What does Mental Fitness mean?

mental health ED

Many of you know that Ugly Ducklings Inc works closely with a nonprofit organization called Mental Fitness Inc. This is work that we are very proud of and very passionate about. But… what is “mental fitness”?

We’ve asked Robyn Hussa Farrell to guest-interview with us this week to discuss Mental Fitness Inc, and building resiliency in children, youth and adults, among other things.

Welcome, Robyn. Thank you so much for being here with us!

Thank you Erin and Marie and all!

We’ve interviewed Robyn before, but for any new readers, could you tell us who you are and what you do for Mental Fitness Inc?

I’m the Founder and CEO of Mental Fitness. I created the organization almost 9 years ago when I produced a rock musical in New York City that led to many of my friends and loved ones entering treatment for eating disorders. Mental Fitness brings evidence-based arts and media programs into schools to build resiliency in kids of all ages.

How do you define ‘mental fitness’? What is so important about it when it comes to Mental Health?

We are so obsessed with physical fitness, that we wanted to create a way to look at health that includes mental wellness, too. Interestingly we are one of the only wealthy nations in the world who DOESN’T have measures that include social, emotional and psychological well being for our kids. It is time to change that!

The website talks a lot about the “Seven Pillars of Mental Fitness”… can you tell us more about what they are?

pillarsWe have been collaborating with researchers for the last decade and found several protective factors that increase resiliency and help to build mental fitness. These include mindfulness, stress-management, nourishing the body and mind, media literacy, community connections, body image and self-esteem. We’ve written about them on the new b:resilient website here.

We brought together all of the prevention-focused research in one place and created a mental fitness map which helps kids and adults improve seven key areas of fitness. We know that if a person focuses on each of these areas, they will improve overall health measures! The seven categories include:

  • self-esteem and internal validation
  • body image
  • media literacy and critical thinking
  • stress management
  • connecting with community through volunteering and role models
  • nourishing body and mind by understanding facts about Intuitive Eating and other evidence based prevention models
  • mindfulness

The way we teach about mental fitness is through evidence-based programs. So, for example, for the Body Image category, we help schools connect with the evidence-based programs that exist in that area including Dr. Becker and Stice’s “Body Project” or Kathy Kater’s “Healthy Bodies” programs.

Where can we find more information about Mental Fitness Inc and each protective category?

There is a handout here with lots of information. 

What is next for Mental Fitness Inc?

Online learning tools at b:resilient so that more educators and professionals have access to this amazing prevention research!

Thank you so much for being here with us today! We’ll post your bio below, but what is the best way for our readers to support MFI and find you?

Our website has more information about our mission and programs. You can ‘like’ us on facebook and follow us on twitter. I am also on twitter!

Robyn Hussa Farrell, Mental Fitness IncRobyn Hussa Farrell is the Founder and CEO of Mental Fitness, Inc., the non-profit we support here at UglyDucklings Inc. Marie and I have been in touch with her for almost two years now, and she is a constant inspiration to us. Robyn works incredibly hard to ensure that children grow up with a healthy mental fitness; something that is very important and inspiring work. We are so happy and proud to be a part of such an amazing organization that really is changing the lives of children in America. You can check out our other pieces about Mental Fitness Inc and our interview with Robyn to learn more… additionally, be sure to check back in the new year as we will be having a HUGE charity raffle to raise support for Mental Fitness Inc.

A family secret: I suffered a mental health problem

Mental health awareness

I diagnosed myself when I was fifteen;
seven years later, a psychiatrist did it.

In February 2012, I was confronted with a family secret: My grandfather had been a patient in a psychiatric hospital for six months when my Dad was a teenager due to a mental breakdown and psychosis. While my grandfather was there, he was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Whether that was type I or type II, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone does.

I confronted my Dad about why I was never told of this, especially because of my continuous depressions through my life. He tried to play it off, like it was no big deal. (I’m not looking to make my Dad seem like a bad guy because he certainly is not; he just doesn’t seem to be proud of his – my – family’s history – except for the good things of course.)

mental-health-story-quote-1Well, that night I made a decision to go to my doctor and demand to get a referral for a psych evaluation. I’d been going to him at least once a year since I was 15, telling him that I needed help and he’d just kept sending me to psychologists who failed to recognize any signs. But this time, I wasn’t going to listen to him; this time he was going to listen to me!

Three weeks later, I went and told my doctor to give me that referral… He finally did. After seven years, I was finally going to get the help that I knew I needed. Since my first serious depression, I’d known that it wasn’t “just” a depression. I knew it was more than that, but no one would listen to a “hormonal” 15 year old.

Six months later I went to the psychiatrist and filled out a questionnaire that would determine if I had an actual mental illness and if so, which one. After I’d filled it out, I went in for the consult and I told him why I’d sought for psychiatric help as opposed to psychological and we made an appointment for another consult a month later.

August ended and September 21st came; I finally got there and sat down in the waiting room. Of course, the doctor was late. Typical, isn’t it? When you’re about to be late and you rush to get there, whoever you’re meeting is late. It didn’t take long for him to pull me in and give me my diagnosis. “Hi Camilla. So… There’s no doubt about it. You have Bipolar Disorder type II.”

No doubt. No doubt? After seven years, at least seven depression consults with my doctor, three psychologists and countless counsellors, it took one test and one conversation with a psychiatrist to get a diagnosis. A diagnosis that I had known I would receive. For seven years I had dealt with the downside of this illness and no one had been there to really help me.

mental-health-story-quote-2Less two months after I got my diagnosis, I went through another downward spiral, with the snap of two fingers. All I remember is waking up one morning and not being able to get up. I, physically, couldn’t. I lied there, listening to my alarm going off until my Mom came in half an hour later and asked me why I wasn’t up yet. I just looked into the air and said, “It’s gone bad again.” And so, another battle started, but this time we knew why and how to help it.

I ended up dropping out of school –third try on getting an education– to concentrate on getting better and staying better. With a diagnosis it wasn’t hard to have the system work with me instead of against me. They set me up in a mindfulness-ish class that had a couple of painting hours a week, which were the only reason I went. I wasted seven months there until I could get into a program for people who aren’t fit for work or school.

During those months, I did my best to experience as many things that would give me joy as possible. I went to Paris to meet one of my two best friends for the first time. Two months later I went to the Monte Carlo TV Festival with my other best friend – my best friend for longer than forever, as her and I say. And that same Summer I was lucky enough to not get renewed at that mindfulness-ish class, so that I could have a month vacation before starting the program. This break gave me two weeks in Skagen; this annual trip was exactly what I needed! A week of having fun with a friend and the next with my Dad and sister – later joined by my sister’s mother – where I spent most days relaxing in the sun. Perfect.

And finally August came and the program started.

This program has three subjects: music, art and theatre. And since August 2013, I have been an amateur actress. This place is safe. If you’re energized and overjoyed, you use that energy to do theatre work. If you’re tired or sad – or both – there’s a place upstairs with a couch, where you can lie down if you need to. It’s a place where you have support your co-workers, the guidance counsellors and the ones who are in charge of each subject. There’s room for you there. Continue reading

An unusual view of adoption to help create awareness

November, adoption awareness

We wanted to show you this, because it raises awareness about adoption from a less-typical perspective. Share your thoughts in the comments below! Do you have an adoption story? If you do, send it our way. Email us at [email protected]

I always find that there is a side of adoption that doesn’t seem to get talked about quite as much as the rest. Adopted children are often asked to share their stories. Their adoptive parents are also generally given an open forum for talking about their motivations for adopting. But I always find the birth family isn’t often acknowledged, specifically in the media and our culture.

If and when a birth mother is given a significant story line in either fiction or non-fiction, it usually is talking about the circumstances that caused her to give-up her babies or young children, or what caused her babies or young children to be taken from her.

I love adoption.  I think it is an amazing and beautiful thing. 

And I truly believe that without adoption, I wouldn’t be alive.

She found us

I wasn’t adopted, but my mom had a baby when she was fifteen years old and gave her up for adoption. The statistics of couples that stay together while raising an infant born during their adolescence definitely point to me not being here if my mother hadn’t made that choice.

I didn’t know my mother and father had had this baby when I was younger.  I didn’t know about the baby until she, as an adult, searched for her birth parents and found them together with two young children. I was eleven.

adoption awareness monthTo say my life changed would be an understatement… but every single change was for the better. My sister is an incredibly strong and smart individual and we are very close. She is definitely my hero and I am so proud to have her as a sister.

It’s been so long now, we are just sisters; we were pretty much just sisters from the start. She is as much a part of our family as I am, and she is a part of me.

It’s also been so long now that we don’t have to tell the story that we didn’t always know each other to everyone we meet. The people who have been in our lives from the time we met already know… and the new people in our lives only know who we are now and what our relationship is now.

Occasionally, the story comes up in conversation and we do tell people who have never known us in any other context. The reactions range anywhere from endearing…

- “That is so sweet.  It is so nice to see you two having such a marvellous relationship now.”

… to hurtful

- “Oh… so she’s not your real sister?”

And there is the occasional disbelief, but probably not in the sense you’re thinking:

- “Pft, whatever. Adopted. Yeah right. By a family that looks exactly like you.”

It’s true.  We do look alike.  I have a photo of my mother, my sister and I at the same age, side-by-side… there’s no doubt we’re all related.

When people accuse her of not being my “real” sister… that’s the one that gets to me the most.  She is my sister.  Not only is she 100% biologically my sister… she is my sister in every other sense of the word.  I’ve had her in my life for more years now than not. We are close friends. We talk every day. She constantly inspires me and helps me. I don’t know how I would have gotten through high school without her.

She is my sister.  She is a part of me.

And yeah… I’m the bio family. I’m the family that’s not often talked about when the discussion of adoption comes up – certainly not biological siblings. But we do exist. Whether we’re 100% blood siblings or half siblings, we are “real” siblings and we are affected by the adoption too.

World Tourism Day

World Tourism Day - September 27

Sun, sea, beach, relaxation, hotels, airplanes, sightseeing… All things you think about when it comes to tourism, right? But this industry involves so much more than that.

Tourism is all about people -from all layers of society- destinations, experiences, environments and even governments. It has social, cultural, economic and political value. To emphasize the importance of this industry in all of the previous mentioned facets, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNTWO) introduced World Tourism Day in 1980.

The date, every year on 27th September, was chosen since it indicates the end of the high season in the northern hemisphere and the beginning of the season in the southern hemisphere. On this day, we celebrate tourism, and maybe even more importantly, we address the eight Millennium Development Goals set up by the United Nations:

  • Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
  • Achieve universal primary education
  • Promote gender equality and empower women
  • Reduce child mortality
  • Improve maternal health
  • Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  • Ensure environmental sustainability
  • Global partnership for development

world tourism dayWe leave our footprints with everything we do. Tourism in general leaves an enormous footprint on planet Earth and can have drastic consequences. ‘Sustainability’ is a word often related to tourism, as we want “to develop tourism in the most sustainable way possible”. But what does the word ‘sustainability’ actually mean? It’s a vague concept, but simply put it means that tourism needs to take full account of the economic, political, cultural, social and environmental impacts it has. An almost undoable task, made harder even by people and government’s personal interests and corruption.

But I’m not here to only point out the negative aspects of the industry. Tourism is two-faced. World Tourism Day is also a day of celebration. The WTD blogger competition for example showcases some of the success stories of this incredible industry. From voluntourism to community development and from community based tourism to rewarding traveling experiences, it’s all there.

My life and tourism

Maaike in CambodiaI have a rather long history when it comes to the concept of ‘tourism.’ About 16 years ago, when I was six, I started playing ‘travel agency.’ What I did was getting all the travel brochures my parents had collected over the years and an old computer keyboard out and I got creative with crayons and paper.

My parents and friends had to browse through the travel brochures, I would ‘check’ availability for them and ‘book’ their hotel and flight ticket. I even gave them some extra information about the destination they were traveling too (all made up with that crazy imagination of mine) and print their flight tickets (writing down some random letters and numbers on a piece of paper).

Later on, I became really interested in meeting people from abroad and learning about other cultures. That’s why I started to look for pen pals online and joined the travel website Virtual Tourist (‘’Meeting the People Behind the Places’’).

Continue reading

The moment after a loved one commits suicide

how to deal with the first moments after a family member commits suicide
Trigger warning: suicide

What happens at second 41?

If every 40 seconds one person takes their own life, who picks up the pieces at second 41? How to react the exact moment after this happens?

So here’s the thing. Sunday, the morning of August 31st 2014, I woke up with a lot of things on my mind.  First and foremost was the fact that it was my little sister Nicole’s birthday.  Six and a half years ago, on February 12th, 2008, she took her own life at just 23 years old. And there are so many things I could say.

  • She was too young
  • She had her whole life ahead of her
  • She didn’t know what she’d be missing
  • She had to have known how much everyone loved her
  • She surely knew how her family would feel if she was gone

The thing is… when Nicole decided to take her life, she wasn’t thinking about her age. She took her life because she felt she didn’t have her whole life ahead of her. She couldn’t picture the future long enough to realize that she was going to miss out on some of the most fun and best times ever. She had no idea how much she was truly loved. And most importantly, she wasn’t thinking about anyone but herself when she made the decision to end it all.

Suicide is NOT selfish

When I hear talk about suicide, one of the most common things people tend to discuss is strictly their personal opinions on how they feel about suicide. Too often, those affected by suicide aren’t in the right frame of mind to decide to get involved and take an active stance against it. This is where one of my many points comes into play.

Definition of selfish. Is suicide selfish?When you ask someone their opinion on suicide, I feel pretty comfortable saying that I bet they’ll tell you they think suicide is selfish. But is suicide actually selfish? Just look at the definition.

When you first start reading it, you might think “Yeah, actually it is.”  But then you keep going and you ask yourself “Personal profit?”  And then we have the words egocentric, egotistic, egomaniacal. Do any of those words sound like they describe someone who’s about to take their own life?  I honestly don’t think so.

  • Desperation
  • Despair
  • Pain
  • Anxiety
  • Fear

I could go on and on, but those are a handful of words that I would associate with the act of suicide. Having been through the things I’ve been through, I doubt “selfish” is a word I will ever associate with it. I used the word in my video, but in relation to those of us who are trying to prevent it.

It hurts

I remember that night Nicole called me. I couldn’t understand a thing she was saying. All I was getting was screaming and crying, and words here and there that sounded like “it hurts” and “want to die” and more screaming and crying.

She had tried to cut her wrist open. When we took her to the hospital, there’s only one distinct conversation I remember having with her. They were stitching up her wrist and while I held her other hand we had a little talk. I told her I loved her, that I was there for her.

Jenn and Nicole. SistersI held her hand while she cried and told me how much it hurt. But she wasn’t talking about her wrist. She was talking about her heart. And her mind. She was telling me how much it hurt to be alive. In that brief moment, I made a decision that some days, I find myself questioning and regretting.  I said: “It’s a selfish thing to ask… but please don’t go.  It’s selfish of me to want you to stay. But please stay”. But then I said: “It’s okay. If the pain is too much and you can’t hold on… it’s okay if you have to go. I love you. I would miss you. But I will never be selfish enough to ask you to stay in a place where you feel like you don’t belong.”

My therapist told me that I did an amazing thing, because I gave her the freedom to choose, and that it took courage to do it. Some days, I question my decision, and in the end it doesn’t make suicide okay.

So what do you do at second 41?

Just as it goes with any death. With any loss. The number one feeling is grief. But with suicide, the rolling wave of emotions a survivor feels is endless.

It’s different for every single person. There are those who feel like they failed the person who took their own life. And then there are those who feel like failures.

You find yourself constantly lost in thought and the number one thing on everyone’s mind is “What did I miss? What could I have done differently?”

The truth of the matter is that there’s nothing you can do differently. There’s nothing more you can do except to let them know how much you care. How much they mean to you. How much the entire world will lose, if they’re gone.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, you can’t convince them they have a reason to stay.

It’s not because they aren’t strong enough.
It’s not because they’re selfish.
It’s simply because the pain is too great.

At second 41, all you can feel is confusion. Second 42… panic. Second 43… denial. Second 44… pain.

And every second that ticks by, a new emotion will take you over, right down to your soul.  But when it’s all said and done and the realization sets in, try to remember what the person would want you to do.

They’ll want you to pick up the pieces and try to understand they didn’t mean to hurt you. They just didn’t know how else to make their own pain go away. So, you see? Suicide isn’t about being selfish. It’s not about hurting others or thinking about one’s self. It’s about freedom of choice and the need to make the pain go away.

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you think someone you know/love is considering suicide, let them know they have choices. Let them know they are free to choose. But also make sure (VERY sure) you let them know they will never be alone. Let them know how much you care. You CAN save a life. Let them know you’re there for them and how much they matter.

Hopefully, you’ll never have to stand on the side of second 41.

- Jenn
(Ugly Ducklings Inc team member, and author of this Ugly Duckling Story)

She Misses Her Sister, And Wants You To Know Something

“There’s so many things, that my little sister has missed. So many things that she’s not been a part of…”

It’s September 7th, and although we kinda hate that there even is a week for suicide prevention, we are here to make our part in telling all those who still don’t see how serious this topic is, that it is happening. It is happening so often that it is scary. I didn’t really know this until I saw the video.

This is Jenn. She lost her little sister seven years ago after she decided to take her own life. Their relationship was truly special, and now that September 10th is upon us, she wants you to know something.

40 seconds were never so relevant, until now…

PS: Don’t ever hesitate to reach others if you need to. Ugly Ducklings Inc is a community of people who can offer support and encouragement. We are not professionals, but you can check our resources page to contact helplines. Try to find counsellors near you, or close friends and family who care. There will always be someone out there for you. 

Ugly Ducklings from Netherlands, Switzerland, and Argentina together

Ugly Ducklings Inc members get together

There are people who are very skeptical when it comes to cyber friends and meeting people you’ve only talked to via a computer screen.

Well, The Ugly Ducklings are an exception…

This past summer, Maaike, Maressa, and Marie had the incredible opportunity to meet each other, defying long distances (in the case of Argentina, especially), and other tiny obstacles. Below you’ll read the three diaries of these three duckies who got this great chance to meet.

Maaike story, summer with ugly ducklings

Having some of my best friends living abroad is a unique experience to say the least. Everything feels exactly the same as with friends living close to you, except for the *bloody* concept of distance (who came up with that anyway?).

You cannot just ring your friends on the other side of the world to ask if they feel like going out or to meet up. Conversations are only possible via text messaging applications or social media, and face to face contact is limited to online video chats. It’s weird feeling so close somehow, but so far away at the same time.

But sometimes… sometimes luck is at your side.

That moment when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, and you can actually be together with friends you love so very much. It happened to me this summer when I was the most fortunate girl in the world to be able to spend some time with my dear friends Maressa and Marie (a.k.a. Sisters from other Misters).

Last summer, Maressa and I were on a road trip for a week in her home country Switzerland (and we also shared our experience with The Ugly Ducklings here!)

Right away we agreed that we would meet up again next summer too, regardless of where that would be. Well, since Maressa never visited my home country, the Netherlands, we agreed that she would visit me this summer. We planned some day trips and even visited my second home, London, where I used to live in 2012. It was once again an amazing experience that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss for the world.

meeting ugly ducklings from other places

With our Ugly Ducklings t-shirts!

Then there’s this other peculiar case of faith I need to tell you about. Our dear Colombian friend living in Argentina (still following?), Marie, happened to attend a wedding in Rome in July… at the exact time Maressa was in the Netherlands. Everyone can do the math, right?

Exactly! Marie also took a flight to the Netherlands. I’ll spare you the details, but the journey to Europe entailed a lot of work and stress for her. But finally, she made it and the three of us were reunited.

I really have to say, it felt so natural to have these girls with me. So perfectly normal. Like we’re not living 450 and 7107 miles (!) apart, but just next door to each other. I was then also extremely sad to see them leave.

I had an amazing time with my Sisters and loved to show them my homeland. Also looking through their eyes at my own country and its culture taught me so much. It’s good to reflect upon these things from time to time and to open your eyes to your own country’s beauty and its unique aspects.

Friends enrich your life and having friends living so far away makes you appreciate that fact even more.

Maressa and Marie, I felt extremely privileged to be able to show you my country and to have you around me. Het was gezellig! Love you girls to the moon and back!

Continue reading

Rest in Peace Robin Williams

Robin Williams was the voice of the Genie. Try to fight depression

Don’t you feel like you just lost a long-life friend?

Someone who taught you how to laugh, how to cry? How to laugh and cry at the same time?

Robin Williams passed away yesterday, August 11th, and according to media reports, he had been fighting some depression demons for a long time.

You think that people who are always doing funny things and making people laugh are just showing the rest of the world what they are experiencing inside… well, sometimes it’s just their own way to cope with the problems and aches they have inside.

Don’t ever hesitate to reach out if you feel depressed

“I’m sad”. We all go through moments when we cannot deal with our inner feelings and we look for ways to escape. Perhaps we can’t seem to see an exit door. Here, at Ugly Ducklings Inc, we have been fortunate enough to create a supportive community, where people in need might come to us and ask for advice. At the same time, we have some amazing group of people who are willing to say some words of encouragement at the moment they most need it.

After the sad news of Robin Williams’ passing, and how everyone has felt touched by his leaving us, it is very important that we reinstate, and encourage you to look for someone who can help you, as there will always be someone willing to be there for you. As Sky Williams said in his video “A message to the Depressed”, always try to look for someone who is near you, a friend, a therapist, a relative. If not, you can try the different hotlines available.

We have a list of resources that you can turn to if you need to. Just click here.

And to all those who have been in close contact with depression, either because of a friend, a relative, or because you yourself are suffering, this message is for you…

“I’d like to live in a world where happiness is as easy as buying a soda in a vending machine. But it’s harder than that.”

Special thanks to The Telegraph and MindFullUK for sharing this beautiful video.

Josh Dallas NAHS charity fundraiser

Hello Ugly Ducklings. 

Today’s post is dedicated to our great friends, partners, and favorite people from the Charming Angels community and the fans and admirers of actor Josh Dallas from the tv show Once Upon a Time.

Last year we united forces for our first charity competition, where we had the support of these wonderful people. With their help, we raised $600 for Mental Fitness Inc!

Now, we want to help them spread the word on their new campaign in favor of Josh Dallas’ high school’s theater department.

They’ll do a series of raffles starting on June 9th and you only need to donate a small amount of money to participate and get a chance to win one of these!!!

Josh Dallas Charity Drive

Item from Lot 1 – Novel signed by Josh

Josh Dallas Charity Drive

Item from Lot 2. Complete Season 1 DVD signed twice by Josh

Make sure you read all the instructions over at their website: Josh Dallas NAHS Theater Dept. Charity Drive.

If you can’t donate money, then there’s something that’s free and super easy to do: tell others about this, so more people can help and support this great cause.

Stay awesome Ugly Ducklings. And thank you!

Swan Out,
- Marie

30 days of hope project

JUNE is HERE! That means that #30DaysOfHope begins now!

Ugly Ducklings, we know that through this community we have helped, support and encourage lots of people, and both our lives as well as theirs have been touched by the positivity and the advice that we post here.

Two of our dear friends from when we got this movement going, Zachery, and Amy  -who are part of the Once Upon a Fan website- came to us to get this thing going. What better way to bring each other up than with #30DaysOfHope? 

So come! Don’t miss this for the world! Remember to follow us on Twitter, @UDucklingsInc, as well as @TheZachVan, and @Amylia403

30 Days of Hope