Tag Archives: bipolar disorder

The Survivors of Suicide

NaseknanThis week is National Suicide Prevention Week. It is heartbreaking to think that suicide is that pervasive of a problem in our society to warrant such a week. And yet it is. Suicide takes the lives of over 30,000 Americans every year. There are twice as many deaths from suicide as there are from HIV/AIDS. It is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year old Americans. And there are more than 800,000 attempted suicides every year.

Those are the statistics.

And then there are the stories.

Perhaps the worst thing about suicide is the pain it causes to those left behind. These people are known as the survivors. And telling our stories can help us to heal from the trauma of this experience.

When Gia Allemand, the reality television star, took her own life last month, the topic of suicide became a part of a national discussion. Gia’s distraught mother spoke with Dr. Phil about her feelings, which echo those of many survivors.

Sometimes there are warning signs. And then sometimes the incident seems to come from out of nowhere. That’s how it was when I found out that my friend Ophir had died. I remember getting a phone call from our mutual friend Curt. He was in a state of disbelief as he had just gotten the news. It took a few phone calls to figure out exactly what had happened. Ophir had committed suicide.

I knew Ophir as an extremely talented and creative composer. We worked together on several music projects. We had a close friendship and a great respect for each other. Ophir helped me bring my songs to life. When Ophir had a hernia operation, I had him stay at my home while he recovered.

I was aware that Ophir used drugs. I spoke with him about it many times, offering him alternatives, and suggestions for a more healthy way of life. But he did not want to hear it. He did not want to talk about it. He always functioned perfectly well when we were working, and he assured me that he did not have a problem. When I heard that Ophir had died, I assumed it was an accidental overdose. But there was no accident about Ophir’s death. He planned it. He put a rifle in his mouth and shot himself.

Like most people do in this situation, I started asking myself all kinds of questions. What could I have done to prevent this? Why didn’t I see this was coming? What was so terrible that he had to do this? I felt awful, not only for myself, but for his family, everyone who loved him. Suicide is such a violent act. It is terribly hurtful to everyone left behind with so many unanswerable questions. I don’t know what brought Ophir to his decision. I do know and recognize that although our relationship has changed, he is still very much a part of my life. I have the songs we wrote together on my websites. He taught me so much about music and the creative process. When certain songs come on the radio I am reminded of him, and his amazing energy, sweet smile, and sly sense of humor. His words still influence me. His music still moves me.

I know the agreement Ophir and I had was complete even before his death. There was no unfinished business between us. We learned from each other, both creatively and personally. At his funeral I met many others who felt the same way.

This was the second time that I had been affected by suicide. When I was around eleven years old, shortly after my parents’ divorce, my mother’s brother took his own life. He was a Vietnam veteran, and he became hooked on drugs while he was in the war. When he got home, he couldn’t handle normal life after seeing everything he saw in combat. His drug problem got worse, he would have hallucinations, and he overdosed to escape the pain.

I saw how this shattered my mother and grandmother. He also left behind a wife and baby daughter. It was tragic. As a child I could sense how awful this was for everyone. And now as an adult I can see how my uncle’s life mattered. Even in the short time he was with us, he brought joy to his mother and love to his family. He struggled with life, and he chose to die. But while he was here he lived, and he had the opportunities and experiences that allowed him to learn and grow. He may not have made the best choices, but they were his choices. In situations like this you have to get past the blame, and the guilt, and know that there is nothing you could have done to change the outcome. For whatever reason, this person took his own life. It is not rational, or logical, or right. But it is irreversible. And we learned by going through all of this together as a family.

Chaim Nissel, PsyD is the Director of Yeshiva University’s Counseling Center in New York City, and an expert with the American Association of Suicidology. He has this to say about coping with the loss of a loved one from suicide:

The death of a loved one by suicide has all the trappings of conventional grief plus a host of other intense, difficult, and confusing emotions. These include feelings of guilt and responsibility, anger and blame and often a disconnect with the individual who killed himself. When we lose a loved one to cancer or AIDS, we accept the reality, feel the loss, grieve, yet we don’t blame ourselves. Following a suicide, it is hard to accept the reality that the individual chose death. We feel responsible and wonder “if I had only…..” he’d be alive today. We would rather blame ourselves because it is difficult to place the responsibility where it belongs, on the individual who killed himself.

One who experiences the death of a loved one to suicide is fittingly called a “survivor.” They must now learn to cope and survive their loss. Most survivors experience anger, guilt and emotional turmoil. There is often anger at the deceased for taking their own life, it is seen as selfish, because their pain ends, but the survivor’s pain begins. Guilt over what they could have and should have done to prevent it (although if the loved one wanted to die, they would have despite your interventions). We like to think that we can control events, but when another person is in such emotional pain that they want to die, the choice to kill themselves remains their choice, despite everything that you can and did offer them.

There is still tremendous stigma and shame associated with suicide and when the fact that one died by suicide is hidden or denied, it becomes so much more difficult to come to terms with it. When we try to “cover” or pretend the death was accidental, it takes its toll on the survivors and will impact them the rest of their lives.

To help us find closure, Dr. Nissel has this advice:

  • Talk about it! Find supportive people in your life who you can share your feelings with.
  • Focus on the person’s life, and the good memories you have of the person. Know that you will never truly know why he killed himself.
  • Recognize that the person’s pain is over, now it’s time to start healing your own pain.
  • Have answers prepared for when people ask questions. This will help reduce your anxiety and emotional reactions. You can say “He took his own life” or “died by suicide” or even “he suffered a long illness.” If someone is persistent, blaming or insensitive, you can say “it is too difficult to talk about right now” and end the conversation.
  • Know that you are not responsible for your loved one’s death, in any way. Only the individual who killed himself is responsible.
  • Know that the likelihood is that the person was in such pain, for so long and now the suffering is over. 90% of those who die by suicide suffered from some form of mental illness, most commonly an affective disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Seek resources such as professional counseling, support groups, and books.
  • Being exposed to a suicide makes you somewhat more susceptible to suicidal thinking. If you are having thoughts of killing yourself, get help immediately by contacting a local psychologist or psychiatrist. If you feel you may act on these suicidal impulses, call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (afsp.org) helps survivors of suicide. Actress Michelle Ray Smith, who played “Ava” on the daytime drama “Guiding Light,” talked about her father’s suicide in an interview with Soap Opera Digest magazine a few years back. She said that participating in AFSP’s “Out of the Darkness” event, an overnight 20 mile walk, helped her connect with people who had been through the same thing. “For the first time since he died – it’s been three years in September – I feel at peace.”

Talking with people, sharing our stories, is one way that we can help each other to heal.

For more information about how to find closure go to http://www.closurebook.com

Four winning ways to overcome mental illness

Mental Patients Against Stigma Mental health problems have run in my family for years. I spent my childhood with a mother who was in and out of mental facilities in the 1940s and 1950s, and bless her heart, she did as well as she could in those days. In the United States we are finally coming into a time when many understand that a person with mental health issues is not some spooky kind of person, but is a person who needs medical treatment, just like people with physical health issues.  We have treatments that are far advanced to what was available when my mother was struggling.

However, if you or a loved one are suffering from a mental health issues such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, it is still a struggle even with the best medical help.  Having been around so many people in my family with mental health issues, I have come to see that the people who are proactive and have the will to fight for a happy life do indeed find joy.  Those who give up are not very happy.  Here are four things that I have observed people do to create a good life despite their mental illness.

  1. Be Proactive: The winner is proactive about getting treatment. Knowing that it takes time to diagnose and find the right medication to treat a mental health issue, the winner is patient and keeps going back to the doctor until he or she feels better.  Those who have clinical depression and their loved ones are well aware that a psychiatrist may have to experiment with several medications before finding the one that works for a particular patient.  The winner does not give up during this difficult time. He or she watches funny movies to lighten this difficult period of time.
  2. Eat healthy: The winner is aware that eating a healthy diet is more important than ever now, and stays away from a lot of caffeine or alcohol.  The winner instinctively knows that feeling good physically is crucial now.  This IS the time to learn to cook new healthy food. This IS the time to spend an afternoon investigating a new market that sells freshly grown local food.  These activities bring a sense of well-being to the winner.
  3. Exercise: The winner exercises regularly, unless there is some physical reason not to do so. And even if the winner does have some physical challenges, he or she asks the doctor to recommend exercise that is appropriate.  The winner understands that exercise releases stress from both the body and mind, and exercise can help a great deal.
  4. Spiritual Practice:  The winner has a spiritual program to turn to, be it a church, temple, twelve step program or support group.   The winner does not drown in self-pity but finds a way to have gratitude for all that is good in life.  While fighting a mental health problem it becomes more important than ever to have faith that life will get better and that there is a Higher Power, God or Divine Consciousness there to help.

Of course there are some who grapple with such severe mental health issues that it becomes impossible to even engage in these behaviors. Our hearts go out to them.  But a greater percentage of those with mental health problems ARE well enough to be winners, if only they stay motivated and do not give up. I have seen many of them succeed.  Should I ever have a mental illness, they will give me hope. I am so proud of those I love who have mental health issues and are winners.


Growing Up Bipolar

“Were you bipolar growing up?” a magazine editor asked me the other day.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Do you think you were misdiagnosed back then as depressed?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

I wasn’t annoyed. I wasn’t rushed. I just really don’t know.

I can clearly say that something was wrong with me, but I’m very careful to throw the “bipolar” word around when it pertains to kids given all the debate today on the topic.

Friends of mine rant on another friend for medicating their daughter for bipolar disorder, who, according to the friends’ eyes, is perfectly fine.

And then I hear the sadness and utter frustration of another friend whose bipolar daughter was just expelled from school.

While I tend to be pretty conservative about meds myself (you’d never guess that, right?) — taking only what I absolutely have to — there is no way I would judge a mother who is trying to find the best possible treatment for her daughter, which may very well include hefty meds.


PHOTO (cc): Flickr / apdk

Coming off Medication

I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for 20 years, and have found medication that works very well to keep me grounded, yet able to pursue spirituality.  I am generally happy with my life as it is.  When I see homeopathic doctors, they always mention getting off my medication, and it feels that there is an urgency or certainty to their opinion.  Is there a benefit to seeking the path on which to reduce my medication now that I feel stabilized?  Is there a way to do this sensibly?
Ideal healing for a mental problem such as bipolar disorder would be to correct the underlying imbalance in the mind and body and so eventually eliminate the need for drugs. Given that your situation is stabilized and you are fairly happy, looking for a way to gradually wean yourself off the medication would seem like the natural next step. Now that you have established some balance, you want to see how much of that job your body can take over by itself now.
I would say it is urgent that you get off right away. You should talk to your prescribing doctor and let her know what your thoughts are and ask for her guidance to see if it is time to ease you off gradually.

Eating for Mental Health

Many people seeking help for mental health issues look first to chemical intervention in the form of a medication.  There is another chemical intervention which you can utilize yourself – your diet.  Having a healthy diet is crucial when trying to fight for your mental health, especially where mood disorders are concerned.  How can dietary changes affect depression, anxiety and mood swings?

Good mental health is about maintaining balance, in your thoughts, in your actions and especially in your emotions.  When addressing nutrition for mental health it is important to understand how food nourishes and fuels your body as well as the part it plays in providing your body with necessary nutrients for maintaining that balance that it is important for peace of mind. 

Complex Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy.  Your body will burn carbohydrates first before turning to protein or fats.  A lack of energy sources in the body will result in the body shutting down and altering activity levels.  People who are chronically tired often feel sad and hopeless as a result.  To keep your emotions on an even keel it is important to have a slow steady stream of carbohydrates broken down and made available in the bloodstream for energy.

People struggling with depression and/or mood swings often rely heavily on simple carbohydrates (sugars) rather than complex carbohydrates (starches).  Simple carbohydrates (candies, table sugar, honey, sodas, fruits, milk products) break down quickly in the bloodstream and hit it with a bang that provides immediate energy.  This is why they are preferred by people with depression.  However, what goes up must come down, usually with the same speed and intensity.  The surge of energy is followed by a crash when the sugar is quickly burned up.  This crash exacerbates depression, fatigue, impaired concentration and memory and irritability.  However, all simple carbohydrates are not equal.  There is a difference between the simplest carbohydrates like table sugar, sodas and candies which are referred to as "empty calories" because they provide so much glucose, an easily broken down form of sugar, and no nutritional value.  Compare these with fruits and milk products whose sugars (fructose and galactose respectively) are somewhat harder to break down, enter the bloodstream a bit more gradually and have a somewhat milder crash and provide significant nutrition such as vitamin C and calcium.  If you are craving something sweet have an apple or orange rather than a candy bar. 

Complex carbohydrates (whole grains, starchy vegetables and beans) are even harder for the body to metabolize and provide and slow, constant stream of fuel for the body’s energy demands.  This avoids the peaks and crashes of the simple carbohydrates.  Whole grains also provide lots of B vitamins which calm and stabilize the mood and help your body metabolize carbohydrates for increased energy. 


It is important to eat high quality proteins like chicken, fish, turkey, soy, dairy products and beans.  (I am a very big fan of beans.  They are usually high in protein, low in fat and high in fiber.)  Proteins are made of amino acids.  Your body uses amino acids to make neurotransmitters in the brain.  These chemicals (like serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and GABA) are the chemicals which antidepressants and anxiolytics (anti-anxiety medications) seek to increase to improve your mood and calm you.  Chicken and turkey are also high in tryptophan, which the body also uses to make serotonin, one of the primary neurotransmitters for lifting and calming the mood.  Running short on these neurotransmitters results in depression, irritability, difficulty thinking and remembering, insomnia, fatigue and anxiety.  Having sufficient stores of these neurotransmitters available to the brain helps it regulate emotions and thinking.  Providing your body with the necessary ingredients to manufacture these neurotransmitters is vital for improving your mental health and keeping things in balance.   


The benefits of a low fat diet for fighting weight gain and heart disease have been highly touted.  However, many don’t realize that limiting your fat intake too severely of healthy fats can result in serious mood changes, irritability and aggression.  The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have been found to help stabilize mood swings and decrease stress.  "Good fats" burn clean in the bloodstream compared to "bad fats" which clog the arteries and narrow the blood vessels.  Good fats include olive oil, nuts, seeds, avocadoes and fish.  Exchange that fried chicken for a grilled salmon.  Replace a mayonnaise dressing with an olive oil and vinegar splash. 


It’s always amazing to me to find people struggling with serious anxiety problems who are still drinking a significant amount of caffeine everyday.  Since I don’t drink caffeine on a regular basis I have no tolerance for it and it literally makes me shake when I do drink it.  I can’t imagine throwing that in on top of an anxiety problem.  If anxiety is the problem, I would eliminate caffeine all together and see if it helps.

For people with mood disorders, caffeine provides a serious rush of energy, but like simple carbohydrates (sugars) you crash when it wears off.  This peak and crash pattern is not good for people trying to stabilize mood swings and the crash will exacerbate depressive symptoms.


Your body needs water to regulate body temperature and to provide the means for nutrients to travel to all your organs. Water also transports oxygen to your cells, removes waste, and protects your joints and organs.  Not drinking enough water can cause fatigue, irritability, clouded thinking and mood swings.  Give up the coffee and sodas and drink water.  Tea and Crystal Light are not the same as plain water and the caffeine and diuretic effects of some teas offset the water intake.  Add a bit of lemon or lime to make it more palatable.  Throw a handful of bottled waters in the fridge.  When you leave to run errands, commute to work or take the kids to school, grab a bottle and sip it along the way.  Set a bottle at your desk to sip all day.  It’s amazing how much water you can pour down without thinking about it.  When I first started drinking water I had a hard time.  I didn’t like the taste and strongly craved my old sodas and coffee.  But I stuck with it and found that once I got into the habit, my body now craves water instead of other drinks.  A client of mine swears that two bottles of water in the morning give him more energy and mental alertness than his coffee used to – without the mid afternoon crash. 


Balance is the goal for good mental health and your diet is no different.  Be sure to eat from all food groups so that you are getting the proper amount of nutrients for your body and its systems to fire on all 6 cylinders.  Iron for energy and oxygenated blood, B vitamins to calm and reduce stress, vitamin C to strength your immune system, and so on. 

Many people rely solely on medication to ease emotional distress, but actively working to change your diet can significantly affect how you feel and empower you to participate in your own treatment and health.  Providing the body with a steady stream of healthy fuel, the nutrients it needs to process and use that fuel along with the fluid it needs to hydrate its many systems will help keep your mind and body in balance during a stress-filled day. 

Read more articles about mental health on my blog:  www.kellevision.com


Mood Swings are Normal

I see more and more clients who have gone to their doctor complaining of "mood swings", being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and placed on mood stabilizers.  Yet when I talk to them they do not meet the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar Disorder.  When I talk to them more I get an interesting picture.

When I ask them to describe their mood swings they describe having emotions.  They simply feel their emotions.  How did we get to a place where this is diagnosed as being abnormal and medicated with a very serious, and often dangerous class of drugs? 

Human beings have mood swings.  This is normal.  This is what makes us human.  If I get up in the morning and I’m having a good hair day, I awake refreshed and excited about going to work, I’m wearing something I feel particularly good in and the weather is beautiful, I may be in a really good mood.  I may feel happy, content, and energetic.  I get in my car to drive to work and accidentally spill coffee all over myself.  I am now in a quite different mood.  I may experience, anger, frustration, irritation or sadness.  I manage to clean up the mess and recoup what’s left of my good mood.  I go on to work where I hear that the funding for our program may be cut.  I am now in yet another mood. I may be feeling anxiety, fear, trepidation, worry, frustration or irritation.  This is all normal.  This is how human beings function.  We have emotional reactions to things going on around us or happening to us.  This does not need to be medicated. 

So what happens if we are facing some particularly difficult life challenges and feeling some particularly uncomfortable emotions as a result?  Emotions like anger, fear, anxiety, frustration or sadness?  If we are so sad or anxious that we cease to function, medication may be temporarily appropriate to get us throuogh this difficult time and bring us back up to a level where we can at least function.  But only in extreme circumstances.  If we experience something painful in our lives we need to feel it.  People often ask why we need to experience such unpleasant feelings when we have medications that will numb them.  There are several reasons for this. 

1.  Medications, like mood stabilizers, which tranquilize or damp down negative emotions also numb positive emotions.  Though we may feel the pain of a recent death less, we may also be less able to enjoy happiness or pleasure either.  A hug from our child, a walk on a beautiful day, our favorite music or food, a get together with friends, playing our favorite sport.  The intensity and joy we feel during these events may be numbed as well.

2.  Medications also prevent us from learning more natural ways of handling intense emotions.  We come to rely on the medications alone to do all the work.  It’s important to develop the skills necessary to manage uncomfortable emotions.  If you don’t learn to deal with the death of a close family member or friend when you are 30, how are you going to deal with the death of your friends and family at 70, when it is going to start happening more often?  Working through grief teaches us how to cope with it.  It allows us to develop ways of comforting ourselves and skills for living with suffering that we will need later.  It gives us a chance to look at our own lives and find what is important in them.  Things we will need to hang onto later.  If we don’t develop these skills gradually over time, we suddenly arrive at old age.  We now have to deal with a myriad of problems; our own declining health, the deaths of friends, family or spouses, the inability to work, our increasing dependence on others.  How are we going to deal with all of these issues if we haven’t developed strategies for coping along the way?  We may find ourselves standing like a deer caught in the headlights with absolutely no way of handling it.  Or we may be so doped up on medications that we no longer experience our own lives.  And if you are not experiencing your life, what is the point of living it? 

Suffering is part of life, but only part of it.  Learning to have your emotions and be comfortable with them makes life a much richer tapestry of experiences.  It’s the difference between eating fat-free, sugar-free ice cream and Haagen Dazs.  It’s the difference between listening to your favorite music on a transistor radio and listening to it on your home stereo system or in a concert hall. 

Does this mean that I think that no one has Bipolar Disorder?  Absolutely not.  Bipolar Disorder exists and requires medication.  Though counseling may help people with Bipolar Disorder develop skills for coping with the disorder, it can only be controlled with medication.  For people with a true Bipolar diagnosis, medication may be the only thing that keeps it from totally destroying their lives and I would never advocate that they go without it. 

My concern is for people who are actually experiencing the normal emotions of life, labeling them "mood swings" and trying to medicate their discomfort away.  My concern is for doctors who participate in this and validate it.  My concern is for teaching people that emotions can be "negative" and undesirable.  That they are "bad" in some way and should be eliminated, by chemical intervention or any other means.  This is not a message we want to send.  Emotions are what make us human.  And expressing them is what keeps us sane. 

You can read more about mental health issues at my blog:  www.kellevision.com.


Steeler’s Secret Weapon Could Help YOU!

What an amazing Super Bowl game! I am so proud to be a Pittsburger! Why are the Steelers the best football team in the land?

 Is it Mike Tomlin’s coaching? The motivation to be the first team to win six Super Bowls? The brilliance of Big Ben? Maybe. It also could have been Dr. Michael Gross’s fish oil!
Yes, the Steelers have been swallowing fish oil as part of a two-year study appearing in the new journal Sports Health: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach.   Why fish oil? Because it is an anti-inflammatory agent that hastens healing, and has been shown to improve attention, reaction time and cognitive processing.
For the past ten years or so, doctors have been using fish oil successfully with children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and autism. Drs. Doris Rapp and Billie Sahley were pioneers in using fish oil. The Defeat Autism Now! protocol recommends a fish oil as a foundational supplement in the biomedical approach to autism.  
Dr. Andrew Stoll, a Harvard psychiatrist who was looking for an alternative to medications for his patients with depression and bipolar disorder discovered that fish oil raised and evened out their moods naturally, and without undesirable side effects. He wrote about it in his book The Omega-3 Connection.
Fish oils are essential fatty acids or EFAs. They are a crucial part of the structure of the nervous system, which is 60-70% fat. EFAs must be ingested, as the body cannot produce them. Unfortunately, the standard American diet is low in EFAs. Furthermore, non-essential fatty acids, such as the hydrogenated vegetable oils used to make margarine, and to fry fast food are high in trans-fatty acids. These “bad fats” may affect neuronal fluidity by virtue of different chemical structure compared to the biologically preferred cis fatty acids, and can interfere with an individual’s ability to make use of the marginal amounts of EFAs consumed.
High quality EFAs are mercury-free. Safe ones usually come from Norway. Reliable brands are  Carlsons, Nordic Naturals and Spectrum. They offer many delivery systems from capsules to oils (yes, Grandma was correct in forcing the cod liver oil!) and even pudding-like pastes that taste like a creamsicle from Coromega   
Maybe it’s time for you and all aspiring young quarterbacks to rethink fat. 
For more information on fish oils for autism spectrum disorders, read my new book, EnVISIONing a Bright Future

Bipolar Disorder and Enlightenment

Question to Deepak:  How do you know if you are experiencing a higher state of consciousness or you have a mental illness such as Bipolar 2?  I have had what I thought were higher states of consciousness such as feeling the presence of God but now that I have been diagnosed with a mental illness (Bipolar II) I do not know what to believe, what is real and what is not.

Answer from Deepak: Higher states of consciousness are generally understood in the Eastern wisdom traditions to be a permanent state of self-realization that actualizes one’s potentiality, creativity, intelligence and compassion. It is not a temporary glimpse or episode of insight, ecstasy or inspiration.
So while it is possible that you have had a real spiritual experience even though you have a bipolar diagnosis, that is a different thing than a higher state of consciousness. The state of enlightenment is a stable, balanced, integrated and functional state of living. It is   living your life with limitations and illusions removed, so it is quite distinct from bipolar disorder.