moves of a certain Glee star:

But what I am suggesting is that a little escapism can be good for the mind and body – particularly when the stressors in life become hard to bear.

So whether it’s:


Image: Magic the Gathering

Let your imagination run wild and know that it’s time well spent.

High School Pressure and Glee

Photo by Glee on Fox

Wow.  A lot of potential blog topics were presented on last night’s Glee episode, Asian F.  The one that stuck with me was how they portrayed the pressure the seniors in the New Directions are under.  Pressure to make their mark at school, pressure to find out who they really are, pressure to get accepted into the best college, pressure to pick a career path.  Watching Rachel, Kurt, Finn, and Brittany struggle with these issues brought up memories of my own senior stressors.  Ugh…it wasn’t pretty.

So how can you assist the high schoolers in your life keep things in perspective?

Focus on relationships.  In last night’s episode, Kurt reminded us that it’s not all about accomplishments, but that friendships and treating folks right is important too.  Making and keeping friends, building relationships with mentors, and learning how to successfully interact with others is a crucial part of high school – even though you won’t earn a grade.

There are multiple ways to get there.  Have a child who yearns to be a singer?  Let her know that there are lots of ways to make that happen.  Enrolling in a music conservatory, majoring in music at the local college, or simply singing in the church choir are all ways to incorporate music into her life.  The idea that she HAS to get into one school or program in order to achieve her dreams is a good way to reach stress overload.

Life is long.  Luckily, most of us live fairly long lives.  This means that we have plenty of time to make mistakes, try lots of things, and change our minds a time or two.  Very few 17 year olds know what they want to do with their lives, and that’s OK!  Try to maintain a sense of adventure and openness with your children rather than forcing them to make decisions before it’s developmentally or emotionally appropriate.

Don’t get too attached.  It’s easy as a parent to become attached to ideas our children bring up.  Your son mentions he would like to be a doctor and you assume that will be his reality.  But remember, his job is to change his mind and try out new ideas.  Go with the flow and don’t cling to any idea too hard.  It will drive you both crazy.

Do you know a high school senior frantically trying to bulk up their credentials to get into college?  Know any who are struggling to figure out who they are and what’s important to them?  How do you help them cope?


Asperger’s Disorder and Glee

The on-line world is a-buzz with the recent addition to the Glee cast: Sugar Matta – a high schooler “self-diagosed” with Asperger’s Disorder.  It seems that many Asperger’s and Autism advocates are taking offense to the way Glee is portraying the disorder (see Marfan Mom’s post and Full Soul Ahead’s complaints).  There are others who believe Sugar’s character is funny and should be taken in a humorous way (see Glee’s own community forum).

My thoughts? I think mental health problems, issues, and disorders can be presented in a light-hearted manner.  They can even be talked about in humorous ways.  In fact, I think humor is a great way to get important information across, normalize different conditions, and just make things plain fun.  The sticking point is that the information MUST be accurate and sensitive to the individuals affected.  My concern with Glee and Sugar Matta is that the portrayal of Asperger’s is poorly informed, potentially insensitive, and wrong.

So what is Asperger’s anyway?

Asperger’s is a disorder that people are born with, meaning you can’t “catch it” or develop it as an adult.  Some people talk about Asperger’s as being on the “Autism Spectrum” meaning that it has quite a few similarities to Autism.

Here are some traits typically seen in people who are diagnosed with Asperger’s.  By the way, self-diagnosis doesn’t really count.  Mental health professionals (like psychologists or psychiatrists) are typically the ones who make these types of diagnoses:

Difficulty interpreting non-verbal cues/behaviors in others (facial expressions, body language). For example, not understanding that when someone is backing away that means they are likely finished talking with you.

Trouble making friends with peers.

Lack of interest in making friends or sharing experiences with others. 

Trouble with the give and take necessary for a successful relationship.  For example, difficulty taking turns, sharing, or seeing another person’s point of view.

Repetitive patterns of behavior or activities.  For example, playing with the same toy train in the same way for many hours over many days.

Expressing overly focused interest in things that are unusual.  For example, a 10 year old boy spending lots of time (to the exclusion of other things) listening to and learning about the Spice Girls.

Adherence to routines or rules that might not make sense to others.  

Repetitive movements.  For example, arm flapping.

Intense interest in parts of objects (rather than the whole object).  For example, the screws on a skate board.

I hope the folks over at Glee take the time to listen to the public’s concerns and make Sugar’s character more reflective of what Asperger’s is really about.  They’ve done a great job helping normalize Down’s Syndrome with Becky’s character.  Let’s see if they’re up to the challenge with Sugar, too.