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The Joe Scale | Clear Communication for Mental Health


Wife: “Honey, do you like this dress?”

Me: “It’s hot, babe. +8 easily!”

Kids: ”Dad, what did you think about dinner?”

Me: “You mean the spaghetti burgers I cooked? Yeah…um, -3. Sorry bout that.”

I really don’t remember when I created this Joe Scale thing, but it’s been around for a bit. All I know is that a while back I needed a common sense way to tell my family and friends how I felt. A way to make it ridiculously easy both to say… and to understand. Communicating how I feel about anything has always been a difficult task. This is especially true when it comes to how I feel about ME. But this “letting people know how I feel” struggle has been so important to the people I love and to my personal health and safety. Here's why:

What if we were all speaking the same language when we try to tell someone how we feel? You’d think this would be a no-brainer, but nope. Developing that common language and how we communicate our health and feelings has long been neglected, avoided, and/or utterly and embarrassingly mishandled. Sharing about the Joe Scale is my way of trying to help find a solution for you and I to let others know how we are doing, especially when we are in crisis or feeling manic.

The Joe Scale is a numerical scale and is, or is supposed to be, easy as pie (Pumpkin preferably, with CoolWhip). It ranges from -10 to 10, with zero being the midpoint. Here’s how it works: If you don’t like something or you're not feeling well, whatever… guess which side of zero your number falls on. Go ahead, guess.

The negative side.

Yeah. Gold star for you!

And if you are feeling good or you like something, guess which side of zero the number falls on?

You’ve got it.

The positive side.

You’re catching on.

I believe we can accomplish amazing things when we are all speaking the same language, and that is what I am inviting you to do. To learn a new way, a simple way, of letting people know how you are doing.

Whether it's my wife’s outfit she tried on in Marshall’s dressing room for our 25th wedding anniversary or my infamous spaghetti burgers (actual photos above), I want people to both know that they can trust AND understand what I am saying! Here's the deal; when I am in the middle of an emotional crisis, I don't have the energy or vocabulary to let the loving people in my life understand what's going on. And so this common language, the Joe Scale, is what I've created to, at the least, begin to solve this problem.

So, you’ve grasped these basics; if you feel good, your number (which I refer to as your mental health number, MHN) will be on the positive side of the scale. And, if you’re not feeling good, your MHN will be on the negative side of the scale.

There are at least two significant places on the scale that are unique to you: the

Crisis Number (CN) & Manic Number (MN).

These are very specific points on the Joe Scale that let you, and more importantly your community of support, know you may need some help. The CN indicates you are not safe and that you need immediate medical intervention. I don’t know about you, but when I am in a bad place, I don’t have the words, desire, or emotional fortitude be able to communicate the struggle that is happening inside of my soul. So my therapist and family all know my CN, that point on the Joe Scale where I need to be taken to the hospital. For me, the CN is -6.

And then there are those times I feel on top of the world; like nothing can stop me! It’s in that state that I begin to think I can do way more than I am actually capable of. The understanding

of my own limitations has flown out the window. I remember at one point I thought that going into the ministry, working my full-time job at FedEx, starting a business, being a dad and husband of four….(ok, let’s try that again) being a husband and DAD of four, and staying up until 3am each night was a really good idea. “It's the Lord’s work,” I would tell myself. Nope! I was experiencing mania.

But the thing is, unlike the crisis number, experiences like this feel really, really good….until I crash. The next day, after trying to do and be too much, I'd end up feeling like my world had ended and would struggle to see the point of even trying to live through another day. I'd feel done, like life was over. The point on the Joe Scale when I feel so amazing it causes me to stop and think about what exactly I am feeling is the Manic Number. That's a +6 for me. If someone asks me how I am doing and I tell them I am at a +6 or better, little alarm bells start going off in my head and I am reminded to ask myself, "Self," (because that is how I start off all conversations with myself) "are you manic?" Because if I am, there are certain things I can do to help cushion the inevitable emotional crash….and for me, when I’m manic, there is always a fall. At the same time, it's very possible that I could just be in a really good mood. Either way, when I am feeling that good I want to be able to still enjoy those feelings! Feeling scared that I’m manic and will somehow have an emotional crash really gets in the way of continuing to feel good. So, if the answer is yes, I think I might be manic, I can begin to make some decisions that will help me down the line if a crash or crisis occurs. At the same time, while I am creating this emotional safety net, I can allow myself to enjoy the feeling of actually feeling really, really good without having to focus on the fear of what might or might not happen (the crash). And if I ask myself “Self, am I manic?” and the answer is “no,” then I get to carry on with life and once again enjoy where I’m at and how I’m feeling. I’ve taken fear out of the game.

Broken People is working to create more resources for you to be able to use and share with your therapist, doctor, and loved ones. To receive these resources and news / information about mental health, click here to sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Also, click the link below to download the free Joe Scale pdf. worksheet!

Joseph E. Reid

Executive Director | Broken People

Joe Scale PDF
Download PDF • 81KB

The author of this article owns that article and has let Broken People use it with permission on our site. If anyone should wish to quote or use any part of that article, they must obtain the author’s permission and reference them and their work appropriately.

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