The more you know about your mental illness, the more tools you have to get better. This is a sampling of what I have found helpful. Start anywhere, start with whatever catches your interest. You will find both general resources and some specific to the bipolar spectrum.
I update this page as new resources come to my attention. Suicide’n’Stuff, Daramus, and Freedenthal are all recent additions. Resources for clergy is a whole new section. Feel free to make suggestions.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
MDQ (Mood Disorder Questionnaire) and BSDS (Bipolar Spectrum Diagnostic Screen): These tools are plain English instruments that do not diagnose, but do indicate whether further investigation is a good idea. Have a family member or close friend answer them for a double check. There is also a third screening tool called MoodCheck, combining symptoms with other markers of life experience that influence the likelihood of the disorder. You can learn more about it and a whole lot of information about diagnosis and treatment at PsychEducation.org.
Online: NAMI.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is your one-stop shop for education, support, and advocacy. Under the About Mental Illness tab, there is a list of all kinds of mental illnesses with more information as you dive into the links.
Book: Chris Aiken and James Phelps, Bipolar, Not So Much: Understanding Your Mood Swings and Depression. This is the next book to read. Phelps and Aiken explain the bipolar spectrum for a popular audience, recommend a number of self-help strategies, describing them in detail, list the pros and cons of the various medical treatments, and discuss recovery.
Recovery from Mental Illness
Face-to-face: NAMI’s signature Peer-to-Peer is a free, eight-session educational program for people who are ready to get going on their recovery. Peer-to-Peer is taught by people who have been there and are still on the journey. It offers information, tools, support, and hope.
Face-to-face: Back to NAMI for the NAMI Connection Recovery Support Group. This is not another group of unhappy people sitting around to vent. Instead, the group is led by trained facilitators who are also living with a mental illness to help us learn from each other. The site will help you find a local meeting.
Book: Ellen Frank, Treating Bipolar Disorder: A Clinician’s Guide to Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy. Frank did not write this book for you, the one in the pajamas. She wrote it for your therapist. There are not a lot of IPRST-trained therapists, and while they have a website designed for clinicians, there seems to be no referral point for patients to find them. But you can work the social rhythms part out on your own (don’t worry about the math) and ask your therapist to help with the interpersonal part. Search online for briefer introductions to IPSRT.
Humor – You can laugh about depression?
Seriously, there is a lot out there. Search online for bipolar humor, depression humor, suicide humor. Yes, suicide humor. The following are some of my favorites.
Video podcast: Suicide’n’Stuff is where Dese’Rae L. Stage and Jess Stohlmann-Rainey host guests from people who work in suicide prevention and people in the arts dealing with the topic. The show has a restricted rating for language, terror, and some disturbing images. “Disturbing” refers to taste, I think. Terror? I have no idea what that’s about. But the ideas presented are provocative, strongly expressed, and not those of the mainstream mental health machine. They are the views of actual suicide attempt survivors who work every day in the field of prevention and take a jaundiced eye toward the sanitized answers. And they laugh a lot.
Podcast: The Hilarious World of Depression is brought to you by makeitok.org and features John Moe interviewing comedians who have depression, many of whom have YouTubes of their performances and websites of their own. Moe is no longer making new episodes of this program and now has a new podcast Depresh Mode, not focused on humor so much, but still good listening.
YouTube: I have to mention one of the comedians I discovered through Hilarious Word, Maria Bamford.
Comic Book: Hyperbole and a Half, by Allie Brosh, is a graphic novel about depression and anxiety. Its partner, hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com, is a blog.
Zebras (finding people like you)
Face-to-face: See NAMI’s Peer-to-Peer and Connection Recovery Groups above to find fellow travelers.
Face-to-face and online: Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance is a smaller version of NAMI. The most significant difference between the two is that DBSA is by and for the people who have mood disorders themselves, while NAMI was founded by parents of people with schizophrenia. NAMI’s mission has expanded to include education and advocacy about all mental illnesses and people who have them, but peers, those with the illness, still struggle to find a voice in some chapters. NAMI is trying to change this dynamic and they are making progress. But that’s the difference. Caveat: I have not attended DBSA meetings myself because I live in the hinterlands and the closest meeting for me is on the other side of the mountains. They also have online support groups.
Online forums: Honestly, use these with caution. Read descriptions of the disasters that ensued when somebody took some particular medication and be reassured you are not the only one. Vent about your own anxieties and disasters. Learn tips for handling side effects. But do not get your medical advice from them. Do. Not. They are as reliable as the latest scandal your Facebook friend did not fact-check. Do not ever quote something from them to your doctor. Do. Not.
Blogs: Blogs come and go. So I am reluctant to recommend specific ones. Well, there’s mine, of course, ProzacMonologues. Try searching best bipolar blogs or something similar and consider the source of the list. There are other good ones out there.
For Friends and Family
Face-to-face: Again from NAMI, Family-to-Family. This eight-session course offers education and support for family and friends.
Book: Aimee Daramus, Understanding Bipolar Disorder: The Essential Family Guide. This is the definitive guide for family members of people with bipolar. Daramus takes you by the hand and leads you from a chaotic landscape to a steady path. Step by step, the information is presented in the order that it is needed. It’s a good book to read over the course of a year, and to reread for a refresher as time goes on.
Book: David L. Conroy, Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain. One of the most helpful things I have read on this subject. Conroy makes sense of why suicide happens and gives advice for how to prevent it. He says, “Suicide is not a choice; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.” The book is written for those who suffer, for friends and family, and for society.
Book: Sheila Hamilton, All the Things We Never Knew: Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness. Hamilton’s heartbreaking memoir of her husband’s suicide after misdiagnosis and erroneous treatment demonstrates the nightmare of ignorance and isolation. Her story did not have to go this way. Reach out. Contact NAMI.
Book: James Phelps, A Spectrum Approach to Mood Disorders: Not Fully Bipolar But Not Unipolar—Practical Management. Phelps wrote this book specifically for clinicians, going beyond DSM checklists to acknowledge the more complicated lived experience of patients. Addressing the concept of the mood spectrum, differential diagnosis, real-world scenarios, treatment guidelines, nonmedical approaches, as well as the usual bipolar medications and other treatments, Phelps offers a comprehensive guide for professionals who treat people who inhabit the broad territory between classic expressions of major depression and Bipolar I. In other words, the spectrum.
Book: Ellen Frank, Treating Bipolar Disorder: A Clinician’s Guide to Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy. Frank’s book is also written for clinicians, a thorough description of the theory and practice of IPSRT. Her department now offers online training at ipsrt.org.
Book: Stacy Freedenthal, Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals. Not specifically about bipolar disorder. But with a 20-60% attempt rate for people with bipolar, the professional would be advised to have some practical tools. There is more to suicide prevention than risk assessment and hospitalization. Freedenthal expands the clinician’s toolbox.
Book: Parts of Freedenthal’s book just mentioned, Helping the Suicidal Person: Tips and Techniques for Professionals will be helpful to clergy, as well, and gives better advice than you may have received in your pastoral care classes. David L. Conroy, Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain also addresses issues of concern and pastoral care help for religious professionals.
Book and online: Craig Rennebohm, Souls in the Hands of a Tender God describes the work his congregation is doing among people who are mentally ill and live on the streets of Seattle. They call this work companioning. Much of it is walking alongside people to help them navigate the system. People in congregations could use such companions, too. The website TheFigTree.org reports on this continuing ministry.
Face to face and online: Fresh Hope is a design for peer support groups specifically for Christians. The website has information about how to start a group in your area. FreshHope.us
Online: NAMI once again. FaithNet is an interfaith resource network of NAMI members, friends, clergy, and congregations of all faith traditions who wish to encourage faith communities who are welcoming and supportive of persons and families living with mental illness. Explore their website for a variety of resources NAMI.org/FaithNet.
Your local NAMI affiliate is likely to have information about what is available to people who are mentally ill near you.
Brain Stuff – Bipolar Disorder from the Inside
Coloring Book: Marian C. Diamond and Arnold B. Scheibel, The Human Brain Coloring Book is designed for students in psychology or medicine or anyone who wants to learn about the brain. You learn as you color plates that illustrate brain structures, neurons, calcium channels, brain development, and more. There are a number of coloring books out there. I like this one.
Online: Neuroscientifically Challenged is a website with articles, two-minute videos, a glossary, and lots of diagrams. It is a handy place to go when you are reading about the brain and come across a term you don’t know. Or it can be where you learn more about the brain one bit at a time. The author, Mark Dingman, also has a book, Your Brain Explained.
Book: Frederick Goodwin and Kay Redfield Jamison, Manic-Depressive Illness: Bipolar Disorders and Recurrent Depression is the challenge book, with 976 pages of everything scientists know about manic-depressive illness. Goodwin and Jamison lay out the historical and, they assert, more correct paradigm of bipolar, that the essential feature is not mood but rather cycling. That is why they prefer the older name (note the title) rather than the confusing bipolar, which directs you to the single feature of up and down. Hence, they belong in the bipolar spectrum camp. You could call them the senior camp counselors of the bipolar spectrum camp.
Manic-Depressive Illness is for people who want to dig into the textbook aspiring psychiatrists read. Sections include clinical description and diagnosis, clinical studies, psychological studies, pathophysiology, and treatment. The book covers everything from DNA sites to cellular plasticity to sleep to creativity. You don’t need to know all this stuff, unless you are an aspiring psychiatrist. Like, I skimmed the chapter on signaling networks and calcium channels. You can use the table of contents to find your way to the comprehensible parts.
Book: John McManamy, Not Just Up and Down. The DSM is the linear thinker’s paradise. The reality it purports to describe is messy. Everything is interconnected. By everything, McManamy means symptoms, life experiences, personality traits, and daily habits. What if we could tear up the DSM and start over? This time listen to patients and use their experiences to create a new classification for mental disorders. Somebody has to do it, reasons McManamy. Why not him?
McManamy is reaching farther than the NIMH and Insel for his data. He is what you call an expert patient. He has done his homework and has street cred with psychiatrists. Well, he has on occasion been invited to present at their conferences, until he tells them something they don’t want to hear. He is also a funny guy. And he taught me how to pronounce Nassir Ghaemi and Hagop Akiskal.
Not Just Up and Down is the first of a series that continues with In Search of Identity.
From God to Neurons
The following have a bit of everything.
Online: Prozac Monologues: Reflections and Research on the Mind, the Brain, Mental Illness, and Society is what I do when I am not writing a book. You’ll find articles, videos, book reviews, rants, a sermon or two, and links to other resources.
Online: You Are Your Own Expert: McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web is a huge resource center designed to help you learn what you want to learn.
Magazine, paper, and online: The website bphope.com is affiliated with bp Magazine and has articles about the latest research, treatment, relationships, personal stories, tips, inspiration, and blogs. You can get a paper copy too.
The learning, the recovery, the rest of your life has begun.
It will be worth it. It will. Keep going.
Do you have other resources to recommend? Drop me a line and let me know.
This is the last chapter of Prozac Monologues: A Voice from the Edge. Did you find it helpful? Stay in touch – sign up for the newsletter and receive the first chapter as a gift.
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