Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The "Brat" Phenomenon

I keep witnessing a parenting style that is driving me crazy. I see it everywhere- in people's homes, at the mall, and on the playground. It is something many parents do yet no one is talking about the negative affects it has on our children. It's what I call the Brat Phenomenon, or name-calling.

I am so tired of hearing parents call their child a "brat." It is so common, and said in a million different ways:

"You are such a brat!"
"My kid is an annoying little brat."
"You're my little brat aren't you?"
"Stop being such a brat."

Merriam Webster defines brat as an ill-mannered annoying child. We all know it means even more than that: an ill-mannered, ungrateful, annoying child whom no one really likes.

So please tell me, why is anyone calling their child a brat? Calling your child names, like brat, which have negative meanings only hurts your child. It is a form of emotional abuse and can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and often is the trigger for mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar disorder, and eating disorders.

I typically notice parents using the term in two situations, one where they are mad at something their child has done, and the other in a sarcastic way as if they are just joking. Well, if you are mad, talk to your child, don't call them names and berate them. And if you are being sarcastic and think it's funny, it's not. Your sarcasm just shows that you are insecure and feel the need to tear your child down in order to build yourself up. We all mess up as parents, but can we please try to stop making ourselves feel better by calling our kids names.

I see this so often, but in particular "brat" is a favorite term used by many parents. So, I have decided that the next time I hear someone call a child a brat in front of me and their child looks up at me with those sad eyes full of shame and embarrassment because of the actions of their parents, I will say to the child: "Do you know what I think brat means?"

It means you are:
Amazing and

Someone needs to tell these children that they are amazing, wonderful, and loved just the way they are. 


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Was Jesus Mentally Ill?

Does the title of this post bother you? What's your first reaction? Mad...incredulous...inspired?

When I first saw the article entitled Jesus Christ 'May Have Suffered From Mental Health Problems,' Claims Church of England online I was skeptical and a little annoyed. Maybe even a little bit offended. I was worried that this could be another group of people stigmatizing mental illness or something written to sensationalize mental illness. However, the article talks about a mental health campaign created in England to help end the stigma against mental illness.

The article highlights the Church of England's support through the Archbishops’ Council for the Time to Change program which is "the biggest attempt yet in England to end the discrimination that surrounds mental health." The Rev. Eva McIntyre and other Church of England leaders created a packet for congregations about how to raise awareness about mental illness and it includes the text of a sermon she wrote addressing the issue. In Rev. McIntyre's sermon she says: "Even Jesus was not immune to accusations about his mental health: there is a story in the gospel that tells of his mother and siblings attempting to take him home because they are afraid that he has lost his mind."
Photo by Kevin.J Flickr Creative Commo 

Rev. McIntyre's argument is: Should we see Jesus as any different even if he did have a mental illness? Does that make him any less of a great spiritual leader? No.

The article goes on to talk about how different religions have all stigmtized mental illness. Many Christian faiths say people with mental illness are posessed by the devil. Famous atheist Richard Dawkins said belief in a religion was a form of mental illness. Dr. Kamran Ahmed, of the Muslim Council of Britain, says stigma is a particular issue for Muslims "due to 'cultural and traditional beliefs', which can include people mistakenly believing they are possessed by the 'Evil Eye' when in fact they are mentally ill."

I am just really glad to see faith traditions of all kinds speaking up about mental illness in order to held end these negative messages. In my experience, many religions have harmed people with mental illness far more than we have helped them. This happened to me in my Catholic upbringing, but also in my current faith where I was asked by leaders of our faith if I was sure I wanted to become a minister or could it just be "religious ideation due to your bipolar disorder?" Fortunately, going against this stigma in our faith, is the Unitarian Universalist Mental Health Ministry with Rev. Barbara Myers. They have created The Caring Congregation Program which is a curriculum designed to help churches be more supportive and welcoming to people with mental illness and their families.

I would encourage everyone, no matter what faith you are, to ask your congregation to at least have a discussion about how your religious institution handles the issue of mental illness. You may think it is not an issue in your church, but with one in four people suffering from mental illness at some point in their lives, you have a large group of people in your church that are dealing with mental illness. Even if you think your church does not have a stance on mental illness, that is not true. Our congregations send messages out about mental illness all the time, from the kids in Sunday school who comment that the child running all over the room is "crazy" to the adult who calls another adult "schizo" in a joking manner. Messages are being sent all the time, whether we like it or not. Often the negative messages are unintentional but profoundly hurtful. We all need to be intentional about discovering what message our congregation is sending and if it is not one we think is appropriate, work to change it.

Go forth and start a conversation and help end the stigma. Spread the message that people with mental illness are loved just as they are and let them know they are welcome in your place of worship.


Rev. Katie

Thursday, August 16, 2012

FALSE: Bipolars Do Not Make Good Leaders

I recently read a blog post on PsychCentral by Dr. Yanni Malliaris called Bipolar Disorder: A First Rate Madness? His post is in response to a webinar he attended by Dr. Nassir Ghaemi who has researched the positive sides of bipolar disorder in his book A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Link Between Leadership and Mental Illness. In short, Dr. Ghaemi says people with bipolar disorder can make great leaders, especially in times of crisis. He also says depression can make you more realistic and mania makes you more creative. He adds that bipolars tend to have more empathy and are more intuitive than average.

Having not finished his book yet, I can't comment on his whole argument, but it does not seem new to me considering all the work Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison has done (a bipolar herself who has researched much about bipolars in leadership and creativity.) It also does not surprise me given how my bipolar disorder has helped me in my leadership abilities, especially in crisis.

In his blog post, Dr. Malliaris disagrees with Dr. Ghaemi's assertion that people with bipolar make good leaders. In fact he lists three reasons why he believes we are not. Dr. Malliaris says: "People with bipolar disorder cannot be great leaders at times of crisis." He says we actually do worse in crisis and don't handle it well because it can trigger cycling. He also says that when we have the more mild symptoms of depression and mania, that we are not more intuitive and creative, as Dr. Ghaemi suggests. Dr. Malliaris suggests instead of accessing the positive aspects of those times, we should be trying to get rid of the mild symptoms because they can lead to relapse. He also says that being goal-oriented is bad for people with bipolar disorder and that healthy bipolars need to work on being "lesser super-heroes."

I disagree with Dr. Malliaris but of course he is entitled to his opinion and what he sees from how he has helped his own patients. What I was very unhappy with in the blog post though was his condescending tone. He sounds overly critical and his argument is pretty soul-crushing to say that even trying to tap into anything good about our illness will only make us worse. I am sure he has helped many people, but to me is sounds like he still really does not know or understand people with bipolar disorder.

My bipolar disorder does make me a great leader during crisis. Sure it may drain me and I may need to adjust other parts of life to make sure I recharge and do not burn out, but that is part of managing the illness. I don't need to avoid crisis and leadership to manage my illness, actually working as a minister where you do deal with crisis, especially as a hospice chaplain, is extremely rewarding and energy giving to me. It allows me to see the positive aspects of my illness. In fact, the worse my illness is, the better it is for me to work. Work brings me joy and purpose in life and it's actually when I don't have enough work in my life that I get worse.

In my professional life, people have been very kind about the times when I need a bit more support when my illness is bad, which Dr. Malliaris seems to think is a negative thing (point 1 in his post.) However, I don't see it that way. Everyone, mentally ill or not, needs more support at certain times in their life. Community is about learning how to help each other so we can all bring our gifts into the world. 

Also, I am very creative, which is essential in my preaching, leadership, and work with people with dementia and mental illness. I know my creativity is part of the mania of bipolar disorder, but you can figure out how to use your creativity to do something good. And lastly, I don't know how I could ever be a minister if I was not intuitive and didn't have empathy for others.

He does give a quick note that there have been good leaders who also have bipolar, and does mention that we have to work twice as hard to be great leaders and manage the illness at the same time, but his post really seems to discourage people with bipolar from even trying to have leadership positions. That seems extremely sad to me.  

As I have written many times before, you do need to balance things and be aware of your triggers in order to manage your illness. But for Dr. Malliaris to say we really can't be good leaders is unrealistic to me. Managing bipolar disorder is figuring out your balance and learning to tap into what is great about yourself so you can have a happy, caring, and productive life. The idea that we have to get rid of all signs of our illness in order to be well seems wrong to me. I think it just promotes the idea that people with mental illness are scary, bad, and irresponsible. In my opinion, his post just increases the stigma against people with mental illness.

What do you think about Dr. Malliaris' assertion that "people with bipolar disorder can not be leaders in times of crisis?"


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Carolyn L. Farrell Foundaiton in the News

Photo by Gus Chan/The Plain Dealer

The Plain Dealer, the local Cleveland, Ohio newspaper, just did an article about the Carolyn L. Farrell Foundation for Brain Health and the dementia program we run every Wednesday!

Read about it HERE. 

Please join us for our Journaling for Mental Illness program the first and third Mondays of the month!


Rev. Katie

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Treating Mental Illness: The Mind and Spirit Connection

There is a line in my favorite musical Next to Normal, which is about a woman with bipolar disorder, that says:

"What happens if the cut, the burn, the break was never in my brain,
or in my blood, but in my soul?"

This is from the song "The Break" which is about how she has tried medications and treatments but none really work for that long and she has relapses of her illness. She wonders if maybe all of the treatment is not working because the illness is really mainly in her soul.

I named my blog "Bipolar Spirit" because I feel the body and spirit (what some call soul) are intricately linked together. (I guess I would not be a minister if I didn't believe that.) While I know mental illness is a chemical imbalance, I also believe it is an imbalance in the spirit as well.

I have been trying to manage my mental illness for fourteen years (I have been sick since I was six but only started getting treatment when I was 19) with medicines and talk therapy, and I have never really gotten better. Through all of this, I have always known that my mental illness really comes from a crushed spirit. The psychiatric profession calls it a trigger event (or events), as in a traumatic event happens and it triggers the chemical imbalance in your brain. I think the trigger causes a break in your spirit that co-occurs with the chemical imbalance. If our treatments only focus on trying to fix the chemical imbalance and not also on taking care of your spirit at the same time, I am not sure anyone really becomes well. 

I would add: "Help Heal Yourself."
I believe truly managing mental illness means possibly taking medication, going to therapy, and also becoming in touch with your inner spirit and the Spirit of Life that is all around us. I have finally found a medical practice that takes an integrative approach to medicine which will help my logical and my spiritual sides combine in order to treat my illness. While some people may think this is not a legitimate way to treat mental illness, I know it is the right way for me. I see too many people with crushed spirits to think differently. That is why my faith is so important to me, because it speaks of salvation in this life, through knowing you are loved just as you are and discovering who you are and your place in the Universe so you can live out your purpose in life. When you are able to do that, you are healthy and whole and can bring love into the world to make it a better place. Essentially, if you are out of balance, you can't really care for those around you. 


Rev. Katie

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What is Binge Eating Disorder?

Binge eating disorder (BED) is when you consume large amounts of food in a short period of time (two hours or less) two or more times a week, with a lack of control of how much you are eating, for a period of at least six months.

Those are characteristics of binge eating which can be found in the DSM-IV which includes the criteria above as well as such things as feeling ashamed about eating, being unable to stop eating, and eating much more rapidly than normal. BED is a mental illness which affects more people (3.5% of women and 2% of men) than Anorexia or Bulimia.

I sat in my car today parked in a local large supermarket parking lot eating fast food. One car pulled up in the spot next to me, then another on the other side. We were parked way out in the lot, away from most other cars near a garbage can. All three of us sat eating fast food in our cars. I don't know if the other two people have a binge eating disorder, but I do. Hiding in your car, eating as much food as you can, and throwing the wrappers away in a public garbage can so no one knows what you ate - that is a typical binge eater. 

Here is what binge eating disorder is like from my experience of it:
  • You eat tons and tons of food and you can't stop eating even when you feel sick
  • You hide the food you eat by eating in the car, bathroom, or other "safe" place
  • You eat food out of the garbage can
  • You eat quickly, like a pack of wild wolves ripping apart a carcass
  • You may be thin or may be overweight- BED does not descriminate based on size
  • You think about food all day and dream about food at night
  • You plan out where you will get your next binge foods from and how you will hide them
  • You know all the stores where you can buy food and their hours, especially the ones open after 1am. 
  • You plan out your food buying so none of the cashiers ever get to know you very well and you will not get "caught" as having a problem
  • You choose food over time with friends and family
  • You may miss work or events because you have eaten so much it makes you
  • You wish you could stop and just can't which causes extreme angst and the feeling that you are worthless 
  • You gain 14 pounds in two weeks
  • Your disorder ruins your life by making you physially and emotionally ill due to all the chemicals and calories you are eating
Gingerbread House. Photo by Jeff Norris

I have had BED since a very young age. I remember sneaking food from the pantry and running up into my room to eat it. Hiding the wrappers in my bookbag until I could find a safe place to throw them out. I have never really delt with my eating disorder though. Why? Because it is extremely embarassing. Actually, in my exerience, telling someone I am a binge eater has caused more ridicule and pain than telling them I have bipolar disorder. People just think you are fat, lazy, and don't have enough willpower. They find you disgusting, repulsive, and weak.

I dieted and kept the weight off for two years actually by eating unhealthy foods in small amounts. I was still a binge eater but it was just infrequent enough that I could excerise off the calories and stay at a decent weight that did not look too big. The problem was that all I focused on was loosing weight, not treating the underlying disorder of binge eating.

I am finally addressing the binge eating disorder because I have to take care of it so I can follow the eating plan needed to treat my bipolar and because I have gained 20 pounds in the last two months.

As I go through this process, I will let you all know how it goes and what might be helpful to other people with BED. I already have a few book reviews in the works.


Rev. Katie

Read more here:
Binge Eating Disorder

Monday, August 6, 2012

It Matters Who Prescribes Your Medicine

I realize that I have never talked about what to do if you think you need treatment for a possible mental illness. There is really not enough information out there on how to find the help so I will be creating a few posts on the subject.

So today my first piece of advice on this topic is one I am adamant about:


While I love all you primary care physicians and I know you care about your patients, in my experience this has never worked out well. It has always led to larger problems.

You would not let your primary care physician treat you for cancer, heart disease, scoliosis, or anything that requires detailed knowledge of a condition. Mental illness is not different. First of all, you really need to be diagnosed by a psychiatrist to know if you have an actual mental illness. A primary care physician does not have the detailed knowledge of all different types of mental illness to diagnose you. Misdiagnosing you and giving you the wrong medication can be extremely dangerous, such as sending someone into a medication induced manic episode because they were misdiagnosed as depressed when they were really bipolar. "Studies show that 74% of people seeking help for depression will first go to their primary care physician. Of these cases, as many as 50% are misdiagnosed. Even of the cases that are correctly diagnosed, 80% are given too little medication for too short a time." Also, many primary care physicians do not know how to correctly take someone off a medication for mental illness which is dangerous as well.

Photo by Jeff Norris

Lastly, these medications are very tricky to handle and have many physical and psychological side effects. Your primary care physician needs to know the basics about many different medications in order to do their job. They do not have the time to know the detailed facts about specific medications for mental illness and the less common side effects they cause which are not listed in the drug information packet.

So, if you are in crisis and feel you need help right away, get admitted to a psychiatric ward. If not, then ask you primary care physician to refer you to a psychiatrist for prescriptions and a psychologist (or other licensed mental health therapy professional) for therapy. If you are on medication which you are worried about, do not just stop taking it. These medications need to be tapered down under a psychiatrists supervision.

There is an exception to my rule of never letting a primary care doctor prescribe for you, and that is if your insurance does not cover a psychiatrist and you can not afford one on your own. This happens to far too many people. My husband and I have accrued quite a bit of dept paying out of pocket for psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health treatments. For us, debt was better than death, but I am not recommending everyone make that decision. No matter what, get treatment though.  Fight for the best medical care you can get within the constraints you have.


Rev. Katie

For Some Additional Reading:
Antidepressants Over Prescribed in Primary Care
Should Family Doctors Treat Serious Mental Illness?