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Coping With Familial Mental Illness in Stressful Times

Former National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Deputy Director and Scientific Director, Dr. Richard Nakamura, recently revealed how his family successfully coped with discrimination compounded by bipolar disorder during trying times for Japanese Americans. In a video interview marking National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month, the current director of NIH’s Center for Scientific Review stressed the critical roles of mutual support and treatment.

Though painful, Nakamura said he likes to share his family’s story because “mental illnesses are so stigmatized in our society, and particularly in the Asian community.”

Click link below to watch the video:

Watch Video: Coping With Familial Mental Illness in Stressful Times

Click on below link for a good resource focusing on bipolar disorder

Kitt's Story

As a college freshman, I fell into a suicidal depression, believing that my family and the world would be better off without me. I knew I needed help, and saw a psychologist whose cognitive therapy helped me with my suicidal thoughts. Throughout my twenties, I used psychotherapy to cope with my depressive symptoms. In the 1980’s and early 1990’s the hypomanic symptoms of bipolar disorder type II were not yet diagnosed. I was considered an overachiever battling chronic depression. I went on to attend graduate school and become licensed as a psychotherapist, specializing in the treatment of adolescents.

At the age of thirty I had a complete psychiatric breakdown. I was unable to get up out of bed. For the first time, I turned to medical doctors for medication. A psychiatrist prescribed a tricyclic antidepressant which led to manic psychosis. I spent a week without sleep with thoughts racing in binary (zeroes and ones), about chaos theory, and about Christian mystics. Although my psychosis was manic, I was not prescribed a mood stabilizer. My psychiatrist prescribed a three-day regime of antipsychotics which stopped the racing thoughts in their tracks and allowed me to sleep. At that point, I simply couldn’t function on my own. I would fall asleep driving to my temporary clerical job. When at work, I would try to read a word or a sentence over and over, unable to string the letters and words together, unable to make sense of them. I appeared competent. No one could see that I, a highly educated and articulate former professional woman, could not read a sentence.

As both a psychotherapist and as a patient, I have experienced optimal results when care providers and family members work as a team to support the patient. Since I could not take care of myself, I returned to my parents’ home where I visited a group practice and saw both a psychotherapist and a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. This treatment team and medication provided me with relief from depressive symptoms. My parents encouraged my recovery by giving me work to do around their home and charging me room and board. Once I was up for it, I got outside employment, starting as a temporary file clerk. This temporary position led to a decade long career in commercial real estate. Although I continued to show hypomanic symptoms, working long hours and periodically burning out, I seemed to be coping well.

Soon after moving back in with my parents, I met my future husband. On our second date, though I was living with my parents and filing invoices as a temp, he told me that I was the most independent woman he had ever met. I laughed, for my then-current life circumstances were far from independent. But, he could see beyond that. He saw me, not my illness. Three years after we met, we married and later had a son.

At the age of thirty-nine, I realized that once again I was experiencing the symptoms of mania. I sought psychiatric treatment and medication for bipolar disorder. Eventually I had myself voluntarily hospitalized, spending two weeks in the hospital and months in partial hospitalization. The hospital offered an excellent highly structured program in which we attended groups throughout the day. In these groups, I learned many coping skills and met others with similar struggles.

I look much like the other mothers in the neighborhood, but life remains a balancing act. Now fifty-one years old, I blog ( and communicate online with other mental health bloggers, advocates, poets, and writers. I reclaim my life. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am a writer, a blogger. I live with bipolar disorder type II. I am a mental health advocate.

Solutions to woes of mentally ill exist but aren't used - millions could be helped if programs were put into place

Please click below for a link to an article by Liz Szabo, USA Today:

A Success Story from Ecker’s Case Management Program

Nancy, 58, came to PEP in crisis and was admitted to the hospital for suicidal ideation and alcohol dependence. Following her discharge, she came to Ecker to implement outpatient treatment.
She lost her job, had no insurance and only had limited income from unemployment benefits.  Additionally, she was caring for her elderly father. Using our sliding scale, we were able to provide psychiatric/nursing, case management, and therapy services to her.
Nancy quickly made good use of this support. She began taking medication for her depression, started individual therapy and reported feeling terrified by her suicidal history and traumatic childhood memories. She eagerly learned new coping skills to counteract her instinct to be “frozen” in response to stressors.
Still, she continued having great difficulty functioning due to her “frozen” response. Nancy required community support services to open her mail, call utility companies when disconnection loomed, and follow-up with the legal service referral she avoided. When funding cuts occurred, she would panic but soon learned that, despite funding cuts in the news, she could continue services at Ecker on a sliding scale.

Nancy continues to utilize services at Ecker and requested additional support services to supplement her psychiatric/nursing care. She has been provided case management services to link her to needed resources both within Ecker Center and the community at large.

Mentally Ill Are Often Locked Up In Jails That Can't Help 

Please click on the link for the article and video

The Community Mental Health Act Turns 50 in 2013

On October 31, 1963 President John F. Kennedy signed into law the Community Mental Health Act (also known as the Mental Retardation and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act of 1963) to provide federal funding for community mental health centers and research facilities devoted to research in and treatment of mental retardation. It was the last piece of legislation JFK signed before his assassination.

For millions of Americans with mental illness, JFK’s final legislation ended the nightmare of being warehoused in institutions and opened the door to a new era of hope and recovery — to a life in the community.

Kathleen Sebelius: Bring Mental Illness Out of the Shadows

On Monday, February 4, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius authored an article featured on

Fifty years ago Tuesday, President John Kennedy shattered the national silence when he delivered a message to Congress in which he called for a bold new community-based approach to mental illness that emphasized prevention, treatment, education, and recovery.

In the half century since, we've made tremendous progress as a country when it comes to attitudes about mental health. But recent events have reminded us that we still have a long way to go to bring mental health fully out of the shadows.

The vast majority of Americans with a mental health condition are not violent. In fact, just 3% to 5% of violent crimes are committed by individuals who suffer from a serious mental illness.

But we know that some instances of mental illness can develop into crisis situations if left untreated, and those crises can lead to violence. More often than not, those with mental health conditions direct these violent acts at themselves. Tragically, there are more than 38,000 suicides in America each year, more than twice the number of homicides…

Continue Reading Secretary Sebelius' Article on

Edith's Story

(Reprinted from NAMI Now, November 2013)

Eight years ago, I had only a vague understanding of mental illness. I knew very little about mental health and psychiatric hospitals, except for the famous Gregorio Pacheco hospital in Sucre, Bolivia, where I’m from, and J.T. Borda, the psychiatric hospital in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Of course, I was also familiar with the many popular jokes about people living with mental illness.

I never imagined that I would come to learn about mental illness through a family member—my daughter. In 2005, after trying many times, my daughter was offered a job. We were very happy about this accomplishment, which wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our good friend.

My daughter’s job was to drive the children of a particular family to their various activities and bring them back home. Everything seemed to be going wonderfully! However, a few days after starting work, my friend called me very concerned about how my daughter was behaving. She told me that my daughter was acting strangely and all I could think was that she was confused and must have been mistaken. I thought she was probably talking about some other person. I couldn’t understand how this could be happening to my daughter.

As a result of my daughter’s odd behavior, the family fired my daughter and my good friend as well. To this day I still feel horrible that my friend lost her job due to this unfortunate situation. 

It was not long until my daughter’s strange behavior came back. We looked for help at various health centers. The first place we turned to was the county crisis center in our community. She would’ve been required to stay for a 72-hour evaluation, so my daughter and I decided against it because she wouldn’t have been allowed any visitors. She didn’t understand what was happening to her and, seeing that she was losing track of whom and where she was, I supported her decision to leave the center.

We tried to seek help from a primary care doctor after two psychiatric crises. The doctor concluded that her immune system was low and prescribed her antibiotics. As one might expect, the antibiotics didn’t help. Over the next two years, we went from one center to another, asking acquaintances, friends and different doctors, looking for answers for my daughter’s condition. Unfortunately, no one could explain the cycle of crises that my daughter was experiencing every three or four months. It wasn’t until she had an even more serious episode and went to the crisis center again that something changed. At the crisis center, the therapist informed me that it could be a mental health problem and recommended that I take her to a hospital near my house where she could receive proper treatment.

For the first time, after two long years, I heard the words mental illness. My daughter was admitted with the diagnosis of schizophrenia. It was hard to leave her, but after a week she had improved and was discharged with the recommendation to seek regular psychiatric treatment.

Six months after my daughter left the hospital, I received a call from the Spanish-language program coordinator from NAMI Montgomery County in Maryland. She invited me to participate in the NAMI Family-to-Family class and I accepted immediately. For me, each class was a discovery of a world that isn’t spoken about publically and only seems to exist in the shadows.

After completing the class, I immediately signed up as a volunteer to teach the next class and spread knowledge and understanding about mental illness. Since then, I have dedicated my time to educating parents and families about mental illness. Not too long ago I began working as the Spanish-language program coordinator at NAMI Montgomery County. While I see there is resistance within the Spanish-speaking community to accept the realities of mental illness, my family’s struggle pushes me to ensure that others receive the information they need to properly address mental illness in their life.

It's been six years since my daughter was admitted to the hospital. Her diagnosis is now bipolar disorder. It will be an ongoing journey but today she is doing well and continues treatment that keeps her healthy.

Mental illness – my life's blessing, not curse                                                                                            By: Dick Peterson, who is a mental health advocate, freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. (reprinted from Northwest Herald, June 4, 2013)

I don’t remember when my mental health slid into mental illness. It wasn’t as if a fever broke out and a thermometer verified it.

The slip into mental illnesses was gradual, something I was not aware of initially. I experienced the highs of mania, when I could work for weeks on multiple projects, when creativity accelerated, when I needed little sleep. Who couldn’t like that?

I also experienced the depths of what only could be called depression, when the smallest tasks seemed impossible, when despair slowed me to a crawl and I couldn’t sleep enough. Life became a hopeless nightmare. How could I live like that?

I couldn’t, and suicide became the only option.

Fortunately, I survived four attempts.

I cannot put a date on a diagnosis – most everything is a fog – but I would guess the mental illnesses began to show themselves about 15 years ago.

And I live today with a form of bipolar disorder, major depression and generalized anxiety disorder. One washes over the other, the lines of distinction blur. Depression and anxiety are predominant.

They are chronic illnesses, not unlike those that affect physical health. Only the symptoms differ. And people with mental illnesses lead productive, successful, full lives.

People live with diabetes, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And they live full lives because of the precautions – and medications – they might take.

People live with bipolar disorder, depression, dissociative disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia. And they live full lives because of the precautions – and medications – they might take.

It’s just that mental illnesses are diseases that have been consigned to the closet. Only recently have people been living openly with their diseases and battling the stigma that comes with them.

Talking about mental illnesses openly and honestly undermines the insidious stigma they carry.

People with mental illnesses can and do recover if they are able to find and afford basic treatment. I am a living example of someone who lives in recovery. That doesn’t mean I am cured, but my illnesses are under control, rather than controlling me.

In the depths of my illnesses – 2000-2002 – I was hospitalized and lived in residential treatment facilities four or five times to get through the worst of it. When I was back home, I worked full time as Opinion Page editor of the Northwest Herald, a challenging job. But I had the support of my employer and co-workers, which was critical to my recovery. I was not cast aside but accepted unconditionally.

It has been more than 10 years since I was last hospitalized. With the right medications, counseling and treatment, and the unwavering support of my psychiatrist, I have been able to live the good life.

For the past five years, I have been using my experiences with mental illnesses to help others who might have them as a state-certified recovery support specialist for Pioneer Center for Human Services Homeless Services McHenry County PADS.

I also just completed my first year of seminary, but I am taking a break to return to work full time as a recovery specialist. This is where God wants me to be today.

I would not be where I am were it not for the good grace of God, and the love and support of family and friends. When I spiraled into the rabbit hole in 2000, I lost a lot — my marriage, my family, my possessions, my health.

I was able to regain my full health. I remarried. I was able to reconcile myself with being an every-other-weekend dad. I found new, meaningful work using my experiences to help others. I learned I had become a slave to possessions, and I have not allowed that to happen again.

But I do have a chronic disease. Some days are tough to get through. But I do get through them.

I’m not special. I am an average person who has been able to take control of his mental illnesses. You can do the same. Confront them, if you have not already. It might take time and patience to find the right combination of help to join millions of others in recovery. You are not alone, and you do not have to fight this alone.

We all have regrets, but mental illnesses is not one for me. I do not look at them as a curse, but a blessing that took time to discover. I understand myself and others better than I could have previously imagined. That, indeed, is a blessing.


Please click on the link below:

Mental Health Illinois: Promoting Good Mental Health for Everyone in Illinois

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The Fight of a Lifetime

by Eldon Pollard

(Reprinted from NAMI Voice, Issue No. 14, June 2008)

Mental Info In my childhood I remember things being pretty "normal." But as I moved into my early teenage years, I started to notice something wasn't right. I got to the point that I couldn't control my thoughts or my actions.

It got so bad that in about 1970 my parents took me to a psychiatrist. After spending some time with him, he told my parents that I was anti-social. As I have researched and talked to other doctors I have found that you can't correctly diagnose a child that young (I was twelve or thirteen) as anti-social.

At around this time I also got involved with drugs and alcohol. I even made sure that I associated myself with others who either used or sold drugs. At one point I even sold marijuana and speed out of my parents' home without them knowing.

Even my schooling suffered. All through grade school it was like I was bored. I wouldn't do my work and I would find other was to occupy my time. In my freshman year of high school I ditched for fifty-six days, and was still able to pass. My poor parents, they didn't know what was going on; they just knew they couldn't control me.

It was at this point that they decided enough was enough. I was sent to Del Mar, California to attend San Diego Military Academy. It was also where I found out that I was a pretty smart cookie after scoring 148 on an entrance IQ exam. Even though the depression, anxiety, and racing thoughts that came with this illness were still around, I did really well.

I did well in school, played football, wrestled and was even on the drill team. For two years I did so well that my parents let me come home and go to my regular high school for my senior year. Boy, was that a big mistake. I don't know if I got worse or it was the loss of the structure, but my symptoms were stronger, and I started using drugs more.

I then dropped out of high school with only one semester left and joined the Army. I went through basic training without any problems but when I got to combat engineer school, I took a weekend pass and stayed gone for three months. Needless to say Uncle Sam didn't like that, so I ended up with a "General under other than Honorable" discharge. That's one step up from "Dishonorable."

As I came back to Arizona I tried to figure out what happened and what I was going to do. Everything was alright for a while. As I got older my mental illness and my addiction got worse and worse.

From this time until the 1990's I attempted suicide several times. They would hospitalize me for a short while then they would release me. No meds and no follow ups.

I had several marriages, but they were marriages of convenience, not love. Also during this time I had several run-ins with the law for anything from failure to appear, to theft, to drug possession and use. And quite often during this time, I was also homeless. To be honest with you there is time where I really don't remember what happened.

In 1993 I married my current wife. During this time I also joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This was going to be it. I had a great wife and a wonderful church. In fact, except for a few relapses, I was doing well. My wife and I had a daughter, which brought the number of kids up to five.

I worked hard within the church and received the priesthood. I blessed my daughter and was even able to take my wife to the temple in Mesa, Arizona where we were sealed together for all time and eternity. With the help of my wife and the strength of my spirituality, I was able to stay clean and sober for several years. I even kept my mental illness at bay.

But then something happened. My symptoms came back worse than ever. I was either very manic, very depressed or both. And yes, you can be both. I started using Crystal Meth very heavily. I even started selling all of my family's stuff to pay for it.

My wife kicked me out and then got an order of protection against me. I was jailed for trying to go to see my kids and I got arrested for possession. I was very lucky and I got probation for that one. After I got off of probation I self-medicated with crack cocaine. I just couldn't stand this hell anymore.

This time I attempted suicide by taking a whole bottle of Methadone. But death wasn't to be. I woke up in the back of an ambulance with a paramedic pushing Narcan into my IV. After spending twenty-eight days in a psych hospital in Phoenix, I was finally diagnosed as Bipolar and found that my diagnosis qualified me for treatment through the Regional Behavioral Health Authority in Mesa, Arizona, where I live.

Finally, I got meds, counseling, doctor visits and case management. I've had a couple of case managers who were great. They helped me to find what I needed to do to find the path of recovery. They held the hope when I couldn't. At one point I was on nine different meds. I'm down to two.

With the help of my spirituality, my loving wife and my clinical team I got to work. And after I got to where I believed in myself, I took off. I went through the WRAP program and then went through Peer Support training. One month after I graduated I went to work for a non-profit organization and worked there for about a year and a half. I then went to work for the RBHA as a Peer Mentor, and I am still there.

I was also introduced to NAMI, where I not only joined but I serve on the board of my local affiliate. I also serve on NAMI-AZ Consumer Council. I am also trained in In Our Own Voice and Peer to Peer. I have also been through an Advocacy Institute and I work as an advocate and I have been through the Leadership Academy.

I guess as you can tell, I have found my passion. And to top it off, I have three years of being clean and sober, and my family and I have a wonderful life together. So to wrap this up I guess I would say that it may be a lot of work, but recovery is very possible and worth every ounce of work you put into it.