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Marvelously Ordinary

Amy and I had a chance to visit yesterday after a full time the past three weeks for both of us with work, travel and family.  What was especially nice was the fact that we didn’t have to talk about depression.  Both of our husbands are in good places now and the darkness of the past months has dissipated.  So we talked of knitting and festivals, of Rome sights and gall bladder clubs, of children and mutual friends, of huckleberry bushes and what we were having for dinner.  It was very normal, very mundane, and very appreciated.  We wish the same for all of you out there dealing with a depressed loved one. 

 -Bernadette

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It’s just not that simple.

On the subject of thoughtless things people say…

I often see supposedly inspirational blog posts, bumper stickers, posters, etc that exhort us to simply choose to be happy. I suppose there may be people out there for whom a happy outlook on life vs. a sad outlook on life is, in some way, an issue of “mind over matter.”

But that hasn’t been my experience. Nor has it been the norm for many, many people I know who struggle with one form or another of depression and other brain illnesses.

April of “Finding Beauty in Spite of Myself” discusses this topic beautifully in her post today, Happiness is a Choice?  Thanks, April, for sharing your perspective and for striking a blow against the ignorance the general public holds regarding issues of mental health.

-Amy

The Crazy Priority of Mental Health

Back in 1963 the Community Mental Health Act was passed. The bill was one of the boldest attempts to deal with mental health.  It moved people out of inpatient psychiatric hospitals and put them back in the community where mental health centers and other programs were to make help for the mentally ill affordable and readily available to all.

Let’s see how we’ve done in the past 50 years in putting the action into this act.

  • Up to 30 percent of homeless people are thought to be seriously mentally ill.  That’s five times the rate in the general population.
  • Approximately 10 percent of US homicides are committed by untreated severely mentally ill people.
  • Chances that a perpetrator of a mass shooting displayed signs of mental illness prior to the crime: 1 in 2
  • Between 1998 and 2006, the number of mentally ill people incarcerated in federal, state, and local prisons and jails more than quadrupled to 1,264,300.
  • The percentage of inmates with mental health problems in 2004 were 44.8% in federal prisons, 56.2% in state prisons and 64.2% in local jails.  Since 2006, mental-illness rates in some county jails have increased by another 50 percent.
  • For every $2,000 to $3,000 per year spent on treating the mentally ill, $50,000 is saved on incarceration costs.
  • Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year.
  • In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2010, there was one psychiatric bed for every 7,100 Americans—the same ratio as in 1850.(You heard me right – 1850.)
  • Severe mental disorders cost the nation $193.2 billion annually in lost earnings

The Associated Press wrote the following in regard to the Community Mental Health Act of 1963:

Kennedy said when he signed the bill that the legislation to build 1,500 centers would mean the population of those living in state mental hospitals — at that time more than 500,000 people — could be cut in half. In a special message to Congress earlier that year, he said the idea was to successfully and quickly treat patients in their own communities and then return them to “a useful place in society.”

But only half of the proposed centers were ever built, and those were never fully funded. [emphasis added]

Meanwhile, about 90 percent of beds have been cut at state hospitals, according to Paul Appelbaum, a Columbia University psychiatry professor and expert in how the law affects the practice of medicine. In many cases, several mental health experts said, that has left nowhere for the sickest people to turn, so they end up homeless, abusing substances or in prison. The three largest mental health providers in the nation today are jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County and Rikers Island in New York.

The Community Health Act of 1963 was not able to accomplish much because we as a nation have some pretty crazy priorities and those priorities seldom include the mentally ill.  We should be ashamed of ourselves.

– Bernadette

Sources include National Coalition for the Homeless, NMH Hunger and Homelessness Survey7; the US conference of Mayors “Inmate Mental Health”; and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Be careful what you say.

Earlier this week I was at a conference for church educators, in the company of about 100 very kind, caring people. I had the opportunity to attend five different workshops, led by different presenters, and to have lunch with people I’ve never met before but with whom I may be working in the future. I’m quite certain that none of the people there would knowingly do or say anything hurtful.

And yet there were three separate comments, made by three different people over the two days, that made me cringe:

“My husband is a rabid Tarheels fan. I mean, seriously – he needs therapy.” Ouch.

A narrative read by one presenter included the words, “It was a rough bus trip. Before I got where I was going I was desperate for an antidepressant.” Ouch.

Another presenter, jokingly describing a co-worker: “He’s a little OCD, so we had to do everything just perfectly.” Ouch.

These types of off-hand comments, meant to be funny, are out there everywhere. They’re so pervasive in our culture that even people whose life work includes caring for and ministering to others drop them in conversation regularly.

I’m aware that I’m probably over-sensitve due to over-exposure to issues relating to mental health.

But wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if everyone, everywhere could just guard their tongues?

-Amy

Young, gay, and depressed

Struggling with sexual identity is a difficult challenge. Although our society has become more accepting of gays and lesbians, it still has a long way to go. When it comes to depression, being a member of the LGBT community is not a ticket to ease in dealing with it.

Depression accounts for between 20 and 35 percent of all suicide deaths each year and number more than death from motor vehicle accidents. But statistics are even worse for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

For example, we know that adolescence is a difficult time but for those in the LGBT community, it can be especially challenging. Attitudes toward differentness, cultural stigmas, and increasing bullying, teasing and physical violence lead to more LGBT youth finding the teenage years most difficult and creating a rise in depression.

A 2009 survey of more than 7,000 LGBT middle school and high school students between the ages of 13 and 21 found that, because of their sexuality, in the previous year 8 in 10 had been verbally harassed at school, 4 in 10 had been physically harassed and 1 in 5 had been physically assaulted. Six in ten felt unsafe in school. And depression lurks around the corner.

Often there is also the component of how parents respond to their teen. If a negative reaction takes place on learning their teen is gay, often the response is throwing the child out of the house or the child running away. Because of this, it is important for parents to foster healthy, positive and supportive environments for their child. They need to talk openly about any difficulties the child might be having, always watchful of signs of bullying and taking immediate action should any hint of something occur.

LGBT youth themselves can seek help through an online resource e- The It Gets Better Project – which has become a worldwide movement in which a cross section of individuals share their stories of overcoming bullying and harassment and depression, letting kids know that things do get better.

Being gay and depressed is difficult. However with understanding parents, good teachers, supportive friends and excellent resources, it can be a time of great growth.

-Bernadette

Mentally ill people are not the problem.

I’m in Rome and enjoying the sites, learning about depression in a place where people think there is none and this morning I came across this. I don’t know where it comes from so apologies for not giving appropriate credit. I do, however, think what it says is important for people to hear again and again.

Mentally ill people are not the problem.
Inaccessible, unaffordable health care is the problem.
Stigma is the problem.
Lack of treatment is the problem.
Lack of understanding is the problem.
Not taking people seriously is the problem.
Lack of honest conversation and open dialogue is the problem.
Using jails as a housing facility for mentally ill persons is a problem.

Do you understand me?
Mentally ill people are NOT the problem.

Amen to whoever wrote this.

– Bernadette

Just Don’t Think About It

“Just don’t think about it.”

If you kept track of how many times a depressed person or a caregiver of a depressed person heard this, you would be dealing in the millions. People who have not had to deal with depression in their lives often think that if depression is pushed out of the mind, a cure occurs. Ah, if life could be so easy!

Depression is not something you can turn on and off easily. You can’t just think happy thoughts and have it disappear. Depression imbues your being and even when you are feeling somewhat good, it is still in the background. When someone says “Just don’t think about it,” it only reinforces the fact that depression is there, waiting, waiting, waiting.

Remember the old story about someone who comes up to a friend and says, “I will give you five hundred dollars if you don’t think about purple elephants for ten minutes.” Of course, it is impossible and the friend loses the five hundred dollars.

So it is for the depressed person and for the caregiver. Asking them to not think about this monster that has invaded their lives, is asking them not to be on guard for what that monster can do. They have to make sure medicine is taken, doctor appointments kept, exercises done, crises averted, tears wiped. They laugh and enjoy each other too when times are good, but even then, in the distant background is the fact that depression could once again rear its ugly head.

So the next time you find those words on the tip of your tongue, pause, and remember that it is indeed easier to say that than to do it.

-Bernadette