Monday, June 25, 2012

Friday Night at the Movies (for Less Than 40 Cents)

By Bob Carolla, NAMI Director of Media Relations

I love movies. It’s an addiction I acquired in the 1970s as a high school student in Bolivia. A political crisis closed schools for six weeks. Friends and I would go to double features, two or three times a week, to waste an afternoon (tickets cost about 40 cents). Those were the days long before video games and Vudu downloads.

That why I’m proud to be introducing and moderating discussions about two films at NAMI’s National Convention in Seattle, June 27-30.

The films are Pensar Eterno (Eternal Thought) and Kings Park: Stories from, an American Mental Institution. For people who can’t attend the convention, both can be previewed online. Kings Park is also being screened on July 23 at the National Association of Social Workers Conference in Washington, D.C. It is becoming a vehicle for broad public education.

Pensar Eterno (in Spanish with English subtitles) is a short film—about 15 minutes—based on the story of Juan Gabriel Velez Court , growing up in Puerto Rico, and his struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). For NAMI, it also is a milestone—the first time that a Spanish-language film has been featured as a marquee event.

Kings Park is a powerful film. In 1967 at age 17, filmmaker, Lucy Winer was committed to Kings Park State Hospital in New York, after several suicide attempts. Established in 1885 and closed in 1996, the hospital had 9,000 patients at its peak—basically warehoused without humane treatment. Thirty years later, Lucy returned to the abandoned facility that had held her captive. Interviews in with other former patients, families and former hospital staff reveal both the painful legacy of state hospital systems from that era and the crisis that has resulted from deinstitutionalization. Instead of being warehoused, too many people with severe mental illness are living on the streets or without adequate support.

For me, there are three intriguing moments in Kings Park. One former hospital attendant fondly recalled that the hospital as a “paradise” because many of the staff lived in housing on its sprawling grounds, met their spouses there and raised their families in the shadow of its massive buildings. The private psychiatrist who committed Lucy acknowledged that Kings Park was a terrible solution, but there were few options at the time. The reason for Lucy’s committal was an imperative: she needed to be somewhere where she could be watched continuously, to keep her from killing herself. At the end of the film, Lucy seeks to reconcile conflicting emotions. She acknowledges that there were people at Kings Park who did help her, enabling her to find a path toward recovery.

Looking to the future as well as the past, Kings Park provides astute historical perspective. Fifty years from now, will we condemn the present, while measuring progress with the same objectivity? I hope so.

Editor’s note: OC87: The Obsessive Compulsive, Major Depression, Bipolar, Asperger's Movie in which filmmaker Bud Clayman chronicles the illness that interrupted his career and the ups and downs of his path to recovery also be screened at NAMI’s convention. Unfortunately, this week’s blogger hasn’t seen it. Yet. (NAMI members can read a review of OC87 that appeared in last winter’s edition of the Advocate.)

Stay connected with NAMI's National Convention on Twitter with #NAMI2012.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Remembering Britni: One Step at a Time

By Becky Wright

Thirty-two years old is too young to die.

I am 32 years old, and I think so. My sister-in-law, Britni, died almost a year ago. She took her own life battling with mental illness. We are the same age. She left behind a husband and two beautiful children.

Britni suffered and struggled for seven long years with bipolar disorder. Nobody knew how much pain she really was in until it was too late.

Britni had a very loving family with a husband, two kids, parents and three brothers. She was a happy, outgoing person who had lots of friends. She was popular in high school, participating in cheerleading and various other activities. She loved reading, camping with her family, antique shopping and going on walks.

When I married her older brother, Britni and I became fast friends. I was glad to call her my sister. She was fun, silly and always made me laugh. She was the kind of person who was fun to hang around. She loved dressing up and always was the best-dressed, with the most matching accessories. She was a good aunt to my kids. They were guaranteed tons of fun and spoiling if she was around. They loved her like I did for the genuine love she showed all her family and friends.

The painful part to talk about is when things got difficult for her and the family.

When the symptoms of mental illness started, she would be in and out of psychiatric facilities, struggling with depression, self-mutilation and other symptoms of bipolar disorder. The family cried with her, took care of her children and prayed for her to receive the help and care she would need to feel better. She had a strong support system of family and friends around her that loved her and wanted her to succeed.

She tried many different options of treatment, but ultimately took her life on July 9, 2011.

After the funeral, I wanted to show Britni how much she meant to me. I wanted her to know that she had a sister that loved her. I felt a great need to do my part to raise awareness of mental illness.

I set a goal to run the Surfside Beach, Texas marathon in memory of my sister-in-law this past February. I finished in first place for all women and eighth place overall. My marathon time was 3:26:52.1 (7:54 pace). I wore a grey ribbon on my running bib—a symbol of mental illness awareness.

Becky, left, with her sister-in-law, Britni.

It was the hardest run I have ever completed. The marathon was 100 percent on the sand (not the easiest surface to run on!). The weather was rainy and stormy, and I was completely soaked to the bone! I felt added strength, because I was running for Britni. I knew that I had to finish the race for her.

As our family has struggled with our loss, we have continued to educate ourselves about bipolar disorder. It is so important to share with my own children and others that it is okay to talk about this subject. This may help them find the assistance they need if or when they may need it.

I am trying to increase my knowledge of mental illness, by learning the signs and coping skills for families and those diagnosed. I realize that I need to keep on doing this one step at a time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gay Pride Month: Coming Out for Mental Health

Editor’s Note:  During June, many communities are observing Gay Pride Month. Dates for events vary by city, but wherever you live, now is an appropriate time to consider the mental health challenges facing individuals, particularly youth, who “come out” with their sexual orientation. NAMI is sharing this article that originally appeared in ¡Avanzamos!, NAMI’s Spanish language magazine.

Learning to Support LGBT Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being

By Caitlin Ryan, PhD, ACSW, Director, Family Acceptance Project, San Francisco State University

Since the late 1980s, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)  youth of all ethnic groups have been “coming out or self-identifying at younger ages than earlier generations. Researchers believe that the average age of awareness of first attraction, whether a young person perceives his or her self as gay or heterosexual, occurs at around age 10.

While there are a range of support services for LGBT youth, few services  have focused on the role or needs of families of LGBT adolescents, particularly families that are Spanish-speaking. As a consequence, families and caregivers have had little information or support to deal with sexual orientation and gender identity when young people come out during childhood and adolescence.

This prompted and Dr. Rafael Diaz and myself to start the Family Acceptance Project (FAP) in 2002—the first research, education, family intervention and policy project to help ethnically and religiously diverse families support their LGBT children. FAP is affiliated with San Francisco State University. Our team has conducted the first in-depth research on what happens in Latino families when LGBT young people come out during adolescence.

This research, conducted in English and Spanish with LGBT youth, young adults and families, identified more than 100 ways that families express acceptance and rejection of their LGBT children. This includes rejecting behaviors such as telling an adolescent that they shame the family or not letting the youth talk about their LGBT identity. It also includes accepting or supportive behaviors such as expressing affection, advocating for a gay or transgender youth when they are discriminated against by others or helping an LGBT youth get accurate information about their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Our bilingual team studied how each of these family accepting and rejecting behaviors affect the health and mental health of LGBT young people. For the first time research shows that families and caregivers have a dramatic and compelling impact on their LGBT children’s physical health, mental health and well-being. It was found that LGBT young people whose parents and caregivers reject them report high rates of depression, substance abuse, suicide attempts and risk for HIV infection. It was also discovered that LGBT young people whose parents support them show much higher rates of self-esteem and greater well-being, with better overall health and lower rates of health and mental health problems.

For example, LGBT teens that were highly rejected by their parents and caregivers were at very high risk for health and mental health problems when they become young adults (ages 21-25).

Highly rejected young people were:

  • More than eight times as likely to have attempted suicide
  • Nearly six times as likely to report high levels of depression
  • More than three times as likely to use illegal drugs, and
  • More than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases

Using this research, the FAP team has been working with Latino and other families with LGBT children for the past decade to develop a new family model to help families support their LGBT children. This new approach shows ethnically and religiously diverse families how to reduce their gay or transgender children’s risk for mental health problems and how to promote their well-being by engaging in supportive behaviors. By empowering Latino and other families with this new info, FAP has been able to show that parents and caregivers can learn to support their LGBT children once they learn how their reactions affect their LGBT children. This approach helps increase family support for young people with underlying mental health concerns. It also prevents homelessness and placement in foster care and juvenile justice programs that include high rates of LGBT out-of-home youth.

In addition to developing a new family approach to care for implementation across health and mental health systems, the FAP team is developing a range of tools and resources to help families and providers to support LGBT young people. These tools include:

  • Family education booklets that teach families how support their LGBT children (in English, Spanish and Chinese). The team is also writing versions at lower literacy levels.
  • Family video stories that show the journey of diverse families struggle to support their LGBT children in short documentaries that can be used by providers, families and youth. Always My Son is an award-winning short film that tells the moving story of a Mexican American family with a gender non-conforming gay son.
  • Risk screening tools (FAPrisk Screener) that help providers quickly identify LGBT young people who are experiencing especially harmful types of family rejection (and related risks such as depression and suicidality)  with guidance for practice and follow up care.
  • Training on implementing FAP’s family support approach, engaging communities and using FAP’s research and resource tools.


For information about the Family Acceptance Project, contact

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

“Oh No, I’ve Just Been Diagnosed With a Mental Illness…”

By Yashi Brown
Yashi Brown/Courtesy of the artist

These were my first thoughts when I was discharged from UCLA and Harris Methodist hospital in 2002 and again in 2007.

I can remember like it was yesterday. Right after our art therapy class, when the nurses met with us one by one, I was shown my diagnosis. The reason it happened to me twice is because once I got stable footing after the initial episode in 2002 I came to the conclusion the medical system was completely unreliable and inaccurate in their “opinion” of my mental state and therefore I disregarded any “illness” they claimed I had.

Then in 2007 after another severe manic episode I was diagnosed severe bipolar disorder type 1 the “Oh no, I have a mental illness” dialogue reared its head again in my head.

Very often I like to poke and prod on this topic of self-imposed stigma when advocating because most of us either living with a diagnosed mental illness or those with a close family member have experienced it—or are still struggling in this area. Education and awareness take away the mystery and reduce the fear. We talk about society and “stigma” but I’m a firm believer that the first place to begin applying the anti-stigma campaign is with ourselves. There are plenty of avenues to help us reduce the crippling stigma we may be imposing on ourselves. So that we can enjoy the lives we were truly meant to live.

Today we have several magazine publications, books, Internet sites and individuals speaking out about recovery and maintenance in every area of mental health. 

There are also some amazing authors, self-help books and daily positive affirmations to help us reprogram whatever negativity is going on in our heads.

I’m really big on my “quiet time.” For me this is an everyday morning ritual which sets the pace for the rest of my day and hones those tough areas where my emotional challenges are still very sensitive. Hey, I’m nowhere out of the woods, I’m just now in harmony with them which is why I really love those “60 days,” “90 days” or “365 days” of affirmations, enlightenment, devotions or whatever you want to call them.

The bottom line is they’re a wonderful guide for maintaining focus and mental health. Each morning there’s something new to keep me focused on feeling good and boy do I look forward to it. 

Also, included during this time is a moment of reflection; prayer; meditation. We may all call it different things but the essence is to allow your subconscious to have its way with those positive thoughts you’ve just planted there.

Once we free ourselves from the bondage of thinking we are our diagnosis and are defined by it—versus something we treat and maintain daily in recovery—then what’s around us will soon shift and reflect our newly defined thoughts and aspirations.

Some books I love: 

Ninety Days of Devotions by Joel Osteen

Yashi Brown is the author of Black Daisy in a White Limousine: 77 Poems. She will be the opening speaker at the “Celebrating NAMI and the Arts” event on Thursday, June 28 during NAMI’s National Convention in Seattle. The convention theme is “Wellness, Resiliency and Recovery.”