Thursday, July 28, 2011

A NAMI Summer

by Angela Sivak, NAMI Communications Intern

In the past eight weeks, I have served as an intern at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). My experience here has endowed me with an array of new skills and given me the chance to attend meetings and briefings concerning national issues on mental health.

My internship at NAMI offered me the opportunity to attend a selection committee meeting for the 2011 Voice Awards, sponsored by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), where I met with executives of other organizations focusing on mental health, such as the American Psychological Association. Before the Voice Awards meeting, I had been given the task of viewing two episodes from the television show Harry's Law and at the meeting I presented my impressions of how accurately the episodes dealt with mental illness. It allowed me to analyze how the media shapes our judgment and perceptions of these disabilities and how helpful they can be in informing the public.

In addition to the Voice Awards, I was able to attend and take notes in a telephone interview that Bob Carolla, NAMI's director of media relations had with former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy about his "One Mind for Research" campaign. Though I had read up on the topic beforehand, hearing Kennedy explain his campaign gave me more insight into the overall mission. I knew beforehand that it had been a movement to develop a deeper understanding of the human brain, but as I listened to Kennedy speak passionately of his campaign I saw the advantages and benefits this movement would offer, not only in understanding mental illness, but being able to treat mental illness.

While the Voice Awards and Kennedy's interview were important sessions I got the chance to attend, there are also small tasks around the office that I have been able to take responsibility for. For instance, every morning I compile a list of important news articles relating to mental health and email the list to everyone in the office. I have also had the chance to sit in on an important briefing on Capitol Hill that countered an inaccurate portrayal of the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program by the Boston Globe. I also honed my literary skills by writing feature stories for NAMI's publication, the Advocate, and of course, I was given the chance to share my experience through this blog.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Living Proof

by Jim Hall and Perry Hoffman, Ph.D.

In recent a ground-breaking New York Times front-page article, Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight, published Thursday, June 23, 2011, borderline personality disorder (BPD) has been brought to the attention of millions worldwide. Marsha M. Linehan, Ph.D., one of the foremost experts on treating BPD, announced that she, too, has suffered with this disabling mental illness. By developing Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), the most evidence-based treatment for BPD, Dr. Linehan already has brought to many a promise of a pathway to "a life worth living". Now, with her courageous announcement, she is bringing a visible message of hope to all who seek relief from the pain of mental illness.

People involved in learning the skills of Dialectical Behavior Therapy can now experience a heightened comfort in the credibility of this therapy knowing the creator has walked in their shoes.

BPD is an often misunderstood, serious mental illness characterized by persistent instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self image and behavior. It is a disorder of emotional dysregulation. BPD, one of the most common mental illnesses, is still one of the least understood, and therefore one of the most under-diagnosed and under-treated disorders. While less well known than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), BPD is just as common, affecting between 1 - 2 percent of the general population.

NAMI and the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA-BPD), provide essential information and services for BPD and other major mental illnesses. Parents, spouses and children bear a significant burden. Often, family members are grateful to be educated about the borderline diagnosis, the likely prognosis, reasonable expectations from treatment, and how they can contribute. These interventions often improve communication, decrease alienation, and relieve family burdens. Family training and support programs such as NAMI's Family to Family and NEA-BPD's Family Connections are in great demand.

There are therapies and skills for individuals and families alike that are truly hopeful for recovery with BPD. Now, with this public disclosure by Dr. Linehan, those who live with BPD can observe living proof of leading a successful life with a serious mental illness.

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Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Soldier’s Journey: Testifying before the Senate

by Daniel Williams, U.S. Army Combat Veteran

I testified today before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs about the urgent need to reform mental health care in our military and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I had to share some hard, painful truths.

As an Army infantryman I was deployed in 2003-2004 to Iraq. I was wounded when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated and injured my body and my mind. I received a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but the most severe wound as been post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

From the moment I got injured until my honorable discharge, I received very little help from the Army-or even acknowledgement of my mental state. I went to the base clinic at Ft. Hood in Texas and reported anxiety and readjustment issues, but was told that I needed to wait six months for an appointment with a psychiatrist.

With no help or hope, I attempted suicide with a .45 caliber pistol while locked at home in the bathroom. My wife called the police. When they kicked open the door, I pulled the trigger, but by the grace of God, the weapon misfired. The officers handcuffed me and put me in the back of the police car. One of them attempted to clear my weapon, but when he did, the same round that refused to kill me went off perfectly for him. Thankfully, no one was injured. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the base hospital for two weeks.

When I first went to the VA in Birmingham in 2007, I felt lost and had no guidance. I had to wait hours to see a doctor and wait in lines while constantly seeing and hearing on televisions in the waiting rooms news about the war with soldiers being killed. Later, at an outpatient clinic in Huntsville, I enjoyed my regular MD but the psychiatrist was a nightmare. She recommended inpatient treatment, including shock treatments to reset my brain. I did not want to do this and decided to try psychotherapy for a while.

I got worse, not better. My therapist didn't listen. She just threw pills at me. My wife and I returned to the Birmingham VA for help. We argued loudly with the receptionist. VA police officers came to investigate. At that critical moment, we met Dr. Ryan. For the first time a doctor actually listened He arranged for me to see a therapist weekly, ensured that I had proper medications, was assigned to support groups and was able to take classes. I also met with a local recovery coordinator.

Later, I was asked to serve on the medical center's veterans' mental health council, an activity VA initiated to give veterans a voice to help make the local VA system better for mental health.

Veterans and family members have to serve as advocates to get the help they need. I am glad NAMI is on our side and I am proud to have represented NAMI before the Senate committee.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Building Better Lives Together

By Katrina Gay, NAMI Director of Communications

As Thomas Moore, the Irish poet, once said, “To the soul, there is hardly anything more healing than friendship.”

And here at the 32nd NAMI Annual Convention in Chicago, it is clear that it is the friendships that truly matter.

Each summer, people gather at the convention from across the country and the world to inspire one another and gain knowledge about mental illness. They come to connect with old friends and make new ones, to share their stories of struggle and triumph and to contribute to the thoughts and ideas that encapsulate NAMI.

This year, the NAMI Annual Convention welcomes a crowd of more than 2,300 individuals, families and others affected by mental illness.

They come for a short repose from the important work they do as advocates and community leaders and reflect on what they have achieved, how far they have come and what the vision for the future should be.

It becomes evident to everyone here that NAMI is more than an organization. We are a community. A family. A movement.

At pre-convention activities on Wednesday, July 6, early arrivals were inspired by one another as well as by opportunities to engage with author and mental health leader Elyn Saks.

Elyn spoke to a standing room only crowd, sharing her personal story of living with schizophrenia and recounting excerpts from her book, The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness, which chronicles her life with the illness as well as her successes both personally and professionally.

The recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacAuthur Foundation Fellowship -- also known as a “genius grant” -- Elyn has established the Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy and Ethics located at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. Her work will continue to make a difference and change the way we understand mental illness as part of the human condition.

Through her intimate interactions with the audience, Elyn offered encouragement and inspiration to all in attendance.

Luckily for us, this is just the beginning. There are still three more jam-packed days of events.

At the NAMI Convention, one realizes that NAMI’s generations span the challenges we have faced in the past and those that we face in years ahead. And as tough as things gets, belief and friendship are part of NAMI’s heart.

As we celebrate our successes and prepare for the challenges that remain, it is our common experiences with mental illness that unite us.

It is our dedication to NAMI and to one another that are the essence of the NAMI Annual Convention.

For those not at the convention, highlights will be posted on NAMI’s website and feeds will be shared through Twitter and Facebook.