While DBSA has been well known for peer support advocacy for decades, in recent years it has also become a guiding force in the professionalization of the peer provider workforce. This workforce includes peer supporters as well as certified peer specialists—individuals who have lived experience in recovery from a mental health or substance use condition and who are trained and certified to support their peers in gaining hope and moving forward in their own recovery journeys.
“Our goal is to help shape and grow the field, which will improve health care outcomes, reduce health care costs, and provide employment opportunities for people with lived experience of mental health conditions,” said Allen Doederlein, DBSA president. “The power of coming together as peers and as a profession offers continued hope and support for recovery.”
DBSA’s latest contribution to the development of the peer workforce is the new online course, Employment Literacy. It’s offered free of charge to members of the DBSA Peer Leadership Center, an impartial, central location where peer specialists and peer supporters can find information and training, connect with others working in the field, learn about employment opportunities and organizations that champion peer support services, and engage in dialogue among themselves.
With an eye toward creating a new course, Mary Dean, programs director at DBSA, partnered with Daniels to gather resources, perspectives, and insights about employment literacy through interviews with some of the most accomplished peers and experts in the field. They included Lori Ashcraft, MSW, MPA, PhD, who has astrong interest in the therapeutic effects of self-determination, choice, and personal freedom; Holly Dorna, founder and owner of PsychPros, Inc., a national staffing and executive search firm dedicated exclusively to job placements with behavioral healthcare organizations; Jean Dukarski, program director for the Justice in Mental Health Organization (JIMHO) in Lansing, Michigan; Sharon Jenkins Tucker, MA, CPS, ITE, executive director of the Georgia Mental Health Consumer Network, Inc.; and peer specialist Sarah X, who has personal lived experience with mental health conditions and substance use.
DBSA’s Employment Literacy course is self-paced, meaning you can proceed through it at your own speed. It’s arranged in four distinct sections—I Want a Job, I Have an Interview, I Got an Offer, and I Got a Job. Now What?—giving you the ability to choose exactly the information you need, based on where you are in your employment journey. Each section offers unique perspectives, tips, and resources from a variety of sources in differing formats. And while the main focus of the course is gaining employment as a peer specialist, much of the content and many recommendations are more broadly useful.
DBSA believes that professionalizing and enlarging the peer workforce can have a dramatic impact on the mental health care system. While employed peer supporters and specialists help other individuals and serve as role models, they are at the same time helping themselves in their own recovery. They also extend the reach of health care providers who all too often are overburdened or in short (or no) supply. DBSA looks forward to helping further develop this important workforce.
Chapter Spotlight: Giving Back to Your Community
Have you ever thought that you and your community could benefit from a support group for peers living with depression or bipolar disorder? If so, DBSA is here to help you get started.
DBSA’s local chapter affiliates offer more than 700 peer-led, in-person support groups at no charge to people living with mood disorders. Many chapters also have groups for friends and family members of peers. These local meetings offer attendees a sense of community and the type of support that can only come from people who have been there.
If you or anyone you know is interested in starting a chapter, DBSA would love to collaborate! All you need is a desire to give back, a commitment to helping your peers toward wellness, and the sense that wellness is possible. Upon affiliation of a group, DBSA provides chapter leadership and facilitation training opportunities, connections with chapter leaders from around the country, regular informational communications, and other resources to support chapter growth and effectiveness.
Parent Connection: Study on Weight Gain, Antipsychotics, and Children
DBSA strongly believes that having a peer perspective at the center of conversations about mental health treatments results in better outcomes. As such, we are proud to partner with MOBILITY, a study funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) through the University of Cincinnati. The objective of the study is to determine if a lifestyle intervention or a lifestyle intervention plus specific medication helps prevent or reverse weight gain associated with second generation antipsychotics in children and teens with a bipolar spectrum disorder.
As a partner in this pragmatic study, DBSA helps provide insight into actual lived experience. We brought this perspective to a survey that was distributed in 2014 to parents in our Balanced Mind Parent Network. The survey identified concerns related to treatment side effects, reasons for not taking prescribed medication, and more, helping to inform future treatment options. A summary of the survey results is now available.
Hope didn't make me happy necessarily, but it did help me get to a point where I could restore my own happiness. ‒Meagan
January marks the kickoff of the new DBSA series, I’m Living Proof. Created by the DBSA Young Adult Council (YAC), the series grew out of YAC’s desire to connect with teens living with mental health conditions and offer hope by sharing experiences through personal stories. As one contributor, Valerie, declared, “You are not alone in this fight!”
For months, the Council has been soliciting inspirational stories, both in written and video format, from young adults ages 18-29 who live with a mood disorder. Thus far, we have received a total of 15 submissions which are a combination of both essays and videos. If you would like to tell us your story there is still time—the program doesn’t have an end date and we will continue to add stories as they are received.
It’s especially easy for teens to believe that life will never get better—that the future they want just isn’t possible. By sharing your story of obstacles overcome and a life rich with meaning, you show teens that there is a bright future up ahead—you are “living proof.”
DBSA is very grateful to Rebecca’s Dream for their sponsorship of this program.
We Are Powerful!
Last January DBSA launched a year-long campaign, We Are Powerful, exploring the tremendous personal power we each have but may have forgotten or not yet discovered. Peers, parents, and families have been encouraged to embrace or reclaim this personal strength in their own lives, the lives of others, and the world.
During this journey we’ve thought a lot about goals, taking action, the benefit of forgiveness, lifelong learning, making a difference in the lives of others, and (hopefully!) proven a few things to ourselves along the way. We truly are capable of so much, both in our own lives and in how we can impact the world. It’s just a case of always remembering and believing that We Are Powerful!
What was your journey toward personal power like this year? Have you thought about how you want to use it in the coming year? Tell us all about it on Power Points Friday, December 30!
To see what’s happening with We Are Powerful, check out the DBSA Facebook page where you
will find several dedicated posts each week.
Greg Simon, MD, MPH, is a psychiatrist and researcher at Group Health Cooperative at the Center for Health Studies in Seattle. His research focuses on improving the quality and availability of mental health services for people living with mood disorders, and he has a specific interest in activating consumers to expect and demand more effective mental health care.
Ask the Doc
Ask the Doc: I have treatment-resistant depression and have tried at least eight drugs which have all made me sick. My doctor says I have a high sensitivity to medication in general and is suggesting that I try medical genetic testing which my insurance may cover. Do you think this is a reasonable next step?
Picking the right antidepressant medication still involves too much trial and error. We certainly hope for a more scientific method for matching each person with the best treatment. Genetic testing may someday help with that process, but it doesn’t offer much practical help at this time.
When we think about using genetic testing to guide selection of medication, we can think about three possible uses.
First, we would hope that genetic testing might predict which medication, or type of medication, would work best for which individual. Unfortunately, no genetic tests (or other laboratory tests) have proven useful so far. Some small studies have suggested that specific genes or genetic variations might predict greater benefit from a specific medication, but those promising findings usually have not been confirmed by follow-up studies.
Second, if genetic tests cannot predict the most effective medication for an individual, we can still hope they might help chose the medication with fewer side effects. The early research in this area is a little more promising. This question is probably an easier one to answer because side effects of medication are often easier to pinpoint than benefits. But there are still not specific tests proven to predict side effects well enough so that we can recommend them for the real world.
Third, I suspect the tests your doctor mentioned would examine genetic differences in how medications are processed or eliminated from the body. Most antidepressants—and most medications overall—are processed in the liver by proteins called cytochromes. Specific cytochromes process specific medications. For some of these cytochromes, people vary significantly in how fast medications are processed. If your genes make you a slow processor for a specific medication, then the standard dose of that medication would last longer in your system and lead to a higher level in your body. And that could lead to more side effects. But being a slow processor (or slow metabolizer) isn’t all bad. If your body processes medication slowly, the standard dose might be too much, causing more side effects, but a lower-than-normal dose might be effective.
Genetic tests are available now to tell if you are a slow metabolizer of certain medications and that would mean that you would certainly want to start with a lower dose than most people. But your own experience is probably enough to tell you just that. Given your experience, you’d want to start with a lower dose than most people and increase the dose more slowly, hoping to see benefit before you see side effects.
That was my long answer. My short answer is genetic testing would not hurt, but it probably won’t tell you anything you don’t already know. If you are sensitive to the side effects of medications, that is true whether a genetic test agrees with you or not.
Earlier this year we introduced a new series on proven ways to promote wellness using non-medical means. In previous issues we’ve discussed mindfulness, exercise, and light therapy. This month we’re looking at the importance of sleep.
For a majority of the roughly 21 to 30 million American adults who live with depression or bipolar disorder, their relationship with sleep is problematic. Sleep disturbance is a symptom associated with mood disorders: some individuals experience sleeplessness or inadequate sleep, some have hypersomnia and sleep too much, and still others experience both extremes from time to time.
Yet there is also evidence that sleep disturbance is in and of itself a potential cause or trigger of mood-related symptoms, with decreased sleep perhaps precipitating the mania or hypomania of bipolar disorder, and both too little and too much sleep connected to the onset of depression. What’s more, it’s not just how much or how little you sleep that can cause issues—fluctuations in when you go to sleep and wake up can both signal and contribute to the onset of mood symptoms. And if that weren’t enough, both too little and too much sleep have been shown to exacerbate many of the physical conditions—hypertension or diabetes among others—that frequently co-occur with mood disorders.
The linkage between sleep and mood disorders is fascinating, and the research about why and how they’re connected is important. Yet in the here-and-now, for people who experience depression and bipolar disorder, there isn’t time to wait for a better understanding of this intersection. There’s evidence enough now to know that we should make sleep hygiene a top priority in our treatment plans.
So where to start? Consider trying out the DBSA Wellness Tracker, a tool where you can record details of both your physical and mental health over time, including sleep. Very few us can remember our sleep history—or much else!—after a few days have gone by. By recording specifics of your sleep each day, you’ll start to see patterns and perhaps how your physical and mental health inter-relate. Plus, you’ll have a record to share with your doctor that you know is accurate.
Whether you personally have a diagnosis of a mood disorder or care about someone who does, “How’s your sleep?” is one of the top questions to consider. And if your sleep is poor, addressing that fact seriously and urgently is crucial to achieving and maintaining wellness.
bp Magazine: Ask the Doctor: Holiday Stress Strategies
Enjoy the gift of peace and health through careful planning ahead, avoiding triggers, and monitoring your mood before, during, and after this year’s holiday season. Read article.
DBSA Represented at MSPAN Veteran/Military Summit
The National Summit on Military and Veteran Peer Programs took place last month in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Aimed at advancing best practices in Veteran/Military peer support, the Summit brought together diverse stakeholders from across the country for stimulating sessions of information-sharing and networking. Lisa Goodale, DBSA Consulting Services vice president, co-facilitated an afternoon summit session “Management of Your Peer Force,” designed to share real-world successes and new ideas for effectively utilizing Veteran peer support services.
The Summit was sponsored by the University of Michigan M-SPAN (Military Support Programs and Networks) and supported by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and Bob Woodruff Foundation.
Caption: Dr. John Greden, founding chair of the National Network of Depression Centers and a member of DBSA’s Scientific Advisory Board, greets Susan Bergeson, OptumHealth Consumer and Family Affairs vice president, and Lisa Goodale, DBSA Consulting Services vice president.
DBSA and Volunteers of America Establish National Peer Training Partnership
DBSA and Volunteers of America have signed an agreement to train Veteran peers working at Volunteers of America and support the organization’s internal capacity to train peers for future work through the organization nationwide. Under the agreement, DBSA will deliver Veteran peer training services to Volunteers of America’s second National Veterans Resource Squad in 2017 and prepare Veterans to serve as peer specialist trainers within the organization. This partnership represents the next step in a relationship that began in 2015 with training the first national squad in Los Angeles.
“DBSA is delighted to expand our support of the fine work of Volunteers of America in this arena, and to play an integral role in making peer-to-peer support available to Veterans in communities throughout the country,” said Lisa Goodale, DBSA Consulting Services vice president.
Volunteers of America is a national nonprofit organization that touches the lives of more than two million people each year in 46 states as well as the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Since World War I, Volunteers of America has provided services to Veterans aimed at ending homelessness, connecting them with benefits to which they are entitled, promoting meaningful employment, and incorporating mentoring and peer-to-peer support.
Caption: Members of the Volunteers of America National Veterans Resource Squad #2.
DBSA Mobilizes Peers for Mental Health Reform Win
Over the past two years DBSA has spent long hours on Capitol Hill educating members of Congress and their staff on the value of peer support and the peer specialist workforce. This hard work was rewarded with an authorization of $10 million for peer specialist training in the mental health reform bill that the US House of Representatives passed last July. When we learned in late November that the final legislation being negotiated between the US House and Senate did not include the peer specialist training funding, DBSA swung into action.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, DBSA advocates in Tennessee and Washington contacted Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)—leaders of the Senate committee advancing the bill—and asked them to include funding in the final legislation that the conference committee planned to put forward. We are happy to report that when the final bill passed both chambers of Congress and went to the President for his signature, the full $10 million authorization language was included, proving that advocacy does work.
We can all be thankful to our peers in Tennessee and Washington who took time to respond to the DBSA action alert by sending an email to Senators Alexander and Murray. But don’t let others do the heavy lifting for you—be part of the winning team by subscribing to the DBSA advocacy platform. You will receive action alerts notifying you when it’s a strategic time to contact your US representative and senators. Then you, too, can have the satisfaction of knowing that your voice was heard and made a difference.
News from Our Advocacy Blog: Medication Policy in Nursing Homes
Have you or a loved one had an antidepressant or other psychotropic medication reduced or discontinued by a nursing home physician? Daniel Sewell explains on our advocacy blog Care For Your Mind what is behind this policy and the role quality rating systems play in these decisions. Read article.
Be Vocal Works toward Reframing Portrayal of Mental Health Conditions with The Be Vocal Collection
Be Vocal: Speak up for Mental Health, an initiative that encourages people to speak up for themselves and others in support of mental health, is working to reframe how mental health is portrayed. With Getty Images, Be Vocal has created and issued The Be Vocal Collection which showcases the images and stories of 10 amazing people from across the country who live with mental health conditions. To see the individuals featured in the project and read their stories, go to BeVocalSpeakUp.com.
Be Vocal started as a partnership with platinum-selling recording artist Demi Lovato and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, the Jed Foundation, Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Council for Behavior Health, and Sunovion to encourage those living with or affected by mental health conditions to speak up for themselves and their community. Last year, Ms. Lovato asked Americans to speak up for mental health by submitting their stories to Be Vocal. The resulting video makes a powerful statement, showing that together we can make a difference in the conversation around mental health.
DBSA is proud to partner with Be Vocal and salutes them for taking on the important issue of accurately portraying people with mental health conditions.
Life Unlimited: Meet Sheri Medford
Over the years, medications changed, counselors changed, locations changed, but the condition was always there—relentless. Bipolar disorder takes me to a place I call the Nothingness. Sometimes my thoughts are like a game show wheel that some outside force spins again and again. Sometimes, a darkening of my senses descends, causing my thoughts to fold and turn inside out. Thoughts come in slower and slower waves until they threaten to disappear entirely. It has been a daily battle for over 40 years, a battle I hope I will win and then someday die of natural causes and not the Nothingness.
Five months ago, my husband and sanctuary of love died of cancer. I feared the worst for myself. I made a list of hospitals that were okay and those that weren’t for when I fell apart—I was ready for the end. But that isn’t what happened.
When Bill once passed out during chemotherapy treatment, I called my brother Jim who lived four hours away. He said, ”I am on my way.” Ten days later Bill died at home. At that moment, a sensation something like energy rushed into my chest. It was a feeling of power and love and it filled me. I experienced a shift in how I viewed myself. And with that love and power came a calmness.
Jim helped me pack up and move to Gig Harbor to live with him. I have my own room, which is my art studio plus a bed. I wake up every morning with a great ache at Bill’s physical absence, but there is also gratitude that fills me and gives me strength. What Bill’s love taught me is that I am loveable, creative, smart, and funny. My mind is grounded in reality and the Nothingness has not swallowed me as expected. Daily I do what everyone who survives bipolar disorder does: I take my medications, manage my stress, create art, give of myself to new friends and my spiritual community, and, most surprising to me, I continue to draw on the strength of Bill’s love that still lives in my soul. This is not my end.
The Nothingness was like a wind that blew and bent me as though I were only a tiny tree. However, the years of persistence and the love of others have helped me grow into a mature tree; now that wind only flutters my leaves. A new artist friend said to me over tea, “You are so strong, so full of joy and peace.” I realized that no one had ever said that to me before. I felt that, yes, I can survive and grow in this world. I feel alive. I feel gratitude and that sustains me.
Sheri is the author of the Dark Side of the Mood and creates stuffed animals she calls Unity Babies to teach the concept of Unity in Diversity. She has been a member of the Baha’i faith for over 45 year and holds a master’s degree in health education and minors in art and dance.
On behalf of DBSA, I wish you the best of holiday seasons and a bright New Year!
Wellness Tips from Peers
You’ve Done a Lot of Difficult Things Anxiety
Think about the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far and especially the ones you’ve gotten through. You can be successful in facing new challenges as well.
Therapy Doesn’t Always Have To Be Hard. Clinical Appointments
Sometimes you just need to have an easy therapy appointment—you don’t have to push yourself every single time. Then you won’t become overwhelmed and can still make progress.
Whose voice is that? Depression
I’ve started trying self-help. I awoke this morning with a monstrous demon of depression looming over me, telling me that I was wasting my time and that there was nothing I could do but wait things out. After a good cry, I decided, wait a minute. I must be doing something right to get this obnoxious critter so riled. I like a good challenge. I’m game and oh, by the way, I win!
OUR MISSION: DBSA provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.
The Power of Peers
DBSA envisions wellness for people who live with depression and bipolar disorder. Because DBSA was created for and is led by individuals living with mood disorders, our vision, mission, and programming are always informed by the personal, lived experience of peers.