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Access to Treatment is the Best Way to Fight Stigma

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013

Access to Treatment is the Best Way to Fight StigmaToday, I was slapped in the face by a stranger and made to feel less than human. Today, I was marginalized and discriminated against. Today, I felt the weight of an extremist opinion. Although it was just one ignorant person, I know there are more of the same out there, and something must be done.

On Twitter (@unsuicide), I share suicide prevention resources and ways to find help. Recently I’ve also been sharing the National Association of Broadcasters‘ newly launched anti-stigma mental health awareness campaign, OK2Talk.

It’s a series of PSAs and a web site aimed at youth, encouraging them to open up about issues. I thought I was preaching to the choir a bit with my followers, people who are mostly either mental health consumers or professionals, or who have an interest in mental health promotion and suicide prevention.

Imagine my shock, then, when someone replied to say there should be a law to segregate people who have been unstable from the rest of the population.

People like me.

Life as a Mentally Ill Professional

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Life as a Mentally Ill ProfessionalI am a Social Security disability attorney and I just won another bipolar case for the most deserving of clients.

I have a soft spot for her myriad problems: psychotic breaks, commitment to psychiatric hospitals, deep depression, panic attacks… you name it. Today was a glorious day when I feel proud of my profession and lucky that I have found somewhere to do good while living with a mental illness.

Yes, living with a mental illness. I am 37 years old and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in February 2000.

Mental Illness and the Benefits of Work

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

The Benefits of Work for Helping with Mental IllnessI’m grateful we have a social safety net. It’s important to help people pull themselves up, and to provide care for those who cannot support themselves because of serious disability.

The net may not be cast broadly enough, as too many people who need help are denied services. That said, the most important thing that led to my recovery from serious mental illness was being denied Social Security disability income.

I believe that many, if not most, people with mental illness want to recover and to successfully manage life with illness. They achieve wellness by applying the treatments prescribed for them, and by using whatever adjunct therapies work for them. Others work just as hard, but are tragically treatment resistant, and find little solace.

But I was shocked when during my first hospitalization I encountered other patients in the day room trading tips on how to game the system.

5 Steps to Improve Sleep & Emotional Vulnerability

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

5 Steps to Improve Sleep & Emotional VulnerabilityMost of us don’t need science to tell us that sleep and emotion are closely linked.  Spend a couple nights with interrupted sleep or talk to any parent of a newborn and the connection is quite clear.

The connection appears not just in everyday life.  In certain physical and mental disorders sleep disturbance and emotion dysregulation are hallmark symptoms. Symptoms of one rare disorder, cataplexy, which often co-occurs with the sleep disorder, narcolepsy for example, include sudden muscle weakness when a person experiences strong emotion, such as anger or fear, or exhilaration.

Lack of adequate sleep also is commonly linked with emotional or psychological problems. Examples include depression and PTSD, while sleep disturbances combined with emotional reactivity are key dimensions of bipolar disorder.

And even when lack of sleep isn’t connected to rare disorders or affective psychological problems, it is linked to increased emotionality. 

5 Reliable Ways to Deal With Mental Health Stigma, Prejudice

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Had depression not killed my godmother — my mom’s sister — and had it not made a pretty good attempt at ending my life, I doubt I would admit to anyone that I pack my suitcase full of the old-people container of meds. It’s hard enough to list them all at the doctor’s office with a straight face, much less speak openly online and offline about my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression.

We all make fun of Tom Cruise for his beliefs that you can cure depression with exercise alone, but my guess — based on the reactions I get and the conversations I have when I throw out the D word — is that most people share his philosophy… That those chronic worriers and criers among us haven’t learned how to cope with life’s blows, give into needless thoughts and feelings, and — with a little yoga and tofu — might toughen up and get off the couch.

What do we do about it? How do we possibly stand a chance at fighting such an uninformed but common mindset?

Being Married to a Person with Depression or Bipolar: 6 Survival Tips

Monday, May 13th, 2013

Being Married to a Person with Depression or Bipolar: 6 Survival TipsSome sobering statistics: Depression has a much greater impact on marital life than rheumatoid arthritis or cardiac disease. Ninety percent of marriages where one person is bipolar ends in divorce. Persons diagnosed with bipolar disorder have three times the rate of divorce as the general public, which is about 50 percent.

This is all to communicate this message: marriages in which one person suffers from depression or bipolar disorder can be extremely fragile.

I know, because I’m in one.

Here are six tips that have helped us and other couples I know defy the statistics.

Medication Compliance: Why Don’t We Take Our Meds?

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

Medication Compliance: Why Don't We Take Our Meds?I was going to comment on health care expenditures with an article entitled, “How the High Cost of Health is My Fault.” In it, I would briefly outline my experience with mental illness and detail the cost of caring for it, which, at present, includes medication and doctor visits, totals at least $10,500 per year. Much of this cost is borne by an insurance company.

Then I was going to relate the story about how, in the summer of 2002, I chose to stop taking my medicine the way my doctor directed me to take it, and then I stopped taking my medicine at all.

This was a bad choice. As a result, my illness became an emergency.

Nine hours in the ICU, four days in a private room, and two more weeks of hospital care brought a bill that topped $95,000.

The cost of nine years of care was eaten up by just a few weeks of my irresponsibility. That was cost that the health care industry, including my insurance company, would not have had to bear if I had only taken my medicine as directed.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Not Just for Mental Illness

Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Dialectical Behavior Therapy: Not Just for Mental IllnessWhen I was studying psychology in college, I remember having a particular distaste for the behavioral approaches of B.F. Skinner. Defining the sacred depths of being human by behavioral impulses akin to a mouse motivated by cheese was not for me. I was much more into psychoanalytic therapy and Jung.

How then later did I come to embrace cognitive behavioral and related therapies that spell out that we are, essentially, just a mess of behaviors (good and bad)?

If you dig into your family dynamic, and maybe establishing relationships with others from equally dysfunctional backgrounds, you are bound to have a change of heart about old Skinner. Maybe there is something to behaviorism after all, and it can jibe with the deeper therapies that ask you to reflect on early places of pain and identity-molding.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is particularly of interest not just to me, but folks trying to come to grasp with certain subsets of mental illness — borderline personality disorder, bipolar and other depressive disorders. But its principles can be significantly farther-reaching than mental illness circles alone.

Where is the Self in Treatment of Mental Disorders?

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Where is the Self in Treatment of Mental Disorders?A lot of treatment for mental health concerns is focused on the disorder. Medications for the symptoms, cognitive-behavioral therapy for the irrational thoughts. Professionals always asking “How’re you doing?” “How’s the week been?” “How’s your depressive mood this week?” They look at your eye contact, monitor your lithium levels.

The focus for most treatment professionals is on a patient’s symptoms and the alleviation of symptoms. Few professionals delve into how a disorder — like bipolar disorder or clinical depression — changes our identity. Everything we know about ourselves.

Everything we thought we knew about ourselves.

That’s why this recent piece in the NYT Magazine by Linda Logan exploring this issue is so interesting and timely.

Meditation as an Adjunct Therapy in Treating Mental Illness

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Meditation as an Adjunct Therapy in Treating Mental IllnessWhile I believe mindfulness meditation has been the keystone to my recovery, I still think of it as an adjunct therapy. I couldn’t manage mental illness as well as I do now if I did not meditate. But I acknowledge that the medication my doctor prescribes and the therapy visits I have with him are crucial as well. Only through the consistent application of all three therapies am I well.

Mindfulness meditation is currently all the rage, and it works. But I am wary of its proponents who claim it can treat (or even cure) mental illness by itself.

Meditation is a powerful tool when used to decrease stress and increase well-being. But if we are to maintain that mental illnesses are biochemical malfunctions of the brain and nervous system, then we must allow room in treatment for medicine. Therapy also has a long history of positive impact on the lives of those challenged by psychiatric disease. Meditation, when added to more traditional and well-tested methods of treatment, can help a patient successfully manage a challenging life. I, and so many others like me, am proof of that.

Suicide Attempt Survivors Involved in Suicide Prevention

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Suicide Attempt Survivors Involved in Suicide PreventionWhat Happens Now is a shiny new blog hosted by the American Association of Suicidology, written by and for suicide attempt survivors. Journalist Cara Anna is the editor, inviting other attempt survivors to contribute guest posts, or take part in interviews with her, as well as writing extremely insightful posts herself.

Even the word “survivor” uncovers stigma in the world of suicide prevention. Traditionally it’s been used by those bereaved by the suicide death of someone else, and does not refer to those who have survived suicide attempts.

A few savvy agencies, including the AAS and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, are careful to distinguish between “loss survivors” and “attempt survivors,” but more often organizations will simply refer to “survivors,” and they always mean the bereaved when they do.

This might seem like a quibble with language, but in fact illustrates structural stigma among suicide prevention agencies. Attempt survivors simply don’t exist in their language, or in their activities.

How I Use Mindfulness to Help with Hypomania

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

How I Use Mindfulness to Help with HypomaniaI wrote in a post titled Using Meditation to Diagnose Your Mood that one of the benefits of meditation to a person with a mental illness is the ability to detect episodes early. Well, I’m in one.

It’s been hard to sit at all, let alone for the 30 minutes I meditate each day. I find myself agitated and fidgety. My thoughts are all over the place.

This is not unusual during meditation, but in taking note of the subjects of my thoughts, I can see hypomania creeping in. I’m thinking of buying stuff. I’m thinking of trading stocks. I’m thinking of another career change, discarding good ideas for more exciting, if undoable, ones.

All of my thoughts are about getting and doing. Anything. Right now I feel smarter, more creative, and more energetic than I usually do. That might be dangerous, but that’s what I’m feeling, and that’s what I encounter during meditation.

And here’s where mindfulness meditation really helps.

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