January is the beginning of the calendar year, but August is also a new beginning for some—it’s the start of a new school year. In this eUpdate, we pay special attention to parents who might be handling more than their child’s new school schedule. Below are tips to help parents and caregivers of children who have a mood disorder navigate the new school year with mental health in mind.
DBSA knows that youth mental health is important. The “2018 Supporting Wellness Survey” found 69% of respondents reported experiencing their first symptoms before the age of 17. Further, almost all those reporting symptoms before age 18 reported the condition has had an impact throughout their life. Stay tuned as we roll out the new Supporting Youth Mental Health program—a 3-year strategic plan to increase the capacity to serve children, teens, and young adults living with mood disorders with new educational content and age-appropriate wellness tools and resources.
Thriving with Bipolar
In order to thrive, all aspects of a person must be evaluated including physical health, lifestyle, education, employment status or career goals, relationships, etc. Our thriving with bipolar video series presents unique ways in which those living with a mood disorder have incorporated different aspects of their lives in order to become more than just their diagnosis. This series highlights three peers, Cassie, John, and Steve, who offer unique solutions to some of the issues those living with bipolar disorder may face. While Dr. Holly Swartz talks about the importance of patients and clinicians working together to develop a treatment plan that encompasses all aspects of a patient’s life.
Parent and Caregiver Corner
The beginning of a new school year can be challenging for any child and it can be especially difficult for a child living with a mood disorder diagnosis. Changing routines, meeting the expectations of teachers and caregivers can stressful. Similarly, caregivers may feel overwhelmed as they navigate setting up supports and ideal circumstances for their loved ones. Talking to your child before the school year can help set expectations and allow your child to express any concerns they might have going into the new year.
Preparing in Advance—Setting the Right Mindset for your Mood
Refrain from judgment. When talking to your child, allow them to express their feelings and thoughts without judgment. Try to listen and focus on what they are saying before offering support or your own perspective. Validate your child’s feelings. Telling children that it isn’t okay to feel a certain way often makes the circumstance or feelings worse. Further the discussion by offering to brainstorm solutions to a problem they may be facing.
Ask open-ended questions. When talking to your child, keep in mind that open-ended questions will allow them to process their own thoughts and feelings before they respond. For example, if you asked “Are you feeling nervous about your new class schedule?” they would hear the word nervous and that could inform their response. By phrasing things neutrally, “How are you feeling about your new class schedule?” you are likely to better understand how they are thinking.
Focus on your child’s strengths first. It can be easy to fixate on the challenges that the school year presents. For example, if math is difficult for your child, feelings of stress before the course begins often reiterates a negative narrative. Balance realistic expectations with the positivity that comes with a fresh start. Celebrate past successes and allow them to be meaningful. Remind your child all the ways in which they did well in the other school years.
Have a plan for what helps. When your child is upset their emotions may take the form of anger and sadness which can cause arguments and frustration. Allow your child to feel what they need to feel. Encourage them to find outlets in healthy coping mechanisms such as journaling, meditating, physical activities, coloring, etc. If they’re having a hard time thinking of self-soothing activities, share ways in which you manage your own feelings and emotions.
Find support for yourself. It’s easy to forget about yourself when you’re caring for others. Creating your own wellness strategies helps replenish energy levels and keeps you healthy as well. Taking care of yourself gives your child a chance to learn how to take care of themselves; it gives them the space to watch and grow.
DBSA is supporting parents and caregivers through our Balanced Mind Parent Network (BMPN).
Ask the Doc
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Promising Research Around Side Effects of Medication
Many people living with mood disorders are prescribed and take medication as part of their wellness plan. These medications are categorized in classes. One such class is often referred to as second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs). Examples of medications in this class include Abilify, Latuda, Seroquel, and Zyprexa, among others.
However, some medications in this class may be associated with risk of poor metabolic health. Examples include weight gain and increased blood sugar, which can increase the risk of several related conditions, including diabetes. Many peers choose lifestyle interventions, such as diet and exercise, to promote and maintain metabolic health.
Although not originally approved for this use, research has shown that metformin, a medication traditionally prescribed to treat high blood sugar, may help patients minimize SGA-related weight gain. Across several studies, patients on SGAs who took metformin had an average weight loss of 3.27 kg (7.2 pounds). One important finding of these studies is that metformin may be more effective in preventing weight gain in patients who are just starting an SGA than promoting weight loss in patients who have been on an SGA for a longer period of time.
Currently, a study is enrolling overweight patients aged 8-19 who are on an SGA and have ever been diagnosed with a bipolar spectrum disorder to see if metformin plus a healthy lifestyle program helps patients control their weight better than a healthy lifestyle alone. Please visit the study website at MOBILITYstudy.org for information, healthy lifestyle tips, and a list of clinics that are participating. You can also follow the study on Twitter MOBILITY @MOBILITY_Trial
Life Unlimited: David Neuer
Is there a tipping point in a person’s life where the drive to be better, to never quit, and to throw off doubt enables that person to move forward with more momentum? To not look back in fear, to refuse discontent, to reject complacency, and to cast aside regret? To displace paranoia, to remove anxiety, and to experience life as a human being without them—or, if they do remain present, to understand the lingering distrust of a more complete identity?
I’ve overcome many non-physical obstacles like class, religion, even cultural differences, but it was not until I achieved my life-long goal of graduating from university that I understood the importance of taking medicine regularly, being candid with my doctor, and educating myself about mental health conditions. I saw the value of peer-reviewed journals, books, and online social media. I began to learn about “early warning symptoms” like insomnia or rapid speech, and developed support and self-awareness to help me detect these signs before they occurred.
I gave a speech right before I graduated on “Fight or Flight Mechanisms.” The whole speech was about my passion for running cross country and track, of running away from problems at home or in school, of spending my healing time playing video games instead of coming to terms with emotional loss. In short, the speech was about how I choose “flight” as my instinct mechanism. “I’m a runner, I run from everything, instead of facing my fears,” I said. Looking back, I realize that I am a fighter: I fought for 10 years to complete my bachelor’s degree; I fought through dropping out of schools and multiple visits to the mental health unit; I fought to reconcile my past and accept who I am as an individual; and, lastly, I fought to obtain the healing necessary to reconcile the stigma that accompanied my diagnosis. What did it for me?
It wasn’t until after I was diagnosed that a sudden, severe depression accompanied my high anxiety. I felt worthless, like nothing could save me. I had neglected myself for so long that I was almost beyond repair. Then, I was gifted with a pen and a journal. I started to write down my thoughts and, when there were only fragments, I wrote songs or poems.
The process of writing is in itself the most therapeutic tool I have ever used in my life. If this writing accomplishes nothing else, it is to inspire one to pick up a writing utensil, start scribbling on paper, make notes, sketch pictures, doodle, anything. In doing so, hopefully, the process may turn into some success or grasping for a more complete identity, so that down the road one may look back and say, “When I wrote, I had some sense of belonging, of being and feeling, and that in that catharsis, it was possible to find hope to continue on through the drabness.” That is my only desire, for that is what saved me.
Note from Michael
The recent shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton were disturbing to us all. So was the coverage blaming – or suggesting – that people living with mental health conditions are responsible. This is a situation where the facts don’t match the coverage. Specifically:
- People living with mental health conditions are more likely to be victims – not perpetrators – of violent crime, as recently noted by Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.
- In the National Council for Behavioral Health’s report on mass violence in America, mass shootings accounted for less than two-tenths of 1 percent of homicides in the United States between 2000 and 2016.
- The report goes on to state that people are more likely to intentionally kill themselves with a gun than to be killed by a gun in a mass shooting or other type of homicide.
- In fact, less than five percent of gun violence is attributable to mental health conditions (Bazelon Center).
- The Center for Disease Control data indicates that approximately 40,000 people die from gun violence each year and 60% are suicides.
- In the National Council’s report on mass violence in America, they point out that while a subset of people perpetrating mass violence has one of the more severe mental illnesses or personality disorders, many do not.
- As the Bazelon Center also noted, reflexively blaming gun violence on people with mental health conditions is unhelpful and unsupported by evidence.
- Blaming such behavior on mental health results in millions of harmless, nonviolent individuals recovering from treatable mental health conditions being subjected to stigma, rejection, discrimination and even unwarranted legal restrictions and social control (National Council).
I want to recognize mental health organizations who spoke out publicly following these tragedies. Their comments reflected facts, not emotions or false perceptions toward people living with depression, bipolar, schizophrenia or any other mental health condition. DBSA joins these organizations in speaking out in support of people living with mental health conditions – those most likely to be victims – not perpetrators – of crime.
I spoke recently to an audience who wanted to understand more about mood disorders and DBSA. We talked about the need to reduce stigma – to make mental health more “talkable” in our families, workplaces, and communities. Now is the time to speak out. Those who died in Dayton, Gilroy, and El Paso did not deserve to have their lives cut short. But people living with mood disorders or any other mental health condition also do not deserve to become the scapegoats for people who commit evil, vicious acts.
Why Sleep Is Essential For Bipolar Stability
Without restorative sleep, life is tough for anyone. Managing sleep is the absolute number-one priority in the ongoing maintenance of bipolar disorder.
Try something new
Pick up a new book, experiment with a new recipe or paint with different colors. Trying something new creatively can improve your well-being.
Don’t be ashamed to ask for help
You are not a superhero and no one expects you to be. If you feel like life is becoming too much to cope with reach out to a family member or friend, they may be able to offer some insight or just a listening ear.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
If you have experienced or are experiencing thoughts of suicide, you are not alone.
Depression and bipolar disorder are life-threatening conditions, but they are also highly treatable. Join us as we uplift the real-life stories of suicide survivors and dispel the myths that prevent people from getting the help they need.
Make sure to like and follow DBSA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for facts, resources, and messages of hope and inspiration each day in September. Share our posts to spread awareness and combat stigma all month long!