How One Woman Created a Mental Health Movement After Her Friend’s Suicide

Carrie Shade, the founder of the Against Suicide movement, shares her story.

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When I was 14, something happened to me that changed my life. A beautiful girl – someone I knew and shared many laughs and smiled with – took her own life.

 I was broken. I was broken for months. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still a little broken about it even now, after seven years have passed. I stayed up several nights just wondering what exactly could have been done differently that could have changed the outcome.

She deserved more than the ending she got. I felt like I needed to do something to help with the brokenness I was feeling. I felt constant hopelessness, sadness, and regret, and a million other emotions. There are no perfect words to describe the feeling of losing someone, and there are certainly no words to describe what it feels like when suicide is what takes them.

I ended up creating the Against Suicide movement on Twitter in May of 2011, and I expected nothing from it. Frankly, I wasn’t even really sure how Twitter or any social media platform worked at that time, but I needed an outlet. My goal at the time was to create suicide awareness and ultimately create positivity. I posted cheesy quotes that I found on the Internet and simply talked to people, and I was just fascinated with what social media could do.

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We all have these platforms right at our fingertips to create, spread, and promote any message we want. Why not make it something positive? Why not make it something meaningful? As time went on, the content I created changed. I started educating myself on suicide and mental health, and the posts changed to reflect that. I wanted people to be able to look at my movement and feel the positive and encouraging atmosphere, but also feel as if they learned something and that they can do something to make a change themselves.

Years went by, and the following behind the Against Suicide movement grew and grew, and it was simply incredible. In 2013 and 2014, the movement won Shorty Awards in activism. Something I had created out of sadness had actually amounted to something, and it was creating something positive. Something that was inspired by a truly heartbreaking event in my life was reaching more people than I could’ve imagined.

That’s so much more than I could’ve asked for back in 2011. If you told 14-year-old me that I would have gained such a support system for suicide and mental health awareness, I would never have believed you. This has become such a huge part of me, though, that I don’t know who I would be right now without Against Suicide.

If you want to do something important, do it. If you want to talk about something that’s bigger than you, do it. Social media is an incredible tool that we can use to speak with anyone anywhere, and we can use it to our advantage. There’s nothing holding you back from saying what you want to say to the world.

When raising awareness for a cause like mental health, the success isn’t measured in numbers. Followers and retweets aren’t important in the end. What matters is that you’re using your voice and you’re making any sort of difference you can.

Not a day goes by when I don’t see my beautiful friend’s face in my mind, even after seven years. The last seven years have been life-changing, eye-opening, and full of so many learning experiences. Having so much success with a movement like this is always bittersweet. I’m so glad I’m able to speak with people about mental health. I’m so glad I’m able to reach as many people as I do. I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunities I’ve been given. But I would give it all back though to have my friend back in a heartbeat. It breaks my heart, but it also keeps me going.


If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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Carrie Shade is the founder of Against Suicide. Her friend’s suicide and societal ideas surrounding mental illness influenced her decision to discuss and advocate for mental health on social media. To read more about women changing the conversation surrounding mental health, check out Better’s advocacy series here.

Reminder: You Don’t Owe It To Anyone to Disclose Your Mental Illness

While there’s no shame in discussing your mental health, there’s no requirement that you do so, either.

When I was attending college, I knew that I had some issues. Maybe others could sense it as well, but I didn’t formally disclose it to them. I attempted to remain a happy-go-lucky girl and tuck my mental illness away so nobody would know about it. I would even hope to forget about it, but I couldn’t.

It wasn’t until my late twenties that I really became vocal about my mental illnesses. Before that, I was very private and ultimately embarrassed about my struggles. However, there was no need to be.

That being said, it’s okay if you have a mental illness and aren’t always open about it. It’s okay if you’re never open about it to the public — but if you realize that you have an illness, seek help. You don’t have to disclose your issues to anyone that you don’t choose to. Only those who will be involved in your recovery need to know this aspect of your life. Your day-to-day agenda can go on as normal, or at least as normal as possible.

There has been progress made over the last decade about how those with mental illnesses are treated. The stigma has been reduced, but not eliminated altogether. There is still much to learn about mental illnesses and reducing the stigma surrounding them.

I was convinced that if I had come out with the fact I had a mental illness in college, I would be labeled as the “weirdo,” the “outcast,” the “strange” girl, the “crazy” girl. No, that just wouldn’t do for me. So I remained quiet. I suffered in silence. I was too stubborn to even seek help from a professional. I should have, but I can’t change the past.

I was essentially in denial about my mental health status. I was sick and I needed to get better, but college came first. I needed to get straight A’s in my classes, I needed to keep up with the social life, and I needed to blend in with all the other new freshmen on campus. — but all of that shouldn’t have been high up on my priority list. Had I focused on my mental health first, everything else would have fallen into place. I probably wouldn’t have needed to study so hard to pass tests, I probably wouldn’t have had to attend so many parties to feel like I fit in, and I probably wouldn’t have felt like I needed to try to blend in because I was doing it naturally without a second thought. It truly is amazing what happens when you take care of yourself first.

That being said, just because you’re taking care of yourself does not mean you need to disclose how you’re doing so to everyone on campus. You are allowed a private life, even if you’re sharing a dorm with hundreds of other people. You do not have to share everything with your roommate, just because you have one. You are entitled to privacy, even in a busy place like college.

If you choose to disclose your mental illness with others, whether it be friends, family, or co-workers, be prepared for potential counter-arguments or negative comments. Not everyone may agree with your diagnosis. Not everyone may accept your diagnosis. Not everyone has to, but you do. You have to agree and accept your diagnosis in order to get better. While certain people have a negative connotation with mental illness, keep in mind that there are growing communities and organizations ready to support and empower you. It can definitely help to share your condition with those who are close to you, and some people choose to share with the whole world — but it’s ultimately up to you and your comfort zone about how you disclose, who you disclose to, and when you disclose.

Everyone has something significant going on in their life that they choose to be private about. It may not be a mental illness, but everyone has something that they decide not to share. It may be due to a stigma or fear — it doesn’t really matter why. Just know that everyone has something on their plate and they may not choose to tell you about it, just like you may not choose to tell them about the monster in your life.

Whatever you choose, know that you are not alone and that there are definitely others out there like you with a mental illness, should you choose to seek them out. When you are ready, they will be here for you, disclosed illness to the world or not.

An Anorexia Survivor Shares Her Journey to Recovery

How one woman silenced the “anorexic voice” within her.

The tormenting started just after my 17th birthday.

“You aren’t working hard enough.”

“You are too fat to wear that.”

“You are a complete failure.”

“You definitely cannot wear that.”

The voice was relentless, but from experience, I knew I could make it happy and I could get back on track with it. I longed for the value and reassurance that she gave me.

I met Anorexia when I was about 13 years old, and I loved being her best friend. I wanted everything with her and longed to focus on her so that she was happy. I was brilliant at having anorexia and I knew that whatever life threw at me, I would be able to manage it — anorexia and I could tackle it together. We could take on whatever the world threw at us. She was there when my parents argued, when my older brother stormed out of the house, and when my mind would wander to my history with sexual abuse.

She helped me to switch off and gave me distractions I needed. I would often lay in bed at night listening to my parents arguing, and I could switch off any emotions and sadness as my mind would wander to calories. It felt good when anorexia gave me the escape I needed from the real world. Above all, I could totally and utterly rely on her. I had never had that relationship with anyone before. Other relationships always ended badly, and someone always got hurt — but not this one! Anorexia and I had become one. We did everything together — we well and truly tackled life from the early hours of the morning right through to bed time.

She was my dirty secret and I liked it that way.

Well, I thought she was, all up until one day when I was ambushed by my school and my parents. It was then that my relationship with anorexia went massively downhill. For some reason, I could no longer make her happy. I don’t know what went wrong — up until this point, I had felt like I was brilliant at having anorexia. I had never been that good at much, but I was good at this — in fact, I was brilliant at it.

Those few months after my 17th birthday turned into daily relentless arguments with my anorexia. I was running out of energy completely. I wasn’t good enough for her and whatever I did wasn’t enough. The days turned into a nasty battle with so much arguing in my head, constant bickering about what I should and shouldn’t be doing. It was endless and I felt completely trapped. I ended up arguing a lot with my parents when they wanted me to eat. One evening, I even threw a loaf of bread across the kitchen while my dad watched with tears welling in his eyes. Part of me really cared that I was hurting people, but the anorexic part of me didn’t.

I couldn’t get my head around why people were trying to take this amazing thing away from me. How could something I thought was this incredible actually be killing me?

Little did I know that five months after my 17th birthday, I would be admitted to a mental health hospital, on the brink of death, my skin yellowing, and my hair falling out. I was about to face the hardest year of my life. I had to beat anorexia, beat that voice that had possessed me for so long — a voice that I had thought was my everything, my best friend.

Being in the hospital was such hard work, and looking back, I don’t know how I ever managed to beat that voice. It was a complete and utter minefield being in a mental health hospital, and at the age of 17 when all my friends were out and about clubbing and finishing school, it was the place where I absolutely did not want to be.

I had to beat anorexia, beat that voice that had possessed me for so long — a voice that I had thought was my everything, my best friend.

When I was admitted, I suppose part of me was relieved. The battle with anorexia had gotten so bad, so hard, and I was no longer happy. The months leading up to my time in the hospital had been horrific, and I had felt completely trapped. I would exercise at every opportunity, spend hours in the bathroom making myself sick whenever anyone made me eat, and I missed out on so much.

In those few months, I didn’t know if I was ever going to be happy again, but that stupid anorexic voice in my head, which I realized was not, in fact, my friend, would tell me that tomorrow would be different— that if my weight kept dropping, life would be okay, and that tomorrow, things would be amazing.

But it never quite worked out like that.

I was trapped, lost, and caught up in something else. Looking back, I’m lucky my school friends didn’t stop liking me. Both my family and friends saw beyond the anorexia. After a year in the hospital, I was discharged and have had to manage my recovery ever since. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but fighting onward and maintaining my health has been the best decision I’ve ever made.

Keeping some things in mind helped me significantly along the way:

  1. Talking about it: After every meal in the hospital, we had to talk about the meal. This helped me remove every single bit of emotion from the food. It also kept me on track and helped me learn to express myself more.
  2. Knowing my motivations: Anorexia used to made me feel invincible. I thought I could take on the world and still live with it, but the reality is, you can’t. I wanted to start running again, I wanted to travel, I want to have children — none of this is possible if anorexia is still in my life.
  3. Realizing anorexia doesn’t actually make you happy: This took me well over four years to realize, but when I started to recognize it, I had to hold on to that. When things go wrong in life and I start to feel that emotion again, I sometimes let my mind wander. If anorexia was still in my life, it would allow me to switch off from everything, but I don’t want that anymore.
  4. Finding value elsewhere: This is a tough one for someone like me, who struggles immensely with her body image and general self-esteem, but the “value” anorexia gives you is so short-lived. It is so important to acknowledge that and find value elsewhere.
  5. Discovering other ways to communicate: For me, this is as simple as sending a text saying “I feel fat” or “I am not OK.” Responses from friends and family let me know others care and, again, is a healthier way to express myself than through food.

When I was in the hospital, I never thought that nasty, manipulative voice would shut up. I never thought I would have a day without her, but I have. And life when I ignore that voice is so much better.


If you or someone you know has anorexia or another eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at (800) 931-2237 or text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line.

 

IMG_4986Hope Virgo is the author of “Stand Tall Little Girl” and an ambassador for the Shaw Mind Foundation. Her 4-year battle with anorexia inspired her mental health advocacy and efforts to fight stigma surrounding mental illness. To read more about women changing the conversation surrounding mental health, check out Better’s advocacy series here.

What It’s Like to Face Depression Even When Everything Seems to Be Going Right

After graduating college with my bachelor’s degree in the spring of 2014, everything was working out for me.

I obtained a grant research/writer internship at a private school, which included a stipend and a place to stay. When that ended, I moved in with two of my sisters while they attended graduate school to get their master’s degrees. I obtained a part-time job within two weeks, became certified TEFL instructor, picked up a second part-time job at a library, and began to volunteer at a botanical garden.

I had all my ducks in a row: I was employed, I could pay my bills and student loans, I was making new friends, I had a great relationship with my family, and I was dating on and off. I was successful – so what did I have to be sad about?

On paper, my achievements made me seem like I was sitting on top of the world. That was what I was allowing people to see. I was being followed by my Shadow everywhere I went. In this case, my Shadow was undiagnosed depression, just waiting to steal my happiness and turn me into a shell.

I was taught that if you’re a good person and a hard worker, you’ll reap the benefits. I loved school and did very well, I got jobs on my own accord, and I had a lot of hobbies. I joined a handful of clubs and extracurricular activities, had a great friend group, and was a good athlete. As level-headed and realistic as I was about the “real world,” I was vastly unprepared. I painted a picture of my ideal version of success and went after it full throttle.

I wasn’t gaining satisfaction with my work because my Shadow was forcing me to compare myself to others. I’m the youngest in a set of quadruplets, all girls. I also have two older brothers, so I’m the youngest – and the youngest-youngest. Growing up, I was compared to my siblings all the time. If my brothers did great in school, I had to do great in school. If my brothers joined a school club, I was expected to join the same ones. If they played soccer, it was assumed I’d play as well.

As for being a multiple, you’re compared by default – you’re viewed as a unit. This one is good at music, but this one is great. This one is quiet while the other three are more outgoing. If two are good at science, then why aren’t the other two good at science? I wanted to stand out and have people know me instead of just being a quad. I tried so hard that I put significant pressure on myself and my life. When one thing would go wrong, even the smallest and most insignificant thing, I would break down and worry about being fired from a job or getting into trouble because it would be a blemish on my otherwise spotless record.

I was doing wonderful things, but I wanted to do more, and I couldn’t. I envied my library coworkers who obtained promotions while I received rejections. At my retail job, I would often be given false promises of advancement and more work to do because I can “get stuff done.” All of this just made me ask: why am I not good enough?

I was given many tasks and responsibilities at both of my part-time jobs. The more work I did, the more added to my resume, and the more I was challenged, which I loved. I gained the title of “Safety Captain” at my retail job, I was praised and viewed as a great coworker, I even helped plan big events at my library job. Twice, I was named Employee of the Month at my retail job, but I was never that happy about the honor. I just kept focusing on how to gain my vision of success.

I didn’t think my accomplishments were as great as what anyone else was doing. Two of my sisters were getting their master’s degrees, my two older brothers were excelling in their fields of sports and filmography, and my other sister had a part-time job that gave great benefits and paid well. Meanwhile, I was just working two part-time jobs and looking for a third to stay on top of rent and paying other bills.

All the while, good things kept happening: I was promoted one step higher in my library job after a little over a year (still part-time), I began to create and run my own programs, I started to learn American Sign Language, and I was published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book.

Still, I began to feel less and less like myself.

Before I knew it, my Shadow took over. I couldn’t remember the last time I was genuinely happy. I’m normally a funny, positive person, always looking on the bright side to any situation. I became the exact opposite of myself, and I tried not to let it show. I felt like a failure and didn’t want anyone else to see. I felt like I didn’t have the right to be upset, so I internalized it.

After almost three years of trying, I was promoted to a full-time library job. I was so excited to tell everyone and anyone who would listen. Not because I would get benefits, not because I’d get to work with tweens and teens like I’ve wanted, and not because it would mean higher pay. Having this job meant I had reached success, and everything would fall back into place and go back to normal – my normal.

I was content with the new job, but I found myself working alone when I was used to working in a team environment. Now, if I messed something up, it would really be my fault and my job to fix it. A good opportunity soon added a new amount of pressure to my life. While I had goals to excel and show people that I was the perfect choice for the position, it would soon become a burden to me and cause my Shadow to take hold even more. With this job, I held a few successful programs including a concert and a donation-based program where we gained over 80 donations in 20 days. I was over the moon with the results, but I still wasn’t satisfied.

I confided in a friend about how I suspected I was depressed and eventually sought help from a therapist. My suspicions were confirmed. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety and everything started to make sense. Substantial changes like the end of a relationship, death, an illness are all common causes to be depressed – but positive changes can sometimes have the same effect. While positive changes are good, it also comes with a fear of losing control, unrealistic expectations, and feeling unprepared. These things sucker-punched me all at once.

Success, like beauty, is viewed differently by everyone. It’s okay when expectations don’t meet reality. As long as you focus on what you want to achieve for yourself, you’re on the right track.

10 Signs That You’re an Introvert

We’re not just quiet.

This article was originally written for Fresh U by Jessica Vuong. It has been given minor edits before re-posting.

Being an introvert isn’t easy. It can be difficult for us to speak up about an opinion or explain to people why we want to leave a social gathering. There’s more to introverts than simply being more reserved than the average person, and here are some of those unique qualities:

1. You like to skip the small talk.

In a world of business, technology and innovation, small talk is a necessary evil. While small talk is a nice way to introduce yourself to new people, find out what your coworkers did over the weekend, or meet potential employers, introverts find small talk to be meaningless and empty. They like to focus on building authentic relationships with people, so they would much rather skip to a more meaningful conversation that fuels their energy.

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2. You notice small details.

Because introverts have different brain processes than extroverts, they tend to have this neat superpower where they have a sharper eye than the average person. They are highly sensitive to their surroundings and can be overwhelmed if overstimulated. As a “side effect” of this high sensitivity, introverts tend to notice things that others might overlook.

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3. You need time to wind down and recuperate after socializing.

Yes, introverts do socialize with people, just less often than extroverts do. Think about the battery in your phone — after a long period of being active, that battery needs to recharge. Because introverts become easily drained in active surroundings, they enjoy and appreciate their down time, whether it be spent reading a book, watching TV or simply doing nothing. They find this personal time to be healing and fulfilling. Once introverts have replenished their energy levels, they’re ready to step back out into the world and not make small talk.

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4. You have friends who are extroverts.

It’s true that opposites attract. Introverts are drawn to extroverts due to their outgoing and exciting personality, and it gives introverts a nice balance between relaxation and excitement. Introverts and extroverts complement each other well, each reminding the other that it is important to go out and have fun while also setting aside time to pamper oneself.

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5. You prefer texting rather than talking on the phone.

A phone call out of the blue is like rain on an introvert’s parade. Introverts need time to mentally prepare before having a conversation, so picking up a sudden phone call isn’t at the top of an introvert’s list of fun things to do. They prefer to text rather than talk because texting allows them to write out their thoughts clearly and process them before sending them out.

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6. You like people-watching.

While introverts might not actively engage with a lot of people, they still need a means of social interaction, so they gravitate towards observation. Introverts are naturally curious people and find people-watching to be an entertaining activity. While doing this, introverts tend to reflect on the actions they see others partake in as well as their own actions.

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7. You enjoy writing.

Writing is something personal that people often like to do alone, which is why introverts enjoy it. Being naturally reserved, introverts like to write out their thoughts rather than convey them verbally. In this way, it gives them a chance to reflect and see their thoughts and ideas in a tangible form. Not to mention, writing can be extremely therapeutic and fun!

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8. You’re a great listener.

Introverts listen, reflect, and think before they act or speak. Along with being observant and craving meaningful conversations with people, it’s no wonder that introverts are excellent listeners. Since introverts also like to reflect on their thoughts before sending them out into the universe, you can bet that the advice they give is golden.

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9. You don’t like group projects.

We’ve all had our fair share of bad groups for group projects. The phrase “group project” isn’t enticing to the majority of us, but the sound of it is extra unappealing to the ears of introverts. Introverts are self-sufficient people and they get their energy from within themselves, rather than from their peers.

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10. You don’t feel the need to share everything with everyone.

Introverts are innately self-aware and understand that not everything has to be put out there. Because introverts thrive off of the energy within themselves, they are preoccupied with their own thoughts and are OK with keeping some of those thoughts brewing inside their minds.

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At the end of the day, whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, remember that balance is key. Take some time to go out with friends, but be sure to set aside time to do your own thing.

6 Scientific Ways To Fall Asleep More Quickly

Sleep tight.

This article was originally written for Fresh U by Jessica Vuong. It has been given minor edits before re-posting.

As college students, we are perpetually sleepy. Naps can be helpful in getting us through the day, but a good night’s sleep is the key to cognitive performance, boosting your mood, and banishing dark circles. In college, we’re constantly dealing with stress, so it can be difficult to fully wind down and fall asleep in order to get back to the grind the next day.

Rather than lying in bed counting sheep, try these methods to get a good night’s sleep more quickly:

1. Try to stay awake.

Yes, this tip sounds counterintuitive, but it actually has proof to back it up. A study held by Niall M. Broomfield at the University of Glasgow involved two different groups with insomnia and tested each group’s sleeping patterns. The group that ended up falling asleep faster was the group tasked with trying to stay awake. This group was only allowed to lay in bed, blink, and remain awake. Next time you’re having trouble falling asleep, use this reverse-psychology method to try to trick your body into sleeping.

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2. Use a weighted blanket.

A weighted blanket applies slight pressure to your body, which increases your body’s production of serotonin — a mood stabilizer — and melatonin — a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycles. With increased melatonin levels, your body receives the cue to go to sleep and stay asleep until morning, when those melatonin levels decrease. Weighted blankets not only help you fall asleep faster, but they can also be beneficial in helping people with insomnia, anxiety, PTSD, depression, and other mental illnesses sleep better.

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3. Sleep in a colder room.

Sleeping in a room that is overly toasty can overheat your body and create a warm, welcoming environment for bacteria. The desired room temperature for sleeping is 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. When your body goes into sleep mode, your body temperature actually decreases. By sleeping in a cooler room, you are assisting your body in reaching a lower temperature sooner, which in turn helps you fall asleep quicker. Cooler temperatures also create the ideal environment for your body to speed up melatonin production to help you fall asleep even faster.

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4. Use the “4-7-8” breathing method.

This nifty trick is supposed to help you fall asleep in less than one minute. The breathing exercise consists of breathing in through your nose for four seconds, holding your breath for seven seconds, and then exhaling air through your mouth for eight seconds. Then, you simply repeat this breathing cycle three more times for a total of four deep breaths. Slower and deeper breathing slows down your heart rate and increases your oxygen intake to put you in a calm, sleep-inducing state. Not only does this breathing exercise help you fall asleep faster at night, but it can also help you in times of stress and anxiety as well.

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5. Lavender aromatherapy.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils, either inhaled or applied on the skin, for healing purposes. Common benefits of aromatherapy include treating anxiety, depression, and headaches, as well as raising energy levels. Lavender is well-known for treating anxiety and insomnia, and has been proven to help people fall asleep faster and have a better night’s sleep. A 2005 study showed that those who smelled lavender before falling asleep tended to fall asleep more quickly, have a deeper sleep, and wake up feeling more energized than people who didn’t expose their senses to lavender.

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6. Avoid using electronics before bed.

While most of us would like to binge-watch on Netflix until we pass out, that isn’t the best decision if you’re hoping for a good night’s rest. The blue light that your devices emit keeps your brain stimulated, suppresses melatonin production, and increases the time it takes for your mind to wind down into a sedative state. Rather than using electronics in bed at night, try reading instead. Reading relaxes your mind and tires out your eyes. If you’re having trouble deciding what to read, you could always read your textbooks (they’ll surely put you to sleep)!

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Now, instead of lying in bed wondering how many hours of sleep you’ll get if you can fall asleep right now, try these methods and wake up feeling refreshed.

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A New Hashtag Has Twitter Users Sharing What You Should Know About Mental Illness

“A question from someone you trust can help start the conversation we really need.”

Twitter has been responsible for helping plenty of movements gain traction, including mental health advocacy. This week, reporter Hattie Gladwell took this advocacy a step further, encouraging her followers to share what they wish people understood about mental illness with the hashtag .

The hashtag gained so much popularity that it started trending on Twitter within a few hours. Gladwell received a variety of responses, ranging from messages about medication to reminders that mentally ill folks are not alone.

Many responses centered around breaking down stereotypes people hold about mental illness.

Some people had more personal messages in mind. “3 years ago today I was being held in a mental hospital for attempted suicide,” one Twitter user wrote. “Nowadays I’m much happier with life but I still have bad days. I wish my family understood mental illness never really goes away.”

Gladwell later tweeted about the success of the hashtag. “So many people are talking about the things they wish others knew about mental illness!” she wrote. “It’s so amazing to see so many using the hashtag.”

The hashtag — and its popularity — show just how important it is to open up dialogues about mental health and listen to those who have struggled with mental illness.