The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) is the leading patient-led national organization focusing on mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder. Join us as their CEO, Michael Pollock, sits down with Gabe to discuss the group’s patient advocacy goals, the current challenges facing the mental health community, and changes brought on by the pandemic.
A thoughtful, motivated, outcomes-oriented leader, Michael Pollock serves as CEO for the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Michael drives DBSA’s mission of providing hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people living with mood disorders. He is a fierce advocate for the value of peer support, accessible mental health care, and programs and policies that empower people living with mood disorders to reach their full potential.
During his 20+ years of nonprofit experience, Michael has held leadership positions at the National Safety Council, Thresholds, and United Way.
Michael is an alumnus of Bowling Green State University, where he earned both a BS in Business Administration and MS of Organization Development.
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, “Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations,” available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from the author.
Gabe makes his home in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio. He lives with his supportive wife, Kendall, and a Miniature Schnauzer dog that he never wanted, but now can’t imagine life without.
To book Gabe for your next event or learn more about him, please visit gabehoward.com.
Producer’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: You’re listening to Inside Mental Health: A Psych Central Podcast where experts share experiences and the latest thinking on mental health and psychology. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Greetings, everyone. I’m your host Gabe Howard and calling into the show today we have Michael Pollock. Michael is the CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, commonly referred to as the DBSA. He is a fierce advocate for the value of peer support, accessible mental health care and programs and policies that empower people living with mood disorders to reach their full potential. Michael, welcome to the show.
Michael Pollock: Well, Gabe, thank you for this opportunity, and I’m excited to be here with you today.
Gabe Howard: I’m excited that you’re here as well. And so much so, you know, before I ask any questions, I just want to thank you personally for the work that the DBSA does. As a person living with bipolar disorder. I both appreciate the advocacy that you do on my behalf. And I wanted to share with our listeners and to you that early in my recovery, I attended DBSA support groups. And as I moved further into my recovery, I even had the privilege of being a speaker at a DBSA educational meeting a few times. And it’s I just want you and everybody to know that I am a big fan of the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance.
Michael Pollock: Oh, I really appreciate hearing that. We have volunteers and peer support specialists, leading support groups all over the country, and the goal is to create a safe space for people with lived experience, to find some community that can lead them on a path to finding wellness and ultimately finding hope.
Gabe Howard: to the show at hand. Michael, the pandemic. I have seen so many conversations surrounding mental health, but at least from my perspective, all the conversations surrounding mental health have driven down conversations surrounding mental illness. And and while the greater society is willing to acknowledge that the stress that a global pandemic has had on the average person is problematic, we don’t seem to be having discussions about the emotional toll that this exact same experience has had on people who are living with serious and persistent mental illness. We’ve we’ve sort of got a one size fits all mentality. I, I am excited that mental health conversations are are rising. But I’m concerned that conversations surrounding mental illness seem to be declining.
Michael Pollock: The silver lining or a silver lining from the pandemic is, as I like to say, it’s made talking about mental health far more talkable. It’s kind of brought it out of the shadows. And I see that as a good thing on a number of fronts. I think it’s allowed people with lived experience who may have been a little less comfortable disclosing to people in their lives what they’re experiencing. It’s giving them opportunity. I think it’s also provided just some real awareness. And I’d like to think enlightenment from families, from society at large, to understand that people with a mental health condition can can thrive. They can have the kind of life that any any individual strives to have for himself or herself. But at the end of the day, continuing to ensure that there’s access to resources is critical. And I think to the other point to your question is I think it’s also made us all realize just with an under-resourced and fractured mental health system is available and invested in in this country and we have a lot of work to do.
Gabe Howard: We had a lot of work to do before the pandemic. And I do agree a silver lining is that more people are willing to seek mental health treatment and are willing to openly discuss mental health and are willing to admit that they’re having mental health challenges. But I’m putting on like my entrepreneur businessperson hat. Let’s say that you’re a therapist. Let’s say that you’re a doctor, and you’ve got a choice between working with a very difficult patient with, you know, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, serious and persistent mental illness, and they pay less and involve more work because of their insurance. Or you have this influx of people with much better insurance, private pay even, and they pay more and require less work. Again, we had an overburdened mental health system before the pandemic, and now we have more people in it. And I hate to play the suffering Olympics and say that, you know, somebody is worse off than somebody else. But it really does seem like people with severe and persistent mental illness can’t find care because there’s there’s just nobody available.
Michael Pollock: So there’s indeed a shortage of mental health professionals of different disciplines across the entire mental health system. And it’s, again, because of the lack of investment in mental health, it’s created even more inequities in our system. And those inequities, sadly, affect individuals that have a severe mental health condition. And also, we’re also in a situation where people that are historically and traditionally marginalized in our society, communities of color, for example, are also at a disadvantage in terms of access to care.
Gabe Howard: In a perfect world, anybody seeking care for anything, we don’t even have to talk mental health. I think if you sprain your elbow or break your leg, you should not have to wait for access to care. And your care shouldn’t be determined on your ability to pay. But I think there’s an extra challenge when it comes to mental health issues because you’re sick. Right. And that’s problematic. But you’re also if mental health, it impacts your brain, your ability to to advocate for yourself, to fill out insurance forms. Is this a challenge that you’re seeing that people in crisis because of mental health, they’re not able to advocate for their self because the very thing that is broken is their brain? It does make it difficult to argue with doctors, insurance companies and bureaucracy when you’re not thinking straight because of a mental health issue.
Michael Pollock: Yeah. And I think you put your finger on something that I’ve seen in the time that I’ve been a part of DBSA. And that is just the kind of questions that professionals or medical professionals might ask are very different than kind of questions that they would ask of someone who sprained their knee, for example. Societally we just look at mental health very differently. One of the one of the ways in which someone, someone with depression or bipolar or some other mental health condition can plan for that is to ensure that they have trusted support around them. That could be a family member. It could be a life partner, could be a trusted friend. We we had some discussions about access to care at one point just prior to the pandemic. And I recall individuals with mood disorders telling us that one of the things that they acknowledge is important to them is that they have somebody supportive in their life that can help them in conversations with doctors filling out forms because they recognize that they may not always be in a place of good executive functioning, which are more technical terms, but being a place where they’re thinking clearly, seeing clearly, understanding clearly.
Gabe Howard: Mental health is such a big, big issue that it’s become a political issue. The safety net has to be in some way sponsored by and supported by governments. And there’s nothing more political than the government. But it’s sort of bad that it’s a political issue. Right? There’s all of this fighting. You know, one side believes that they have the solution. One side believes that they have the solution. Some sides don’t believe that the crisis is as serious. Other sides want to fund it. Other sides want to want to cut it. It’s become a political debate. And in the wake of that, are suffering people.
Michael Pollock: I think it starts with acknowledging the fact that mental health impacts all of us. Every family knows somebody who is experienced experiencing a mental health condition of some kind. They may not talk about it, but they know somebody. And we need to make this a more top possible issue in terms of advocating for mental health parity, greater resources towards mental health. There are steps that are being taken on a bipartisan basis that will add more resources for mental health. There’s another bill that is making its way in the House. It has bipartisan support that would increase resources for telehealth and virtual peer support, among other things. And organizations like DBSA are looking for and engaging with senators and their staff and the lawmakers that are most invested in this are those who either have somebody in their lives or have heard from their constituents that this is a priority. The arc of change can take a long time, but I am optimistic that we are on the right path in terms of increasing access, increasing resources for mental health in this country.
Gabe Howard: One of the things that I’ve noticed is that crisis with with mental illness and mental health issues is is very public, whereas wellness is very private. I always use the example of I go to the grocery store once a week and when I go to the grocery store on the average week, I’m I’m just a middle-aged man shopping for groceries, pushing the buggy with the the messed up wheel. But if I ever go to the grocery store and have a symptom, if I ever become manic or I think that the the soda machine is a dragon trying to eat me and I start throwing canned goods at it to defend myself and the people around me, that’s going to be very public. Suddenly the discussion point is mentally ill man, man with bipolar, bipolar, you know, freaks out at grocery store, scares children, does property damage, How do we get the wellness side? How do we make that more public? Because I as much as I joke and as loud as I am, I don’t honestly want to go to the grocery store every single week and yell, Hi, I live with bipolar disorder and I’m buying macaroni and cheese. Oh, look at me. I live with bipolar disorder and I’m clipping coupons. Oh, hi. I’m living with bipolar disorder. And I figured out that I can save $0.10 a gallon on gas, but I feel like I need to do that to get people to understand that we’re we’re all walking around, minding our own business, doing our own thing. How do we get over that hurdle of a crisis is very public and wellness is very private?
Michael Pollock: But we live in a society where the media coverage focuses on the extremes, and that’s what draws attention, whether it’s about mental health or something else. By the way, I think you are more than, just some middle aged, boring guy. I think what you’re doing, platform that you have to again make talking about mental health something that’s normalized, it’s doing a great service. And we talk about at DBSA, we talk about the importance of amplifying the voices of those who live with depression. We live with bipolar. That’s our focus. So that people that may not know someone living with a mood disorder can understand that just because you have bipolar, that doesn’t define or limit what you can do. You can do what anyone else is doing or has aspirations to do, whether that’s something as mundane and day to day as going to the grocery store and finding ways to save money on food and gasoline, to creating a podcast and a platform that really allows the message to get out that living with a mental health condition is just a part of who a person is. It does not define that person.
Gabe Howard: I agree with you. I really like to get the positive stories out and I really want people to see this. And I always try to put myself in in society’s shoes. I, I can understand why they have this misconception. The media covers the violence and wonders what mental illness does that person have. The people always talk about, you know, let’s face it, I too would talk about the guy who was suddenly throwing cans at the grocery store. I would instantly do it. And, and everybody wants to know, well, what’s wrong with him? They’re crazy. They’re nuts. What’s he doing? And and we’re really not getting into the nuance of there’s a difference between erratic behavior that could be driven by any number of things. And of course, a mental health crisis or severe and persistent mental illness.
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Gabe Howard: And we’re back with Michael Pollock, the CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. I agree that there are many paths to recovery, and I think the best path is the one that works for you that is so often lost in this one size fits all model that we seem to have. Why don’t people just take their meds and they’ll be better? And I always point out, well, they they have to take the correct meds. They can’t just take any meds and expect to achieve wellness. It doesn’t work that way. There’s the doctor has to prescribe the right medication if you’re using medication management. Well, one other just use coping skills. Well, you’ve got to find the right coping skills. And of course and of course, all of this is predicated on the fact that you can see a doctor, a therapist, or get to a support group in the first place. I, I love the DBSA and the DBSA is amazing, but they’re not in every single town. So even as I sit here and say, Look, the DBSA is free, go to a support group that could easily be 20, 30, 50 or 100 miles away. It could also be five miles away and you don’t drive, which that is a problem as well. There are just so many barriers for people living with mental health conditions, and I don’t think that society is talking about all of the barriers. I think they’re only talking about these very narrow minded things. Right? The general talking points, how do we resolve the violence? Let’s have a mental health day. How how do we get the conversation to expand?
Michael Pollock: Yeah, well, we’ve touched on a few things. I think a lot of people just don’t have the education or the information to appreciate. You talked about medications. Medication can work for some people, it doesn’t work for everybody. I’ve met people over the course of my tenure at DBSA that just said the side effects are worse than the benefits of a medication. Or I’ve been treatment resistant to depression and I can’t find the right medication that’s going to help me manage my condition. So this kind of assumption that, well, there’s medication out there is a very overly simplistic and incomplete way to think about medication, why we need more innovative treatments and we need better treatments for people with different mental health conditions. And that’s one of the advocacy priorities for our organization. You talked about coping skills and having access to a professional. There is a shortage of psychiatrists in this. In our country. There’s a shortage of psychologists and therapists long waiting lists. I’ve talked to many families. Many individuals have said I even have resources, but I still can’t find one in my community. So one of the priorities for DBSA has been to advocate for and help individuals with lived experience, get the training and state certification to become peer specialists so that there are more trained individuals with lived experience that can be part of a healthcare team, that can be a resource to those with mental health conditions. And then to your point about the support groups. The one thing that the pandemic changed fundamentally was we saw so many of our chapters around the country and also at the national level.
Michael Pollock: We added dozens more online support groups. So geographically, it doesn’t matter where you live, it doesn’t matter how far away you might have been from a in-person support group. There are many, many online support groups that are offered by DBSA and by our chapters we offer just out of a national office. We offer 42 different support groups every week. One of the benefits of that is whether you’ve been unable to get to a support group because it’s geographically too far away or you don’t have a car or you have child care challenges that make it hard for you to get to a support group. Having them available online has really started to chip away at those barriers. F those listening that would be interested in exploring and finding a an online support group, I can go to our website, DBSAalliance.org.
Gabe Howard: We’ve talked about gun violence a few times, and I know the DBSA has policies on addressing gun violence, talking about gun violence. And I’d like to give you the opportunity to discuss those public policy measures that the DBSA is working on to address gun violence.
Michael Pollock: As a leading peer focused advocacy organization for people with mood disorders. As I’ve alluded to a couple of times, it’s really critical for both the public and policymakers to really stop responding to violence, gun violence, in particular mass shootings, with statements that suggest that having a mental health condition is the underlying cause. It’s not only inaccurate, but it’s stigmatizing and frankly, just discriminatory. There are studies out there that show that having a mental illness rarely causes violent behavior, and it can’t be seen as a predictor of mass violence. And Mental Health America published a fact sheet on this is on gun violence and mental health. And they they report that over 95% of homicidal gun violence was not carried out by someone with a mental health condition. So we need to make sure that we are not allowing misleading and wrongful statements being made by the media to go unchecked. And we have a responsibility to educate reporters and the public when that that does happen. Otherwise, tens of millions of people who are living with a mental health condition or are being wrongly characterized. And it’s it’s not only unfair, it’s it’s just in some cases, cruel.
Gabe Howard: Michael, specifically, what public policy measures would DBSA like to see taken to address gun violence in this country?
Michael Pollock: DBSA has endorsed some recommendations that were put forth by the National Council for Mental Well-Being. These are recommendations that they put out in 2019. There policies in particular that we advocate for. The first is that we have legislation that increases the availability of training, specifically threat assessment training at the local, state and national levels as well as in tribal territories. Secondly, there’s been a lot in our media about red flag laws. We believe that those state-level red flags sometimes called extreme risk protection orders that allow temporarily the removal of a gun from somebody who has a constitutional right to own a firearm, but to temporarily remove that gun from the individual if they’re known to possess a high risk of harming someone else or even themselves in the near future. We we really want to see states roll out those kinds of policies. And then lastly, implementing federal background check requirements for firearm purchases. Individuals have a right to own a gun, including individuals who may have a mental health diagnosis. But those background checks are really, really key.
Gabe Howard: Michael, thank you so much for being here. And again, thank you for everything that DBSA does. How can folks find the DBSA online? Where can they get more information?
Michael Pollock: DBSAlliance.org is our website. As I said, you’ll find information on our support groups. We offer general support groups for for individuals of adult age. We’ve also been offering support groups for specific groups of individuals with mood disorders. We have several support groups for individuals in the black community. We have support groups for veterans. We’ve got online support groups for young adults, individuals under around the age of 18 to 30 who may want to be with other individuals that are more in their age group. And as we go forward. As I said, we’ll continue to offer more support groups. We also have a number of different resources to help individuals manage their mental health. Lots of wellness-oriented resources. We have a wellness wheel and a wellness tracker. We’ve got we’ve got our own podcast series. Not to compete with you, Gabe, but there’s just a number of digital resources, almost all of which are free to anyone. DBSAlliance.org.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much for being here, Michael. And thank you to all of our listeners. My name is Gabe Howard and I am the author of “Mental Illness Is an Asshole and Other Observations.” I’m also an award-winning public speaker who could be available for your next event. My book is on Amazon, or you can grab a signed copy with free show swag or learn more about me by heading over to gabehoward.com. Wherever you downloaded this episode, please follow or subscribe to the show. It is absolutely free. And hey, do me a favor. Recommend the show to a friend, family member, colleague. Sharing the show is how we grow. I will see everybody next Thursday on Inside Mental Health.
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