Why Talking About Mental Health Matters…to me…

Mental Health Matters…to all of us!

The Guardian…quoting…

“I wonder if he really knew what he was doing that day. Did he realize then just how much his death would haunt me? How I’d carry the weight of him with me every day, wondering why he did it, trying to decipher the few tear-stained words in the inadequate note he left, wondering if there’s any reason in the world good enough to leave your two young daughters without a dad? Did he realize I’d spend my life listening to his favorite songs, watching the one existing video of him to remember his voice, crying on Father’s Day or his birthday or any random day, because it suddenly hit me all over again that he was never coming back? Would it stop him?”


Regional Health Assessment, Linn, Benton, & Lincoln Counties, Oregon Download pdf from this link.

From my perspective the single most pressing challenge presented in the Regional Health Assessment is “awareness and understanding.”  The good news is we are finally making favorable progress, but we have so much more to do to help create broader and focused awareness.  My community has been slow at mental health awareness in the 11 years we have lived in Lincoln County, Oregon.  As a mental health advocate, I hear the conversation on public health issues, especially mental health, improve significantly over the past 5 years.

A measure of how far we have to go is that folks, by and large, do not like to admit having mental health challenges in front of others in a conversational setting.  With around 30 citizens, health care professionals, civic leaders, and educators attending this important conference, I was the only person in the room who indicated a personal and family history of mental health struggles.  Of course, when there is an opening to talk about other physical or medical health issues, most people are very open and conversational in just about any setting.  Until mental health is a completely open discussion in any setting, especially in a public heath professional forum, it will take much longer than my limited time on the planet to make optimum progress on the regional goals outlined in the Public Health Assessment.  The goals include the following…

Assessment Goals and Objectives for Linn, Benton, and Lincoln County Regional Health Assessment (RHA):

  • Identifies and gathers health status indicators in order to determine the current health status of the community
  • Describes areas for potential future health improvement while building upon ongoing community knowledge and efforts
  • Identifies common strengths and challenges facing the region in regard to health status
  • Recognizes and highlights the need for more detailed local data
  • Is a collaborative process that incorporates a broad range of community voices

With reference to the Guardian quote above, the worst case scenario is the life long emotional pain carried by loved ones who suffer as a consequence from secondary mental health challenges. The young lady was 5 years old when her father took his life.  Her pain has lived with her for 25 years, and is at times worse with aging.  This is not an uncommon result of a severe traumatic life event for a child.  So, it is not just the loss of a loved one, it is the exponential emotional damage and mental health risk carried forward by loved ones and family members.  If we are not honest and open about the generational implications of trauma in our lives and fail to see the global picture, progress in achieving the goals above will take more time, money and frustration.

My take away from the conference was a feeling of encouragement that we are moving in the right direction. In the list of goals above, it is in the “collaborative process that incorporates a broad range of community voices”  that will lead us to success as a community.  I believe strong leadership is needed to build new collaborative efforts and partnerships through out Lincoln County Oregon.

Talking about mental health matters to all of us!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2…

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)



Crying is Good For The Soul!



Life with a Mental Illness…#mentalillnessfeelslike

Is Crying a Weakness?  49 reasons crying is a good thing…quoting…

“Whatever the reason may be, no one should give anybody a hard time if and when he or she chooses to break down.”


It took many decades for me to be okay with crying anytime or anywhere.  In my home as a child, crying was a weakness, and demonstrated being less than a grown man, young man or little kid for that matter.  Siblings teased, friends made fun, bullies (the real closet cry babies) made a bigger mess out of things in school. Even my emotionally numb parents, while growing up, made a big stink about my crying.  I cried more than my siblings and others.  I’m emotional and passionate about lots of things.  I do a whole lot better in these later years with crying as well.  Crying does come a little easier as we age, and that’s a good thing…

I attended a beautiful memorial service yesterday for a dear friend, a young lady age 22, who drowned in the ocean.  She may have been caught by a sneaker wave (click here for video clip), which can take anybody by surprise at low tide on a calm day at the beach while walking too close to the edge of the water line.  As a small rural town on the Oregon coast, this was a terrible tragedy for our community.   We gathered in large numbers at a local community center to show our love for Katy and her family. We all cried together and couldn’t stop for at least 2 hours.  We celebrated this dear young lady’s treasured life.  It was also a rare chance to come together as a community and show we still know how to talk to each other in person rather than through Facebook, Twitter, and texting.

At the end of the community memorial gathering and celebration of Katy’s life, the pastor shared with us that crying was good, and we should never hesitate unless it was absolutely life threatening.  I never thought of it that way, but now see crying as a very healthy behavior anytime you feel like it.  Shed a few tears when it comes to you.  I have learned most people see you as more authentic when there is a tear or two of emotion as part of your passionate and emotional being.  We are very fragile as humans, some more than others.  If we don’t allow ourselves to show our emotional and human side and keep all the baggage bottled up, the emotions can come out all at once without warning.

At this point in my life, I see most folks who meet the challenges of life each and every day as strong not weak.  The concept of weak is a relative term that might have context in competitive sports, but not in real every day life. When a person cries or tears up in my company, I see a real human being who cares about others deeply and expresses passion and emotion in most healthy ways.  If you don’t cry when you must, excessive anger can rear its ugly head as a bottled up disappointment that crying moments could have healed much earlier.  But remember, balanced anger and crying are both healthy signs of the human condition.

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation, A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2… Click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff…

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)


PTSD and Post Trauma Growth History… WWI “Shell Shock” Explored by Ernest Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms.

A Farewell to Arms, Earnest Hemingway…click image for larger view…

Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms… Quoting…click here for more…

“A Farewell to Arms is a novel by Ernest Hemingway set during the Italian campaign of World War I. The book, published in 1929, is a first-person account of American Frederic Henry, serving as a Lieutenant (“Tenente”) in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The title is taken from a poem by 16th-century English dramatist George Peele.”

“Throughout A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway made it clear that Henry and his comrades were suffering mentally and physically from the hardships of war. He did so even before knowledge of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder was common. “During World War I, the shell shock theory expressed the notion of predisposition, weakened reactive capacities, and a stunned nervous system and mind. Soldiers exhibited stupor, irritability, trembling, traumatic dreams, exaggerated startle response with agitation and conversion reactions.”[21] Church notes that “Psychological studies were still in their infancy before World War I.”

Sun Valley and the Big Wood River outside Ketchum, Idaho

Hemingway’s Haunts… Quoting…click here for more…

“Author Ernest Hemingway embraced local nature and nightspots with a vigor matched only by his fictional and largely autobiographical character Nick Adams. As Adams lived in Michigan’s wilderness, Hemingway meandered the meadows of Sun Valley and the Big Wood RiverHemingway’s time in Sun Valley began in 1939 when he came to the area after Union Pacific Railroad chairman Averell Harriman invited Hemingway and other celebrities to Sun Valley. In the fall of 1939, he finished his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls. He worked on it while staying in suite 206 at the Sun Valley Lodge.”

Click here for Hemingway Memorial YouTube clip…


My inspiration for writing often comes while exploring the scenic and spiritual mountain regions of the west, and in living on the stunning coast of Oregon near Depoe Bay.  We picked Sun Valley for a week of adventure and relaxation this spring.  May is a transition month in Sun Valley.  The changing weather has provided days of some sun, rain, and snow flurries with temperatures ranging from the lower 30’s at night to the mid 70’s during the day.  On this day, we found a hike that was well suited for getting great exercise, while recognizing some limitations that come with bodies that do not perform the same way as in our younger years.

The hike we selected was a couple of miles outside of Ketchum, Idaho on the Corral Creek Trail, a 5 mile round trip.  At the beginning of our hike we came upon a memorial to Ernest Hemingway, where we stopped and reflected a moment and took a couple of pictures. Hemingway’s story and spirit is very much alive in Sun Valley, and inspired me to dig deeper into his life in Ketchum.  Ernest Hemingway took his own life in this beautiful valley during the summer of 1961 at the early age of 61, two weeks before his 62nd birthday.  His young adult life included significant exposure to combat as an ambulance driver in WWI Italian campaign and civilian journalist in WWII. Hemingway observed and wrote about the horrific human suffering and carnage of war, including the apparent psychological and physical wounds.    WWI was the beginning of the post-traumatic stress symptoms conversation and long before research connected the dots with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnosis of the post Vietnam era.

My own research and writing since 2010 shows post-traumatic stress symptoms in the mix way back to the Civil War when the term Soldiers Heart (click here for PTSD history) was used to describe the emotional behaviors of combat veterans and families of that time.  Shell Shock was used to describe the psychological and troublesome emotional behaviors during WWI.  In World War II and thereafter, diagnosis of ‘shell shock’ was replaced by that of combat stress reaction, and battle fatigue, a similar but not identical response to the trauma of warfare and bombardment.  The U.S. Navy used ‘battle fatigue’ as an official way to diagnose my father during and after his severe exposure to combat during WWII in the Pacific Theater.  There are even indications of the trauma of war and the challenges of warriors coming home from the horrors of battle during the time of Odyssey…Coming Home… click here for more…

There you have it; PTSD is not new.  History shows that mankind struggled for centuries since the time of Troy from post-traumatic stress.  Tragically, mankind assimilated post-trauma conditions into society as an invisible wound and misunderstood infliction that was buried from one generation to the next.  We have been stuck with the stigma of mental health challenges for so long that eradicating the generational curse might take several generations.  My view supports vigilance and consistent awareness, especially during early childhood.  We can save lives right now by taking steps in our own communities to end mental health stigma.  Do not hesitate, start the conversation today!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2… Click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff…

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)





Trauma Informed Schools… “It’s Okay to not be Okay…” Newport High School Cubs Lead…

Trauma-Informed-Oregon-Header-2 (1)

Trauma Informed Oregon  click here for more… Quoting…

“Trauma Informed Oregon is a statewide collaborative aimed at preventing and ameliorating the impact of adverse experiences on children, adults and families. We work in partnership to promote and sustain trauma informed policies and practices across physical, mental, and behavioral health systems and to disseminate promising strategies to support wellness and resilience.”


While attending the Lincoln County Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC) meeting last week, I could not have been more pleased to receive a copy of the Newport HS Harbor Light Newsletter this last week, entitled “Depression, Anxiety and Mental Illness!” It was equally gratifying and encouraging to see Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) model on the agenda.

Following are quotes from Harbor Light by teachers and students…  The newsletter is not yet accessible on a website,  so it is my goal to provide a summary, including relevant reference links mentioned in the newsletter.  This is an outstanding read and highly recommended!

Samantha Murphy, Advisor Intro…

“The elusive nature of anxiety and depression makes them easy conditions to question and difficult conditions to understand unless you’ve experienced them.  They do exist, however. They are real and they are often debilitating.”

Ruby Quintero, Editor Intro…

“All levels of anxiety and depression are very real emotions that all people should be aware of as well as inherit a particular level of sensitivity to.”

Brooke Foiles,”The Weight of Depression.”

“I knew if I went to the doctor I would have to step on the one thing that had been drowning me in depression for so many months…a scale.”

Ruby Quintero, “Less than Good Enough.”

“That extra skin on your stomach, your neck, your legs, your arms, it’s perfect.  You are the best you can be and that’s all that matters.  Someone is going to come along and appreciate you for who you are and give you the world.”

Hallie Ezzell, “Statistics.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health Illness (NAMI): click here for more…

  • “One in five children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness.”
  • “50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental illnesses begin by the young age of 14.”
  • “About 50 percent of students age 14 and older who struggle with a mental illness drop out of high school.”
  • “70 percent of youth that are in state and local juvenile justice systems struggle with a mental illness.”

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): click here for more…

Between 2005 and 2011, children ages 3-17 were diagnosed with:

  • “6.8 percent diagnosed with ADHD.”
  • “3.5 percent with behaviorial or conduct issue.”
  • “3 percent with anxiety.”
  • “2.1 percent with depression.”

According to a 2010 report from Youth.gov,  (click here for more)

  • “49.5 percent of US adolescents met the criteria for a mental health condition.”
  • “22.2 percent classified as as exhibiting severe impairment and/or distress.”

Ruben Krueger, “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: A Problem for All.”

“Yet, because depression is not as visible as a bone fracture or heart attack, diagnosis and treatment often remain neglected like a bridge rusting until collapse.”

Anonymous, “Undiagnosed.”

“I guess the message I want to send to parents (teachers, mentors): if your child comes to you for help, please don’t write it off.  Try your best so that they can try theirs.”

Sophie Goodwin-Rice, “Freezing Water.”

Above everything else, though, I know that anxiety is real.  It isn’t a cry for attention, or just a few choppy waves as you’re sailing through life. It is unexplainable, unpredicatable and undeniable.  It’s struggling to keep your head above the freezing water, and always waiting for the wind to calm down again.”

Anonymous, “I Can’t Breath.”

“When I was eight years old, I was raped by my 13-year old brother.  Ever since, I haven’t been able to be in the same room alone with a guy.  Let alone a guy I didn’t know.”

River Rundell, “Codependency: When You’re Not Helping.”

“One sign you may have a codependent relationship in the works is if your parents or other guardians were in a dysfunctional relationship.”

Luke McCarthy, “Coexisting Conditions:  Juggling Burdens.”

“Depression and anxiety, for example, coexist very often.  About 85% of people with major depression also have significant anxiety.”

Macy Dexter, “A Look At Teen Suicide.”

“Depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as other mental illnesses (such as anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and eating disorders) are all found to correlate with suicide across the globe.”

Darius Seah, “Selective Mutism: Living Without a Voice.”

“Selective Mutism, a complex anxiety disorder, typically begins in early childhood.  Symptoms include a consistent failure to speaking in a specific social situations, such as presenting in class or at a family gathering.”

Levi Kay, “Adversity Defines You.”

“In total, I spent twelve months on crutches, during the course of my junior year.  I had two more surgeries and faced constant serious complications in recovery.  As a result of all of this, I became increasingly discouraged and depressed.”

Courtney Saccomano, “When Depression Becomes a Crisis.”

“With depression it can feel like you’re all alone in your head, even though you are surrounded by so many people.”

“People will believe physical pain more than mental.  In sharing their story, the Harbor Light hopes to enlighten those who also struggle with these issues and let them know that getting help is nothing to be ashamed of.”

-Ruby Quintero


For those who suffer from mental health challenges, especially kids, it is not easy to be comfortable with the idea, “It’s okay to not be okay.”  As a survivor of childhood and young adult traumatic and toxic home circumstances, it took me six decades as an adult to find a path of healing.  What is clear from my own experience and research in these later years is that awareness is the first step in finding a path to recovery and peace of mind. The very best news is to see the policy of “Trauma Informed Schools” become a reality.  It is the conversation that starts with children, parents, teachers, and mentors that will end the stigma and break the cycle of never ending pain caused by the silence and silencing of those who suffer from mental illness.

I strongly recommend that parents, teachers, and mentors everywhere take notice of what Oregon State’s and Lincoln County’s Newport High School is doing with mental health outreach by getting a copy of the April 2016, Harbor Light News Magazine, “It’s Okay to not be Okay…” Awareness and education of mental health circumstances and treatment must start early in the life of a child, at home and in school.  Don’t let your child take the emotional pain and baggage of depression, anxiety, and mental illness into adulthood.

I extend my heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the teachers and students of Newport High School and the Harbor Light News Magazine for stepping up! You are all heroes for the cause to end mental health illness stigma!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma Part 1&2… click the highlighted text for my author page to order books and other stuff…

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate, and member, Lincoln County Oregon, Mental Health Advisory Committee (MHAC)






May…Mental Health Awareness Month…Help Stamp Out Stigma!

Light a candle!

Mental Health Awareness…Stop Stigma! from NAMI…

“During the month of May, NAMI and participants across the country are bringing awareness to mental health. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. Each year, the movement grows stronger.

We believe that these issues are important to address all year round, but highlighting these issues during May provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of all Americans whose lives are affected by mental health conditions.

1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime and every American is affected or impacted through their friends and family and can do something to help others.”


My first shocking experience with mental health stigma as an adult happened shortly after honorably separating from the US Navy in September 1965.  It was in that moment that my world as a young adult with a bright future was seriously threatened.  Following a very productive and exciting interview process with a Fortune 100 company in Los Angeles, I fully expected an offer for employment as an apprentice teleprinter technician.  I felt grateful for the excellent training and experience received in the Navy as a radioman.  But all the excitement and hope for a career in telecommunications came to a shocking halt when the HR recruiter told me…”even though my qualifications exceeded minimum requirements I could not be hired.”  I thought with complete dispair, “how could this be?”  It was at that moment, the HR recruiter revealed to me that my hospitalization for severe depression and anxiety while serving in the US Navy was considered a risk. It was then that I decided to never ever speak of my mental health diagnosis…my secret, forever put away in a box and out of reach.  This was stigma then, it is still stigma in the 21st Century.  (Note: I was fortunate to receive a job offer from another respectable telecom company and started my career.)

We can all do so much more to stamp out stigma. Please help make a difference by taking quality time to talk openly and honestly with friends and family about mental health. Awareness is the first step in healing invisible wounds.

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma Part1&2… click book links on the side bar to order Amazon.com 

Steve Sparks, Author, Blogger, Child Advocate