“Local expert & community members weigh-in” is the final week for Series 2 - “A personal view of mental health.”

It has been quite a journey writing about my mental illness. Considering I found out only six weeks before I started the mental health series, I was terrified. My mom always says, “Cassie, why do you have to learn everything the hard way?” It makes me giggle every time she says it because I know it is true. I, however, prefer to say I like to dive into situations headfirst.

This series has been no different than several things throughout my life. Anticipating relief was in sight and a possibility someone else may find hope in my story; I mustered up my courage and dug in. The seven-week series has gone quickly, leaving me feeling there is so much more to discuss. 
The most crucial stressor for our communities to know is the remarkable amount of support I have received. Sure, there is a stigma surrounding mental health, but that stigma is not what I received. Most community members were eager to learn more to help friends and family members who struggle to find their way. I was privileged enough to hear from those struggling with a mental illness personally, encouraging me to continue getting help because they, too, have endured the struggle but were now doing well after going to the doctor to receive support.
A mom with a personal story spoke out week three about losing her son to mental illness. A gut-wrenching story to read and undoubtedly share, but she was braver and shared her story in hopes of saving one. 

It has now been roughly 11 or 12 weeks since I was diagnosed with Bi-polar 2 disorder and started my medication. I was discouraged the first eight weeks or so. It seemed no improvements were being noticed by myself or my family.  Dr. Brimhall (my doctor) advised there would be a good chance family would see improvement before I did. However, I noticed a difference before my family did. My mind started to slow down. I accomplished looking past my “now” situations. Instead of reacting immediately, I started looking to the future and resolutions without the constant over-analyzing. I can identify my manic episodes and my bouts with depression. I am finding positive ways to cope while continuing my medication, which Dr. Brimhall has diligently supervised and adjusted. Dr. Brimhall has not only been a beacon of light for me personally, but has a passion for helping his patients. 
From the beginning, he offered his support with the series in any way. This week, he weighs in on mental health from a medical professional’s perspective.

“A one-time discussion about depression is a task that is probably as easily done for me as preparing a one-time lecture or preparing a 20-minute book entitled ’The History of the World,’” Brimhall began before diving into the discussion. “There is much to say, and although the definition or clinical check-boxes are relatively easy to go through, the forms, flavors, and nuances in how this condition may affect people can be as varied as people themselves.” 

There are many types of mental illness, which I hope to provide more information on in the future; Brimhall focused on Bipolar disorders. “‘Major depressive disorder (MDD)’, bipolar, manic-depressive, depressed, bipolar type 2, bipolar type 1, etc., are terms that one can hear, and some of these are helpful. Some are not. 

“For example, when I hear the term ‘manic,’ the clinical definition or context is flat out wrong, although the way it’s used frequently reinforces the condition’s stigma. For our purposes, I will try to avoid the clinical description and criteria of this type of depression vs. that type. While it certainly has its use, we quickly will get bogged down into the details and lose the lesson or potential education and understanding of what I hope to convey.” 
“In my world of when I am suspicious of the condition or actively in evaluation or treatment, there are some major points I want every adult, teenager or child to leave with. I will emphasize it for years on end because these things have great potential in reducing that ‘self-stigma’ of depression.”
Brimhall continued, “The darkness of someone’s bipolar depression is no more dark than the depression felt by someone with schizophrenia or unipolar depression (MDD). I especially dislike the term ‘major depressive disorder’ because as I see it, based on thousands of patients I have helped, depression is all terrible, it is all major. So who can have it? It is not someone who is just ‘sad,’ ‘attention-seeking,’ a ‘downer,’ ‘can’t think positive’ or ‘look at the bright side of things.’ They are not folks who ‘lie in bed crying all day feeling sorry for themselves.’ 
“When someone does not struggle with it is not because they have some gift or are above it because ‘I don’t have time to dwell on negative,’ ‘I have too much to do,’ or ‘How could I be? I have my family’ or ‘I could never… Jesus is in my life,’ or one of my favorites, ‘I have too many blessings in my life to feel depressed.’”

Brimhall explained how much more there was to depression than just an illness that affects one’s mood, saying, “I have been amazed over the years the types of physical pain and physical symptoms that depression can cause the brain to feel.” Next, Brimhall explained why that happens, “Why? The brain function is depressed, the ‘computer’ is running, it is bogged down, overwhelmed. This is why you can see the function in so many ways affected. When I have someone come in with memory complaints (at any age), what do I think first? Depression. Why, because it simply is the most statistically likely thing; also, ‘memory complaints’ never come alone without other conditions.” 

An example of this, according to Brimhall, would be “someone walks in the door and they say ‘I got my leg cut off. That’s serious, right? But is that their only problem? No. They will have trouble walking, running, bending, chores, running errands, playing with friends, kids, or grandkids, getting in and out of bed. They will also probably be dealing with many well-intentioned loved ones who want them to try solution a, solution b or solution c to help their situation because it seems like ‘a good idea.’ Then you have those who feel the need to let the amputee know (because it’s for their good) ‘you should have been more careful,why did you do that,’ and even ‘well that’s what you get when… To top it off you’ll then have folks who love you to perfect strangers say nothing about it; like it never happened because it’s awkward and they don’t know what to say or think the loss of leg was something you brought on yourself or was punishment from God. Does it sound like I’m over the top? Trust me, you cannot believe the advice, comments, and looks I have heard myself over the years, let alone the thousands and thousands that have been relayed to me. Insert depression in the above paragraph, rather than the loss of leg, and you’ll see a glimpse of what goes  on in our enlightened society.” 

Even though the series is over this week, there is so much left to say about mental illness and the interview with Brimhall. With Mental Illness Awareness Month starting in May, including Dr. Brimhall’s personal story with mental health and advice from Community Mental Health.

Comments from the community:

“Very courageous of you to tackle this subject based on your own experience. We all have some sort of imbalance or monster in the closet. I have at times tried to be very open with mine and have been called a liar by my own family. You are very brave for your pursuit to talk about this.”

“Thank you for always speaking your truth.”

“Cassie, bless you for sharing your story. Perhaps if we normalize mental health in the media the world would be a little better place.”