Lithium and a Prayer: A Few Thoughts on Mental Illness, Medication, and Spirituality

Taken from Patheos  which is found   HERE.

Two weeks ago spiritually-minded people from across the country flocked to Hot Springs, NC for the 2015 Wild Goose Festival. The Wild Goose Festival is a progressive Christian festival celebrating art, justice, and spirituality.

One of the talks was given by Sarah Lund, author of “Blessed Are the Crazy,” and David Hosey, Associate Chaplain for the United Methodist Protestant Community at American University in Washington, DC. Their presentation,  entitled “Christ on the Psych Ward,” explored the intersection of mental illness with Christian spirituality.  This was one of the first times the topic of mental illness had been addressed at Wild Goose. In order to continue the extremely important conversation around mental health and perpetual journey towards mental, spiritual, and physical healing, I have ceded this month’s post to David — my friend and man I plan to marry in 42 days. In 2011, David was diagnosed with a form of bipolar disorder. To read more of David’s writing or find more resources on mental health, visit his blog:Foolish Hosey


After Sarah Lund and I gave our talk on mental illness at the Wild Goose Festival a few weeks back, there have been a few things that I’ve been pondering, mainly based on stories or questions that people shared with me after the talk.

One recurring question had to do with medication. Different people asked it in different ways, but it boiled down to something like this:

“I know that since I [or a loved one] have been diagnosed with a mental illness that taking prescribed medication is the healthy thing to do. I know it’s harmful to think that if I [or my loved one] just prayed harder or had more faith, that this would go away. So why does it still feel like prayer should make this better?”

I get where they’re coming from.

At a certain, important level, this is just a case of stigma doing it’s thing. Even if I don’t hold the personal, intellectual belief that positive thinking or prayer or ‘just having more faith’ would make mental illness go away, there’s enough of that kind of thinking floating around for me to internalize it on an emotional level. Folks who have decided that even if we pray for a sickness to be healed, we should probably see a doctor, too, find the idea that mental illness is somehow in a different category a bit stickier to overcome.


But on another level, I think this feeling that prayer or faith ought to be able to get us out of mental health crises is worth paying some attention to. Because mental illness — and, I think, illness in general — really does go after us at a spiritual level, even if there is a biological or chemical or psychological explanation for it.

Here’s what I mean. When I talk about spirituality, a term that can be rather nebulous, what I’m talking about is meaning-making. I’m talking about questions like, “Who am I? What am I doing here? What’s my purpose? What are my passions? What are my deepest held beliefs?”

It’s exactly all of that — purpose, meaning, identity, worth — that mental illness attacks.

While medication can defend against those attacks by restoring some equilibrium, helping us build our resilience, moderating our out-of-control moods — it can’t actually, by itself, do the hard work of healing the damage done to the “Who am I and what am I here for?” part of our lives.

What medication can do — and this is super-important — is give us a bit of the stability that we need to do some of that hard work. ‘Cuz it’s awfully hard to spend time in, say, vocational discernment mode when your brain is trying to kill you.

I’m reminded of a passage from Barbara Brown Taylor’s hauntingly beautiful Learning to Walk in the Dark. She speaks of her guides on a cave expedition in which she and her guides spend some time sitting in the sort of absolute darkness that can only exist deep below the earth’s surface:

When it is time to go, I follow Rockwell and Marrion back out of the cave again, thinking about what good guides they are. They kept me safe while letting me practice courage. They pointed me in the right direction without telling me what to see. Though they have been here many times before, they let me explore my own cave. Maybe that is the difference between pastoral counselors and spiritual directors. We go to counselors when we want help getting out of caves. We go to directors when we are ready to be led farther in.

To ‘pastoral counselors,’ we who grapple with mental illness or mental health crises could add therapists, psychiatrists, social workers — all the people who help us out of the cave when we feel like we’re running out of oxygen.

Ultimately, we’ll need to do the work of going into our darkness, of poking around in it. Whether that’s a matter of spiritual direction or some other practice of faith, it’s only by going in and through that we can discover our true selves and begin to work out what it is that we are called to be.

But in the meantime, the medication, the counseling, the treatment — that keeps us from drowning.

I hope this is helpful for folks who are wrestling with this question. We need all the help we can get, honestly.

Back in 2011, during my series of psychiatric hospitalizations, I wrote a song called ‘sufficient.’ One line that I scribbled down in a journal kept coming back to me until it found it’s way into music: “ain’t no pill that’ll fill this hole in your heart.”

That line is true. It takes a whole lot more than a lithium pill to start to feel human again.

Take the pill, anyway.

The quote is from Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark (HarperOne, 2014), pg. 129. 

Antipsychotic Use Rising Among Teens And Young Adults

Taken from  Yahoo News  Which is found   HERE.

A growing number of teens and young adults are being prescribed antipsychotics, a new study suggests.

In particular, it appears they’re being used to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – a condition for which the powerful drugs are not approved.

The percentage of teens using antipsychotics rose from 1.10 percent in 2006 to 1.19 percent in 2010. Use among young adults ages 19 to 24 rose from 0.69 percent to 0.84 percent, the study found.

With roughly 74 million children under 18 in the U.S., these small percentages add up to large numbers of medicated kids.

“Great caution should be exercised in the use of antipsychotics, especially for young children,” said lead study author Dr. Mark Olfson, a research psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York.

Olfson and colleagues analyzed prescription data from 2006, 2008, and 2010 as well as records from 2009 combining pharmacy and medical claims information.

The records covered prescriptions filled at approximately 60 percent of all retail pharmacies in the U.S.

Overall in 2010, approximately 270,000 antipsychotic prescriptions were dispensed to younger children, 2.14 million to older children, 2.80 million to adolescents, and 1.83 million to young adults, the authors write.

Antipsychotic drugs include Abilify (aripiprazole), Risperdal (risperidone), Seroquel (quetiapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine) and others.

For younger children, antipsychotic use declined from 2006 to 2010, the researchers report in JAMA Psychiatry. Prescriptions fell from 0.14 percent to 0.11 percent for kids aged one to six, and from 0.85 percent to 0.80 percent for children aged seven to 12.

This is most likely due to increased efforts to curb antipsychotic use among younger kids over concerns about side effects such as weight gain, high cholesterol and uncertainty about the long-term effects of the drugs on the developing nervous system, Olfson said by email.

Among children 18 and under, the most common reason for antipsychotics was ADHD, the study found. This diagnosis accounted for about 53 percent of prescriptions for younger children, 60 percent for older kids, and 35 percent for teens.

“This is concerning because evidence of antipsychotics’ efficacy for treating a number of behavioral health disorders is lacking,” said Meredith Matone, a research scientist with PolicyLab at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Antipsychotics are approved in the U.S. for treatment of psychotic conditions including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as for easing aggression among cognitively impaired youth, Matone, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“Increasingly, many youth are receiving these medications to treat behavior problems in the absence of a more severe psychiatric illness,” she said.

Part of this may be due to who is prescribing the drugs, according to an editorial by Dr. Christoph Correll, a psychiatry researcher at the Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, New York and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.

Out of roughly seven million antipsychotic prescriptions written for children, adolescents and teens in 2010, only 29 to 39 percent came from a child and adolescent psychiatrist, he noted in the editorial.

“I was most surprised by the fact that the majority of youth receiving antipsychotics did not have a mental disorder diagnosis,” Correll told Reuters Health by email.

The study also exposed a gender gap, with prescriptions for boys outpacing girls during elementary, high school and college years.

“The peak use among adolescent boys, who are frequently diagnosed with ADHD and are also treated with stimulants, strongly suggests that antipsychotics are commonly used to treat impulsive aggression and other behavioral symptoms,” Olfson said.

Before parents agree to start their child on antipsychotics to manage aggressive behavior, they should ask about alternative treatments such as anger management, counseling for parents on how to respond to aggression, and other psychosocial options, he said.

“The main takeaway for clinicians and families is that for youth without psychiatric symptoms, alternatives to antipsychotic treatment should be tried whenever possible,” Correll said. “When antipsychotics are used, the lowest risk agents should be used for the shortest time possible.”

Seeking Better Ways To Treat The Lows Of Bipolar Disorder

Taken from the Wall Street Journal  which is found  HERE.

Distinguishing between regular depression and bipolar disorder is one of the toughest calls psychiatrists face. The symptoms are often similar, but medications that ease depression can make bipolar patients worse by triggering manic episodes.

The dilemma is fueling new research efforts to understand how the two conditions differ and how to predict which patients will respond to which drugs. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic, which treats some 3,000 patients a year with bipolar disorder, are collecting DNA samples, blood tests, brain scans and clinical information in hopes of identifying genetic risk factors, or biomarkers, that can lead to earlier diagnoses and individualized treatments. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and elsewhere are usingneuro-imaging studies to understand how depression differs in the brains of patients with and without bipolar disorder.

Depression in bipolar disorder can look very much like regular depression, known as unipolar depression. Patients might feel hopeless, sluggish, irritable and have thoughts of suicide. The manic side of bipolar disorder includes periods of frenzied energy; racing, irrational thoughts and sometimes dangerous behavior. These might not appear for years, or patients might not recognize the symptoms, leading to delayed diagnoses.

Even when patients are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as many as 50% of them are treated with antidepressants, studies of medical practice patterns show.

“We don’t have a lot of treatment options for the depression phase of bipolar disorder, which is very troubling from a public-health standpoint,” says Mark Frye, chairman of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “That’s why clinicians still reach for those antidepressants.”

Fran O’Loughlin, 48, of Green Bay, Wis., says she has had bouts of depression since high school and was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder about five years ago. She has been on more than a dozen medications that provided relief only temporarily, often making her feel manic and then crash even lower. One such episode last year left her hospitalized for seven days.

“My doctor and I have both been very aware and very cautious about introducing an antidepressant into the mix. I just can’t find happiness and we keep hoping the antidepressants will bring that to me,” Ms. O’Loughlin says.

The incidence of bipolar disorder—formerly known as manic depression—has risen steeply in the past 20 years to an estimated 4% of the U.S. population. That is due in part to rising awareness and a broadening definition. (Bipolar I involves at least one episode of mania lasting seven days or more; bipolar II is less severe, with significant depression but milder “hypomanic” episodes that don’t necessarily interfere with daily functioning.) Some experts say the sharply expanding use of antidepressants—up 400% since 1988, according to government surveys—may also have triggered some cases of bipolar disorder.

Scientists aren’t sure how antidepressants can bring on a manic episode, called mood-switching, in some bipolar patients. Thedisorder is believed to involve dysfunction in neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain. Many antidepressants target those same neurotransmitters, and may overcompensate, some experts suggest. Studies show mood-switching occurs in 10% to 25% of patients, more often in young people than adults.

Some studies suggest that antidepressants can increase the instability of those mood-regulating chemicals, creating more up-and-down cycles. “Essentially, they are the worst thing you can take for the illness,” says Nassir Ghaemi, head of the mood disorders clinic at Tufts University and co-director of a long running study of treatments for bipolar disorder funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

Concerns that antidepressants might spark manic episodes were first raised in the 1960s with the use of tricyclic antidepressants. Newer depression medications such as bupropion (Wellbutrin) and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft), seem to pose less of a risk of mood shifting.

Mood stabilizers such as lithium are usually the first medications clinicians prescribe when bipolar disorder is diagnosed. Anticonvulsant drugs such as lamotrigine (Lamictal) or antipsychotic drugs such as olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel) and lurasidone (Latuda) can also help slow racing thoughts. But most of those drugs have significant side effects and are only marginally effective at controlling depressive symptoms. So some psychiatrists say they cautiously add antidepressants as well.

“I’ve had patients with bipolar disorder who get well and stay well on a single mood stabilizer. But if the depression is not lifting, sometimes you try an antidepressant as well,” says Milena Smith, a psychiatrist in Annapolis, Md., who teaches at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Clearly some people with bipolar disorder do better with a combination of a mood stabilizer and an antidepressant, and we don’t know in advance who those will be,” she says.

Recommendations issued in 2013 by the nonprofit International Society for Bipolar Disorders say that for patients with a history of mania or hypomania, antidepressants should be prescribed only in conjunction with mood-stabilizing medications, and discontinued if patients show signs of mania or increased agitation.

But patients may not remember manic episodes. “Memories seem to be laid down differently during manic or hypomanic episodes,” says Dr. Smith. She says she often asks friends or family members if a patient she is evaluating has had periods of rapid energy or decreased need for sleep.

Mayo Clinic scientists earlier this year identified a gene variationthat may protect bipolar patients from developing manic symptoms while taking antidepressants such as Prozac. “Our hope is that further studies like that can help clinicians understand for which bipolar patients antidepressants might be helpful, not helpful or even harmful,” Dr. Frye says.

At the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, psychiatrist Mary Phillips and colleagues have observed that the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which regulates thoughts and behavior, communicates differently with the amygdala, the center of emotions, in bipolar depression, unipolar depression or a healthy state. The patients’ brains “may look the same, but they are not functioning in the same way,” says Dr. Phillips, who is director of the Mood and Brain Lab at the UPMC Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

In another study, they found patients with bipolar disorder had less blood flow to a region of the prefrontal cortex called the anterior cingulate gyrus—involved in decision-making, empathy, impulse control and emotion—than people with unipolar depression. Dr. Phillips and colleagues were able to identify, with about 80% accuracy, which patients had which form of depression by looking at their brain images. That raises the prospect brain scans could someday help with diagnosing.

Therese Borchard says her bipolar disorder involves far more depression than mania. “I love being manic, to a certain extent. You feel alive-but then you crash afterward,” says Ms. Borchard, who founded an online community called Project Beyond Blue for people with intractable depression. She has been on a shifting combination of mood stabilizers and antidepressants. “What’s difficult is finding the right amount so you are lifted from the depression but don’t have cycles of mania,” says Ms. Borchard, who also writes the “Sanity Break” column for

Ms. Borchard, 44, of Annapolis, Md., recommends some lifestyle steps to help keep people with bipolar disorder on an even keel. Among them: A vigorous aerobic workout for 45 minutes, at least three times a week, can keep runaway thoughts and emotions in check. And getting at least eight hours of sleep at regular time is critical, she finds. “Mania feeds on insomnia,” she says.

Dr. Smith also suggests patients track their moods regularly in a journal or software program to help discover what triggers emotional shifts. An app called Mood 24/7, developed at Johns Hopkins University, sends users a text every day asking them to rate their mood from 1 to 10 and then tracks it on a graph that patients and their therapists can evaluate.

Antidepressants & Self Harm

Taken from  the  Los Angeles Times   which can be found    HERE.

About a decade after the Food and Drug Administration first warned that antidepressant medications increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in children, new research has found that kids and young adults starting on high doses of antidepressants are at especially high risk, especially in the first three months of treatment.

Among patients 24 and younger, those who started treatment for depression or anxiety with a higher-than-usual dose of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) were more than twice as likely to harm themselves intentionally than those whose treatment began at the customary dose and increased slowly, the study found.

For every 150 such patients treated with high initial doses of SSRIs — antidepressants marketed under such commercial names as Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa and Lexapro — the study suggests one additional suicide would be attempted. By contrast, young patients starting SSRI therapy at doses considered customary were at only slightly elevated risk of self-harm, about 12% above the level of their depressed peers not taking medication.

The latest research on depression treatment, conducted by epidemiologists at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina, was published Tuesday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers found no increased risk of suicidal behavior among adults older than 24 who started medical treatment for depression or anxiety at larger initial doses.

About 18% of young people diagnosed with depression were prescribed an initial antidepressant dose that was higher than that recommended by clinical guidelines: For the antidepressant fluoxetine (better known by its commercial name, Prozac), for instance, a standard dose would be 10 milligrams daily for the first week, increasing to 20 milligrams for the next three weeks, and only then considering any increased dose.

Given that antidepressants appear to be less effective in young people than in older patients, and that higher doses do not appear to bring more or faster relief, the author of an invited commentary in JAMA Internal Medicine suggested that prescribing physicians should abide by the well-worn maxim “start low, go slow,” and monitor patients closely during their first several months of treatment.

The study used medical records to track 162,625 U.S. residents, ages 10 to 64, who were diagnosed with depression and prescribed SSRI between 1998 and 2010. It found that more than half of antidepressants in that period were prescribed by primary care doctors, and about an additional quarter by practitioners not specialized in mental health. Even in children, fewer than 30% of antidepressant prescriptions were issued by psychiatrists.

The authors acknowledged that they could not discern why younger patients on high initial doses of antidepressant were more likely to try to harm themselves. Although it could have been the dose at which these young patients began their therapy, it is equally plausible that younger patients who are correctly perceived to be in a mental health crisis are more likely to be treated more aggressively, but not more likely to get better with SSRIs.

It might also be that those started on high-dose SSRIs are more likely to discontinue their therapy and to suffer from “discontinuation syndrome,” which can bring physical symptoms of anxiety and is sometimes linked to unpredictable behavior.

The Reinvention Of Rene Syler

Taken from  Hope to Cope  which can be found  HERE.

As co-anchor of The Early Show (as the CBS morning program was known for years), René Syler was at the top of the TV game. The first African-American woman to host a network news program, she spent her high-pressure workdays interviewing high-profile guests such as former President Bill Clinton and actor Will Smith.

Evenings found her contentedly heading out of New York City to the Westchester County home she shares with her husband, media executive Buff Parham, and their two children.

Then, in December 2006, Syler was let go from her job on The Early Show—just as she was about to undergo a preventive mastectomy. She was 43.

Syler had already weathered a couple of difficult years agonizing about her mammogram results, family health history, and the seemingly inevitable onset of breast cancer. Finding herself adrift professionally sent her into a tailspin.

“In retrospect, I had lived a pretty charmed life from my birth to age 42,” Syler says. “I had always been very driven, and had accomplished a lot.”

Having her first book published was a bright break in the dark clouds Good-Enough Mother: The Perfectly Imperfect Book of Parenting came out in 2007, a few months after her surgery—but as time went on good news seemed scarcer and scarcer.

After climbing to the pinnacle of success, she discovered that finding a new job in the ultra-competitive world of broadcast journalism was even harder in mid-life. Opportunity after opportunity fizzled out, until Syler felt her purgatory would never end. At one point, as an added indignity, all her hair fell out after a visit to the hairdresser to have it chemically relaxed.

In the face of repeated disappointments and rejection, depression took root in her mind and body.

“There were days when I’d drive the kids to school and then return home and go back to bed,” Syler says. “I kept waiting for someone to save me, but what I didn’t realize then, was that I had to save myself.”

In November 2008, a bout of asthmatic bronchitis landed Syler in the hospital. When her doctor asked how she was feeling, Syler answered in tears.

“I told my doctor how I couldn’t seem to see my way out of the depression, and how I had a hard time getting out of bed in the morning,” Syler says.

The doctor prescribed an antidepressant, which took the edge off her symptoms and gave her the respite she needed to reassess her views of herself and her future.

Perhaps most importantly for her mental health, Syler learned to embrace her own advice and cut herself some slack. The premise of Good-Enough Mother is that women need to let go of their unattainable ideals, figure out what works for their individual families, and practice self-care in order to care for others.

“I think there is value in the struggle that I went through,” Syler says. “I’m no longer interested in painting a rosy picture all of the time. I realize I’m allowed to have feelings.”

She had to redefine the meaning of success, both in terms of her career and her self-image.

“I try to do as much as I can in my life, but not to try to do everything perfectly,” she says. “I see so many women striving to be perfect, and then feeling depressed when they fall short. I think the most important thing we can do is to take a deep breath and focus on the things in life that really matter.”

For Syler, that includes her husband, her teenage children, and her beloved yellow Labrador retriever, Olivia. All of them served to motivate her when she was feeling down. Her dog needed walks, her children needed their mother. Wanting to be there for them forced Syler to get up each morning, and ultimately face her own challenges.

“I learned that even the strongest people get beat up and I made it my mantra to get through each day one step at a time,” Syler says. “Rather than trying to take on too much, I broke things down into manageable chunks.”

As it became more and more obvious that her path forward didn’t lie in traditional television, Syler looked to online options. In 2010, she rebuilt her book’s website, got serious about blogging, and converted a closet in her home to record videos to post.

She began to take a stand on current events and issues that affect parents. Before long, the site was attracting more than 50,000 visitors a month.

Syler says taking back control of her career was empowering. As part of re-establishing herself, she envisioned her life as a pond and realized that the more fishing poles she put into the pond, the better her chances of landing a fish.

“My first pole was carving out content for my website,” she says. “This was something that no one else could take away from me.”

And with each fish she landed, other nibbles followed. Because of a blog she wrote about theme parks, Syler was invited to be the keynote speaker at Walt Disney World’s annual Social Media Moms Conference in 2011. That led to a profile in an online magazine about her self-reinvention. That came to the notice of executives at the Live Well Network, a digital channel of the Disney-ABC Television Group, who approached Syler about hosting a new show. For Sweet Retreats, Syler travels the country to feature vacation destinations.

“I found you gain the most when you have nothing to lose, when there is nowhere to go but up,” Syler says. “It’s possible to rebuild after rocky times, but you must let your passion guide you, and surround yourself with others who support you. Most of all, understand no one will believe in you as much as you believe in yourself.”

What a difference seven years makes. In addition to Sweet Retreats, Syler is back in front of the cameras as a co-host of Exhale, a talk show on Magic Johnson’s new network. She is a popular motivational speaker, a tireless breast cancer advocate, and continues to grow her Good Enough Mother brand.

“I never thought I’d ever be in this place I am today since I never saw myself doing anything other than anchoring the news,” says Syler, who turns 51 on February 17. “I lost my job, I lost my breasts, I lost my hair, and I fought depression, but in losing all of those things, I also found myself.”

René Syler’s tips

Kick fear to the curb. Syler has learned to challenge the phantoms that hold her back. “I’m able to recognize irrational thoughts for what they are, to realize where they are coming from, and to change my internal dialogue and challenge my fears,” she says. “When I look back at old pictures of me, the overwhelming thing I see is fear—fear of losing my job, or making people angry. Today, I’m fearless.”

Don’t fall for “Pinterest parenting.”
That’s Syler’s term for online images that project a false ideal. “For a mom who is sitting at home in sweats, covered in her baby’s vomit, looking at photos of these supposedly perfect families, it can create feelings of inadequacy,” she contends. She suggests staying away from social media when you’re feeling blue and likely to compare yourself unfavorably to others.

Take the long view. Syler has grown more accepting of the fact that life sometimes gives you a pie in the face. “The difference is I now try and look at a bad day as a bad moment and move on,” she says, “rather than letting it weigh me down.”


NAMI Celebrates Victory in Preserving Medicare Part D Access To Psychiatric Medications

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) today issued the following statement by NAMI Executive Director Mary Giliberti in response to the announcement by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) that it will not move forward to “finalize” proposed rule changes under Medicare Part D that would have restricted access to antidepressant and antipsychotic medications:

“Less than one full working day since the official comment period on the proposed rule ended and one day before the House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill to block the proposed changes, HHS’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has indicated that it has heard the concerns of people living with mental illness and others over the elimination of three protected drug classifications under Medicare Part D.

“In a letter to members of Congress, CMS has recognized ‘the complexities of these issues and stakeholder input’ and declared that it ‘does not plan to finalize the proposal at this time.’ The agency has promised not to advance ‘some or all of the changes’ in the future without first receiving additional stakeholder ‘input.’

“For now, for people living with mental illness the crisis has been averted. The threat of restricted access has essentially been stopped—although we will continue to support the pending legislation currently scheduled for a vote on Tuesday, March 11, if House leaders decide to complete that process.

“We thank CMS for responding to the concerns of individuals and families affected by mental illness and both thank and congratulate the thousands of individuals who responded to NAMI’s call by submitting official comments or signing NAMI’s online petition in opposition to the proposed rule. NAMI will of course continue working to protect access to necessary medications in all health care programs, whether today or in the future.”

Panic Disorder: An Example Of Fighting Against The Stigma Of Mental Illness

Taken from the  Huffington Post  which can be found   HERE.
I have panic disorder. I manage chronic anxiety every single day. I had my first panic attack when I was 15 years old and (at the time) I had no idea what was going on. I thought I might be having a heart attack. It seemed like a physical problem at first. I had an uncontrollable racing heart followed by sweating and shaking. But then I quickly realized that nervous thoughts were accompanying my physical symptoms.

Thankfully, I wasn’t alone. Anxiety and depression run in my family, and my mother knew exactly what was going on and how to help me. I started seeing a therapist and learned coping techniques to deal with anxiety. However, the techniques I learned were not enough. From ages 15 to 18, I still suffered from severe panic attacks that made it incredibly difficult for me to function.

For the most part, I suffered in silence. The only people who knew about my struggle with panic were my parents, my brother and my best friend, who didn’t attend my high school. I attended a performing arts high school where I studied theater. I was an excellent actress, but not in the way one might think. I was well adept at hiding my mental illness from my peers.

After three years of covering up my suffering, I was mentally and physically exhausted. In 1998, when I was 18 years old, I made the decision to see a psychiatrist. I started taking medication. My whole life changed after that. I didn’t suffer from intrusive thoughts anymore, I was able to breathe and was able to function like a normal human being. I thought to myself, Oh, this is what normal people must feel like.

I went on to attend NYU and graduate with a decent GPA. I could not have done this without the help of antidepressants.

Since college, the only time I have been off of antidepressants was when I was pregnant with my children or breastfeeding them. Other than that, I recognize and I know that taking antidepressants helps me to keep anxiety at bay.

In addition to taking antidepressants, I also eat mostly organic, take herbal supplements, see an acupuncturist and meditate daily. But these things are not enough. At this point in my life, I still need to take antidepressants to manage panic attacks.

As a person managing chronic anxiety, I have heard a lot of unhelpful advice from people who don’t understand mental illness. Here are some common things people have said to me:

1. Antidepressants are just a Band-Aid covering up the problem. Why don’t you stop taking them and try to deal with your anxiety?

This is analogous to telling a diabetic to stop taking their insulin and see what happens. Mental illness is a real condition that can be debilitating if left untreated.

2. You’re being dramatic. You think too much. Why don’t you just stop obsessing?

There is a chemical imbalance in my brain. My brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin. Therefore, the result is I have chronic intrusive thoughts, depression and anxiety. Unless you would like to talk to the neurotransmitters inside my head and tell them to stop firing, I think we’re done here.

3. You’re lazy.

Quite the opposite, actually. I have to work twice as hard to do the things “normal people” do, such as wake up, get dressed and leave the house. I am constantly battling the thoughts in my head. I would call myself a warrior.

Whether you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, ADHD, or any other mental illness, you are fighting a battle. To those around you, it may look like an invisible war, but it’s happening. You’re working hard to be able to function.

Mental illness is real. We need to be just as empathetic and sensitive to those who are managing depression as we are to people that are dealing with physical ailments or diseases. If your friend tells you she she’s having a panic attack, ask her what you can do to help. I promise you, she’s not being lazy. She’s trying to survive.


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