Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Black Swan

A MUST See Psychological Thriller

In Black Swan, Natalie Portman plays an obsessive young ballerina that draws you in as you watch her madness unfold right before your eyes. Portman’s character, Nina, suffers from delusions and hallucinations. She is obsessive and also has habits characteristic of patients with eating disorders. This film gives you an “inside” look in to what it’s like to experience psychosis. In the film you often cannot tell the difference between what is reality and what is not. This is often the case for patients suffering from psychosis. The film moves you to understand the frustrations psychosis could bring and just how difficult it could be to lead a functional life during a psychotic event. The movie brings two or three different illnesses together: eating disorders, OCD, and psychosis. Dr. Steve Lamberti (Assoc. Prof. of Psychiatry, University of Rochester) “believes that it is unlikely that the characters eating disorder, OCD, and psychosis would go hand in hand: People in psychosis are not in touch with reality. With eating disorders and OCD, they are too in touch with reality.”
I don’t want to say more as not to spoil the end the movie but I would highly recommend seeing this film.
To watch a trailer of the film click here

Monday, December 20, 2010


By Kim Cowgar
“Is it possible to find hope again?”  I asked.
She simply said, “Yes.”
And I will hold hope for you
Until you are able to find it again yourself.”
I was in the midst of the days
Of bone-weary, aching darkness
Almost certain I would never see
The colors or feel the lightness.
There were days of stubborn solitude
And nights spent on the ward
Where chemical gods
Tried to make me whole.
If only it was that easy…
Quiet in the safe room with her
Gave way to tenuous moments
Of finding the emotions within
And letting them be felt on the outside.
Trust was built and tear flowed
As fears and secrets were unbound.
With chemicals and spoken words
We began to forge a path towards wholeness
With my guide still holding onto the hope
That my heart and mind were slowly taking back.
It started with a little understanding
Then came a little compassion.
Protecting and nurturing the child within
To find love for the woman I was becoming.
No more labels, no more self-deprecation.
No more seeing myself
Through the eyes of others
Or walking a path not of my choosing.
Am I completely whole yet? No
But, as I always hope to be,
I am a beautiful original work in progress
And in this authenticity
I find that I am good enough.

I found this poem in a news letter sent to me from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA).  Kim Cogwar’s poem was a finalist in the 2010 SPEAK and Be Heard…..Living with Depression Contest.  I had the pleasure of attending the DBSA National Conference last year in Chicago where guest speakers included Kay Redfield Jamison, Myra Hornbacher, and Jesse Close with Bring Change 2 Mind.  This poem makes me think about “holding hope.”  Who do you hold hope for?  Maybe you hold hope for a sibling or a homeless man asking for change on a street corner.  It does not matter if you know the person that you hold hope for what matters is that you have the power.  We can hope for anyone in any situation.  I hope this season you hold hope for as many individuals as possible.

Please share our blog with anyone you think might be interested.  If you have any questions or comments please email Becca and me at sosiblings@gmail.com

Bless you all,

Friday, December 10, 2010

Recognizing Mental Illness: Delusion or Next Great Idea?

For a very long time I thought other people were disinterested in helping those with a mental illness. In the last 6 months I have learned that there are plenty of people that are willing and interested in helping but simply aren't educated in the world of mental health. To many, mental health issues can be scary, seen as untreatable and hard to deal with.

We need to spend our energy educating those that have the opportunity to intervene with individuals at the first sign of mental illness. Intervening early gives an individual a much better chance of being provided treatment.

I recently read a book called "Undress Me In The Temple of Heaven" by Susan Gilman. (Susan Gilman is a fabulous writer and I highly recommend this book by the way, but back to the point.) Gilman writes of her travels abroad in Southeast Asia during the '80s. Her travel buddy, Claire, begins to unravel psychologically before her eyes. As many of us that have a family member affected by mental illness, Gilman attempts to provide logic and sense as she watches Claire suffer through paranoia and delusions. I won't give away the end to the book as many of you might be interested in reading Gilman's book. I will say it's a shame Gilman didn't recognize things easier. In her defense, it is certainly hard to pinpoint delusions when an incredibly intelligent and trusted person close to you asks you to believe their thinking, however out of this world it seems.

I want to share with you a few signs and symptoms as provided by Mental Health America. Of course, if you begin to recognize signs and symptoms, consult a Doctor or a professional in the mental health field. Self-diagnosing, jumping to conclusions or avoiding a diagnosis can push one further away from treatment as well.

In adults:
  • Confused thinking
  • Prolonged depression (sadness or irritability)
  • Feelings of extreme highs and lows
  • Excessive fears, worries and anxieties
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits
  • Strong feelings of anger
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • Growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Denial of obvious problems
  • Numerous unexplained physical ailments
  • Substance abuse
In older children and pre-adolescents:
  • Substance abuse
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Changes in sleeping and/or eating habits
  • Excessive complaints of physical ailments
  • Defiance of authority, truancy, theft, and/or vandalism
  • Intense fear of weight gain
  • Prolonged negative mood, often accompanied by poor appetite or thoughts of death
  • Frequent outbursts of anger
In younger children:
  • Changes in school performance
  • Poor grades despite strong efforts
  • Excessive worry or anxiety (i.e. refusing to go to bed or school)
  • Hyperactivity
  • Persistent nightmares
  • Persistent disobedience or aggression
  • Frequent temper tantrums

I'll speak to a few of those 'adult' signs and symptoms to give you an idea of what it looked like for our family. My brother's sleeping became very sporadic. There was no pattern associated with his sleep. He may sleep for 2 days then be up for 3 nights and back to sleep for another 2. Sleep can really enhance delusions and as a result an inability to delineate reality from those delusions. Folks, this is not your typical "I pulled two all nighters studying in college." This is can't sleep, won't sleep, mind racing, body pacing patterns (or not so patterns). Substance Abuse. My brother began abusing drugs and alcohol. Albeit I can understand in hindsight because he was trying to drown out voices in his head. Albeit, excessive drinking and drugs is often a sign of self medication. Anger. My brother seemed to be consistently agitated. I would see him go from being fairly calm and collected to being so angry he would punch a hole through a wall over a sandwich. Situations can escalate quickly with individuals that are suffering from a mental illness. (In regards to crises intervention and communication during escalating situations, look to NAMI Family-to-Family courses - they had some great tips that I learned in my class.)

Again, please remember that I am NO Doctor and am speaking solely from a family member's point of view. But I'd love to hear your input. Did you recognize some of the day things? Were you scared? How did your family work together to help your loved one?

We'd love to increase readership! Have some friends that might be interested in our blog? Send them our think and let us know you did so! If you can our info to ten people let me know and I'll get you something great - maybe a tee shirt that helps you advocate and talk about mental health!

Have a great weekend,

Monday, December 6, 2010

Preventative Programs: Double Your Dollar!

For the last few months I have had the opportunity to volunteer with Caritas, an organization dedicated to helping those affected by homelessness. As a result of my volunteering, I've had great chats and learned of incredible programs. Downtown Austin merchants and Caritas are working together to raise money for a program that they are currently calling "frequent fliers." Downtown Austin is home to several very mentally sick homeless individuals. I've seen first hand how much help these individuals need. The goal of the frequent fliers program is to provide social services including supportive housing for the 20 most at risk homeless individuals in downtown Austin. This (as some may assume) includes those with the most severe mental illnesses living on the streets. The 20 selected to be a part of this program have cost the city of Austin close to $100,000 each year due to their cycling from the streets to jail to psychiatric hospitals and back to the streets. It's clear that major metropolitan cities similar to Austin may be spending equal amounts on such groups of people.

Spending may not decrease but the number of untreated individuals with a chronic mental illness continues to rise. While the number continues to rise the funding is being slashed for 2011. Pete Earley, well known author and father to a son with a mental illness explains shift in cost despite budget cuts; "Serious mental disorders don’t disappear just because you stop paying to treat them. Like stepping on a balloon, the costs associated with mental illnesses simply shift over and increase costs in areas, such as jails and prisons."

In 2009 The Perryman Group, an economic research and analysis firm out of Dallas, Texas was asked to review Texas mental health services. The Perryman Group discovered that Texas' return on investment for preventative services would greatly benefit the state economically. (Not to mention all the great things they'd be doing for a group of people that really need help.)

Pete Earley summarized the findings on his blog: "The authors found that providing treatment for alcohol and substance abuse would give the state a return on investment of $2.26 for every $1 that was spent. Jail diversion, which enables persons with mental disorders to get treatment rather than being locked-up, averaged a return to the state of $2.70 per every $1 that it spent. The most interesting statistic was a projection about cuts that Texas has made during the last decade. If the state had stuck with the budget that it had in 2000 for mental health and substance abuse services, rather than butchering those funds — Texas would be earning a 170% return on its money or netting $32.76 today for every dollar that it spent. Instead, reducing services resulted in Texas losing productivity, losing jobs, and losing tax revenues. At the same time, Texas has seen an increase in state costs for jails, an increase in suicides, increases in drug and alcohol addiction, and an increase in homelessness. After crunching the numbers, the Perryman group concluded that cutting the mental health services in Texas actually had contributed to the budget deficit that the state now faces, rather than helping reduce it!"

Readers, I hope you are as astonished as I was when I first read this information. I thought "you're telling me the state of Texas could actually more than double their investment? I'm no economist and well, math has never been my strength. BUT! I can tell you that I know if I have 5 bucks and I double it, then I have $10. That means I could eat off the McDonalds dollar menu for maybe, 5 days in a row!" (But, that's an entirely different subject...and blog)

  • Download the study from The Perryman Group. Email this study to your state politicians. Actually, go a step further, grab a friend, print this off and hand deliver it!! Read Me! Send Me!
  • Follow Supporting Our Siblings on Twitter! We'd love to grow our readership and increase the conversations about our blogs. Our writing can't do much unless we can spur conversation and help to break down the stigma that is associated with discussing mental illness.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Supplements to Medicinal Treatment

Hi Readers!

I apologize that there hasn’t been a post lately! It seems that life rarely slows down when you need it to. I hope everyone has a wonderful week planned with friends, family and fabulous food. I’ll take this time to remind you all that there are people out there that won’t have any of that this week. Take some time, think about them and maybe even give your time to serving them. Whether this be giving supplies, money or maybe manual labor. Nothing feels better than helping someone in need. With that off my chest, today’s post comes from my reading an article on NYTimes.com this morning about PTSD and animal therapy.

I am a true believer in animal therapy and dream of a day when I can have my own adopted animal therapy organization that serves those with mental illness. When my brother was at one of his worsts, I believe that it was his loving cat named Rico that kept him in some situations calm and provided emotional support. “Radhika Nair and Rohini Fernandes, both clinical psychologists trained in animal-assisted therapy” revealed that “animal therapy improves concentration and motor coordination, develops communication, empathy and social skills in maladjusted individuals.” (Outlook India) They say that cats often suit patients with mental illnesses like schizophrenia or bipolar disease.

There are several animal therapy organizations that are making their way into the lives of those suffering extreme mental illness. I encourage you to check them out! (A few below) This is a great example of alternative means of treating mental illness. Let me know if you have any questions or want more information about psychiatrists thought behind this treatment! I’d love to send you some reading material.


PS: Something to consider: instead of sending that hard-to-buy-for friend more "stuff" this holiday season, think about donating in their honor to a great organization that means something to both of you.

Organizations to Check Out:

-Divine Canines: http://www.divinecanines.org/about_us.php
-Therapy Pet Pals of Texas: http://therapypetpals.org/history.html
-Therapet Foundation: http://www.therapet.com/index.php

New York Times article: http://www.therapet.com/index.php
Outlook India: http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?268054

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Finding a Partner in Crime

Happy Fall Back Day Blog Readers!

Before diving into today's post, I want to say this post is purely a reflection of my own experience and thoughts - no facts and no articles.

I've always enjoyed the movie 'Love Actually.' It always gets me excited to begin the holiday season. That, and it always makes me hopeful for true love; I won't bore you on that topic as it's probably suited for an entirely different blog... It's funny, I've probably seen the movie 5 or 6 times, but I had completely forgotten the story behind one of the main characters. Laura Linney's character Sarah is shown answering several phone calls that the viewer is to see as interrupting her life - as she works, spends time with friends, and is even in the middle of getting hot and heavy with a coworker. You're not quite sure where the story is going until Sarah receives yet another phone call and her side of the conversation goes something like this: "no honey I don't believe the Pope is around this time of night." "Well sure, I'm sure the Pope is quite good at exorcisms but that's just not an option tonight." "No, I'm not busy, what do you need?" (As a note, this is a great example of delusions - the blurring of reality with something that is far from possible) Christmas Eve comes around and cut to Sarah sitting in a room at an institution with her obviously disturbed brother. How could I have forgotten all about this character and the struggles she faces as a sibling to someone with mental illness. She has dedicated her life to serving her brother with mental illness.

Interestingly enough, I was recently having a conversation with Anna about dating, marriage, etc as it relates to being a sibling of someone with a mental illness. As a young 20s something single woman, dating is hard enough. But in my early 20s I'm already thinking "well, gosh, I have to end up with someone that can handle 'this'" - 'this' being the up and down, cyclical nature of Brian's disease. It's not easy to stomach the delusions, the hallucinations and the sometimes violent nature of someone suffering psychotic breaks. Therefor, I've gotten accustomed to not expecting anyone to understand or being able to relate. Instead, I protect those that I don't think can handle it and avoid conversation about Brian. Several times I've found myself terribly emotional and guilty thinking about the fact that I'm hiding his life and his struggles from people that also mean something to me. I'm sure others have felt this way but for quite some time I thought I was alone. My very best friends assure me that one day, I will find someone that is in this with me - fighting against stigma and Brian's illness as a team.

At some point in my life, I will be a caretaker. Never have my parents 'expected' this from me, but it only feels naturally that in 20 years when it is harder for my parents to care for him, I step up - do my part in the family. Life is not easy for a person living with mental illness, but life is also not easy for those that are supporting them. I think it's important for people to know that those individuals you can trust are those that will discuss mental illness, will try to relate and will support you in your and your family's fight.

Think you're alone? E-mail us: SOSiblings@gmail.com


Sunday, October 31, 2010

How Do You Advocate?

Happy Sunday to all of you Supporting Our Siblings readers!

I wanted to take the opportunity to continue the series of 'How Do You Advocate?'

Anna started the series a few weeks ago discussing her advocacy work and what people are doing in their own communities to spread the word about mental illness and stamp out stigma.

I have a very, very unique story to share. Guy, father of Suzanne, is running 100 marathons in 140 days to raise money for mental health research. Suzanne was diagnosed at the ripe age of 14 but suffered delusions and voices for 3 years before her diagnosis without telling anyone. Her father knew he had to do something.

My favorite part about this story is that Guy felt as if he didn't have any 'special' talents that could serve this community. On his website he writes "I don’t sing. I don’t dance. I don’t paint and I don’t build things. But I CAN run and that will be my building block to create awareness of mental illness and raise money to support the organizations that support those we love." He uses something that he enjoys and something that others might not be able to do in his own way to advocate. This is an example of utilizing your OWN unique strengths to help the people you love that suffer mental health issues.

Guy created a video JUST for our readers, to tell a little about his journey and the struggles he had in dealing with his own daughter's illness.

Please watch the video and then visit Guy's website. For those runners, you know what a physical strain this man is taking on - for those of you who have a family member diagnosed with mental illness, you know how much of an emotional strain he has also taken on. I'd like to welcome you to support him in his journey by visiting his website, donating to his cause, and visiting him on his route to cheer him on.

Here's the video that Guy created JUST for Supporting Our Siblings:


Thanks for your continued support!


Monday, October 25, 2010

A Worldly Issue: Mental Health

I recently read an article about a noticeably high increase in mental health cases in Nigeria. The Chief Medical Director of the General Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital in Abeokuta said that the rise has been linked to the angst and depression that can often be associated with poverty-stricken nations that live in very harsh economic environments. The CMD, Dr. Ogunlesi, has been spending his time as of late campaigning for an increase in mental health centers across the country. Dr. Ogunlesi has raised the point that to consider general health without recognizing mental health is impossible.

Dr. Ogunlesi suggests, “There is, therefore, an urgent need more than ever before, to develop health care delivery systems which efficiently integrate physical and mental health services.” He went on to explain that the World Health Organization (WHO) is currently recommending that primary healthcare providers address physical and mental health problems. This in turn would call on “government health planning authorities at national, state and local government levels to pay close attention to the importance of this issue in setting up services.”

What I want you all to get out of this information is that it is obvious mental health is a global issue. We often hear of worldly physical issues – dysentery, malaria, etc. This is truly the first time I have seen mental health referenced in regards to a poverty stricken country.

I think the interesting point to make is that mental health is not an issue isolated to the United States. Mental health needs to be addressed all over the world. Mental health often causes physical health issues due to the inability to take care of oneself and/or self-medication by substance abuse.

I encourage you to check out area of the World Health Organization’s website that is dedicated to mental health. WHO has posted a lot of very helpful and encouraging information about where they hope to see the future of mental health. Among this information is their plan to integrate mental health into primary care.

Read it, and let me know your thoughts!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

We're All Human

A few months ago I was doing some mental health research and stumbled across a PSA done by bringchange2mind.org - an organization started by Glenn Close, who has several family members that are affected by mental illness. I clicked on the video and immediately felt tears run down my cheeks. As John Mayer sang his lyrics "fighting like a one man army" the camera panned across the t-shirt of Brandon Staglin that reads "schizophrenia." (Can you imagine, this is probably what my own brother feels like, a one man army, fighting the world - powerful, eh?) I was already choked up, but had not idea how deeply this PSA would affect me. I'd really like you to watch for yourself, but will tell you the spot, in one word, humanizes mental illness. It brands individuals as family members, friends, battle buddies and those suffering from mental illness by, well, their illness.

Because for so long now I have watched my own brother and family suffer through the struggle that is schizophrenia, I often forget that there are people all around me each day that are battling mental illness. They are taking medications and living what we consider a 'normal life.' The commercial does something that I often try to remind others to do - connects those individuals with mental illnesses to a family and friends. It's very easy to call the man mumbling on the corner to himself 'crazy' and 'nuts' when you haven't the slightest clue as to what chapters are a part of his own story. If that were your own brother or your father, would you ever think twice about calling him a name or speaking about him like he isn't there? I can tell you from experience, that you tend to instead feel compassion and a gut wrenching ache for that person and the family that just hopes the best for them.

In clicking around the site, I found countless peoples' stories about how they have been personally affected by mental illness. It was very special for me to watch Brandon Staglin and his mother discuss schizophrenia so freely - to discuss the strange behaviors and the difficulty Brandon had committing to medications. To know that there are individuals that really understand is priceless. How comforting to know that there are others, just like me, that may have been a character in their own family member's delusions. If we can't understand each other, who will? Given hearing others' stories, knowing they have been through the same challenges, I wanted to take an opportunity to tell some of the harder stories. Stories (one of many) that make a lot of people uncomfortable, but is just another day in the life when it comes to having a brother with schizophrenia.

I have often found myself at the heart and root of Brian's delusions. I am out to get him. I am planting ideas and voices in his head. I am trying to kill him. I am stealing from him. I am the product of my parents, who are evil. I am the reason he has failed. He wants me to fail. Ever heard it before? Ever felt like the enemy? More times than not I have to remind myself that Brian is sick. He might resent me, but he will eventually resent me for the 'normal' life I have lived, the opportunity I have endured, not the support I gave him. With Brian's disease has come elaborate delusions and hallucinations that are often accompanied by strange physical ticks, an often lost and blank stare. There have been several times that I've been genuinely scared to be alone with him, worried what a severe bout of paranoia will make him do to me. It's hard to consider someone that was once so bright has a such a long delay in response that you wonder if they even hear you. Advocating and educating isn't easy. It's not easy to discuss the hard stuff - it's easy to talk about the future and the hope. But what about the right now? Who will discuss the scary part? The sad part? The part that makes you angry? We will! I encourage you to reach out to someone close to you and share. How will anyone ever understand if you won't allow them to try?

Please visit bringchange2mind.org and watch their PSA, listen to the individuals' stories and support them in their efforts to bring change to the way people view mental illness.

Looking forward to hearing from you blogosphere! You can reach Anna and I at SOSiblings@gmail.com


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mental Health Issues & Government Funding

I never thought I would be so passionate about mental illness. But here I am, dedicating my extra time
each week to learning, advocating and educating. This week I attended a discussion hosted by NAMI
Austin chapter. NAMI is a national organization that focuses on advocating and educating on mental
illness. NAMI is a great resource. The organization provides educational courses such as Families to
Families and Great Minds Think Alike as well as sponsors several committees that help to advocate for
the mentally ill in the community.

Monday evening’s discussion was one of those opportunities to advocate. NAMI invited two legislatorsto visit with a group of community members and discuss the upcoming 2011 session. There were a lot more community members in attendance than I suspected might be in attendance. (Which
is obviously a great thing – “hey! You’re concerned about mental health issues too? Let’s talk…”)

I’d like to share a few of the things I learned with you all and then tell you how you may be able to help. As we enter into the next session, the state of Texas is facing a 15 billion dollar budget deficit. Surely this comes as no surprise to any of you as our nation is currently in a recession. What might surprise you is that with the next budget cut, mental health services will see its own budget cut of almost 140 million dollars. That’s right folks – if you thought there were limited resources already, be prepared. You might ask yourself, why mental health services? As cuts are made to preventative programs and funding for state hospitals sick patients are turned out to the streets. Left untreated, these individuals are often arrested and put into jails on misdemeanors – the term for this is deinstitutionalization. Once deinstitutionalized who pays for these individuals to sit in jail untreated? Tax payers. Those super expensive property taxes you’re paying each month? Welp, they’re paying for my brother to sit in jail and get even.more.sick. You don’t like that? Me either. To boot, in the next budget cut there will be a defunding of any kind of specialized program in jails and prisons. (This includes those that support
mental health initiatives.)

As we all know that funding preventative programs is much less expensive than continuing to fund a
cyclical process of individuals being turned out to the streets, arrested, jailed, turned out the streets,
arrested, jailed, sent to the hospital, etc. If it is much less expensive, why are we continuing to decrease
preventative program budgets? Well, it’s really easy to let the taxpayers take care of it, isn’t it? That
and it’s very complicated to give legislators cold hard data that shows the money that is being saved. So what do we do to help?

Contact local organizations or Mental Health America and get their help to put together some cold hard facts and numbers. Legislators need facts and numbers to fuel decisions.

Start conversations. No one knows that there is serious concern for this population of individuals unless people start having candid conversations about the issues.

Donate. If you don’t have time, then spare a few dollars. Donating to organizations like NAMI and
Mental Health America give them the opportunity to spend that money and the time you don’t have to
gather research and put together those cold hard facts and data.

Write legislators. Each morning legislators have a team of people that review letters and clippings from
individuals just like you and I. Individuals that are very interested and very concerned. They can’t help if they do not know there is a problem.

Thanks for reading. Look for more postings soon. In the meantime, feel free to contact myself or Anna
for more information or maybe even support.

Best –