The New Asylums: A Dialogue on Mental Illness Behind Bars

I have been aware of the prevalence of persons with mental illness who are incarcerated. I also know first-hand how quality in-patient psychiatric care has all but disappeared. Still, this chart portrays the crisis of mental health care in our nation. And, from the numbers I've seen, it's only getting worse. What follows is a dialogue that took place in perhaps the best Facebook groups I belong to: Advocates for People with Mental Illness. I wish these folks were in policy-making posts rather than the ones we currently have.   J:   Neither peak seems to be healthy, at least not long term. I wonder where the curve would be in a good system. D:  The community health care system that was promised after institutions closed is a dignified response to caring for people who live with mental illness. Much cheaper than institutions and so much more effective and respectful. [...]

The New Asylums: A Dialogue on Mental Illness Behind Bars2019-08-11T15:11:13-04:00

The Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Illness

I start this post with one basic assumption. Not all persons with mental illness are creative. Some sit around all day playing video solitaire, watching episodes of Judge Judy, counting the cars that pass by. Some persons with mental illness have neither the desire or the capacity (or both) to do anything that resembles creative expression. (Though you never know the depths of creativity lodged in their brains.) At the same time, I find my mental illness plays out in a creative way, primarily in my way with words. I'm not Hemingway. It's not quality, but quantity for me. Most of my waking and sleeping hours are spent plotting how I can use my words to the best effect. When I am under unusual amounts of stress, you will likely find me tucked away in a corner, Pilot G-2 gel pen gliding across a composition journal, describing the world [...]

The Relationship Between Creativity and Mental Illness2019-08-07T22:29:13-04:00

Does Mental Illness Lead to Violence?

I don’t follow much mass media, but at times it is impossible to escape. Accounts of the El Paso and Dayton shootings and the Los Angeles stabbings are prime examples. What could possibly motivate persons to such violent extremes? Political leaders, pundits, and partisans toss around various theories. Access to guns? Video games? Mental illness? As one with a mental illness who now serves as a Faith & Mental Health Advocate, the issue is much more than political posturing, it is passionately personal. True, I have witnessed first-hand aggressive behavior stemming from mental illness. Yet, the vast majority of harm is self-directed, not violence against others. Fear-based stigma does no one any good and does many much harm. The Treatment Advocacy Center, one of the leading organizations promoting better mental health care and safety has written in  “Risk Factors for Violence in Serious Mental Illness”, five points:   Most individuals [...]

Does Mental Illness Lead to Violence?2019-08-08T18:05:34-04:00

Christians Under Treatment

A couple of weeks ago I spoke to a group of nursing students about my life with faith and mental illness. I shared stories about having episodes, working through mental disorder, receiving support from friends and family. At the end of the session, one student asked a very thoughtful question: "Has your faith influenced your choice of mental health care providers?" I thought, what a great question! One I have given much thought to and never been able to talk about it in a group of this kind. When I talk to many of my Christian friends who are in need of professional mental health care, they are often reluctant to pursue it. In large part, because they want to find providers who share their faith, their worldview. I can appreciate their hesitation. When it comes to something as crucial to our identity as our minds, we don't want [...]

Christians Under Treatment2019-07-24T23:18:18-04:00

Mental Illness: Explanation or Excuse

This is not something I want to write. It's something I feel compelled to write. First, an explanation. Mental illness is a serious problem, both for those of us who have it and for our loved ones impacted by it. It is a also a major societal issue. How we care for those who are most vulnerable is a reflection of who we are and what we believe. If we let "the least of these" fall through the cracks, we will be judged by our consciences and by our faith convictions. God does not look lightly at those abusing His children. Mental illness is a medical condition stemming from faulty brain chemistry which current medical science can treat, but not cure. My own bipolar disorder is considered a serious mental illness (SMI). SMIs are disabling conditions that are chronic. You can't just take a pill and make them go [...]

Mental Illness: Explanation or Excuse2019-07-21T22:04:05-04:00

The Level Ground of Praise Gatherings

My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the Lord. (Psalm 22.6) Faith gives you an inner strength and a sense of balance and perspective in life. ~ Gregory Peck The past 10 days I have enjoyed beautiful balance. It's a precious gift. Not something I experience very often. I don't rely on it, as it is so rare and fleeting. But I will enjoy it while it lasts. As someone with bipolar, balance is not something I can readily achieve. Certainly, there are ways I can avoid aggravating our condition to extremes. Things I've been doing over the past 10 days that boost the watchdog chemicals in my brain -- serotonin (combatting mood swings) and dopamine (battling depression). Things like going for a morning walk. Avoiding excess sugars and alcohol. Prayer and reflection on Scripture. Regular and ample sleep. All of these things have [...]

The Level Ground of Praise Gatherings2019-07-17T23:48:30-04:00

Preparing for Fiery Trials

My soul is searing. Not from the burning wrath of God but from the fiery grace of Christ. The past month has been the most challenging one I can remember over the past decade. I spent 3 weeks in a dungeon of despair, lost in a thick haze of hopeless regret over perceived personal failings that left me feeling irredeemable. Then, around midnight 11 days ago  the fog lifted; my dry bones were enfleshed with spiritual sinews. I walked unweary. I flew like an eagle full of promise and purpose. The psychological diagnosis for this is bipolar disorder. The spiritual diagnosis I’m coming to discern is being tested by the Lord; or, tempted by Satan. Or could it be both? Reflecting on an emotional meltdown 24 hours ago, I’ve come to relate intimately with the baptism of Jesus followed immediately by his desert temptation by the Accuser. Jesus understood his relationship to [...]

Preparing for Fiery Trials2019-07-07T17:10:41-04:00

The Painful Best

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  (Psalm 42:5)   As one who is touched with bipolar depression, I write about spiritual darkness. Yet, as a believer, I see the light of Christ shining through this darkness. The following are from posts written over the course of the last 6 years. If I have done my job as a Christian who has bipolar, you will find hope to handle despair with the strong arm of faith.   April 9, 2013   I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live...(Deuteronomy 30:19) When I read the news of Matthew Warren's suicide yesterday, I felt sick to my stomach.  I [...]

The Painful Best2019-06-26T03:18:53-04:00

Darkness is My Closest Companion

My friend and my neighbor have put away from me, and darkness is my only companion. (Psalm 88:18; Book of Common Prayer)   "... depression is not just sadness or sorrow. Depression is not just negative thinking. Depression is not just being "down." It is being cast to the very end of your tether and, quite frankly, being dropped... The sick individual cannot simply shrug it off or pull out of it. While God certainly can pick up the pieces and put them together in a new way, this can only happen if the depressed brain makes it through to see again life among the living."  ~ Kathryn Greene-McCreight, Darkness is My Only Companion.   It's been 14 days that have passed like 14 years. Some days I lay in bed into late afternoon. One it was 6 p.m. Other days I'm up well before dawn. Up or down, the [...]

Darkness is My Closest Companion2019-06-19T06:02:20-04:00

Can we prevent suicide? How? {Note: Trigger Warning}

“When people are suicidal, their thinking is paralyzed, their options appear spare or nonexistent, their mood is despairing, and hopelessness permeates their entire mental domain. The future cannot be separated from the present, and the present is painful beyond solace. ‘This is my last experiment,’ wrote a young chemist in his suicide note. ‘If there is any eternal torment worse than mine I’ll have to be shown.” ― Kay Redfield Jamison, Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide   "When I came to my senses in the hospital bed after my suicide attempt, I had to face the reality that I had tried to abandon God. At the same time, I discovered that God had not abandoned me."  --Tony Roberts, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.   I have walked close to suicide, both in my pastoral and personal lives. I have seen it in the bandaged wrists of a teenage girl. [...]

Can we prevent suicide? How? {Note: Trigger Warning}2019-06-10T22:30:07-04:00