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Tag Archives: schizophrenia

Mental Health Week 2015: Whaddaya Mean My Brain’s Been Lying to Me?

Hey, everybody. In the midst of all the usual holiday hustle and bustle the interwebs have kindly informed me that it’s “Mental Health Week”, which I suppose basically just means that those of us with mental health, um, issues get a week of our very own (yay!). You know, where things like depression, bi-polar disorder, body dysmorphia disorders, and other stuff that fucks with your head are highlighted in online articles across various sites (and maybe a tumblr post or two? Who knows – all that’s way beyond my ken), so as to enlighten the public and encourage anyone who’s having troubles, or knows someone who’s having trouble, to seek some help.

It seems like that should be pretty easy to do and make fairly obvious sense to everyone, right? And yet never is anyone so surprised as when someone they love got to the point where suicide appeared to be the only logical solution to what was happening to them. Most people get to that point without arousing any suspicion that this is where things were headed, because killing themselves aside, the very last thing they want to do is try to explain to anyone what’s going on inside them – especially those closest to them. One day, they seem OK. The next day, they’re dead.

And then the loved ones left behind spend years of their lives trying desperately to understand what drove the one they’ve lost over that terrible edge, and what they could’ve, should’ve, done differently to change things. (Which is mostly nothing, by the way. Even if you know your beloved’s not well, ask yourself this – of everything you can do, can you also lasso butterflies?)

That’s usually because it’s most often not an easy situation to understand, including for the person suffering so much they decide they – and everyone they love – would be so much better off without them trapped in this hellish life. And even if they could tell anyone what’s going on – but they can’t, you see, they just…can’t – it’s not easy to describe in any way that fully expresses the level of psychic, emotional, and sometimes physical, pain they’re in.

A few people of letters have been able to articulate their experiences over the years – William Styron, well-known author of “Sophie’s Choice” and other literary tales, was one of the very first to talk about depression publicly in the autobiography of his discontent, “Darkness Visible”, published in 1990 – and a few others kept it to themselves and died, like David Foster Wallace did, hanging himself in 2008.

The rest of us have to find our own ways out or though, and one of the most famously popular ways out since it was built in the 1930’s has been jumping to one’s death from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. It certainly seemed a viable, attractive option to me in the darkest depths of depression over the years for reasons that, again, are almost too arcane for even I to try to explain, except that if you’re brave enough to get yourself there, and there’s nothing or no one to stop you by the time you find a good jumping off spot, it’s both extremely swift and extremely final.

A fellow, well-liked LifeRinger from the Bay Area chose this option – RIP, dear Barbara – likely for pretty much the same reasons intermingled with what I’m sure felt like her own unconquerable quagmire. And that’s just it – at the heart of matters, people choose such options because their illness has them convinced that it’s the only thing they can possibly do; otherwise, there is no help for them and thus no point in seeking it.

Wait, what do I mean by “their illness has them convinced”, as though it’s some sort of separate entity or being inside of them that’s commandeered their lives and free will? Well, I mean…exactly that. See, our brains are the most potent and powerful operating systems known to mankind – Android technology’s got nothing on us – and it runs on scripts, internal working orders if you will, which instruct us on how to perform. Most of them are learned, and certainly many of them are chosen. It’s not an abnormal process – this is pretty much how everyone’s brain works.

But then there are the scripts that invade us for reasons unknown for the purposes of insinuating themselves inside our minds, at first disguised and undetected, until they’ve taken over without our being the wiser, so that just like everything else that runs through our brains, it becomes our reality – and we believe everything it tells us, absolutely. And then, once it’s got us hooked, it begins directing our behavior, too.

So even if you still haven’t got the foggiest idea of what in the hell I’m talking about, one example of what this looks like is addiction. The other, of course, is mental illness, and to my own benefit this week, I ran across this most incredibly important and effective Buzzfeed article and video about a guy named Kevin Hines, who made the same choice as my friend Barbara and lived to tell the tale – including what living with mental illness feels like.

So if you have a few more minutes and if not the inclination then the curiosity, do yourself and everyone you love a huge favor, and give it watch. You won’t be sorry – I promise – and then you can carry on. 🙂

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Mental health affects substance abuse

It is probably of little surprise to those who battle depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD or other issues, that substance abuse problems and mental health struggles are connected. The evidence seems clear, anecdotally.

And, it’s more than just anecdotal. The National Institute on Drug Abuse confirms it, with research data. The study doesn’t cover “everyday” depression, but it’s still of value.

In the current study, 9,142 people diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and 10,195 controls matched to participants according to geographic region, were selected using the Genomic Psychiatry Cohort program. Mental disorder diagnoses were confirmed using the Diagnostic Interview for Psychosis and Affective Disorder (DI-PAD), and controls were screened to verify the absence of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in themselves or close family members. The DI-PAD was also used for all participants to determine substance use rates.

Compared to controls, people with severe mental illness were about 4 times more likely to be heavy alcohol users (four or more drinks per day); 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana regularly (21 times per year); and 4.6 times more likely to use other drugs at least 10 times in their lives. The greatest increases were seen with tobacco, with patients with severe mental illness 5.1 times more likely to be daily smokers. This is of concern because smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

One more thing to watch, if you will.

If you are interested in how Lifering may be able to help you in this area, note that we have a “dual diagnosis” email group.