If you follow us on social media, you know that this past weekend, I attended a Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance conference on unity in mental health, foucsing on eliminating Illness to building WEllness, Isolation and fear to a WElcoming community of support, and Individual views to poWErful, collective voices. DBSA isn’t limited to individuals with depression and bipolar disorders, but those with any mood disorder or mental illness and those that want to help them, including friends and family, mental health workers, and advocates. I had a great time learning about treatment models, wellness, self-advocacy, the power of storytelling, coping, and goal-setting. I wanted to highlight some of the things I got out of the conference and some inspirational quotes to bring you hope!
Our ‘guide’ for the weekend was none other than the DBSA President, Allen Doederlein. Allen reminded us that depression and bipolar disorder are the two most prevalent mood disorders and mental health conditions and that we should OWN it! People don’t understand that we have to take care of ourselves first and that’s okay, but there’s no reason to do this alone. ‘Be the captain of your own ship!’ Mental health is a revolution that can all take a part in, whether we have a mental illness or are the friends, family, co-workers, anyone; EVERYONE is affected by mental illness. I to We means Illness to WEllness, from isolation to a welcoming community of support and encouragement for all. Allen also shared that we just need to TALK to each other: ‘When you get to know someone, it’s much harder to hate them.’ Start the conversation about mental illness & stigma! #StandTogether!
Other presenters were Mark Bauer, MD who shared the importance of working in partnership with those around us to become the best we can be and expecting no less of ourselves, while Melody Moezzi, JD emphasized the parallels between immigrants and people with mental illnesses, focusing on the impact of stigma: ‘People don’t tell you to be ashamed. They tell you to be quiet. But you have something important to say!…You should never have to lower your expectations because you have a mental illness!’
There was also a focus on important historical figures with mood disorders, including Buzz Aldrin, Ludwig van Beeethoven, J.D. Salinger, Charlie Parker, Isaac Newton, Kurt Cobain, Marie Curie, Tennessee Williams, Winston Churchill, Dick Clark, Charles Dickens, Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, and J.K. Rowling, just to name a few…Where would we be without these amazing people that just happen to have a mental illness?!
Gayathri Ramprasad was a passionate storyteller with so many nuggets of wisdom. In her book Shadows in the Sun, she explores the lack of understanding, respect, and even acknowledgement in other cultures, like her own country of India. She shared her struggle, saying that ‘you can have everything you want, but every day can be a living nightmare.’ So is the difficulties of mental illness. After many negative experiences, Gayathri made the important realization that ‘walls can confine my body, mental illness can control my mind, but nothing can contain my spirit!’ and discovered that ‘faith, hope, and healing have no boundaries!’ through the power of a stranger. Gayathri’s social change organization, ASHA (Sanskrit & Hindu for hope, but an acronym for A Source of Hope for All) provides encouragement and support for people all over the world with mental illness by encouraging them to ‘dare greatly, love deeply, and share your light.’ Remember: ‘We’re all just human. Love and hope unites all of us. A hurricane can come to level you, but you have everything in you to rebuild again!’
By far my favorite presenter and the one I spent the most time with was Tim Bono, PhD. Did you know that research in psychology focuses at least 10x more on mental illness rather than mental health? Not everyone has a mental illness, but everyone is affected by them and everyone can have good mental health. Tim shared Five Habits for Happiness:
1. Don’t be happy-be happier!
2. Don’t let failures go to waste-learn from them!: Mistakes are part of the human experience, but our response either paralyzes us or provokes us.
3. Take time for gratitude: the more gratitude you have, the more optimism and positive you will become. (Emmons & McCullough 2003)
4. Spent time with others, spend time on others.
5. Healthy body, healthy mind.
Henri Matisse said that ‘there are always flowers for those who want to see them.’ What are the things we can do to help ourselves? Practice mindfulness (be present in the moment) & altruism (give back, be there for others). Be patient with yourself. Make S.M.A.R.T. goals. Plan for the worst, hope for the best. Take time to take care of yourself. And remember, you are never alone!