“We’ve been there. We know what it’s like.”
– DBSA President Peter Ashenden on one of the organization’s most crucial weapons for combating mental health stigma and misinformation.
In addition to currently serving as the president of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Peter Ashenden is a dynamic keynote speaker, a member of several mental health boards and committees, and acted as both a commissioner of the Certification Commission of the United States Psychiatric Rehabilitation Association (USPRA) and the executive director for the Mental Health Empowerment Project (MHEP).
Simply put, Ashenden is quite the force to be reckoned with in the mental health education and advocacy world and, as cliché as it sounds, I pretty much felt like I was in the presence of greatness when I was able to speak with him last month about the DBSA’s involvement with Blueprint for Hope, the recently launched campaign the DBSA, ABC’s Paige Hemmis, and the University of Louisville’s Dr. Jesse H. Wright hope will help people develop their own “blueprints” for treating and managing depression.
Ashenden credits an “uninformed public” as being one of the biggest problems with mental health care today, so it’s really no surprise the DBSA was eager to get on board with Blueprint for Hope:
“We knew it was going to be a very important campaign. We’re creating ways for people to develop plans […] ways people can support that plan.”
Of course, this isn’t exactly a new mission for the DBSA. Founded in 1985, the DBSA is the nation’s largest consumer-run mental health advocacy organization with 17 state organizations, more than 400 chapters, and close to 1,000 support groups across the country.
In addition to online support groups, which have elicited responses with which Ashenden is “extremely pleased,” the organization’s website, www.dbsalliance.org, provides numerous tools for understanding depression and developing wellness plans. From the in depth educational resources to help people learn more about depression and bipolar disorder, to its Wellness Toolbox which offers strategy tips, symptom management checklists, and trigger and trouble trackers, it seems like the DBSA offers every tool a depression sufferer could possibly need to comprehend and manage depression – aside from what you must get from a doctor, that is.
As the DBSA site clearly demonstrates, the Internet provides a vast array of information when it comes to learning more about and managing mental health issues – especially for folks who are still intimidated by the stigma that surrounds mental illness – but it shouldn’t always be the only source of help. It can actually lead to more isolation, which Ashenden warns is the “worst demon” when it comes to dealing with mental health issues like depression.
“Get as much information as you can. Read literature, talk to support groups – but never isolate yourself.”
Despite the risk of isolation, stigma, fear, and shame are still pretty powerful factors in preventing folks from talking about mental health and seeking treatment. Yet, Ashenden has an answer for that, too, and it lies in his evident hands-on approach to educating people about mental health and treatments: He assures me that if anyone ever admitted to him to being afraid to attend a support group meeting, he’d respond:
“Would you be willing to meet me on a Saturday and we’ll go together?”
Ashenden’s impressive resume isn’t all he brings to the DBSA or Blueprint for Hope, and he can sum up his secret weapon with one word: “Passion!”
“It motivates and drives me to achieve more and more. I set the bar high because I know we can achieve it.”
Both the DBSA and Blueprint for Hope clearly have the right guy on their team.
For more information, please visit the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance and Blueprint for Hope websites. And, to find out what Paige Hemmis says about it all, visit Paige Hemmis: Help For Depression, One Blueprint At A Time.