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Depression Articles

Why I Am Against Targeting Zero Symptoms For Bipolar Disorder and Calling That Thriving

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

There is a new effort to promote complete remission as the goal of treatment for people with bipolar in disorder and I am fundamentaly opposed to it. I have written about the topic many times, so I will repost the article that had the most discussion:

I wrote an article some time ago that I deviously titled “Why I Am Against Bipolar Meds” because I wanted to attract and call out both extremes in the debate. I argued for a moderate stance and we had a good discussion with all points of view respectfully considered.

My friend Dr. Nassir Ghaemi wrote an article recently in response and clarified some important points. Dr Ghaemi is the Director of the Mood Disorders Program at Tufts Medical Center in Boston and is familiar with my work; he quoted some of it in his recent book, “A First-Rate Madness: Uncovering the Links Between Leadership and Mental Illness.” The discussion from his article went further into the med controversy, but also veered into new territory that I would like to address: My opposition to remission as the end goal of treatment.

One particular reply from Dr. Ghaemi gets to the crux of my issue; “In a substantial minority of people with bipolar disorder, about one-third, lithium produces complete remission of all symptoms. They never have another bipolar episode, and sometimes symptom, the rest of their lives. My point is, though, that even with full remission of all symptoms, people often need to make other efforts to get to functional recovery in life, repairing relationships and resuming work or other activities that they had not been able to complete in the past due to the interference of bipolar symptoms.”

As I am familiar with his work, I understand the point of view, but am concerned that some might misinterpret this to mean something different from what I believe he intends. Such a view is certainly not compatible with the premise of “A First Rate Madness,” so I am pretty sure Dr. Ghaemi does not mean what it may sound like to some. I am hoping this article will help clarify it …


Bipolar People Get Angry Too

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

screamBipolar in disorder combined with anger is a very dangerous mix. The disordered person tends to become very volatile and can explode into a rage with little provocation. It is best for the person to avoid anything that might trigger anger until the disorder is in remission, but even then an angering stimulus can trigger another manic or depressive episode with anger as one of the troubling elements.

Bipolar people who have their condition in order have learned important lessons that can be applied to most of our experiences. For example, since we understand bipolar so well that we can function highly during depression and mania, we can also handle more intense states of anger without losing control.

As with every experience, most people can usually function fine when anger is at a very low intensity, but when the intensity of anger increases beyond their comfort zone they begin to lose the ability to choose their response to it. They act in ways that are less than optimal. They may even become a danger to themselves and others if the anger becomes too intense.


Are You Causing Stigma While Fighting Against It?

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Individuals and organizations throughout the world are dedicated to the important work of removing the stigma that affects people with depression and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, too many of them are replacing one type of stigma with another type that is making the situation worse. While advocating for others to stop judging those who suffer from the conditions, they are causing a self-stigma that increases and prolongs the suffering.

My friend Andy Behrman says, “If we want to eradicate stigma, we must first understand what stigma is: ignorance, fear & discrimination.” Of the hundreds of statements about stigma, this one captures it the best for me. Everything else is an offshoot of these three core problems.

There is certainly an incredible amount of ignorance surrounding depression and bipolar disorder. Even if we were able to clear up the many misperceptions about either condition, there is so much more we need to know to fully understand them. Depression and bipolar disorder affect every part of our lives (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and career/financial) and most people are aware of only a fraction of any of the parts.

We can be afraid of many things, but the worst fear is of the things we are ignorant of. The combination of fear and ignorance is so powerful that many people think fear is just another word for ignorance. They even have an acronym for it: FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real. But when we understand fear and the role it plays in our condition, we can use it as a tool instead of letting it destroy us.

When most people talk about stigma, they are mostly concerned with discrimination and the role that ignorance and fear play in creating it. Discrimination holds us back from accomplishing what we are capable of because it robs us of opportunities that are available to others. We end up with a diminished life that is far below what should have been.

I learned about stigma soon after my first diagnosis with bipolar disorder. I began going to support groups to try to learn as much as I could about the condition and was told that I needed …


Mindfulness Does Not Lead To Happiness

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

The part of our minds that most people identify with is the part that silently talks to us with a running commentary. We listen to it all day long. Let’s call it “The Talker.”

“The Talker” prefers pleasure over pain, happiness over sadness, winning over losing, health over sickness, and any of the other judgments that help us navigate our lives. Although it plays a critical role that we cannot live without, “The Talker” is stuck in the duality that makes us judge one thing better than another. It does not allow us to experience the world without judgment.

The central principle of mindfulness is to look at experiences without judgment. Adherents of mindfulness often speak of the part that practices mindfulness as “The Watcher.” It lives outside of the duality and sees everything as equally valuable. Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that increases awareness of what is really happening because “The Watcher” does not ignore or accentuate details based on preferences.

Unfortunately, many claim that mindfulness leads to happiness. As happiness and sadness are judgments based on preferences, this breaks with the whole concept of looking at our experiences without judgment. Mindfulness practiced properly does not lead to happiness; it leads to a greater awareness of whatever you are experiencing whether you like it or not.mindfulness


Bipolar Children of Undiagnosed Parents

Monday, September 30th, 2013

We get a lot of calls from parents who are looking for help with their bipolar children. We make great progress within the first few visits, but too often run into an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. While the bipolar issues are certainly part of the problem, the family dynamics are a bigger issue.

Since the child has usually been diagnosed before contacting us, the parents assume all conflicts will be resolved as soon as the child is no longer in disorder. All issues are seen as being caused by bipolar disorder and the rest of the family is completely innocent; it is as if the diagnosis suddenly made everyone else perfect.

This does not happen when the parents have been diagnosed with any psychological issues. The parents recognize their own issues that need to be addressed and how those issues play a role in the conflicts. Even if the diagnosis is completely different from bipolar disorder, there is a recognition that nobody is perfect and we all have room for improvement.


Eight Essential Steps To Freedom From Bipolar Disorder

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013

Please check out our newest video – Eight Essential Steps To Freedom From Bipolar Disorder – This is from the keynote presentation at the annual conference for the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists – Please comment and share with anyone you think might be interested.


Burning The Bible – Let’s not replace one set of dogma with another.

Monday, May 6th, 2013

bookburningcrpdThomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, has issued a sharply worded condemnation of the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).  The DSM has long been considered the “Bible” of Psychiatry and has recently been under attack from many angles, but this announcement might be a game changer. It will be interesting to watch how it all plays out.

According to Dr. Insel, “it is, at best, a dictionary, creating a set of labels and defining each. The strength of each of the editions of DSM has been “reliability” – each edition has ensured that clinicians use the same terms in the same ways. The weakness is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure. In the rest of medicine, this would be equivalent to creating diagnostic systems based on the nature of chest pain or the quality of fever. Indeed, symptom-based diagnosis, once common in other areas of medicine, has been largely replaced in the past half century as we have understood that symptoms alone rarely indicate the best choice of treatment.”


Accounting For Time In Depression and Mania

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

When I look at how they account for time in the DSM-V, I wonder if they know anything about depression or bipolar. They know time plays an important role, but they don’t seem to understand the role that time plays whatsoever. By the way they define it, you can have a very low intensity depression for 14 days and it’s called depression, yet an intense depression for 13 days doesn’t count. This makes no sense at all, yet is the only accounting for time they provide.

Properly accounting for time takes an understanding of the relationship between time and intensity. You cannot learn that relationship by asking people a brief checklist of common symptoms as is done in the currently popular assessments. You need to know the right questions to ask.

I learned the right questions by doing more accurate assessments that include asking about the relationship at different intensities between awareness, understanding, functionality, comfort, and value mentioned in the previous articles in this series. This led to a deeper understanding of how to ask about time.

The most important question to ask about time is how long before each level of intensity causes one to lose functionality. When we base the answer on a thorough functionality assessment, we understand the relationship between time and intensity in ways the authors of the DSM completely miss.

Time_Managed

Although intensity is a major factor in predicting how long one can remain highly functional, there are many others equally important. If one is not aware of the lowest intensities of depression or mania until functionality has already been lost, for example, there is very little time to do something about it and avoid another crisis.


Finding Value In Depression And Mania

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Assuming you are not deeply depressed right now, try to remember the time when you were in the deepest depression of your life. Can you see any way it might have changed your life for the better? Did it make you more sensitive to the feelings of others? Are you better at helping others during their difficult times because you have had the experience yourself? Are there things you learned from being deeply depressed? Are you a better person because of the experience? What is the value in having been through it? On a scale from one to one hundred, how would you rank the value in having been deeply depressed?

These seem like unusual questions to some people. Wouldn’t we be better off trying to forget our depressions and get on with our lives? Can’t we just hope that depression remains in the past and we never have to face it again? Ignoring past episodes may sound like a better approach, but refusing to take a hard look at depression or mania leaves us ill prepared for the next time it comes. Unfortunately, if depression or mania happened before, it is likely to happen again.

Looking at how we value depression and mania is an important part of any assessment; a part that is sorely missing in most protocols. The laundry list of symptoms in most assessments belie an incorrect assumption that the items are all seen as negative.

depressiongraphWe have been asking the above questions (and many more) for several years now and have learned a great deal about the role value plays in depression and mania. Although our data is not yet extensive enough to make final declarations, there are many surprising trends that are too important to delay sharing.


Expanding The Comfort Zone In Bipolar And Depression Leads To Measurably Better Results

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Understanding the role of comfort is critical for getting Bipolar IN Order. To do so, we must measure comfort at each level of intensity for both mania and depression. When we compare comfort levels to awareness, understanding, functionality, value, and the time before escalation, we find the optimal intensities where bipolar is an advantage in our lives.

In any aspect of life, those who only seek comfort are consigned to mediocrity and boredom. Those who judiciously step outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves are the ones who learn and grow. This is equally true with mania and depression.

The best growth, though, happens just slightly outside the comfort zone. Too far outside and the lack of comfort can cause you to shrink instead.

Too many times, bipolar people step too far outside their comfort zones and find themselves at an intensity of depression or mania that is far beyond their control. Many of them become so frightened by it they hide inside their comfort zone hoping to remain there the rest of their lives. They accept a diminished story of their lives because they believe they have no other choice. They fear one wrong step will rapidly escalate back to an uncomfortable and out-of-control state.

Graph of Depression IntensityWhen we carefully assess comfort (along with the other criteria) at various levels of intensity, we find close relationships between understanding, functionality, and comfort. One’s level of understanding, if accurately assessed, predicts the levels of functionality and comfort, for example. One’s level of comfort also influences the ability grow in understanding and function more effectively; all three are intimately tied together.

Such assessments lead to a far more accurate identification of the demarcation lines of an individual’s comfort zone. These assessments also help the individual to recognize the next level of intensity where depression or mania has just begun to go too far. The ability to find the zone between the lines is the key to success. We need to cross the line and go outside of our comfort zone to grow, but not so far that lack of comfort harms us.


Bipolar In Order
Check out Tom Wootton's new book!
Bipolar In Order:
Looking At Depression, Mania, Hallucination, and
Delusion From The Other Side

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