By Linda Braden Albert | [email protected] | July 20, 2014
A series of presentations focusing on mental health issues that began in March at the Blount County Public Library will continue Thursday as Allen Doederlein, president of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), speaks on bipolar disorder and depression. The presentations, sponsored by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Maryville, are free and open to the public.
Doederlein said, “Our headquarters are in Chicago, Ill., and yet, we are really all over the country and have some incredible and important affiliates in Tennessee. The work they do is entirely volunteer. It’s done as a labor of love and it’s done from a very personal place.”
The organization is by and for people who live with depression or bipolar disorder. “That lived experience informs everything we do,” Doederlein said. “We provide information that’s easy and understandable, not written in ‘medicalese,’ not confusing but gets directly to what these conditions are and what you can do to live and get well. We provide empowerment. These are conditions that can make people feel disenfranchised, that can carry great stigma. We want to make sure that people are strong advocates for themselves.”
Doederlein said another goal is to raise concerns and needs to elected officials but also on a more personal level. “Also in their work places and their families — anyplace people with mood disorders may find themselves, to say, let’s work collaboratively and constructively to make sure everyone does well,” he said.
DBSA support groups provide valuable assistance and education for those with mood disorders. Doederlein said, “Our chapters operate free, in-person peer support groups. That’s a group that meets without a doctor or clinical professional present, just the people with a lived experience. There’s a great deal of scientific literature that shows that peer-to-peer experience is greatly beneficial and helps people get well and stay well.”
About 53,000 people are reached nationally in a year by these peer support groups, he added.
Doederlein said Larry Drain, president of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Maryville and initiator of the mental health informational series, is a wonderful example of someone with a great deal of power and intellect who has been challenged by mood disorders.
“He had taken that lived experience and made something in terms of giving back to others,” Doederlein said. “When you think that there are people doing that all over the country, it’s really, really something. Larry’s not only done that in terms of support but also as an advocate.”
At the national level, 50 percent of the paid professional staff and volunteers must, by charter, have personal experience in dealing with mood disorders.
“That perspective informs everything that we do,” Doederlein said. “That’s really important. Very often in health-related education or advocacy, it will be doctors talking to doctors, not really related to a person getting herself or himself well. We make sure that’s at the center of what we do.”
Mood disorders include a spectrum of conditions, including depression and bipolar disorder. Doederlein said, “About 21 million American adults are estimated to be affected by depression and bipolar disorder. That breaks down to about 14 million affected by depression, and between 6 and 7 million affected by bipolar disorder.”
Mood disorders are challenging, but they can be managed and those with the disorders can thrive and contribute to society, Doederlein said. A prime example — Abraham Lincoln.
To learn more, visit the DBSA at www.DBSAlliance.org or attend Thursday’s presentation. It begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Blount County Public Library.