Tag Archives: mental illness

The stigma surrounding mental health costs us all

You think coming out of the closet is tough? Try coming out of the padded closet. Since an admission of having been treated for mental illness renders one virtually unemployable, it effectively silences most.

Women feel comfortable sharing every gory detail of their labor and delivery experience, yet you won’t hear them standing in line for the potluck chatting about visits to the psych ward, the merits of cognitive behavioral therapy, or springtime mania.

But there’s hope. The editor of Women’s Health disclosed her OCD diagnosis in their May 2016 issue. The issue profiles women who have been treated for mental illness, “Whether we have OCD or anxiety or bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, all of us share one common challenge: stigma. It shrouds mental illness, leaving patients to suffer alone and in silence, fearful of repercussions.”

Coping successfully with schizophrenia
The subhead of this 2015 Women’s Health profile of Rachel Star Withers, a 30-year-old successfully coping with schizophrenia, reads, “I’m hallucinating to some degree 90 percent of the time.”

Withers’ journey to the independent life she lives today involved a lot of trial and error as well as plenty of courage. She developed enough confidence to make a career out of various part-time jobs such as working behind and in front of the camera for cable television shows and teaching acting. In the article, she admits, “I get really edgy if I have to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week.”

Society loses out
Not using an integrative approach for treating mental illness borders on malpractice, because there are so many individuals struggling with mental illness and on disability who could work. Work not only provides independence via self-sufficiency, but also is therapeutic as it engages the mind.

Flawed disability system
The all-or-nothing way disability is structured needs to change. There are many people on disability diagnosed with mental illness who cannot commute, work 40 to 60 hours every week, or work in high-stress environments, but they could work part-time or close to full-time. There should be a formula that lets them replace part or most of their disability with wages (beyond the current token amount), but still stay in the system, because those with chronic illness have times in which they cannot work, which can last for weeks, so that they can get back to equilibrium.

Exercise overlooked
Exercise is one simple accommodation that has been proven to be the most effective treatment for mild to moderate depression. It is given lip service, but not seriously prescribed or monitored. Exercise is biochemistry. Strength training benefits the brain in certain ways and aerobic exercise benefits it in other ways.

Co-occurring disorders
Addiction, including codependency, often accompanies depression and bipolar disorder, yet often it is not addressed or treated. PTSD, learning disabilities, nutritional deficiencies, and vocational challenges can all play a part too, yet pharmaceuticals are expected to fix everything.

Cultural Aspect
With mental illness, part of the problem is cultural. In addition to its stigma, which compromises treatment and career options, our culture celebrates sleep deprivation and endless work hours rather than productivity, and promotes obesity and daily habits that do not contribute to mental health. Try walking a block without encountering a Frappuccino, frozen yogurt, or French fries. There’s candy for sale at the checkout in the hardware store, clothing store, and even sporting good store.

Campaign to fight mental health stigma
Clinical psychologist Lisa Aguilar Slover has undertaken a publicity project, I Am the Face of Mental Illness, that aims to “greatly decrease the stigma attached to having a mental illness.” Quoting from her website:

I hope for a day that someone can say, “I’m sorry, I can’t come into work today, I just had a major panic attack and now I just need to sleep,” in the same way that someone can call and say, “I’m sorry, I’m having a severe migraine and cannot come into work today.”

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Did Lakeisha Holloway temporarily “lose her mind”?

Lakeisha Holloway lost access to her judgment the moment she decided to shelter her three-year-old daughter overnight in an automobile parked on the streets of Las Vegas. Whatever condition Ms. Holloway’s thought processes were in before her “vacation” in Las Vegas, spending several days attempting to care for herself, let alone a three-year-old, from a car (minus a bathroom, kitchen, play area, living space, or heat) could not have improved them. Not to mention that her shelter-on-wheels was being constantly asked to move.

During the days Ms. Holloway and her daughter were living out of an automobile, did any of the hotel staffers who chased the two of them off their employer’s property refer this homeless mother with her toddler in tow to a shelter or call the police? The police would have referred Ms. Holloway to mental health professionals who would have evaluated her, and a tragedy most likely would have been averted.

Words cannot express how tragic it is that a mother of three lost her life while simply taking a walk.

What is mental illness, but the vulnerability to impaired judgment that is not due to the influence of mind-altering substances? What is mental illness, but a brain disorder? If your brain is not functioning properly, who do you become?

According to those who knew Ms. Holloway well, on Sunday, December 20, Ms. Holloway became someone other than herself. Ms. Holloway’s cousin and former co-workers have attested to her character in various news reports. They describe a grateful, loving, spiritual, resilient young woman who loved working for the forestry service.

If Ms. Holloway had brain cancer or had her blood sugar slipped perilously out of control to the extent that it could have impaired her judgment and behavior, would societal wrath be so strong?  Brain disorders that we call mental illness are far more complex to identify, let alone treat. There is no way to prick your finger, draw blood, dip a test strip in that drop of blood, and get a reading that represents the state of your judgment.

I do not believe that Ms. Holloway acted intentionally, that she intended to harm pedestrians. I think she lost her temper, and, in her diminished capacity that was a great departure from her true character, threw a tantrum. Judging from witnesses, she appeared to be in such an impaired state that, at that time, she was possibly delusional or in a dissociative state — not present.

Although at 24, Ms. Holloway is legally an adult, she is still a young adult with a brain not quite fully developed. The development of the prefrontal cortex, the section of the brain that is responsible for judgment, impulsivity, and other executive function is now considered complete at 25.

There might not have been any way to predict that the prefrontal cortex of this vibrant young mother would lose function to the degree that her judgment would become grossly impaired, the filter to counter her anger would disappear, and impulsivity would take over and allow her to vent her frustration and anger with what had become her prison, her car. Does an angry three-year-old understand the consequences of driving a car on a sidewalk? Someone whose brain has become disordered lacks the ability to reason just as a three-year-old lacks that ability.

I pray that Ms. Holloway has access to spiritual guidance as well as an integrative psychiatrist who can help her restore her shattered spirit and teach her how to take care of herself so that she never experiences another break from reality. Brains are our most complex organ, and those who succeed in overcoming their brain disorders learn many strategies to monitor brain function such as tracking their sleep and moods and other aspects of health that influence brain function.

Lakeisha Holloway was a productive member of society once, and she can be again. Her little girl must miss her mommy a lot.

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Demi Lovato Scholarship

Mental illness and addiction are so often intertwined and seldom effectively treated together. One has to redesign one’s entire lifestyle to achieve mental health and serenity. Sometimes careers have to change. Often relationships have to change — negative individuals have to be weeded out.

Becoming a productive member of society and restoring one’s broken spirit is a process. Meaningful work and positive relationships are what keep someone fighting for their health.

Demi Lovato created The Lovato Scholarship, which covers holistic treatment and transitional living expenses for individuals struggling with mental health and/or addiction issues. CAST Recovery Services, one of the organizations who administers The Lovato Scholarship, offers:

  • Educational and career support including internships
  • Intensive outpatient services
  • Interventions
  • Legal assistance
  • Lifestyle coaching
  • Neurofeedback
  • Services for families
  • Sober companions

Twenty percent of the proceeds from Dream Walking will be donated to The Lovato Scholarship as the novel’s main character eventually overcomes her struggles with addiction and mental illness albeit with a lot of help.

 

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Rick Springfield—Sex and Depression and Rock and Roll

Reading that rock and roll singer/actor Rick Springfield penned his first novel reminded me of his 2010 memoir Late, Late at Night. I had been drawn to it, because it detailed his lifelong struggle with depression.

Curious about the novel, I went online and found an October 2012 appearance of his on Dr. Oz. I was touched by Springfield’s courage in being so forthright regarding the most highly personal of addictions, sex addiction. I also admire his wife for supporting his decision to go public.

I researched sex addiction 10 years ago for a not-quite-done novel whose main character is a highly creative rock musician who kills time creating abstract art, moonlights as an actor, and amuses himself with “mini love affairs,” which become more and more unusual as he sinks further into his addiction. One of the books I found insightful was Don’t Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction by Dr. Patrick Carnes.

Although, as a writer I have always been more fascinated by the shades of gray within human behavior, such as individuals who cannot sustain intimacy, rather than the more extreme behavior one would term sex addiction.

Springfield is not as unlikely a novelist as some might think. Not only did he write an autobiography first, he has been writing songs, interpreting scripts, and creating characterizations for decades.

Despite Springfield appearing slightly mischievous, athletic, and much younger than his 63 years (at time of taping), he recollected a suicide attempt at 17 and intermittent struggles with depression since his teen years. He described how he feels during his bouts, “I feel worthless. I feel like I get no joy out of anything.”

Sex as an Antidote to Depression
Springfield recounted how sex helped ease the depression, albeit temporarily, “There is no outside source that can heal that depression. Although sex helps.”

He deadpanned, “The orgasm is the only time you are truly at peace.”

Springfield explained how he used sex to escape from his symptoms, but that ultimately it was not effective, “It’s a great coping mechanism. It’s a dead end. It’s an outside source.”

Depression Triggers
Regarding what causes the depression, “I get overwhelmed really easily,” Springfield said. He also discussed how the demands of the entertainment industry could trigger depression, “There’s always work to do. I get depressed when I write. I get depressed when I don’t write. I get depressed when I don’t work. I get depressed when there’s too much work.”

Integrative Remedy
Springfield took time off from the music business to focus on figuring out how to beat depression without using extramarital sex or alcohol. He settled on an integrative approach that, at times, included medication. In addition to music, meditation, writing, and his pet dog became his most effective weapons.

The Link Between Creativity and Depression
Springfield is far from the first famous creative to struggle with depression. There are several theories as to how creativity and depression are linked; they are probably linked in more than one way. My theory is that those born with sensitive and empathetic temperaments sense other’s feelings and pain, which drives them to create as a way of releasing the accumulation of intense feelings. Psychologist Elaine Aron wrote a number of books about sensitive temperaments including The Highly Sensitive Person.

Also, creative brains are able to jump around, make unusual connections, and go in many directions, which, at times, can be overwhelming as it can be very difficult to follow through in multiple directions, and that frustration can lead to depression.

CreativeSomething.net’s blog, The Link Between Creativity and Depression and How it Can Be Good for You, expresses another theory, “…Countless psychologists and psychiatrists tend to agree that major depression is amplified in those who tend to ruminate on their thoughts. Rumination… is one of the major keys of thinking like a creative genius.”

The blog explains another link between the two, “For creatives, this depression is what amplifies motivation to do their work better. It’s not enough to keep doing what you’ve been doing as a creative, you have to do more, and do it well.”

Scott Barry Kaufman’s blog for Scientific American, “The Real Link Between Creativity and Mental Illness” assesses several studies. He writes, “It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much information as possible.” Too much information can lead to overload.

The Dark Side of Creativity: Depression + Anxiety x Madness = Genius?” by William Lee Adams for CNN is another blog that explains studies that explore the link between creativity and mental illness including depression.

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Writing Dream Walking: A Novel of Madness and Healing

In 1996, after eight years of writer’s block, I began writing my first novel, Dream Walking.  I had not written fiction since high school, yet fiction intimidated me far less than journalism, the career I had abandoned.

The first draft read like Nancy Drew without a plot, so I decided to turn it into a memoir.  The genre had exploded, and I loved reading them.  Ultimately, I felt uncomfortable writing a memoir and decided to turn it back into a novel.  However, my agent became uncomfortable with me and ditched me.

My favorite memoir (The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls) reads like a novel.  It was liberating to not have to rely on memory, condense characters, make up scenes, and take dramatic license.

The novel took me such a long time to write, because I kept putting it aside and working on short stories, screenplays, reality TV treatments, other novels, stand-up comedy, and eventually journalism features.

The novel’s main themes:

  • Mental health is a complex equation
  • Manic depression (aka bipolar disorder) is often braided with addiction, which complicates treatment of each
  • Addicts often trade addictions
  • Spirituality is a critical component of healing

Because of some of the reader feedback I received, I decided to recreate the two brief early teen chapters that my agent had me take out, because he thought they made the main character too unsympathetic.  I am almost done, and then will figure out the whole print book thing.

Aspiring novelists out there, you must buy a book I am almost done reading that would have saved me years of angst, Stephen King’s On Writing.  Quoting the Cleveland Dealer, “The best book on writing.  Ever.”

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