For many of us, the New Year represents a time to embrace change and look forward to growth. DBSA is taking this opportunity to introduce new efforts to support youth mental health. In this eUpdate read about what steps we are taking to ensure that young people get the hope, help, support, and education they need while living with depression or bipolar.

Introducing Supporting Youth Mental Health

All peers have an origin story—when they were first diagnosed with depression or bipolar. For many of these stories—stigma, confusion, shame, and challenges cloud this new reality. For young people, the confusion can be even greater. Working through family dynamics, getting the right diagnosis, and being believed that what your feeling is “real” and not “just a phase” can be incredibly challenging.

But the reality is here:

In 2017 it was reported an estimated 3.2 million adolescents aged 12-17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 13.3% of the United States adolescent population[1].

DBSA’s 2018 Supporting Wellness survey found, that 69% of respondents reported experiencing their first symptoms before the age of 17. Of that total, 27% of those respondents experienced symptoms before the age of 12.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) WISQARS Leading Causes of Death Reports, in 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34. Statistics such as the ones above are staggering, which is why DBSA is thrilled to launch our new initiative: Supporting Youth Mental Health. In our three-year plan, we are committed to creating more content and resources that can help young people who are living with mood disorders and their parents and caregivers.

Our plan has three components:

  1. To offer mental health education and wellness tools for children and teens who live with mood disorders
  2. To provide support for young adults (18-30) transitioning out of teenhood
  3. To enhance support to parents and caregivers by aligning the Balanced Mind Parent Network to the Support Youth Mental Health initiative

To accomplish our goals, we’re connecting with our community to understand what is needed for these age groups. We’ve already received a great deal of feedback and it has been incredibly informative.

Because the perspective of peers shapes everything we do at DBSA, we want you to take part in this conversation.

Take the survey:  let us know your priorities in providing mental health resources to children, teens, young adults, and their caregivers.

We are thrilled to begin writing a new story, providing more robust support to our young people. Thank you for creating this story with us

Sign up for Supporting Youth Mental Health Communications

[1] National Institute of Mental Health, 2017

Make a Difference in 2020. Our Voices Are Stronger Together

Advocacy can take many forms. Legislative advocacy is only one of those forms, and new laws are only one component of government policy that affects access to care. For example, the state agency that regulates government insurance programs makes the majority of the decisions that affect matters of access for beneficiaries. Those agencies hold drug utilization review (DUR) councils to set practices in prescribing, dispensing, and administering medication

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) supports peers making their own decisions about treatment options. We recognize for many, the opportunity to lead a thriving life begins with hope and, for many, continues with access to quality mental health care, including medication, that meets individualized needs. That is why as the leading peer-focused mental health organization, DBSA writes letters of support or to voice our opposition to policies that affect peers. In November, we wrote to the Medicaid offices in Iowa, Louisiana, and Wyoming regarding proposals to remove certain medical products from their preferred drug list. During 2019, we wrote letters in support of or opposed to regulatory policies. Click here to read those letters.

In spite of our effort, the state Medicaid offices of Iowa, Louisiana and Wyoming moved forward with their proposed policies. Our voices are stronger together. When we all participate in, and send our own individual letters to these regulatory bodies, we can make a difference. In 2020 we’ll keep you informed about these opportunities. Be on the lookout for and make it a wellness goal this year to participate.

To continue to receive communications about issues that support access to quality mental health care,

Join Our Movement 

The Right to Live in the Community

As the leading peer-focused organization for people living with mood disorders, DBSA champions the rights of peers through legislative advocacy as well as judicial advocacy.  Central to our advocacy is a long-standing tradition of working toward ending discrimination for people living with mood disorders.

We embrace a vision for a society where peers have the same freedoms enjoyed by other Americans and have the autonomy to make their own decisions about how to use and apply those civil and human rights.

The civil liberty to live where one wants to live is embedded in the American identity, as well as the DBSA stated Values and Core Beliefs. Among them is the belief that: All individuals have the right to direct their own care. Pivotal to directing one’s own care is where one receives that care, in the community or an institution. Read DBSA’s position paper on the Right to Live in the Community.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Olmstead v L.C. & E.W. stated: “Unjustified isolation is discrimination based on disability.” States must assist people living with a mental health condition in obtaining access to community-based services, if the person wants to live in the community. Many states have prioritized their Medicaid funding for community-based services over institutions, but budget shortfalls are often cited as reasons for lack of community-based services.

DBSA follows state legislation and funding that promotes and provides community-based living opportunities. We encourage our advocates to stay abreast of local discriminatory practices to block community-based housing or block location of DBSA support group meetings and keep us abreast of opportunities to mobilize our community by contacting us at

To continue to receive communications about issues that support access to quality mental health care,

Join Our Movement 

Life Unlimited: Nikyra McCann

At 20 years old, I was hospitalized for one month and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’ve had several other hospitalizations since then. I started noticing that I was having difficulties when I wasn’t sleeping or eating. Things that were normal to me became strange. This was a new experience for me, and I didn’t know where my life would go from there. At times I felt alone and there were times I didn’t think I would make it. My faith kept me alive and that is why I am here today.

I started my own business “Still Standing Enterprise” to bring awareness to mental illness—it has helped others smile and have joy in the midst of adversity. I have also shared my story on the news, in newspapers, and spoken at conferences. This work made me realize that though I battled this, it didn’t have to stop me. I love to help and inspire others through my story.

Having a mental illness has definitely been a journey. I maintain wellness by staying on track with school and by surrounding myself with my family and positive people who support and love me. I have also found support through care centers. When my family was there for me it made me feel loved and I felt as if I could get through this obstacle. I began to see a brighter day. I have learned that I am somebody, I am intelligent, and I can do anything I set my mind to. Wellness is an everyday step. It can be hard at times but in fact I am more than a conqueror. Having a mental illness doesn’t separate me from the world in fact it makes me stand out to change the world!

Parent and Caregiver Corner: Resolving to Care for Ourselves as We Care for Others


As a parent or caregiver of a child living with a mood disorder, you probably have put a great deal of time and energy into finding what treatment works for your loved one. You have probably spent a great deal of time researching treatment options, taking loved ones to therapy appointments – you have been there for them through all the ups and downs.

With the New Year underway, maybe you are also putting energy in the promise of a better year. You think through what has gone well in the past and hope those changes can stick. You fear regression and hard times ahead. The New Year is a natural time of reflection, what can we do better? Wherever you stand on resolutions, the refresh of the New Year calls us to consider what could be better.


In 2018, DBSA with the Milken Institute surveyed peers and their caregivers. An interesting finding from this survey was that 92% of caregivers reported that they too experienced mood disorder symptoms. This finding emphasizes the importance of caregivers considering how they are caring for themselves, as they care for others.


As you reflect on hope for the New Year, think of ways in which you can continue your own wellness practices and integrate new ones into your life. Here are some ideas to get you started-


  • Create a Dedicated Time, just for you! With the demands of family life finding time can be challenging. Set a dedicated time for yourself. Whether it is an hour a week or fifteen minutes a day, find some time that is reserved for reflecting and caring for yourself.
  • Join a Support Group, finding support groups for friends and families can provide an environment where you can interact with people who have experienced similar circumstances as you. DBSA has both in-person and online support groups that serve friends and family members. DBSA Online Support Groups and DBSA Support Groups.
  • Review Your Bucket List, whether you have an actual bucket list or not, what are some big goals you have that you can tackle this year? Whether it is travel, participating in a marathon, creating art—what are some things you can prioritize to make this year meaningful?
  • Find Support with Balanced Mind Parent Network, DBSA’s Balanced Mind Parent Network is an online community for parents raising children that live with mood disorders. Support from parents who are experiencing similar situations can be an essential part of your plan for wellness. DBSA’s Balanced Mind Parent Network.

Ask the Doc

My son is nine and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, ADHD, and OCD. When he is having one of his meltdowns what is the best way for me to help him through it?
An ounce of prevention is really worth a pound of cure. Try to develop a plan with him when he is not having a meltdown and write it down. Talk about what you’ll do and say, what you’ll want him to do, and what others in the family should do when the next meltdown occurs. ... Read Dr. David Miklowitz's Full Answer

Facilitator Training prepares 131 Facilitators in 5 weeks

DBSA Chapters have been busy getting increased numbers of facilitators prepared for their groups.  DBSA conducted a Chapter and State Organization survey in August 2019 to see where chapter and state organizations’ pain points were.  The number one priority set by the feedback of this survey was revised facilitator materials and trainings. DBSA Chapter Relations staff revised the written materials and created a revised training plan, but funding was necessary to get the training to the chapters and state organizations.

Thanks to a grant received from Johnson & Johnson, DBSA was able to close out 2019 with 131 newly trained or refreshed facilitators in Northern and Southern California, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, and West Virginia within a

5-week period. More facilitator trainings will be held in 2020.

Contact for more information.

Note from Michael

I was recently listening to a story on NPR on how to talk to your children about sex. The overall premise was on the importance of making those awkward topics of conversation more “talkable”. As I listened, I realized what the story was really about was reducing the stigma and discomfort around a topic of conversation that we as a culture often prefer to avoid.

Michael Pollock, DBSA Chief Executive Officer
Michael Pollock, DBSA Chief Executive Officer

The same can be said with respect to conversations related to mental health, whether we’re talking with a child or an adult.  Through my interactions with many people living with a mood disorder and other related experiences, I’ve come to appreciate that the stigma related to discussing sex applies to mental health too. Stigma makes it difficult for many of us to be clear and honest about our lived experiences, whether that’s as a peer or family member or friend. It places barriers between us and covers us with shame.

The NPR story offered some helpful and transferrable suggestions when talking with others about mental health. Given their story was specific to talking with kids, the story reinforced the need to share factual information that is age-appropriate, and to provide enough information to satisfy the question – no more, no less. And to use actual terms rather than masking them with language that carries less stigma and discomfort. While listening, I was reminded when, as a child, an adult in my life who lives with a mental health condition would answer my questions about her health as “having emotional problems”, then would quickly change the subject. This response only reinforced that it was wrong for me to ask and to not make that mistake again. That the topic of mental health was not talkable (now both parties feel shame). Over time this also led to missed opportunities for what the story pointed out as an evolving dialogue that would have made for a safe and trusted conversation that could have deepened our bond and enhanced our relationship.

DBSA offers resources that may help with these kinds of conversations. I invite you to check out a podcast produced on helping your friends understand your mental health condition (, as well a discussion with Dr. Greg Simon on DBSA’s I’m Here program ( to connect people living with a mood disorder with their family and loved ones—so that nobody feels like they have to go through this journey alone.

Wishing you healthy and honest conversations.


Healing Shame by Shifting Internal Narratives

By DBSA Board Member, John Budin

It is the human condition to have narratives in our heads that comprise the storylines of our lives. There are times when we behave in ways that fall short of our own expectations and the inner voices that fill our heads become guilt-laden. When we speak unkindly to others or forget our spouse’s birthday, for example, the guilt we feel can be healthy, leading us to change our future actions. Unlike guilt, shame is a corrosive belief that we are unworthy and defective. It is malignant and dehumanizing. I am a physician living with bipolar disorder and spent many years avoiding treatment, feeling deeply ashamed of my diagnosis. It was as if I had a Greek chorus in my head waiting in the wings that would enter stage left and stage right loudly proclaiming me to be pathological, sick and worthy of contempt. This inner narrative was harsh, cruel and replete with self-reproach. It was soul-crushing.

This all changed when a warm and wise woman who suffered from bipolar disorder came to see me a few years back. She relayed her story to me and it was remarkably similar to mine. I felt that it was a privilege to be invited into her inner world and empathized with her struggles. Rather than seeing her as sick, I saw her merely as being scared. Rather than viewing her as pathological, I understood her vulnerability. It was her humanness that resonated with me. I thought a lot about my own self-view and what I had previously been blind to came into clear focus. For years, fueled by shame, I had been running away from myself because I believed that I was unworthy and damaged. I was trying hard to stay one step ahead of my bad-ness. But what this admirable patient awoke in me was something I had known all along. We humans can have compassion and kindness for others that we don’t often bestow upon ourselves. I thought that surely, I could find a way to see myself in the empathic way that I viewed my patient. It would require me to re-wire the way I spoke to myself, replacing the voices of self-condemnation with ones of self-respect.

So, I began to shift my internal narratives from ones of shame to ones imbued with humanism. This was revelatory for me and finally allowed me to usher in an affirming sense of self. I claimed an inner storyline that was healthy, undeniable and free of shame. I came to see that this new affirming sense of self did not evolve passively for me. Rather, it required me to make a conscious and active choice to picture myself through a lens colored with decency and fairness, rather than one tinted by self-loathing. It seems trite and obvious now but back then, it was empowering and healing to realize that I held my identity in my own hands. It allowed me to finally accept my diagnosis and engage in treatment that I had long avoided. It’s true that during challenging times, my Greek chorus of shame can briefly rear its head. But when that happens, I reflect back on that brave woman who shared her story with me, and I remember the kind voices she elicited in me. Because of what she taught me, the chorus that I now hear in my head is the healing storyline of my life.

BP Magazine: Sugar and Mood

When we feel low and want a quick pick-me-up, indulging a sugar craving is tempting. To stabilize our mood, we can learn to kick our sweet tooth to the curb. 

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Wellness Tips

Check-in with yourself

Life can get overwhelming and self-doubt can set in very quickly. In these moments take time to check-in with yourself. Asking yourself thoughtful questions like: How do I feel? and What brought me joy today?  is an easy way to practice self-care by acknowledging your feelings and taking time to think about you.

Make a list

A work-life balance can seem impossible. Make a list of your daily tasks and note whether the task revitalizes you or drains you. If you find yourself with too many draining activities, sprinkle in some activities that give your energy like taking a deep breath or going for a quick walk to recharge your batteries.

You can do this

Adversity and emotional challenges can seem insurmountable at times, but it is important to remember that you are not alone and are strong enough to get through these challenges. Remember there is support if you need it and DBSA is here to help.