DBSA e-Update June 2018 See All Issues Sign Up

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

DBSA began its 2018 regional listening tour with an event in New York City on May 5, 2018, and in Dallas on June 2, 2018. DBSA’s staff, board, friends, and chapters met together to network, share stories and, most importantly, to discuss the needs of our chapters and communities. These events, which will occur monthly from May through September, will include stops in New York City, Dallas, Greater Chicago, Orlando, and Los Angeles.

With representatives from 17 chapters and two state organizations at the first two events, DBSA has been invigorated by the engagement of the chapter participants. At both of these events, Allen Doederlein, DBSA’s Executive Vice President of External Affairs, led the day with an introduction and update from the national office. Highlights included recent advocacy work, efforts to build more communications opportunities with chapters, and DBSA’s goal to help individuals define and reach what wellness means to them.

The primary goal for the events is to hear from our chapters about their needs and the needs of their larger communities. The listening aspect of the meeting is broken into two parts. In the first session, the group discusses concerns facing individual communities regarding mental health, as well as future hopes for each chapter and community. We learned from the NYC and Dallas meetings of the need for more resources to support conversations around suicidal ideation, and of a desire to ensure that DBSA and its support groups are better known and marketed throughout the country.

The second session focuses on understanding the benefits chapters receive through their relationship with DBSA, and learning what participants would like to see more of from DBSA. We learned that chapters appreciated tangible benefits such as brochures and guides, but also value the connection to a strong brand. This connection translates into referrals from the website. A Q&A with DBSA national leadership provides opportunity for chapter participants to share their wants and needs, and to receive answers directly from the national office.

The most important take-away from the event was the clear understanding that DBSA is a vital resource for individuals living with depression and bipolar disorder. DBSA chapters are implementing critical peer support, and the DBSA national office is proud to work with them as a partner in this effort.

DBSA will be hosting three more regional meetings this year: Evanston, IL (July 21), Los Angeles, CA (August 11), Orlando, FL (September 15). Learn more about the regional meetings.

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Life Unlimited
Mark Sanford

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: Mark Sanford

I had a great childhood, playing sports and spending time with family. We lived near the beach in the South Coast of Massachusetts and I had access to all ocean activities growing up. I made a lot of friends and was very outgoing.

I graduated high school and had been very involved socially. It wasn’t until later in college that I started to show signs of anxiety and depression. I soon began to isolate.

After college, I got married and we had two children, but the stress of full-time work and the pressure of providing for my family became too much. I struggled to have important conversations without being confrontational and angry. I began using alcohol to numb myself and found it difficult to participate in life. In 2008, I got divorced, was hospitalized twice, and spent nine months in a psychiatric halfway house. I went bankrupt during that time, and then lived in the basements of family members for three long years while I was being treated for major depressive disorder. Due to the damage done to my relationships during the years of an undiagnosed and untreated mental health condition, I remain devastated that I have not seen nor spoken to my two beloved children for over 10 years.

In 2011, I went back into the halfway house and then went homeless in 2012, walking the streets of Boston and spending my nights on the cold basement floor of a homeless shelter. Also in 2012, I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 disorder and PTSD. I was placed on the right medication and life has been a complete turnaround since then. I have my own apartment and car, and I’m grateful to have the means to meet my most important needs.

The pain of missing my children is excruciating. Not having any contact with them is a result of the divorce and an undiagnosed mental health condition.  I deal with the pain with positive distractions, meditating, working with a life coach and keeping in touch with family and friends. I have learned that psychotherapy, medication management, and having a strong support network are keys to my present-day dealings with bipolar disorder.

I have certainly had my struggles, but I feel I have overcome them through determination and perseverance. I now want to give back to others, show them that life is short and that we must be grateful for all that we do have. We need to take our mental health condition in hands and do what we can to take each day one at a time, step-by-step. My goal is to mentor people with bipolar disorder to help them avoid some of the same pain, struggle, and suffering that I have experienced. I want to live a life of joy and use my own personal experience to help others!

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Note from Michael Pollock, Chief Executive Officer 

Since joining the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance on June 1, I have been reflecting on my first couple of weeks. Thanks to the kindness and helpfulness from the staff, board members, and chapters, I already feel a strong connection to the mission and important work that this organization carries out each day. I’m excited for what lies ahead and honored to be a part of this team.

On my first day, I traveled to Dallas for the second of DBSA’s five 2018 regional meetings. There I had the pleasure of talking with dedicated DBSA chapter leaders from Dallas and throughout Texas and nearby Oklahoma and Louisiana. Some of the participants had been involved with DBSA for decades; others, only a few weeks. Themes from the conversation ranged from ways in which the chapter leaders could stay connected, and learn from one another, to ways to reach more individuals with a lived experience and finding ways to get more involved in their community and give back. In that afternoon, I saw DBSA’s values—community, inspiration, wisdom, responsibility—in action, and the experience helped me appreciate in a more tangible and less theoretic way the important role our chapters play. I can’t think of a better introduction to DBSA and its meaning to so many people over the years.

I have plenty to learn in the weeks and months ahead, but I did want to share with you the current aspirations and priorities for the organization as we move forward.  Based on conversations with the DBSA board and staff thus far, we will be focused on four important goals:

  • Offer services for people with mood disorders in a multitude of ways that make a positive impact;
  • Reach influencers, such as clinicians and lawmakers, on the value of peer services;
  • Increase DBSA’s name recognition and footprint nationally; and
  • Reduce stigma in our society.

The recent losses of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and the vast media coverage that followed reminds us there’s immense need for DBSA support and resources and the opportunity to educate others. Allen Doederlein, DBSA’s Executive Vice President for External Affairs, is quoted in a New York Times article that provides expert perspectives on how to help people dealing with depression and thoughts of suicide. And even from the world of hip-hop, Allen also provided commentary about Kanye West in a piece from digital outlet Mic, which skews younger and more diverse than many other media platforms. West mentions bipolar disorder in his new album, YE, suggesting that we are seeing that the world may be ready in a host of new ways to talk about this condition.

Beyond media, DBSA experienced other recent achievements. The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives passed the MISSION Act. This bill—signed by President Trump—authorizes hiring of peer specialists in 50 VA primary care settings. DBSA was proud to lead on this issue, including assisting in drafting the language for the bill known as the PEER Act. We also are honored to receive $345,000 in new support from the Archstone Foundation to implement peer specialists’ work with older adults in primary care settings in southern California, which also shows that DBSA’s work to catalyze transformation of healthcare is advancing powerfully.

In sum, it has been a rewarding beginning. I am committed to supporting this team as we seek to work more closely with you to provide hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who live with mood disorders. I invite you to contact me or any member of the team with comments or questions at Webmaster@DBSAlliance.org.

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance


For the past two years, DBSA has been asking you to support the PEER Act—national legislation authorizing the Veterans Administration (VA) to employ additional Peer Specialists in the primary care setting. This policy would better support the over 1,200 Peer Specialists already working in the behavioral health settings at the VA.

We won! Last month, due to the collective efforts of individuals and organizations with the mission to improve mental health care for Veterans, language from the PEER Act was included in a much more comprehensive VA bill that passed in both chambers of Congress. This bill, known as the MISSION Act, has been signed by the President. This law not only represents a major milestone for Veterans, it paves the way for strengthening the peer support model for everyone who lives with a mental health condition in our country.

Veterans will have access to a peer specialist, regardless of their VA health system’s entry point, at 50 locations across the country. The program will emphasize implementation in both rural and underserved areas as well as greater employment of certified female Veteran peer specialists. You can read more about this significant legislation here.

Thank you for your support of Veterans. DBSA focuses its advocacy on improving the lives of all persons living with mood disorders through increased access to quality mental health care. Your advocacy can and does make a significant difference! To continue to receive communications alerting you as to the best time to contact your legislator, subscribe to DBSA advocacy and ask your friends, colleagues, and neighbors to do so as well.

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DBSA Chapters

Chapters: Learning from Our Leaders

Every day, every week, every month, people living with mood disorders make the decision to help themselves by attending a support group offered by a DBSA chapter. At our regional meetings, we heard inspiring stories of how that has changed peoples’ lives. According to one participant, “I felt hopeful and I didn't feel so alone and isolated knowing that there were others who understood what I was going through.” Hope saves lives. Hope is the beginning of wellness. DBSA’s mission is to provide hope to those who need it.

This work would not be possible without our chapters who represent the on-the-ground, grassroots commitment and passion of DBSA. One of the goals of the regional meetings is to learn how we can help the DBSA chapters be even more effective in reaching others in their community and increasing their access to various health and wellness options, including peer support.

We want to hear from all members of the DBSA community. If you are interested in participating in future regional meetings in Chicago, Los Angeles, or Orlando, please register online at DBSAlliance.org/2018RegionalMeeting.

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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’ve had issues with anxiety and substance use over the years. While I quit using substances in 2005, I now feel (at 57 years old) I am experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. Is it common for symptoms of bipolar to come on later in life or did they just go unnoticed in my formative years?

In general, symptoms of bipolar disorder first appear during a person’s teens or twenties—or sometimes even earlier. Many people don’t receive treatment until much later, often because symptoms were not recognized. But the first signs usually appear early in life.

There are, of course, exceptions to the usual pattern of mood symptoms appearing early in life. You describe one common type of exception. People who use alcohol or other substances heavily during their teens or early adulthood may not notice mood symptoms until they eventually stop using. The mood symptoms were probably there all along, but they were hidden by the effects of alcohol or drug use.

In the short term, it can be difficult to distinguish mood symptoms from symptoms of alcohol or drug withdrawal. Withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepine drugs can cause anxiety, agitation, and sleep problems. Withdrawal from cocaine or amphetamines can cause symptoms of depression. However, these withdrawal symptoms should decrease over several weeks. We wouldn’t blame mood symptoms years after stopping alcohol or drugs on withdrawal.

We sometimes use the term “self-medication” to describe alcohol or drug use by people living with a mood disorder. It’s important to explain what we mean by that. We certainly don’t mean that alcohol other commonly abused drugs are effective treatments for mood disorders. We just mean that alcohol or other drugs can mask mood symptoms in the short run, even if they make things worse in the long run. As many people who have lived with mood disorders can testify, alcohol is probably the oldest treatment for mood symptoms, and also one of the least effective!

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Become a DBSA-Trained Peer Specialist

I am extremely thankful I had an opportunity to attend this training and acquire skills. I know that I am more of an effective communicator, and more importantly, listener. —Participant, DBSA-delivered Peer Specialist training, Los Angeles, CA

Use of peer-delivered services in the mental health and collaborative care settings is on the rise, and the demand for trained and certified Peer Specialists is increasing. Peer Specialists—people who use their lived recovery experience to assist others in regaining hope, making the most of their chosen paths to wellness, and moving forward to achieve their goals—work in all sectors of health care and in peer-operated organizations across the U.S. 

If you are a person with personal recovery experience who wants to support others as part of your chosen career, you can become a part of this expanding workforce. Register today for DBSA’s September 2018 Peer Specialist training course in Chicago—registration options are available for both Veterans and non-Veterans. Eligible individuals may be able to use vocational rehabilitation benefits to support participation. Contact us for course information you can share with your vocational counselor.

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Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

bp Magazine: Ending Bipolar Depression Isolation

There’s a difference between learning to be alone, and feeling isolated and unlovable. Human contact can help with the isolation that bipolar depression can create. Read the article

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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

Own Your Resistance
Recovery Focus
Some days will be harder than others, but I have the self-discipline to own that resistance and stay the course. This small win will perpetuate more small wins throughout the day, making it easier to develop habits that empower brave living. I will step through fear courageously into action.

Your Worth Is in Your Humanity
Inspirational Quotes
“Yet our worth lies not in our perfection, but in our humanity.” ~ Paulissa Kipp

Japanese saying: “Fall seven times. Get up eight.”

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