DBSA e-Update August 2018 See All Issues Sign Up

DBSA’s Listening Tour Begins in New York City and Dallas, TX

One need only turn on the television or view an online or print ad to believe that U.S. seniors are living quite the life. From the latest modern medical innovations, to opportunities to explore new hobbies or travel destinations, to spending quality time with family and friends, being a senior has never been better.

Unfortunately, this picture does not match the reality facing many in this age bracket. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, almost 5% of seniors have experienced a major depressive disorder episode in the last year. Additionally, as illness associated with aging increases, so does the rate of depression—which, at 11.5% to 13.5%, is double that of the rest of the adult population.

To address this growing public health challenge, we have created the DBSA Senior Strength Initiative. This pioneering program is designed to incorporate DBSA core beliefs around pathways to wellness by partnering with clinical care providers focused on seniors’ health.

Among DBSA’s core beliefs is the directive that people have the right to determine their own course of treatment. Identified paths include: personal wellness strategies, peer support, talk therapy, and medication—used in any combination as shaped by the individual, often in conjunction with a clinical care team or family member.

The DBSA Senior Strength Initiative begins with a focus on peer support, recognizing the role societal factors and self-stigma play in the isolation that exacerbates symptoms of depression. One goal of the initiative is to train the partnering clinical team on how best to use and deploy peer specialists to improve engagement. Peer specialists are, in turn, trained to educate their clients on the value of wellness tools such as DBSA’s Wellness Tracker and the Living Successfully course.

We are excited to share the news that, through a grant from the Archstone Foundation, DBSA is now in the implementation phase of this initiative. This grant allows DBSA to partner with the Facey Medical Center of Providence St. Joseph Health & Services, Southern California. Working with their clinical care team, DBSA will add certified community health workers to their primary care and behavioral health teams. Central to this partnership is training the clinical care team on both the role and value of the community health workers in improving engagement and delivering better person-centered outcomes.

Peer support will be further integrated through a partnership with the DBSA Northridge chapter. The chapter will offer a senior support group meeting at a mutually agreed upon location plus several wellness educational programs.

DBSA seeks to grow this initiative through additional grants and partnerships around the country. As we do, we hope to collaborate with the affiliate DBSA chapters that provide the best knowledge of the needs of local senior communities.

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Life Unlimited
Carrie Hawes

Read more inspiring stories. If you would like to participate in our Life Unlimited feature by sharing your story, please submit your contact information.

Life Unlimited: Carrie Hawes

My name is Carrie, and I've lived in Las Vegas my whole life. Since I was 5 years old, my life has felt like a constant roller coaster of chaos, although at an early age I gained some coping skills that helped me survive childhood trauma. I adapted to living in a constant state of “fight or flight,” and it affected everything from my parents’ nasty 10-year-long divorce process to my adapting to my mother’s and father’s opposite expectations about mental illness and substance abuse. I felt the immense pressure of trying to be an adult for my siblings while shielding them from the trauma that had affected me. At the time, I didn’t realize how much these childhood experiences would affect me as an adult, and I never recovered from them in a healthy way such as through therapy.

I was 14 years old when my mental health disorders developed. My behavior and thinking changed drastically around that time and, hoping to ease my intense pain, I made a series of decisions that were self-destructive. I developed a tendency to isolate myself; I was drinking every weekend. I couldn’t concentrate on anything: not school, not friendships, not even self-preservation. I battled daily my feelings of extreme stress, sadness, loneliness, and anxiety.

By 20, I was spiraling out of control because of self-destructive decisions and progressively scarier thoughts—symptoms of undiagnosed mental health disorders. Feeling completely out of control inside my own mind led me to the deepest depression I have ever had. I was scared and exhausted all at the same time. This wasn’t how I was going to live the rest of my life, so I sought more precise answers from a mental health facility.

It’s hard to ask for help, right?  But I am so glad I did: I had finally seen light at the end of the tunnel after 14 years. I talked with a doctor and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder episodes, PTSD, and a severe form of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. But, after some time had passed, the treatment for these disorders wasn’t a great fit for me anymore. Again, I felt like I was stuck inside a body that I didn’t belong in, and I was terrified of my own brain. I had a no lack of control over my impulses, and my brain functioned at a rate of at least 100 mph. I always went to bed wondering what type of mood I’d wake up in. I wanted to give up, but that wasn’t an option.

Three months ago, I finally found the answer: I was told I’d been misdiagnosed, and that I actually have Bipolar 2. So, my journey continues—but in the meantime, I have become a wife and a mom, gone back to college, and am holding down a great full-time job.

I still have episodes and hard days, but the persistence to find answers and get help is what saved my life. I am in control of my symptoms now—not the other way around. I believe that all hard experiences can be turned into learning lessons. This one, in particular, has helped me stop comparing myself to others and to develop strong self-esteem. I have started to develop resilience to the adversities that come my way. I have hobbies again, I laugh with people, and I’m discovering who I am for the first time in what seems like forever! I was able to grow the most when I realized that happiness doesn’t start with a job or money: it starts with me. A resilient, positive mindset is a key to success, especially with mental health.

Bipolar, anxiety, depression, and PTSD are a huge part of me, but they don’t define me. They don’t define you. You will learn to manage your disorders once you receive proper treatment and have developed the skills, one by one, to love yourself. We all deserve that.

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Michael Pollock, Chief Executive Officer, DBSA
Michael Pollock
Chief Executive Officer, DBSA

Note from Michael Pollock, Chief Executive Officer 

One of the goals for my first hundred days at DBSA is to engage with our chapter leaders and support group participants. So far, I have been able to accomplish this through the Chapter Regional Meetings held in Dallas, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with a final meeting scheduled to take place in Orlando (and with my apologies to those I missed meeting in New York in May). While these meetings have been a great opportunity to learn about the needs of people who live with mood disorders—and how DBSA can help—I know that not everyone who would like to attend is able to do so.

Your voice is important, and I want to hear from you. The national office is implementing its second biannual survey of DBSA support group participants. Please share with us your thoughts and experiences, because the information you provide will be used to plan for the future of DBSA. The survey can be completed online until August 31, 2018.

Data collected from the previous survey sets the bar for how we can continue to improve the services DBSA provides, and the bar has been set very high. Key findings from the 2016 survey with respect to support group participation include the following:

  • 89.4% of participants either agree or strongly agree that their groups have helped to improve their lives;
  • 97.12% of people feel welcome at their groups all or most of the time;
  • 94.33% of people feel safe sharing in their groups all or most of the time;
  • 94.32% of people feel they have the opportunity to share when they want to.

We also learned that peers attend support groups primarily to feel like they are part of a community of people living with depression and bipolar disorder, whereas family and friends attend to learn new strategies and information to support someone living with a mood disorder. Knowing this difference helps us to create targeted, specific information for each audience.

I want to thank you in advance for taking the time to complete the survey. In my short time here, I have learned that the people we serve are the heart and soul of DBSA, and we would not exist without you.

Thank you for advancing our mission to provide hope, health, support, and education for all those we serve.

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

It’s DBSA’s 33rd Birthday

Birthdays are a time of celebration, but they’re also a time of reflection. Over the decades, DBSA’s services have improved the lives of tens of millions of people, and we couldn’t be more grateful to all of you for being a part of the DBSA community.

This year when we blow out our birthday candles, we'll wish for expanded peer support networks to connect the more than 21 million people in the U.S. with a mood disorder.

Our birthday wish can only come true with your help. Contribute at DBSAlliance.org/Birthday and share the link and along with how DBSA has had a positive impact in your life with friends and family on social media to spread the word.

Thank you for celebrating with us!

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DBSA Chapters

Starting a DBSA Chapter

DBSA chapters are independently incorporated affiliates of the national office that provide local support to their community through peer-facilitated groups and educational programs. The majority of DBSA chapters are founded and led by peers just like yourself!

To learn more about chapters and how they can help you on your journey towards wellness, go to this link.

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Greg Simon, MD, MPH, is a psychiatrist and researcher at Group Health Cooperative at the Center for Health Studies in Seattle. His research focuses on improving the quality and availability of mental health services for people living with mood disorders, and he has a specific interest in activating consumers to expect and demand more effective mental health care.

Got a nagging question? Submit your questions to Ask the Doc online. Also, take a look through our Ask the Doc feature page, a comprehensive archive of past columns, which may already have the answer to your questions.

Ask the Doc

I have treatment-resistant depression and PTSD. For me, medications have been ineffective or had side effects worse than the disease. I would like to not take medications for my mood. How can I talk to my doctor about not medicating me?

Unfortunately, your experience with medication is not uncommon. For some people, antidepressant medications have few positive effects and significant negative effects. If your doctor tries to convince you to try a different medication, she is probably trying to be helpful. But that may not feel helpful if trying another medication is not what you want.

I’d try to think of your relationship with a doctor in these terms: each of you is an expert, but about different things.

You are the expert about your own experience. You know better than a new doctor about your past experience with medications, both the positive effects (if any) and the negative effects. More importantly, you are the expert about your own preferences and values. You know how much any positive effects of medication are worth in comparison to negative effects―to you as an individual. And you know what you prefer about different kinds of treatment―traditional medications, psychotherapy, or alternative therapies. It’s your preferences and values that matter in your decision, not your doctor’s.

But your doctor is supposed to be an expert about the evidence. Evidence is about averages rather than individuals, but average information is still useful. For example, your doctor should be able to answer questions like this: “If I have tried medications A, B, and C with no benefit from any of them, what’s the chance that a fourth medication would help?” Or this: “If medication A and B both took away my sexual function, what’s the chance that some other medication would not do that?”

Exaggerated pessimism is a central part of depression. Looking at the evidence can help bring decisions back to the facts―both what we know and what we don’t know.

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance


Putting wellness within every individual’s reach is at the core of DBSA’s mission, strategies, and programs. That’s why we have partnered with the Milken Institute’s Center for Strategic Philanthropy to bring you the first peer-designed survey that enables people living with depression and/or bipolar to share views on

  • aspects of wellness that go beyond reducing symptoms, and
  • priorities for research topics.

This nationwide, anonymous Supporting Wellness survey has been carefully crafted with help from a design group comprised of peers—volunteers living with depression and/or bipolar. We’ve benefitted from guidance from colleagues at other community-based organizations who have provided ongoing input, too.

No personal identifiers will be collected and all responses will be held in strict confidence.

The individual viewpoints you express will be just as important as the combined weight of the community’s shared priorities. So, please share the survey link freely with friends, family members, and others who share an interest in more and better options for people living with depression and/or bipolar.

This fall, we will share survey results broadly with the community, research funders, government agencies, life science companies, academic researchers, and health care providers—people and institutions positioned to accelerate innovation in treatment and care.

Another opportunity for people with the lived experience to express their views will come on November 16, 2018, when DBSA hosts the Well Beyond Blue patient-focused medical product meeting in Silver Spring, MD. This is an opportunity to share with representatives from the FDA and pharmaceutical and medical device companies what people most want from treatment.

Input from the broad DBSA community is essential and has the potential to inform the development of future FDA-approved treatment options. Learn more about the meeting here.

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

bp Magazine: Managing Relationships When Bipolar Pulls Them Apart

Self-awareness and healthy boundaries are key to maintaining strong relationships with your significant others, family and friends when mood swings threaten to pull you apart. Read more.

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
Facing Us Clubhouse

Visit the FacingUs.org to get more tips, create your own tips, track your wellness, and connect with peers. Joining the Facing Us Clubhouse is easy and free.

Wellness Tips from Peers

Make Memory Count
I find it helpful to allow my memory of certain life events to be like a review mirror in a car. While it may appear closer than it is, I know the distance I have traveled is substantial.

Hanging on Is Its Own Reward
Hanging on to something greater than yourself can give you a better sense of self-worth. The path can be treacherous but, with each step climbing up the mountain, you get a greater view from above.

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