Mentally ill now and forever…amen.

By Christine Stapleton

Every now and then I get a glimpse of what my mental illnesses look like.

It’s been a long time. I have taken my medications without fail for years.  I exercise, eat healthy foods, get as much sleep as I can, visit my psych-nurse practitioner every three months and I get on my knees every night and thank God for my sobriety. In other word, I do what I am told – an unnatural act for me.

But for the last two weeks I have been under an unconscionable amount of stress. I say “unconscionable” because I allowed it to happen.shutterstock_176869352

As a reporter for a daily newspaper, I am accustomed to stress. For nearly 30 years I have lived with a deadline hanging over my head. I took six weeks off to have a baby, 8 weeks for my last major depression but other than the one- or two-week vacations, I have had a deadline over my head.

Recently, I accepted  an assignment which today I realize I should not  have done. I agreed to leave my home and my dog, suspend my exercise routine and healthy eating habits and forego nights of 8-hours of sleep to cover the Florida legislature’s last two-weeks in session.

I did this once before, nearly 30 years ago when reporters were only expected to write a story for the newspaper. Now, we must also Tweet, blog and make videos. Despite my degree in political science, after 30+ years in journalism, I’m kinda disallusioned with politics.

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Gluten and depression: Is there a link?

By Christine Stapleton

People who don’t eat gluten are a lot like people who do CrossFit. They talk about it incessantly.

I am both gluten-free and a CrossFitter. I don’t talk about either unless asked or I am around others who are gluten-free or do CrossFit. Or both. It’s gotten to the point where we have be become so annoying that we have become the butt of a really funny jokes:shutterstock_129962030

  • Ten percent of the population is gluten-free and the other 90 percent are sick of hearing about it.
  • Do you know the correct term for gluten-free brownies? Compost.
  • I hope your birthday is filled with lots of gluten-free treats that aren’t disgusting, just like everything else that is gluten-free.

Gluten-free is considered the Nehru jacket of nutrition trends: Hip for about 20 minutes, then profoundly ridiculous. Which is why I rarely talk about either.

When depression has pinned you to the mat and you cannot get up, you will risk being the butt of a joke to feel better. Short of getting drunk or stoned, I would stick Tootsie Rolls up my nose if I thought it would help my depression. It’s that simple.

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As she lay dying: Depression and my mother’s sad memories

By Christine Stapleton

Shortly before my mother went into hospice we sat alone together in her bedroom and she said: “If you want to ask me anything you should ask me now.”shutterstock_141509170

I was stunned.

My mother had rarely spoken about her childhood. She grew up on a farm in northern Wisconsin. They did not have hot water and she and her three sisters and two brothers took baths one-by-one in a tub in water that had been warmed on a stove. You wanted to be the first in line to get the cleanest, warmest water, she used to tell me. They didn’t have much money. They worked hard. They churned their own butter.

I could not recall her ever speaking about her father – my grandfather, who died when I was very young. About all I knew was that he drank a lot. So I asked. She rattled off stories – none of them happy or funny. He took all six kids to school in the morning and then started drinking. She had seen him drunk, sitting on a curb. She was so embarrassed that if she needed to go past his watering hole she would take a different route to avoid seeing him.

He took the money she had saved to buy herself a car. When she announced she was going to college – the only one of the four girls in the family who did – he kicked her out. Women didn’t need a college education, she recalled him saying. She went on to get a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree.

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Botox: The new antidepressant?

By Christine Stapleton

Halle-freakin’-lujah!

We have a couple more studies that suggest that paralyzing key facial muscles with Botox can reduce the symptoms of depression.

In a recent 24-week randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study, done by Michelle Magid, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Texas, 30 participants with depressive symptoms were randomized and give injections of Botox or a placebo between the eyebrows (which happens to be exactly where I need it.)shutterstock_124462930

The men were injected with 39 units of botulinum and the women were injected with 29 units. At week 12, the placebo group crossed over to treatment, and the treatment group crossed over to placebo.Participants were evaluated at weeks 0, 3, 6, 12, 15, 18, and 24. The primary outcome was a reduction from baseline of at least 50% in the 21-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale score.

In a yet-to-be-published study in the in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, Eric Finzi, a cosmetic dermatologist, and Norman Rosenthal, a professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, randomly assigned a group of 74 patients with major depression to receive either Botox or saline injections in the forehead muscles that enable us to frown.

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Why pinching pennies on mental health care won’t work

By Christine Stapleton

My disenchantment with politics has hit a new low. I didn’t think that was possible until I began looking at Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s 2015 budget proposal line-by-line.

I was writing another story on child welfare programs and figured while I was looking at the budget, I might as well shutterstock_133736621look at our governor’s budget proposal for mental health programs. Going straight to the bottom line, I see the governor is proposing spending $2.1 million more than the current fiscal year on adult mental health programs. Good news, right?

Wrong.

I took a gander at funding for strategic priorities:

  • Indigent psychiatric medication program: $0 down from $1.5 million this year.
  • Maintain funding for adult community mental health services: $4 million, down from $10.2 million..
  • Maintain funding for Bay County Assertive Community Treatment Team: $0 down from $1.2 million.
  • Community mental health programs in 3 counties: $0 down from $1.9 million.

The only strategic priorities that will see an increase in funding under the governor’s budget is mental health transitional beds, $2.5 million compared to $0 this year and $3 million to restore county criminal justice grants, which received no funding this year.

But under the category “Provide Effective and Enhanced Prevention Services,” which support 7 community crisis stabilization units and other local mental health care programs – the governor is cutting funding for all seven programs.

The governor’s proposed budget would have ticked me off three years ago – at the height of the recession – but it infuriates me now because Florida has a $1.2 billion budget surplus. So a $2.1 million increase for adult mental health care programs amounts to chump change. I mean, really?

The governor claims the three main parts of his “It’s Your Money Tax Cut Budget” are: 1) Creating Jobs for the Next Generation; 2) Investing in Education; and 3) Strengthening Florida Families. If that is true, investing in the state’s mental health care system should be among your top priorities.

If you want to attract business to Florida, you need a healthy and attractive environment. Homelessness and those pesky homeless people pushing grocery carts along the sidewalk or lining the intersections with their “Will Work for Food” signs are not attractive to businesses considering moving to Florida.

Many of our homeless and poor have mental illnesses, such as alcoholism and addiction. And if you can’t muster up the compassion to care for them because it’s the right thing to do, think of it from an economic perspective: Getting those people off the streets is good for business. It’s going to help lure business and tourists – or at least not repel them.

You want to strengthen Florida families? Provide housing, treatment and respite care for our families who are touched by mental illness. That’s just about all of us.

I bumped into an acquaintance last week whose adult brother has schizophrenia. He can’t keep a job and is now living in half of a termite-invested mobile home that would probably have been condemned had she not interceded. Two weeks ago he tried to kill himself – in front of her. They kept him in the hospital for 72 hours – the maximum allowed – and then let him go.”

“There is nothing for him. No safe place for him to go.  It’s so sad,” she said.

Sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a wall: How can politicians and policy makers not see it? How can they not see the link between the economy and mental illness? How many times do we need to explain that depression is the #1 workplace disability?

If we can’t do the right thing merely for the sake of doing the right thing, let’s do it because it makes financial sense. Let’s do it for the almighty dollar. Let’s just do it.

Stack of pennies available from Shutterstock.

 

 

 

 

 



Bullying people with mental illnesses

By Christine Stapleton

Imagine a bulletin board on the internet that allowed anyone to comment – anonymously – on your job performance.

Anyone can say whatever they want about the work you do. Some praise and thank you. Others mock you and trash a project that you painstakingly researched and produced. You must always always put your name on your work and claim it as your own. Still, anonymous critics swipe away at your work, leaving you unable to confront your accuser.

shutterstock_92850706That’s what it’s like to be a newspaper reporter these days. It used to be that when readers wanted to criticize or comment on your story they would write a letter to the editor. Newspapers didn’t publish anonymous letters. They called the author and confirmed the person actually wrote the letter.

Then came the internet. Anyone can anonymously say anything about your work – and you – without any consequence. It ‘s unfair but as my mother used to say – “Life isn’t fair.”

You were right, mom. Life isn’t fair.

I am also an alcoholic. An alcoholic journalist. It’s been 15 years since I had  my last drink but I am still an alcoholic and still a journalist. Always will be. I’m not ashamed of being an alcoholic or a journalist. I understand there is still a lot of stigma associated with being an alcoholic. But I am at a point in my career, life and recovery where I am comfortable with who I am. I don’t hide either but I don’t mix the two in reporting the news.

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1,000 bodies found at site of former “lunatic asylum.” What are we going to do about it?

By Christine Stapleton

I’ve never liked the word asylum, unless you’re talking about some poor soul living under some repressive regime that desperately wants to be in the United States.

I’m talking about “asylum” as in “insane asylum.” You rarely even hear “asylum” used in that context anymore. guess that’s progress, right? So, I was shocked when a friend sent me an article which featured the word “asylum” in a bad kind of way.download

Graves’ discovery affects Miss. medical school’s plans

According to the article, more than 1,000 bodies have been found on a construction site at the University of Mississippi. Some of the bodies are believed to have been patients at the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum a century ago. None of the bodies have names or identifying information.

The asylum opened in 1855 and could house 150 patients. After the Civil War it expanded and could house 300 patients. Officials at the fast-growing University of Mississippi medical school planned to build a parking lot on the site.

Dr. James Keeton, dean of the medical school, said that moving the remains to a new burial site would cost an estimated $3 million — that’s $3,000 per body.

“We can’t afford that,” Keeton said, according to the article.

Really? Are you kidding me? First of all, I have a hard time believing the University of Mississippi can’t come up with $3 million to move the remains of mentally ill patients at the site of the state’s former Lunatic Asylum. If the Ole Miss football team needed $3 million, they would find it. Trust me.asylum (1)

What bothers me most is that no one seems interested in finding out who these poor souls are, where they came from and how to dignify their resting place. No one is mentioning conditions and policies at the Lunatic Asylum that allowed inmates to be buried in mass graves with no records identifying them, their illnesses and how they died.

Personally, I care. I think it is tremendously important for us to be reminded how people with mental illnesses were treated – mistreated – in the past. To comprehend the depth of the stigma about mental illness we need to look at how people like us were treated in the past. It’s not easy to do.

Conditions at “asylums” were beyond horrific. Patients were chained and treated like inmates. In the early 1950s, Mental Health America issued a call to asylums across the country for their discarded chains and shackles. In 1956, Mental Health America melted down these inhumane bindings and recast them into 300-pound bell.

The bell - now the symbol of the organization – “serves as a powerful reminder that the invisible chains of misunderstanding and discrimination continue to bind people with mental illnesses,” according to MHA’s website. I have touched that bell and believe me, I felt something.

So, what happens now that the university has decided it can’t afford to move the bodies and will build its parking lot elsewhere? Is someone – some organization – going to step up and give these folks a proper final resting place? Wouldn’t this be a powerful venue for a mental health research facility or museum or center to educate people about discrimination against the mentally ill?

Or are we just going to forget about these souls again and wait for another generation to make it right? a

 

 



Humor as preventive mental health care: Doberhuahua

By Christine Stapleton

I am totally into preventive health care – especially mental health care.

We hear a lot about preventive health care, such as mammograms,  monitoring blood pressure and testing cholesterol levels. We don’t hear much about preventive mental health care.shutterstock_150200261

I practice preventive mental health care. It’s a program I came up with on my own based on a bunch of stuff I’ve read and been told by people I trust. It’s based on this simple premise: my brain is constantly producing or not producing chemicals and hormones. If there is too much of one chemical and not enough of another, I can sink into a black hole or leap tall buildings in a single bound.

The single, most powerful preventive tool in my little toolbox is exercise. Exercise prevents both depression and mania. It releases endorphins, hormones that activate my opiate receptors. As for my mania, exercise is like a fire extinguisher, snuffing out that burning desire to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

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Depression: The absence of gratitude

By Christine Stapleton

There was a time when I wanted a really big house. A two-story house with big bedrooms and bathrooms with his and her’s sinks – even though there is no “his.”

My siblings have huge houses on big chunks of land. BIG – as in having an intercom so the kids can ask mom to bring some snacks down to the basement, where they have gym, pool table, bar and movie room. You can put a 20-foot Christmas tree in their living rooms and it won’t hit the ceiling.shutterstock_152710781

My house is 1,332 square feet on .17 acres. No basement. No upstairs. Right now, I absolutely love it. I have the windows open and it is raining. When you live in a very small house and you open the windows during a rain, it sounds like you are actually outside, in the rain. Surround-sound rain but you are cozy and dry.

In the words of the philosopher Crow: It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got.

This is gratitude and it is an entirely impossible state of mind when you have depression. If you want to get a taste of what depression feels like, it is the complete absence of gratitude. It is compounded by friends and family trying to cram gratitude down your throat…”You have so much to live for…”

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Sen. Creigh Deeds: The high cost of not treating mental illness

By Christine Stapleton

I couldn’t hear what the man on 60 Minutes was saying because I was busy making dinner but I saw the scar across his face and figured he was a veteran or had been in a car crash.

creigh

Virginia State Sen. Creigh Deeds

I record 60 Minutes every week so I figured I would watch it later. I did and then I realized this was Virginia state Sen. Creigh Deeds. I vaguely remembered reading a few news stories about some senator’s son attacking his father and then killing himself but there was no follow up – just that the senator had pulled through.

I did not know that Deeds’ son, Gus, 24, had bipolar disorder and that he and his father had been in the emergency room trying to get treatment for Gus the day before the attack. Or that there were no beds available in the psych unit and so Gus went home – unlike other kids who can linger for days in emergency rooms waiting for a psych bed to open up.

The story got more horrific as it went along. Deeds gave us the unimaginable details of the attack and how he looked at his son as he sliced at him with a knife and told him how much he loved him. And then there were interviews with other parents who had been in similar situations, with children much younger than Gus – discharged from emergency rooms because there were no beds for psych patients.

All I could think while watching was… What The F-word is wrong with us! Sandy Hook wasn’t enough? Aurora wasn’t enough? Virginia Tech wasn’t enought? What astounds and infuriates me is that we – or at least I – know who is to blame.

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Hoping for a Happy Ending
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Hope for a Happy Ending: A Journalist's
Story of Depression, Bipolar and Alcoholism
Christine Stapleton

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