Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How Shootings Stigmatize People Living with Mental Illness

Here is a great article that I found worth sharing!

How Shootings Stigmatize People Living with Mental Illness

By Michael J. Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

When tragedies occur, such as the one at the Navy Yard in Washington, all Americans are deeply affected.

They include the one in four American adults who experience mental health problems. That's approximately 60 million Americans. Their first reaction is much like that of anyone else: feelings of anger and anguish and wanting to know when such events will ever stop.

But there's another, secondary impact to this community if a history of mental illness is suspected. Tragically, in the case with the Navy Yard gunman, mental illness appears to be a factor. But in too many cases, people simply assume that it is, no matter how much we caution that it's best not to attempt to diagnose any medical condition speculatively through the news media.

Unfortunately, stigma surrounds mental illness. It's most associated with a violent stereotype. The result has always been fear, prejudice and discrimination toward anyone struggling with a mental health problem.

The stereotype endures despite the fact that the U.S. Surgeon General has found that the likelihood of violence from people with mental illness is low. In fact, "the overall contribution of mental disorders to the total level of violence in society is exceptionally small."

Despite the impact of the Navy Yard tragedy and those of Newtown, Aurora and Virginia Tech on perceptions, a much greater, different reality exists. Many thousands of veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder. Civilian employees of the military seek help for depression; teachers live with anxiety disorders. Students succeed academically while managing bipolar disorder.

People living with schizophrenia may be psychologists, professors, peer counselors or businesspersons. They are all members of their communities. Few are violent.

In the face of violence, people may simply be unable to fathom how an event could occur other than through mental illness, thought of often in non-medical terms such as "madness" or "insanity." Their perceptions also are conditioned by headlines that largely overshadow the greater reality.

Stigma perpetuated by the Navy Yard tragedy will be internalized by many people living with mental health problems, causing them to stay silent and withdraw from others. This will impede their recovery in many ways.

Stigma will remain a major barrier that keeps people reaching out for help when they need it.

In the wake of such tragedies, some will call for persons with mental health problem to be "screened out" by employers in the hiring process or to deny them security clearances. In the first case, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides some protection against discrimination, but it is not always followed or easily enforced.

With top secret security clearances, just ask any member of the military or government official or contractor about the anxiety they often feel if they need to see a psychiatrist and then need to disclose it as part of a security clearance application or review.

Many issues need to be addressed in the case of the Navy Yard tragedy and the tragedies before it. They include what happened -- or didn't happen -- in the military and veterans mental health care systems, particularly when the gunman allegedly sought help from the Veterans Health Administration. Was there effective engagement?

The response of law enforcement should also be addressed. In theory, had the police both arrested and charged the gunman in past incidents involving a gun or disorderly conduct, he would have been put into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database and prohibited from buying a gun, regardless of his mental health status. It is also possible that his case might have been handled by a mental health court, leading to supervision and treatment.

Had Rhode Island police who responded to the gunman's 911 call for help in August been trained for crisis intervention and worked with a mobile crisis unit to have him medically evaluated, then perhaps this past week's horrors could have been averted.

Those are issues that must be pursued. But in the haste to respond, let's not stigmatize or discriminate against the millions of American who live productively with mental illness and who share the anguish and anger of other Americans in response to tragic horrors.

If stigma wins, things won't get better.

Monday, September 23, 2013

This is something that is very often misunderstood by the significant others as well as other loved ones of those of us with Bipolar Disorder. We don't need anyone else to save us, we just ask that you stand by us as we do what we need to do to regain our stability when lost.

-Kissing Stigma Goodbye-

Going Under

This is a wonderful piece titled Going Under; written by Adrienne, an awesome and caring woman, that I know solely through the internet as a result of Kissing Stigma Goodbye. She helps me out with the Kissing Stigma Goodbye Facebook Page, and it is great to have her help! She posted this on the Kissing Stigma Goodbye Facebook page recently and I wanted to share it with all of you who follow my blog!

Going Under
Imagine you're standing on a beach. You're right at the water's edge. Your bare toes are in the sand and every now and then, the waves lap up and cover your feet.
As the wave goes out, it takes some sand with it. You don't really notice it at first. A few grains of sand here and there aren't that big of a deal. You're still standing there looking out at the ocean. It's so big and so amazing. There is so much you don't know or that you can't see.

As the waves keep coming and going, you start to sink a little bit. You no longer see your toes. Your feet are sinking deeper into the sand. Little by little your foundation is being ripped out from under you.
The farther you sink, the quicker it seems to happen. What was once just a few grains of sand is now handfuls. Your feet are almost completely covered and your view of the world is now skewed. You aren't on level ground.

You can look around and see everyone else running along the beach; playing and laughing. No one else is sinking. You're the only one.

Eventually, your feet go out from under you. You fall to the sand. The waves are now washing over you. You want to get up, but the sand has a hold on you now. It's almost become comfortable there. You almost feel safe.

If not safe, it at least feels familiar.

You've gone under.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This is the article that I wrote for the NAMI Maryland Quarterly Newsletter

My Break Free From Stigma
By Sara Breidenstein

Stigma: defined by Webster's dictionary as a mark of shame or discredit.

The burdening stigma that society places on individuals living with a mental illness is real and it can come with a variety of negative consequences for the individuals that it impacts. Individuals living with a mental illness face this stigma every day in one form or another and it can be extremely detrimental to their mental health along with their overall well-being.

Stigma drives individuals living with a mental illness to live in silence, shame and fear. Stigma steers individuals away from receiving the treatment that they need due to shame and embarrassment.

Realistically speaking, no one should ever feel shamed or at fault for having a mental illness. Additionally, no one should feel scared or ashamed to receive treatment for their mental illness. Stigma is extremely hurtful and damaging to individuals living with a mental illness and can have long term effects on individuals.

I personally have been living with a mental illness for 13 years. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 15. I have faced stigma first-hand a number of times over the years. As a result of
stigma, I have historically found myself to be extremely ashamed of the fact that I have a mental illness. I never told anyone that I have Bipolar Disorder unless I absolutely had to. It even steered me from receiving the best possible treatment for my illness.

For so many years I had not been completely honest with my psychiatrist for fear of being judged and I was therefore not receiving the necessary medications to treat all of my symptoms.

I finally began to break free from the stigma in the very beginning of 2012, after living with Bipolar for 12 years. During the prior months, I had experienced an onset of psychotic symptoms during an already extremely stressful time in my life. I allowed myself to go through this alone instead of engaging my friends and family for help or even just to lend me an ear.

After finally opening up fully to my psychiatrist and coming through this rough patch in my life, I realized that no one should ever have to deal with their mental illness alone and nobody should ever feel scared to
discuss their symptoms with their psychiatrist. As a society, we would not expect an individual with cancer to go through it alone and the same should go for individuals living with a mental illness. After this
experience, I spent time processing the fact that I had allowed myself to go through a time of extreme need in my life, alone.

No one should feel alone in their mental illness. I thought about what I could do personally about this issue and then acted on those ideas.

First, I started a blog. The purpose of this blog is to fight stigma, raise awareness of mental illness and provide individuals with a mental illness and their families a sense of belonging and encouragement.

Second, I started a subsequent Facebook page with the same purpose as the blog.

Third, I stood up and said “I have Bipolar Disorder and I am no different than you.” I did this personally among my friends and loved ones and I did it publicly by telling my story on my blog, on my Facebook page and through various other means.

Finally, I joined NAMI and I signed up for the 2012 Maryland NAMIWalks which took place last May. Last year's walk was the first of many for me. I plan to continue to participate in this walk every year for many years to come. The walk in Baltimore last year, was such an amazing and inspiring experience. It was truly inspirational and heartwarming to witness so many individuals and or-ganizations from different walks of life gathered together in the same place to show support for the cause, raise awareness of mental illness and fight the stigma of mental illness. I felt very proud to have been able to take part and I look forward to participating in the walk again this year.

As an individual living with a mental illness, fighting the stigma attached to mental illness is a huge passion of mine. It is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. NAMI Maryland and local affiliates hold the same passion and they have shown much dedication to this cause through many different efforts, including the annual Maryland NAMIWalks!

I encourage you to join NAMI Maryland in the walk this year in Baltimore on May 18th at the Inner Harbor!
I hope to see you there! To sign up to join me in walking or to make a donation, visit this link, every dollar counts!

My story as written for the NAMI "You Are Not Alone In This Fight" Campaign!

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 15. I was initially given a misdiagnosis of clinical depression and was treated solely with an antidepressant.  This course of treatment kicked me out of depression and right into the hands of full blown mania. This mania ultimately landed me in the hospital after an intentional overdose of over the counter pain medication. I received the diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder while in the Emergency room which was then followed by a 2 week stay in a psychiatric unit in the hospital. Those 2 weeks were the very beginning of a journey that forever changed my life; the journey of living with and overcoming a mental illness! This is a lifelong journey for me and so many others!

I definitely did not leave the hospital at 15 thinking, alright, I’ve got this mental illness and I’m going to take medication every day and everything will be alright.  In fact, it was just the opposite. High school was a time of complete turmoil for me. The addition of the onset of bipolar symptoms to the already difficult time that high school brings to everyone did not bode well for me.  I really can’t even begin to put into words how treacherous that time in my life was.  It is a time I try so hard to forget. It was in my senior year that things began to turn around. At that point I was finally faithfully taking my medication every day.  The change in me that accompanied my medication compliance was truly phenomenal.  It was like night and day, two totally different individuals.  During my senior year in high school I was able to take half a day of classes in high school while taking a college course at the Community College in the afternoon. I had hated school so much during these years and was able to discover through taking college courses how much I actually love learning. It was a fantastic discovery to have made at a point in which I thought I completed hated education.

Let’s fast forward 5 years from my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder to my 2nd psychiatric hospitalization at the age of 20. I was experiencing a very severe depressive episode during this time period and was feeling suicidal. I locked myself in the bathroom with the intentions of taking an overdose.  My dad came to the rescue by literally banging the door down before this could fully occur; I had taken a few pills but not enough to cause any damage. I was hospitalized psychiatrically at Sheppard Pratt for 6 days inpatient followed by a week in the day hospital.

I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in 2007 and went out into the full time workforce. Two months after graduating college I went through the scariest experience of my life.  I made a suicide attempt that I am extremely lucky to have survived.  I spent quite a few days in ICU and managed to come through it all! I am so thankful to be alive!

Since that event in 2007, I have been through a subpar marriage (which is an understatement), a divorce, a series of increasing intensity in my bipolar symptoms requiring medication adjustments and an onset of a psychosis like I’ve never experienced before.

On the other hand, since that scary event in 2007 I have overcome the psychiatric symptoms that I have dealt with on various occasions, I have changed my outlook on life and on mental illness, I have taken a stand to fight the stigma of mental illness and most recently I graduated with my MBA degree!

In between the major events that I have mentioned I have experienced many rough patches throughout my life. I have experienced times of severe mania and times of severe depression.  I have also experienced times of mania and of depression that were much less severe yet lingered over time before I achieved a successful medication increase or change. Finding the right mix of medications hasn't always been easy.  In fact it has often times been tiring and cumbersome. There have been obstacles to overcome through every step of the way as a result of my Bipolar and I am happy to say that I have successfully done so. Bipolar can’t and won’t stop me from anything! I proudly take the 3 psychiatric medications I am prescribed and stand tall for all that I have accomplished despite having a mental illness!

Bipolar has knocked me down temporarily but I will never let it keep me down!  The stigma of bipolar kept me from ever discussing that I had an illness until recently.  At the beginning of this year, I went from hiding my bipolar in the back of a closet like a big dark secret to telling the entire world that “I have Bipolar Disorder and I am just like you”. I started a blog called Kissing Stigma Goodbye dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness, fighting the stigma attached to mental illness and providing hope, encouragement and a sense of belonging to individuals living with a mental illness and their families.  I also developed a Facebook page with the same purpose.  These pages provide me with the chance to use my experiences to help others and to show others that they are not alone in this fight! I hope to dedicate my career to raising awareness, fighting stigma and providing a sense of hope and belonging!  My bipolar disorder and my experiences have given me the gift to help others!  I call it my beautiful madness; I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

My goals behind this blog! (Originally Posted 3/1/12)

Let me start off by saying that this blog is a huge triumph for me. The reason I say this is because my mental illness is not something I have ever openly discussed. Instead, it was something I tucked away in the back of a closet while trying to pretend it did not exist. I did what I needed to do to remain stable or to regain stability when it was lost, but outside of that, I did not acknowledge my mental illness. Historically, there have been very few people in my life that knew about my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and of those people most only knew very little in the way of details.

This blog serves two main purposes. The first purpose is to fight the stigma surrounding mental illness. Telling my story is my way of working towards erasing stigma. I want people to read my story, my challenges, what I have overcome, and how far I have come in life. I want them to look at all of that and then realize “Wow, she is just like me. Her mental illness does not make her any different.” Everyone has overcome challenges in their lives, some bigger than others, but all challenges none the less. Different people deal with various types of challenges; I happen to live with the challenge of Bipolar Disorder. The bottom line is that my challenge of mental illness does not make me any different or any less of a person than anyone else. I want people to read my story and see that and be able to view every person with a diagnosis of mental illness in that same way.

The second purpose is to provide empowerment to others living with a mental illness. If I can help just one person who reads my story and realizes he/she is not alone in this battle, it would all be worth it! However, my goal is to touch the lives of far more than one person in my lifetime and I know that, in time, I will. I spent a number of years feeling alone as if I had no one to talk to, and no one understood. I aim to provide individuals living with a mental illness a place where they do not feel alone and instead feel empowered in knowing, they can do whatever they put their mind to.

I have had many challenges to overcome through life. Some of those challenges, I have overcome with no trouble at all; others I have had much more trouble overcoming. However, in the end, every challenge I have encountered has made me a stronger person. I have proven to myself that I can do anything I set my mind to. While challenges may slow me down from time to time, they can never stop me! This is a mentality that has taken me a very long time to develop. I no longer allow myself to succumb to my mental illness. I am stronger than that and I know it. This mindset has taken a lot of work and a lot of effort on my part. I hope that my blog can help others living with a mental illness realize that they too are strong and that they are not alone in their battle.

The following list is what I want to come out of this blog:

  •   I want people to look at this blog and recognize the accomplishments I have made  despite the fact that I have Bipolar Disorder.
  •   I want people to look at this blog and realize that my diagnosis makes me no different than they are and transfer that to society at large. One in four adults lives with a mental illness in any given year and they are no different from the three in four who do not. Mental illnesses are no one’s fault and no one should feel ashamed for having a mental illness.
  • I want people to look at this blog and realize that mental illness does not mean someone is weak; instead it forces that person to be stronger.
  •  I want people to read this blog and erase the stigmas they have about mental illness as well as to help erase the stigma they hear from others in society about mental illness.
  •  I want individuals living with a mental illness to read my blog and feel strong and empowered.

This blog is a courageous step for me. While it may be written about me, the mission is not about me. It is for the greater good. It is to help others. Stepping out of hiding was not easy but well worth it. There may be some backlash along the way, but it will all be worth it in the end. It is liberating to be able to tell my story, which is something I have never had the courage to do in the past. I feel satisfied knowing that my story could help others get through the challenges they may be facing from their mental illness.

For those of you living with a mental illness like myself, always remember, mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. There should be no shame in telling the story of what you have overcome. It should not be a skeleton in the closet; it is part of you, and it is what has helped to shape you into who you are. Never forget how strong you are!

My biggest inspiration in overcoming and beginning to talk about my illness has been Kay Redfield Jamison. She is a well-known author who has written multiple books about mental illness. My favorite book of hers is An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness which talks about her life with Bipolar Disorder. Her onset of Bipolar Disorder happened in college. She had many obstacles to overcome throughout those years but went on to complete her PhD in Psychology from UCLA and now practices at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. She is incredibly inspiring to me with all she has accomplished and the strength she has shown in telling her story publicly. About ten years ago, her book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, gave me the inspiration and the courage to know that my illness could not stop me. I still hold that with me today and even re-read the book every so often.

To my family, friends, and everyone else reading the blog: Please continue to spread the word I cannot do it alone. There have been an astonishing number of visits to the blog already; I know that number will only continue to grow. Thank you for helping me spread the word!

I am tired of hiding, tired of misspent and knotted energies, tired of the hypocrisy, and tired of acting as though I have something to hide.”

 –Kay Redfield Jamison-
 An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

Thank you for reading! Until next time…
-Kissing Stigma Goodbye-

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lucky to be Alive

There have been three significant events in my life that can be attributed to my Bipolar Disorder. The first two I have already written about in previous posts. The first of which being my diagnosis and hospitalization at the age of 15. The second of which being my six day voluntary hospitalization at Sheppard Pratt followed by a week long stint in the day hospital (also known as partial hospitalization). The third event I am going to write about today. It was by far the scariest point in my life for both me and my family, and it taught me a lesson that I will keep with me for life.

At the age of 22, in July of 2007, I made a suicide attempt that I am extremely lucky to have survived. Prior to this suicide attempt, I was experiencing a mixed state, which is symptoms of both depression and mania. My husband at the time came home from work that night, probably around seven or eight p.m. Shortly thereafter he and I had an argument of some sort. The argument in combination with the severe symptoms I had been experiencing for some time was enough to push me over the edge. I was already feeling badly enough about life, about myself, and about my ability to have a worthwhile future. My mind was not in a good place. I was not in a state where I possessed the ability to reason and think logically. The pain I had been experiencing had taken over. After the aforementioned argument, I stormed back to the bedroom upset and angry, with my mind already clouded as a result of the breakthrough of symptoms I had been experiencing. Upon walking into the bedroom, I looked over at the master bathroom where I kept my medications, and without any real thought, I quickly made a move that could have ended my life. It was an extremely impulsive move that was made in reaction to how awful the symptoms had been making me feel. As a result of the depression, I felt extremely hopeless about everything in life and about my future. Life was not worth living in my clouded state of mind. The depression and mania had caused me so much unbearable pain. They had completely taken over my ability to see a positive future; I saw no way other way out. When you add the stress of the argument with my ex-husband to everything else, you've got the straw that broke the camel’s back. I took an extremely large overdose of Tegretol, a medication that I had been taking at the time as my mood stabilizer.
Shortly after taking this overdose, I went out to the living room where my ex-husband was. I laid down on the couch without saying a word and fell asleep. My ex-husband tried to wake me up to go to bed when he was ready for bed, still completely unaware I had taken an overdose. Once he woke me up, I stood up and quickly fell down hitting my head on the metal corner of the glass coffee table. I hit the floor, had a seizure and remained unconscious for quite some time. He first called 911, at this point suspecting I had overdosed and communicated this to them. After calling 911, he called my parents who made it to the apartment before the ambulance did. The ambulance took me to the ER at Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC). I remember small bits and pieces of this night, but for the most part I did not have a conscious stream of thoughts. What I do remember feels surreal; everything was going on around me and I had no way of actively participating in any of it.
One thing to note from that night is that my ex-husband would not always try to wake me up to go to bed; sometimes if I fell asleep on the couch he would just let me sleep on the couch until I wandered my way into the bedroom at some point. Something about this night, not only had him wake me up, but he was persistent about it as well which is ultimately what saved my life. Had he let me asleep on the couch that night, I probably would not have woken up in the morning.
There were many aftereffects of the overdose I took. I could not walk; my legs were like Jell-O, I had no motor coordination, no hand-eye coordination, my vision was blurred, I was dizzy, I was nauseous, and so on. I also could not speak, which was incredibly frustrating when I was trying to communicate with my family, the doctors, and the nurses and I could not get any words out and had no motor coordination to be able to write down what I was thinking. At some point, I was able to communicate that I had overdosed on Tegretol (I don't quite remember how) but I still could not answer all the questions my family and the medical staff needed answered. I tried to use my hands to communicate but due to my lack of coordination I was not successful doing that either. All my limbs basically just flopped around; I did not have any control over them. I could not make any precise and planned movements.
According to my family, the ER doctor at GBMC was rude and seemed mostly unconcerned with my progress. He looked at me as someone who tried to take their life and did not seem that concerned about saving it. When it comes down to it, no matter what the reason is that a patient’s life is in danger, it is not only the job, but it is the duty of the doctor to do everything in their power to save that patient’s life. It is sad to think that even doctors have a negative view of mental illness. A person is not at fault for a suicide attempt; they need help! Every effort should be made to save that person's life; their life is just as valuable as the life of someone who just had a heart attack or was the victim of a homicide attempt! A life is a life!
Here is the quick version of my recovery, without the tedious play by play details. My Tegretol blood level tested at almost three times the therapeutic dose. I was given charcoal to drink to block absorption of the Tegretol in my system. I was having a great deal of trouble keeping it down initially; fortunately I was eventually able to keep enough down. I spent a few days in the intensive care unit while I was recovering. I was on both seizure watch and suicide watch. They put padding on all of the hard surfaces on the bed to protect me in case I had another seizure. There was a hospital staff member in my room 24 hours a day while I was in ICU. The day worker did leave from time to time, sitting right outside the room, to give me privacy with my family. I was never left alone. I'm not sure how they figured I would harm myself when I could not walk, could not talk, could not move my limbs properly, was hooked to IV's, etc. My ability to speak came back over what felt like an eternity but was only a few days. As I regained my speech, it started off as a very soft whisper and I still had a lot of difficulty getting words out clearly. Over time it improved and eventually returned to normal. The doctors would come in to check up on me daily. One of the things the doctors would do was to test my coordination skills. At one point, the doctor asked me to touch his finger and then touch my nose. I touched his finger with a lot of concentration and effort, using my entire hand instead of just one finger. When I tried to touch my nose, I instead smacked myself in the face because of my lack of hand-eye coordination (go ahead, you can laugh, I still laugh at myself for it). I did not have the ability to stand up and walk for a couple of days. For some reason, they removed my catheter before I was able to walk. A few hours after they removed it, I tried to get up to go to the bathroom with no nurses in the room. Not realizing I couldn't stand or walk, I immediately fell to the ground, IV’s attached and all. Getting me back up was not easy. I recall a nurse helping me walk to the bathroom; to walk just a few feet took an extremely long time and a lot of effort because my legs kept collapsing on me.
Eventually, I could speak normally again, I could walk again, I had all of my hand-eye and motor coordination skills back, all my blood work came back normal, I was no longer considered to be at risk for seizures or suicide, and my Tegretol was no longer at a toxic level, it was back down to a therapeutic level. At this point, they transferred me out of ICU and into a general hospital unit for a day or so. I remember having a tiny little room, but I didn’t care because it was a private room. I was primarily being monitored at this point to ensure I was healthy enough to go home. I met with a hospital Social Worker who discussed my future care plan with me. An appointment was set with my outside Psychiatrist by the hospital staff before I even left the hospital. I declined a psychiatric hospitalization knowing that a medication change from my doctor was all I needed, and I was not in any danger to harm myself again.. After being discharged I returned to work immediately.

I     I scared myself so much, I will never forget the fear I felt as I was in the ER completely helpless, unable to speak, while facing an imminent possibility of death. I’ll never forget how scared and upset my family was. I could not communicate with them at all; I remember the fear and terror in them. I cannot stand to see my family in pain. I’ll never forget my father, sitting in my ICU room saying, with tears coming down his face, something to the effect of “please don’t ever do this again; I can’t live without you.” I think of him saying that quite often.

The lesson I mentioned earlier as having learned from this experience is, life is precious, and once it is gone one cannot get it back. Even if you can’t picture things improving at the time, they will. You will get past what you are going through! Those that love and care about you will never get past losing you permanently. There is help available and there is no shame in seeking help. Taking your own life is not the solution, there are people that need you. I will keep this lesson with me for life.
Suicide is a permanent fix to a temporary problem. I am so thankful to still be alive; I will honestly be forever grateful to my ex-husband for making the 911 call that saved my life that night (and that's where my gratefulness ends, haha). I am also lucky to have not suffered any long term effects as a result of my overdose.
This is the third of the three major events that have occurred as a result of my illness. While life in general has not always been the easiest as a result of my illness, it also has not been nearly as bad as those three events make it sound. Those were isolated incidents resulting from me decompensating and becoming symptomatic. With a medication change and/or adjustment in dose, things have improved each time. I know there will be more to come as that is the nature of the beast called Bipolar Disorder. 

"Suicide is what the death certificate says when one dies of depression"
-Peter D. Kramer-
“Then I overdosed at 28, at which point I began to accept the bipolar diagnosis.”
 – Carrie Fisher-

Thank you for Reading! Until Next Time…
-Kissing Stigma Goodbye-

Suicide Prevention (Originally Posted 3/21/12)

In keeping with the theme of yesterday’s blog post I would like to take the time to educate you about suicide warning signs and suicide prevention.

The following information was obtained from SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)

Suicide facts:

  •  Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans every single year
  •  For people aged 15-24, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death
  •  In the month prior to their suicide 75% of elderly visited their physician
  • 15% of people with clinical depression die by suicide.
  • Substance abuse is a risk factor for suicide
  • Depression is the strongest risk factor for suicide
  • Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States- Homicide is the 15th
  • There is an estimated 4.5 million survivors of suicide in the United States
  • Research has shown medications and therapy to be effective suicide prevention
  • Suicide can be prevented through education and public awareness
  • There are 3 female suicide attempts for each male attempt

Warning signs for suicide include:
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Suddenly happier, calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Making arrangements; setting one's affairs in order.
  • Giving things away, such as prized possessions.

Common misconceptions about suicide include:

People who talk about suicide won’t really do it.

Not True. Almost everyone who commits or attemps suicide has given some clue or warning.  Do not ignore suicide threats.  Statements like “you’ll be sorry when I’m dead,” “I can’t see any way out,” - no matter how casually or jokingly said, may indicate serious suicidal feelings.

Anyone who tries to kill him/herself must be crazy.

Not True. Suicidal people may be upset, grief-stricken, depressed or despairing. Extreme distress and emotional pain may be signs of mental illness but do not make someone crazy.


If a person is determined to kill him/herself, nothing is going to stop him/her.

Not True. Even the most severely depressed person has mixed feelings about death, and most waiver until the very last moment between wanting to live and wanting to end their pain. Most suicidal people do not want to die; they want the pain to stop. The impulse to end it all, however overpowering, does not last forever.


People who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help.

Not True. Studies of adult suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help within six months before their deaths and a majority had seen a medical professional within 1 month of their death.


Talking about suicide may give someone the idea.

Not True. You don't give a suicidal person the idea of suicide by talking about suicide with them. The opposite is true -- bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do.

What should you do if you see the warning signs of suicide in someone you know?

Begin a dialogue by asking questions. Suicidal thoughts are common with some mental illnesses and your willingness to talk about it in a non-judgmental, non-confrontational way can be the help a person needs to seek professional help. Questions that are okay to ask include:
  • "Do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide?"
  • "Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?"
  • "Have you thought about when you would do it (today, tomorrow, next week)?"
  • "Have you thought about what method you would use?"
Asking these questions will help you to determine if your friend or family member is in immediate danger, and get help if needed. A suicidal person should see a doctor or mental health professional immediately. Calling 911 or going to a hospital emergency room are also good options to prevent a tragic suicide attempt or death. Calling the National Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) is also a resource for you or the person you care about for help. Remember, always take thoughts of or plans for suicide seriously.

Never keep a plan for suicide a secret. Don’t worry about risking a friendship if you truly feel a life is in danger. You have bigger things to worry about than your friendship-someone’s life might be in danger! It is better to lose a relationship from violating a confidence than it is to go to a funeral. And most of the time they will come back and thank you for saving their life.


If you have thoughts of suicide, these options are available to you:

  • Dial: 911
  • Dial: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)  (Suicide prevention hotline)
  • Check yourself into the emergency room.
  • Call your local crisis agency.
  • Immediately tell someone who can assist you in finding help.
  • Stay away from things that might hurt you.
  • Most people can be treated with a combination of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy.


 For more information on suicide visit: SAVE

“If someone listens, or stretches out a hand, or whispers a word of encouragement, or attempts to understand a lonely person, extraordinary things begin to happen.”-Loretta Girzartis

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

-Kissing Stigma Goodbye-

September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day

In honor, I will be re-posting my story of my suicide attempt today as well as the blog I wrote about suicide prevention a while back!

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Short Stay at Sheppard Pratt

Welcome back!

Let’s fast forward 5 years from my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder to my 2nd psychiatric hospitalization. I was experiencing a very severe depressive episode during this time period. At the time I was in college and living with my parents. I was so severely depressed at this time that I felt suicidal. I locked myself in the bathroom with the intentions of taking an overdose. Dad came to the rescue by literally banging the door down before this could fully occur; I had taken a few pills but not enough to cause any damage.  I then literally slept for a day or two straight which came to an end when my boyfriend at the time (now my ex-husband) called my doctor for me. With some convincing from my doctor at the time I admitted myself to the hospital. He called Sheppard Pratt and reserved a bed for me. Before being admitted to a hospital as a psych patient it is necessary to be medically cleared.  My doctor sent me to the Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC) ER first so I could get medically cleared. 

I sat in the ER of GMBC for almost a 24 hour period waiting to be seen and to be transferred to Sheppard Pratt.  It was the most ridiculous ER visit I have ever experienced.

First, I had absolutely NOTHING but a hospital gown to wear, they presumed I may harm myself with any other article of clothing apparently. 

Second, they basically put me in a room off to the side and forgot about me for many many hours.  After hours upon hours of just sitting there freezing cold and starving, I had to send my ex-husband to find someone to get me some food and even after doing so it was quite a long time until they actually brought me my food.  They made me wait on a psychiatric clinician to evaluate me which is what took the longest.  To this day I do not understand why a psychiatric clinician had to evaluate me, my psychiatrist had already done so and I was only there to get medically cleared for a bed that was already waiting for me at Sheppard Pratt. 

FINALLY!  All is said and done after almost a day (less than an hour of which was actually time that I spent engaging with a hospital worker of any sort) I was transferred by ambulance to Sheppard Pratt. GBMC and Sheppard Pratt’s entrances are literally adjacent to each other on Charles Street; it wasn’t a very far ride in the ambulance. My parents and my ex-husband met me over there.

Had I been manic and not depressed, I would have for sure pitched a fit to the staff at GBMC.  However, since I was dealing with depression, I didn’t say much of anything about it all unless it was to my family who was with me.

Once I arrive at Sheppard Pratt, I was brought up to the unit on the stretcher, still wearing nothing but a hospital gown.  They say to me when I get there, “we’ve been expecting you for a while”- yeah I know, thanks GBMC!  The most humbling part of it all is the wonderful strip search that takes place as part of the admissions process to ensure you are not hiding anything dangerous on your person. I guess lucky for me or unlucky for me whichever way you want to look at it, I had been wearing only a hospital gown for almost 24 hours already so I really didn’t care at this point!  As part of the admission process they go through all of your stuff and take anything that could have any potential of harming you or someone else, things you would never even think of.

So a little about this hospital stay….

  • I was hospitalized for 6 days (and the bill was almost $6,000- I’m so thankful for having had good insurance at the time).
  • I was open to the available help for the most part and participated in all the group therapy sessions.  Although I tend to always want to help others more than myself, it’s just in my nature and this was very evident during this time period.
  • I saw the doctor for no more than 15 minutes each day (no joke) and endured some medication changes.
Upon discharge from the hospital I was voluntarily admitted into the “day program” at SP for a week or so (don’t remember the exact length of time).   This is also referred to as “partial  hospitalization”. It is a program that lasts during the day from 8:30-4. You are free to do whatever at 4 pm and you return to the day hospital at 8:30 am.  The goal is to continue the structure and support of the hospital for those who are ready for discharge but still need some continued support.  The day hospital consists of an entire day jam packed of group therapy sessions.

A psychiatric hospitalization is in no way necessary for everyone who exhibits symptoms of their illness.

Who is a psychiatric hospital stay appropriate for?
  • Someone who is in need of a rapid mediation change. In order to do this they need to be in a place where a member of the medical staff remains on duty 24/7. Outside of the hospital medication changes are done much slower than in the hospital because there is no medical monitoring. (This was the main purpose served for me during my hospitalization; I needed a med change and fast)
  • Someone that is suicidal should be in the hospital under close supervision to regain stability.
  • Someone who is threatening to harm themselves or others as a result of their mental illness should be hospitalized to regain stability.
  • Someone who is having delusions, paranoia, hallucinations etc. to the point that they are unable to function in their day to day life should seek hospitalization to regain functioning.
  • In general, someone who is in a crisis of some sort that affects their day to day function and is related to their mental illness could possibly benefit from a psychiatric hospitalization. Every person and every case is different. My level of normal functioning is not the same as another person with Bipolar Disorder's level of normal functioning. It is definitely not cut and dry from person to person or situation to situation.
After my hospitalization

Prior to this hospitalization I was a little ways into my first semester as a transfer student at University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). Throughout my hospital stay I was worrying a lot about catching up on my school work and getting back to school. After my discharge, I determined it best to drop all of my courses for the semester.  Shortly thereafter, I made the decision not to return to UMBC. I was not a fan of the school during the short time I was there and I thought it was best to apply to Towson where I knew I would feel more comfortable.  So I took the spring semester of 2005 off and returned to school in fall of 2005 when I began my studies at Towson University. 

During the semester I took off I worked full time hours and focused on getting better so that when I returned to school I could give it my all. This turned out to be a good decision for me. I finished up the remainder of my bachelor’s degree in 2 years at Towson University.

After my hospitalization I was not magically healed. I continued to put a lot of time and effort into feeling like my normal healthy self again.

“My recovery from manic depression has been an evolution, not a sudden miracle.” – Patty Duke

Thank you for reading! Until next time…
Sara Breidenstein
Kissing Stigma Goodbye