Celebrity Sensitivity: Catherine Zeta-Jones & Demi Lovato

Image from people.com

Catherine Zeta-Jones has bravely put her face on the cover People magazine—and on the face of bipolar disorder. And in a less publicized interview, 18-year-old Demi Lovato of teen Disney fame admitted last month to People that she too also suffers from bipolar disorder.

“This is a disorder that affects millions of people and I am one of them,” the [Zeta-Jones], 41, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive statement in this week’s cover story. “If my revelation of having bipolar II has encouraged one person to seek help, then it is worth it. There is no need to suffer silently and there is no shame in seeking help.”

Last month, Lovato said:

“I never found out until I went into treatment that I was bipolar. Looking back it makes sense,” she says of her diagnosis. “There were times when I was so manic, I was writing seven songs in one night and I’d be up until 5:30 in the morning.”

I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of mental illness fads, but bipolar disorder has such a stigma attached to it that celebrities who seriously suffer from the disorder have a chance to put a face on and say “There’s no shame in getting help.” And while psychotropic drugs certainly aren’t a cure-all in conjunction with talk and behavioral therapy, bipolar disorder can be managed—not just for these celebs but also for anyone who suffers from the disorder.

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Quote of the Week

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” — Bill Clinton

Celebrity Sensitivity: Joe Pantoliano & Blake Fielder-Civil

Actor Joe Pantoliano, best known for his roles in The Goonies and The Sopranos, has recently admitted to struggling with depression. He didn’t tell anyone up until 3 years ago. When a close friend committed suicide, the event prompted him to seek help. He has begun the site No Kidding, Me Too to help fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage others to get help.

Blake Fielder-CivilAlso in depression news, Amy Winehouse’s troubled husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, has been receiving counseling in prison due to worry that Winehouse is still abusing drugs.

“Blake is on the verge of a nervous breakdown,” a prison insider told The Sun. “He has stopped his mopping job, which may sound funny, but it gave him something to do. Instead he mopes around his cell.

Something tells me that Fielder-Civil is not taking drugs — antidepressants, of course — in prison.

Analysis of "Depression: Out of the Shadows"


The show is essentially Depression 101 – for those new to learning
about the illness.
As someone who struggles with depression (within
bipolar disorder), I found a lot of the two hours pretty boring (90
minutes on personal stories and about 22 minutes for "candid
conversation"). The "a lot" comes from the stuff that I've either heard before or flies over my head, eg, how depression affects the brain, prefrontal cortex, neurotransmitters, synapses, etc. The personal stories were powerful: depressingly heartwarming. (Yes, I mean that.)

My heart sank as I heard the stories of Emma and Hart, teenagers who were diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, respectively. Both were such extreme cases that they needed to be sent away for special psychiatric care. They are on medications for their disorders; the specific drugs are never mentioned.

While watching Deana's story of treatment-resistant depression, I instantly thought of Herb of VNSDepression.com whose wife suffers from the same malady.

I tried to listen attentively for the antidepressant that Ellie, who suffered from PPD after the birth of her first child, would be taking during her next pregnancy. It was never mentioned.

My jaw nearly dropped to the carpet as Andrew Solomon, carefully plucked brightly colored pills from his pillbox that he takes every morning for his unipolar depression: Remeron, Zoloft, Zyprexa, Wellbutrin, Namenda, Ranitidine, and two kinds of fish oil. He might have even mentioned Prozac. He takes Namenda, an Alzheimer's drug to combat the effects of an adverse interaction between Wellbutrin and one of the other drugs that I can't remember. Solomon says he's happy. I'm happy for him and I'm happy that his drug cocktail works for him but I couldn't help but sit there and wonder, "Isn't there a better way?"

While I thought the stories covered the gamut, in retrospect, I'm surprised they didn't interview a veteran or U.S. soldier to discuss PTSD. If the producers were able to fit in dysthymia, I'm sure they might have been able to throw in a story about a soldier who struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts stemming out of PTSD. Considering all the stories coming out of the VA, it's rather relevant. It would have been more interesting than the Jane Pauley segment. But I'll get to that in a minute.

As I listened to the narrator, I couldn't help but wonder what alternate perspectives could have popped up. For what it was, I fear none. This was a Depression 101 show — a program designed to either get people to fight against fear and stigma and get help or to open the eyes of loved ones to this debilitating disorder. I'm not sure how to slip in an opposing view on medication from a doctor without confusing or scaring people away. What would Healy or Breggin say that would encourage people to seek appropriate care?

Holistic or natural treatment was not mentioned. It's not mainstream and it's not recommended by most doctors as first-line therapy. I would have been surprised had something been said about it.

The depression portion of bipolar disorder was briefly discussed in Hart's story then Pauley added commentary about her personal experience in the remaining 22 minutes of the program.

Pauley appears at the end of the show promising a "candid conversation" on the topic. The three experts: Drs. Charney, Duckworth, and Primm sit and smile politely as Pauley rattles on occasionally about herself. Some people might find her exchange endearing and personal. After the first 3 minutes, I found it annoying. As a journalist, I wish she would have taken the impartial observer approach rather than the "intimate discussion" approach. In my opinion, she seemed to have dominated the "discussion."

It ended up being a Q&A with each doctor. Her questions were focused and direct. I expected a little bit of an exchange between doctors, talking not only about the pros of medication and treatment like ECT and VNS but also the cons. (Should I apologize for being optimistic?) Charney interjected into the conversation maybe once or twice but was only to offer an assenting opinion. Primm spoke least of everyone on the panel. I think she was placed on the show solely to represent diversity.

There were no "a recent study said…" or "critics say such-and-such, how do you address that?" It was a straightforward emphasis on encouraging people to get help or for those suffering to get treatment. Pauley's segment didn't discuss any negatives (not with the medical director of NAMI there!). The closest the entire 2 hours gets to any cons is with ECT shock treatment and giving medication to growing children. The childhood medication thing isn't dwelt on. The basic gist is: Doctors don't understand how medication works in children but are working on trying to understand it and improve its efficacy.

Forgive me for being negative. The point of the program was designed to give hope to those suffering. Instead, it just made me feel even worse. Thoughts raced through my head: "Well, if this doesn't work, then it's on to that. And if that medication doesn't work then I'll probably be prescribed this therapy, and if that doesn't work, then I'm treatment-resistant at which point, I'll have to do…"

I hope the program does what it's designed to do and that's to get those suffering with depression to seek appropriate care. The one upside is that talk therapy was stressed. I'm a huge proponent of talk therapy myself. Let me know what you thought of the show if you were able to catch it.

In the meantime, this depressed girl is going to cure herself for the night by going to bed.

P.S. Is it really fact that depression is a disease?

Talk about stigma

A while ago, posted on J.K. Rowling who spoke of her battle with suicidal thoughts. Etta at Depression Marathon made a post on some comments left on a digg link about the news.

Here are a select few of the 150 current comments on digg.com. Warning: if you have a weak stomach or a low frustration tolerance, you may want to discontinue reading now.

   1. umm, big deal. who hasn’t thought about suicide before? oops…. thats right. my fault. because she’s famous this is somehow more important.
  …
   6. she should have gone through with it
   7. WHY IS THIS ON THE FRONT PAGE!!!!!The woman is one of the richest people on the planet. So how is this supposed to make any difference in ANYONE’S life or situation. WHO CARES!!!!!Kevin please fix the algorithm to keep crap like this away from those of us who actually give a shit about what gets here. This makes Digg BORING and less interesting and intellectually useful than it used to be.

  10. depression isn’t a disease. It’s a state of mind & nothing more than a word. snap out of it!

There’s not much left to say…there were a few defenders among the haters, but the vast majority are reflected within the 10 statements I’ve included above. Wow…

Explains why mental health news is so unpopular.

God and mental illness

Thanks to Gianna for sending me a link to an ABC News article about the relationship between religious faith and depression. The article analyzes whether faith can help or exacerbate a mental illness. The exacerbation, as referred to in the article, mostly comes from the stigma of mental illness within the religious community.

“You might be shocked to find out there are some denominations that do harm to people,” said Patricia Murphy, chaplain and assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University. “Some congregations teach that depression is a sin … that’s the reaction they get when they turn to their pastor.”

Being punished by your religious leader for an unavoidable disorder sounds bad enough — yet it’s often compounded with tacit warnings against leaving the condemning sect.

“Studies have shown that faith leaders are least supportive [with mental health problems],” said Gregg-Schroeder. “There’s this attitude that if you pray harder, you’ll be able to pull yourself out of it. I’ve gone to funerals of people who were told to just pray to Jesus and stop taking your meds.”

praying dogI’ve been told that I suffer from depression because I didn’t pray enough or I wasn’t “right with God.” When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after my high school graduation, I found my pastor and church noticeably absent even though they were aware of the situation. When I was depressed, I’d get verses like Proverbs 15:13, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Great. That’s helpful. Especially when I don’t have a “merry heart.”

When I was forced to leave a fundie conservative Christian college midyear because of my depression, my pastor at the time was clearly disappointed with my decision not to return the following year. I decided that attending a college close to home as a commuter student would be better for my mental health. There was no need to scare more roommates with my occasional mixed episodes. I felt like I’d failed my pastor, my church, and my God. God more so than anyone else. I convinced myself that He must be upset with me – disappointed in me. It’s not easy to recover from depression when you feel like the One who dangles your life from His fingers is pretty pissed at you.

(Image from AP via Yahoo! News)

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Loose Screws Mental Health News

National Mental Health Anti-Stigma

The U.S. Health Department and Ad Council are now launching ads to target mental illness stigmas. The article uses a really lame example (and unrealistic) of two young men playing a video game and one of them admits to a mental illness. And the friend is oh-so supportive. (Yeah, right.) I know it’s supposed to remove the stigma and make people more compassionate but the fact of the matter is that the ads will probably be unrealistic. A better campaign would be to have a woman at work WORKING and to have a voiceover that explains that you’d never know this woman hears voices, that she’s schizophrenic. Cut to the woman smiling and interacting with others. Voiceover again – but she’s on medication and is receiving counseling. “What would YOU do if this woman told you she had a mental illness?” Obviously, we’d have to resort to the unfortunate aspect of making the woman unbelievably attractive so all the guys could go, “No way! Not that hot chick!” and all the women could say, “No way! She’s too pretty!” Or vice versa for a successful, handsome-looking young man. You get the idea. The article adds at the very end that the Ad Council will launch a suicide prevention campaign this summer, which will be sponsored by SAMHSA.

UPDATE: The (cheesy) videos are up at http://www.whatadifference.org. You can see a spot ad and determine what to do about the situation the people face. (Be forewarned: Choosing the negative option gets you a lecture.)

First-time moms are at risk for developing mental illness like schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder within the first three months of delivering a child, according to an ABCNews article. And it also delivers another shocker: postpartum depression is severely underdiagnosed. Well, well, well, well…

In really sad news, the suicide rate among NY’s ethnic women is at high risk. Young Hispanic women and elderly Asian women are cited as the highest minorities in NY who commit suicide. The article via India eNews.com says the reasons for this is because of “cultural and linguistic isolation, the stress of immigration and a shortage of psychiatric and counselling (sic) services.” Perhaps the saddest part of this is that “women who are not proficient in English do not get help ‘until symptoms reach crisis proportions.'” This article highlights the ever-increasing need to make psychiatric and counseling services available in other languages, especially Spanish, considering the boom of the Hispanic population (which , yes, includes illegal immigrants).