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.