Gabe Howard is an award-winning podcast host, speaker and writer who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He hosts the Psych Central Show and Not Crazy. He is the author of Mental Illness is an Asshole, a collection of his observations and blog posts on living well with a mental illness, mental health advocacy, and debunking stigma. I sat down with him over Zoom to talk about men’s mental health, bipolar and relationships and creating a career that works with your mental illness. The following is my first podcast. Enjoy the listen. You can find Gabe Howard at www.gabehoward.com. Buy his book, listen to his podcasts and learn from someone devoted to the science of mental health and the truth.
There’s been a lot of talk in the media about defunding the police. I think it’s less about eradicating the police and more about offering an alternative to helping people in mental health crises that are non-violent. Here, in Connecticut, a person or family member in crisis can dial 211 and ask for mobile crisis to come out to their home. 211 offers a number of services including finding housing, utility assistance, mental health, senior services, covid-19 information, basic needs, healthcare, legal assistance, food insecurity and substance abuse. Run by the United Way, other states may have 211 programs set up. I talked to two people who help staff programs on both US coasts, which offer alternatives to calling 911.
The Living Room, Framingham MA
The Living Room is a place of warmth and friendship; an empathetic ear and a direction to services in the community. It is the place to go to avoid costly mental health visits at the emergency room.
The Living Room was open 24/7 until the pandemic hit. Now, it is open half that time, but they have a 24-hour hotline at (508)661-3333. Fully staffed by peer specialists, there is no force or coercion. It is a nice place to talk to someone about your crisis and have the peer specialist make suggestions or guide you two resources. No one on staff commands you to listen to them or tries to diagnose you. There’s a television, a small media library, internet access, laundry facilities, a kitchen (closed now due to pandemic), and a clothing closet full of clothes if you need a fresh change.
A Certified Peer Recovery Specialist (CPRS) is a person who has lived experience of a mental illness, substance use disorder or co-occurring disorder, who has made the journey from illness to wellness, and who now wishes to help others.
An Empathetic Ear
The staff at the Living Room make no decisions for the person. They only provide information. There is a quiet room and another living area with three recliners and two couches. Peer specialists must maintain a trauma-informed space.
They’ve got the word out by informing the local police departments about their service as well as through other provider agencies (the Living Room is a part of Advocates) and the spiritual community.
“We create an environment where people are treated kindly and with empathy, not like mental patients,” said Keith Scott, Vice President of Peer-Support and Self-Advocacy for the Advocates.
“This is not peer counseling—no advice is given,” said Scott. No advice, only an ear and maybe a suggestion.
Their Problems are Never Made Light of Here
They see people who hear voices, have severe depression, or maybe homeless. People can stay up to three nights.
“Without the Living Room as a resource, people would go to the ER, and especially for a sexual abuse survivor the ER is not always trauma sensitive,” said Scott.
Located at 284 Union Avenue in Framingham MA, the Living Room mainly sees the poor and disenfranchised, those living in mental health ghettos where access to services is limited. Staff will sometimes bring people to psych emergency services and the Living Room is located two blocks from a hospital.
The Living Room’s COVID Response
Now, through COVID, the Living Room recently opened up three weeks ago. While closed during the pandemic, they reached out to people through ZOOM groups. They offer a GLBT group, a group for people of color, a hearing voices group, and a suicide alternatives group. They also offer groups for gamers. This increased their access to people and name recognition in places like the Philippines.
Upon re-opening, they are open from 8AM to 10 PM. Staff use full PPE, masks, goggles, gloves, sanitizer, and disinfectant. They clean multiple times a day. Staff get their temperature taken and guests are asked questions.
Between July 2019 through the end of May 2020, they’ve had 4,340 interactions and 337 unique guests. The average length of stay is 1.3 hours; 34 hours is the longest length of stay.
Other states with similar projects are Illinois, California, New York, Virginia, and Texas. Massachusetts is starting to put contracts out for bid to open additional Living Rooms.
To find out more about Advocates, go to www.advocates.org.
Courtesy of W. Holderfield, White Bird Clinic
Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS), Eugene, OR
Marginalized people, people of color and others often don’t want to contact the police in a crisis. After years of abuse, they don’t trust them. Often what people need is to call in an alternative. CAHOOTS is one such service based out in Eugene, Oregon.
I spoke to Michelle Perin, cross-trained as a crisis worker and a medic, who works for CAHOOTS. The mobile crisis operation has three vans: one in Springfield, OR running 24 hours and two in Eugene OR, where the program originated. The vans are equipped with first aid materials, clothes, food, hygiene options, tents, and tarps. There is a space for the driver, a space for materials and a space in back to transport people to organizations to help their needs. The vans are now sealed off with plexiglass due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
Citizens Call in People in Crisis
Citizens will often call in problems to 911 and CAHOOTS will be sent out to de-escalate those calls where there are no threats of violence. They work with the police and are funded by the city.
“Most calls that come into police are social service calls,” said Perin. “That’s where we come in.”
A Partnership with Police
“We have a partnership with the police,” said Perin. CAHOOTS get the social service calls; the police get to be freed up for the harder stuff.
Some of the crisis they take on are changing wounds, helping parents with an out of control 12-year-old, family mediation, homeless people, and those contemplating suicide. “We go where we are asked–sometimes in a high-end neighborhood; sometimes in low income neighborhoods.”
They also go with the police and fire department to handle an overdose.
Saving the City Money on Mental Health Visits
“We save the cities money,” Perin said. The City of Eugene’s police budget funds them. They are also part of the White Bird Clinic, a non-profit with a socio-medical model of the counter culture 1960s. White Bird Clinic provides medical care, mental health and drug and alcohol addiction services, a dental clinic, and mobile crisis (CAHOOTS).
This Pilot Program Launches Elsewhere
“There are very few similar to our program through the public safety system,” said Perin. “In some places, a social worker and a police officer will go to a call together. We are the fourth arm of the public safety system.”
Crisis teams are starting to sprout up across the country. Albuquerque, New Mexico has something similar. Olympia, WA came to them and asked to build a model around CAHOOTS. Denver and Portland are working on programs like CAHOOTS.
When crisis happens such as the death of George Floyd and people talk about reinventing the police from the ground up, White Bird Clinic has been operating a safe, successful, humanistic program for 30 years.
Where to Call for Help
The crisis numbers to reach CAHOOTS are: for Eugene (541)682-5711 and for Springfield (541)726-3714. You can also ask for them by calling 911 and an Oregon area dispatcher will send them out. To find out more about CAHOOTS and White Bird Clinic, go to www.whitebirdclinic.org.
Julia Tannenbaum, author of Changing Ways and now Breaking Free, launched a new blog Nourish with one of her moms Katherine Wilson on July 6, 2020. Nourish as the subtitle states is about balance through food. Julia, who is recovering from an eating disorder, was inspired to share her stories of hope and healing along with the recipes her mom, Katherine, made her while she was refeeding. Nourish blog is wholesome healthy recipes to support people recovering from eating disorders.
Throughout Julia’s illness and recovery, Katherine stayed at home to give Julia 100 percent of caregiving. Wilson, who holds an MBA, is vegetarian and an avid gardener and composter.
“Being a good cook, I fed her to beat her disease,” said Wilson. “Eating disorders are more than about food. Food is intense in everyone’s life. If you have an eating disorder, all logic goes out the window. It’s a brain disease and it is frightening, making food the enemy. Food is medicine. We had to teach Julia to learn how to enjoy food approaching food in a gentle way.”
It was a gradual journey to get Tannenbaum to a place of recovery. “I’m lucky to have a support system,” said Tannenbaum. “as well as access to foods that I’m comfortable with and a schedule/routine.”
The blog has information about exchanges and could also be useful for diabetics and athletes. Wilson altered recipes based on what Tannenbaum needed at the time. The pair intend to write the blog for a year and see what comes from it. They are hoping for a book deal—which would be a book of insights and recipes into feeding eating disorders.
“Going through mental illness was horrible but it gave me the gift of helping me be more understanding of others,” said Tannenbaum.
Exchanges are tools for planning and calculating individualized meal plans introduced by the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Exchanges are a type of food that falls into one of six food groups: starches, proteins, fats, vegetables, fruits, and dairy. Tannenbaum was introduced to them while in treatment for her eating disorder. On their blog, the pair plan to cover exchanges.
Tannenbaum is currently working on the trilogy of her first two books, which you can find out more about on the Nourish site as well. You can read Nourish at http://thenourishcookbook.com. Find Nourish on Instagram at thenourishcookbook; facebook thenourishcookbook; and twitter thenourishcb.
In light of the tragedy of George Floyd, here are a few resources for people of color in need of mental health resources and services. If this has got you feeling shaky, talk to someone a professional or someone in your support network.
Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM)
Article by SELF magazine about resources for black men and women
When Lauren Hope, entrepreneur and mental health advocate, practices self-care, she plays a Norah Jones CD and visualizes herself in a sunflower field.
Hope, 35, of Suffolk, Virginia, shares her lived experience with major depressive disorder and anxiety as a speaker, peer specialist, and on her blog Good Girl Chronicles. I found her through Instagram and the organization This is My Brave. The day we chatted I could hear Boo, her rescue dog, whom she adopted from the local Humane Society in the background.
“Boo and I rescued each other. He’s my emotional support dog. It’s nice having something to take care of that gets me moving and redirects my thoughts,” said Hope.
Hope’s troubles began in 2014 while a t.v. reporter for the #1 station in Hampton Roads. She was diagnosed with major depression and anxiety but believed it was only a character defect, that she could cure herself by pushing herself harder.
This came to an end after she attempted to take her own life that May. Her life slowly spiraled into a psych hospital stay, leaving her television job and eventually into homelessness for a year. She also gained 100 pounds.
In late 2016, she tried a new medication, which worked, and a new therapist. She reconnected with her Christian faith, and in 2017 began telling her story through blogging about her suicide attempt and mental illness. This led to people asking her to speak at mental health events. She’s been a board member for two years of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Virginia chapter.
She credits her advocacy as well as her survival during her homeless period to reaching out for help. She was surprised how when you reach out people freely give. Some donated to her GoFundMe page; while others let her take showers in their homes.
Telling her own story is a new way of life. “As a t.v. reporter, you tell other people’s stories not your own.”
One day at a suicide prevention walk, someone suggested she turn her story and blog into a business. “Storytelling saved my life and changed its trajectory,” she said.
She became a peer specialist, and continued to speak, blog, vlog and create content for social. She also does mental health consulting. “I can go into any agency and through talking about my lived experience help people be better allies and create a stigma free environment.”
She’s spoken to the Hampton Police and Fire conference and was surprised how little people knew about mental health stigma. But her goal is to one day speak to news organizations about setting mental health boundaries and not working until burnout, a cause close to her heart.
“I don’t think people understand the trauma news people see everyday,” “It’s a hard business to be in. It triggered my illness.”
Hope became active with the storytelling nonprofit This is My Brave. She shared her story in the Fall 2018 Arlington, Virginia show, and then is produced the Hampton Roads show. She started a small-scale storytelling show Sparks of Hope storytelling to give more people a chance to tell their stories.
“It’s the spark that changes someone’s life,” she said.
Through it all, Hope learned a lot about life. “I learned that I am so much stronger and that their are still good people in the world.”
“It’s not an easy thing being transparent and it’s especially hard around mental health.”
People who inspire her are Jennifer Marshall, executive director of This is My Brave, who has given people a voice and whose lived experience gives people hope and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a wrestler, whose confidence she admires. It’s on her bucket list to meet him someday.
Her other self-care activities include seeing her therapist once a week, avid journaling, running, and right now using the Peloton App. She also reaches out to friends and has coffee dates on the phone.
You can find Lauren Hope at Instagram @goodgirlchroniclesllc or on her web site and blog www.goodgirlchronicles.com.
Cary McQueen, executive director, founded Art with Impact in 2011, a nonprofit showcasing short films on mental health and leading discussions about their contents at live events on college campuses.
“Mental health is the defining social justice issue of our time,” said McQueen.
Diagnosed with depression in college, McQueen sought to use her Bachelor’s degree in photography and master’s in arts management to showcase mental health issues in short films.
The films are submitted to the nonprofit for judging by filmmakers of diverse backgrounds along the lines of race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, gender and non-binary persons. Winners receive $1000 and their film is archived on Art with Impact’s web site in their OLIVE Collection. The organization holds live events where three films are shown and then a discussion.
“Normalizing the conversation helps us feel less alone,” she said.
The film “Strange Fruit” shows us how racism affects a person’s mental health in a poignant way. The film “Little Elizabeth” is about a woman’s long walk to the beach in California dissecting her history of sexual abuse. There are films about sexual violence, gender violence, depression and almost every mental health issue one can think of. Only a few minutes longer than a PSA, the impact of the storytelling in each film reflects real people talking about their mental health or better yet showing it in images. There are over 70 films as filmmakers submit their work every month to the contest. They have nine different nationalities of filmmakers. Many are from indigenous communities.
McQueen said that on their site they include instructions on how to watch the films and what to do and where to go if one is triggered by them. The organization trains people who want to lead discussions with the films on how to help people who may get triggered from them.
The metrics of the power of these films are that 81 percent of the people attending the workshops are inspired afterward to seek support for themselves, said McQueen. “The magic happens when people experience art together, then talk about it.”
Since COVID, they offer online workshops for college students to discuss the films. When workshops are held live, they have gathered at least 80 people, sometimes 300.
This year they are premiering films about queer mental health and how mental health impacts masculinity in June.
The entire collection of films are archived on their web site.
The web site is funded through grants and is free. You can watch OLIVE Collection films or submit a five-minute film of your own over here at http://artwithimpact.org.
Today is World Bipolar Day, March 30. Last summer, I had an acute mania after years of not having one. I fell into a six month depression after that, which was why my blogging was sparse. Through therapy and a medication adjustment, I recovered once again. My story is over twenty years old and I’ve covered it on here a lot. I’m not going to rehash it here. The two most important lessons I learned was gratitude and being flexible in the face of tough circumstances.
The current Coronavirus pandemic is hard for us all. We all have to learn to adjust to new circumstances, perhaps uncomfortable, uncertain, and scary. For, us bipolars, flexibility and adjusting to a new way of life can be trying. I’ve compiled some tips for staying stable in uncertain times.
Research the facts with trusted news sources and web sites. There is a lot of information and misinformation out there. Some good ones are National Public Radio, The Mighty, the Guardian, National Institute of Health, National Institute of Medicine, the New York Times digital edition.
Pay attention to your body physically and emotionally. What do you need most? Eat good foods for you. There are a lot of cooking classes on the Great Courses (not a sponsor) and on Youtube where you can learn to cook during this time.
Most importantly, as my friend Glennon says, Do not feel you have to do/make things perfectly. Rest. Relax. Just enjoy what you are doing in the moment whether that be blogging, writing, cooking, playing guitar, binge watching etc…Too often, us bipolars feel we have to be perfect before we can share or get opportunities. We need to disuage ourselves of this notion and just be. Inspiration will come if we get quiet and go deep within ourselves.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many therapists, including my own, are holding sessions on Skype or by phone. While it isn’t a substitute, it works to be able to get stress out. There is also BetterHelp.com (not a sponsor).
Find appropriate ways to express your anxiety. Don’t blast someone in their email or yell into your phone at them. Instead, use your anxious moments to go within and find out why you really are anxious. Ask yourself questions in a journal. Writing helps ease the anxiety. And, remember you don’t have to have perfect writing and hand writing to journal. Write in an old notebook or on a cocktail napkin.
Get Deep. Write a poem about the metaphors you see in this current situation. Wax philosophical. Look up some philosophers on Google and quote them on your wall or in your journal.
Be clean. This one is a no brainer but I have to say it. Wash your hands often and don’t touch your face. Clean counters and surfaces frequently.
Since we are all self-isolating, try your hand at self-portrait photography, even if it is just with your phone.
Stay away from binging on sugar and caffeine. Sure, a little is ok as a treat. But us bipolars must watch what we put into our bodies. Snacking is ok on good foods but make sure you don’t eat everything in your home in one day.
Limit social media and screen time. Get out and get some exercise using social distancing guidelines.
Binge on podcasts. Some faves of mine are Unlocking Us, Brene Brown’s new one, Dear Young Rocker, On Being, Self-care Sunday, Mental Illness Happy Hour, the Moth. If you would like to recommend one, please share in the comments.
Happy World Bipolar Day!