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Jamison and Steel: Interviews on Suicide


NAMI’s Interviews With Danielle Steel & Kay Jamison

Last year, Steel published His Bright Light, a memoir of her son, Nick Traina, who committed suicide at age 19 after a life-long battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). More recently, Jamison has published Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, combining research, clinical expertise and personal experience to explore one of the world’s leading causes of death.On February 8, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Resources, Education & Related Agencies will hold a hearing on suicide prevention that will include testimony from best-selling author Danielle Steel and Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, author of several academic and popular books on mental illness.

Interviews with Steel and Jamison have appeared in “Spotlight,” a special supplement to The Advocate, the quarterly publication of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Conducted by NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn, they offer a possible preview of Steel and Jamison’s testimony on Tuesday. Excerpts follow below.


Dr. Kay Jamison

NAMI’s Interview with Kay Jamison
Spotlight (Winter 1999/2000)

NAMI: What do we know about the linkage between suicide and mental illness?

Jamison: The most important thing to know is that 90 to 95 percent of suicides are associated with one of several major psychiatric illnesses: depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse, and personality disorders. These are obviously treatable illnesses. Another thing people don’t think about enough or emphasize enough is that because cancer and heart disease hit older people, they are seen as lethal illnesses. Because the age of onset for mental illnesses is very, very young, people don’t tend to think of mental illnesses as the potentially lethal illnesses they are. It’s important for people to understand that they have an illness to begin with and then that they get good treatment for it.

NAMI: You have spoken specifically of suicide and college students.

Jamison: Yes. Suicide is the second major killer of college aged kids. It’s the second leading killer of young people generally.

NAMI: You also have pointed out that, worldwide, suicide is the second leading killer of women between ages 15 and 45. These statistics are staggering, yet most people don’t seem to be aware of it.

Jamison: Absolutely. Across the world. There are almost two million suicides a year worldwide. I think people just don’t have any sense of the enormity of it. Suicide unfortunately has been so individualized and, because of the early suicide movement in this country, so separated from mental illness. People working in the field of suicide concentrated on existential factors and vague sorts of things, when in fact the underlying science is very clear that they’re associated with a few mental illnesses.

NAMI: Knowing what we do about illness and its treatability allows us to be able to discuss preventing suicide.

Jamison: Right. [U.S. Surgeon General] Dr. David Satcher’s emphasis has been very strong on three fronts. One is public awareness. Secondly, intervention and all that’s involved in making doctors and others more able to ask the kinds of questions needed to uncover mental illness. And then, thirdly, to support the science that’s necessary to study suicide.

NAMI: What else can policy makers and public officials do?

Jamison: I think we have to have public officials talking about it. When you have someone like Jesse Ventura out there saying these outrageous things-I think it’s really beyond the pale-we’ve got to have the president of the United States saying look we’ve got a real epidemic here, and there’s something we can do about it. People are dying from not gaining access to treatment-or from having three days in the hospital, and then going out and dying.



NAMI’s Interview with Danielle Steel
Spotlight (Winter 1999)

NAMI: “His Bright Light” is a very personal story about a very painful subject, the mental illness and death of a child. What did you hope people would learn by sharing your story?

Steel: I hoped first of all that people would come to know my son, and learn what an extraordinary person he was. I wrote the book to honor him, and to share with people what a remarkable person he was, in spite of his illness. I also wrote it to share with people the challenges we faced, so that they feel less alone and less isolated with their pain, in similar situations. I wrote it to give people hope and strength as they follow a similar path to ours.

NAMI: What did you learn from this painful tragedy?

Steel: I’m not sure yet what I learned from the tragedy, except that one can and must survive. But from his life, I learned a great deal about courage and perseverance, and love.

NAMI: Lots of people in America might be facing signs of a mental illness in one of their children. What about Nick’s behavior made you realize that it was more severe than just the normal growing pains of a child?

Steel: Nick was different. Always. His moods were more extreme. I sensed from early on, that despite his many wonderful qualities, there was something very wrong. I knew it in my gut, as I think many parents do.

NAMI: How long did it take for Nick to be diagnosed as manic-depressive and receive treatment for that condition?

Steel: Nick was not clearly diagnosed as manic depressive until he was 16, a good 12 years after we began the pursuit of the causes for his ‘differences’. He received no medication until he was 15, and did not receive the most effective medications until he was 16. A long and very painful wait for all concerned!

NAMI: Prior to knowing of Nick’s manic depression, what did mental illness mean to you? Did you associate stigma with mental illness?

Steel: I don’t think I realized, before Nick, that one could still be functional, or seemingly functional, if mentally ill. I thought of it as something totally incapacitating, and of people who were shut away. I don’t think I realized how intelligent and capable mentally ill people can still be. I’m not sure I did associate a stigma with mental illness. It just seemed like a sickness, and not necessarily a shameful one. I just thought of Nick as sick, whatever it was called, and wanted him to be cured.

NAMI: How did Nick deal with the knowledge that he had a mental illness?

Steel: For a long time, Nick himself was in denial about his illness. And eventually, he accepted it. In the last year, he told people he was manic-depressive. Before that, when he felt ‘normal’ on medications, he believed he was cured. He had a hard time accepting at first that he would be manic-depressive all his life.

NAMI: Are schools able to cope with the mental illness of a child?

Steel: In most cases, I don’t believe they are. It is a huge challenge for all to meet, and certainly hard on the other kids to have one child acting out. We were very lucky, in Nick’s high school years we finally found a wonderful school that understood the problem, accepted him as he was, and was willing to work with him in a framework he could cope with. They were remarkably flexible and creative. But for most schools, it’s asking a lot to expect them to adapt to a mentally ill child.

NAMI: If you could tell a family member who is caring for someone who is mentally ill one thing, what would that be?

Steel: Never give up. Get the best help you can. Keep trying, keep loving, keep giving, keep looking for the right answers, and love, love, love, love. Don’t listen to the words, just listen to your heart.

NAMI: What do you think support groups like NAMI can do for families coping with the mental illness of a loved one?

Steel: I think groups like NAMI can provide support, both emotional and practical—the knowledge that you are not alone. And resources, where to go, who to talk to, what works. You need all the information you can get, and it is just about impossible to do it alone.

NAMI: Stereotyping the mentally ill as violent and dangerous is pervasive in America. How do we change this perception?

Danielle: Information. Obviously there must be some mentally ill people who are violent and/or dangerous. But I suspect that most are not. Nick certainly wasn’t either of those, he was gentle, loving, smart, funny, compassionate, extremely perceptive about people, and very wise. I cannot conceive of Nick as ‘dangerous,’ although ultimately he was a danger to himself. But for the most part, I think the turmoils of the mentally ill are directed within and not without.

NAMI: What do you think the average American should know about mental illness?

Steel: I think most people should know how common it is…I also think people should know how serious it is when it goes untreated. And how potentially lethal it can be. It is vitally important to get good treatment, the right medication, and good support. If you let a bad cold turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia, without medication, it can kill you. If you do not treat serious diabetes, it can kill you. If mental illness goes untreated, it can kill you.

NAMI: We know that having “hope” is important to battling any disease. What hope do you see for people with mental illness?

Steel: I see a huge amount of hope. The medications today can give people whole, happy, productive lives. There are lots and lots of people with mental illness holding down good jobs, even with important careers, happy family lives, and doing great things. It is possible to lead a good and happy life if you are mentally ill. If those who are doing just that would speak up, it would give great hope to all those who are still groping their way along in the dark.

NAMI: What is Nick’s legacy?

Steel: Nick’s legacy is the love we had and have for him, the word we have spread of what a terrific person he was. In his lifetime, he touched countless lives, with his warmth, with his mind, with his music, with his words. Through his experiences, others have and will learn. Through the Nick Traina Foundation, hopefully we can bring help to others, in his name.


For more information or assistance, please contact NAMI at:



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When Despair Empties You


“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  

Acts 14:22

As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.

There is much I can do before  it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. Clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).

Afflicted souls are special to God. And that truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray, it is desperate and brief. More like a quiet scream for help. There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.

People for the most part, are of little help. I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)

But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered. I once woke up to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, what he did was wonderfully done.

“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”   

John Henry Newman

Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.

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Depression Detectives [Diagnosis]


There are three types of depression to consider: What type do you have? Sometimes there will be a toxic mix of them.

  1. Guilty depression- when our behavior hasn’t been what it should be (sin), this is the source of condemnation.
  2. Organic depression- when it’s built into our DNA and part of our very being; it is fundamental in your personality. You can compare it to  someone who has diabeties or MS.
  3. Reactionary depression when we react to some bad news or an injury, a car crash, or working too much with no time off

Typically your depression will originate from one of the three kinds. Each will have different methods, but identifying them could help you move through them more gracefully. There can be an overlap, however. Reactionary depression is the most common, and Guilty depression can be the most hurtful to the Christian.

Satan is involved in the intenification of each, he condemns and strangles all hope. Worship and the Word “punches his lights out.”

Knowing the type of depression will give you understanding and help you defuse the situation. These things have helped me personally.



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On Being Loved More Gently, [Disability]


Some of us struggle with mental or physical illness.  Some people don’t understand us and they walk away.  This really hurts, and so we isolate ourselves even more.  We might feel not only forsaken, but cursed. We may see ourselves as consummate losers. But these things shouldn’t separate us from our Father’s love.  I think He loves “his special needs” children even more, lol.

But we must believe that we our transformation is happening, more and more, into the image of Christ.  We are becoming like him (hence the word, Christlikeness).  This is a long process, but it is happening!  God has given his word.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give up on his plan for you.

SpecialNeeds-300x300I’m seeing lately that spiritual growth and getting older often work hand-in-hand (and why shouldn’t they?)  As we get older, we will start having many different issues.  When your 50 years old, you don’t have the same situations that you had when you were 14 or 30.  Physically we grow and understand things differently, and this works into us spiritually.  This blends or melds together, especially when the Word and Spirit are present.

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:3-6, NLT

It is my wish for you that you could walk in your own shoes, and not somebody elses. Also that you would know the grace of God intimately. Being disabled means special efforts will often be necessary, but Jesus’ love for your soul will be molded to fit that disability. There will be no wheelchairs or canes, or even ‘seeing-eye dogs’ allowed in heaven. I imagine there will be a considerable pile outside the gates. Glory awaits.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Romans 8:18


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More Bumble Than Believer, [Aging]

A Bumble with a tender heart

It’s strange to be in the position of being older.  A whirlwind of days and nights swirl from this human drama, and I think I may be starting thinking about my exit— Lord willing, stage right.

I’m supposed to be a ‘veteran’ now– a mature believer.  I’m not supposed to get stressed.  However, age is a brutal teacher– and it seems we have to learn so dang fast, it’s like trying to drink from a fire hose. (Just the other day three teeth almost came out from the blast.)

Getting old is great in some ways. I only wish I could do it more gracefully.

On top of it all, it seems to me like my sin has poisoned the air that others must breathe.  I have contaminated so much. You might just say, I have ‘soured’ everyone’s milk.  “Learning to live with the  regrets” is a class that we should add to the local high school’s curriculum. It certainly would be useful.

A old friend is celebrating her birthday so I volleyed a semi serious “tongue and cheek” regret at her.  But then, I suddenly realized that there is a point when we realize that behind every older person, is someone else wondering what the hell has happened, and how did it get this way so fast? It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.

As a Christian, I tentatively believe that this world I’m in, has folded open for me, and God has specified a direction.  I do contend though, unbelief is easier on a certain level, but I do not intend to take any detours.  Perhaps the real trick about reading a map in the car is that you most likely won’t get it folded back the same way ever again.  You must learn to accept this. And as a rule, maps seldom reveal the best detours.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.”

Isaiah 46:4, NLT

I must admit to having a connection to “Bumble”, that crazy, loveable, abominable snowman in one of those schlocky, animated children TV classics from my youth.  I guess I identify with that ‘misfit’ yeti– someone who finally sees the light, but only when all his teeth are pulled!  Somewhere in that show he seemed almost good,  but didn’t we all wonder for a while if he would come around or not?

I  also wonder about the thief on the cross who got his ticket punched by Jesus at the last possible moment.  When we finally make it to heaven, we will find him there laughing and celebrating like everyone else, just like he belonged.  I guess grace does that to a person.

“What does it matter?  All is Grace”

— Georges Bernanos. Diary of a Country Priest

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Proximity is Your Choice


23″Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
   you hold my right hand.
24You guide me with your counsel,
   and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
   And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73, ESV

Continuity is a medicine for us who are always on the edge of losing control.  One patriarch in the Book of Genesis was told that “he was unstable as water.”  And this pretty much describes me as I struggle with Bipolar Disorder.  But the promise from Psalm 73 is for a continuous presence.  There is no flickering, no jumping about.  He is steady.  He does not flit or fluctuate.  He is always, and forever, constantly focused with you.

He provides guidance, ‘free of charge’.  We can experience many confusing days.  We make the attempt to walk through them, but we quickly grasp our ineptitude.  It goes very much better when He is speaking into our hearts.  Since He is present with us on a continuous basis anyway, let us turn to Him for direction.

There is a realization in verse 25. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  This statement declares “point blank” who and what is real.

The psalmist has an ‘umbilical cord’ attached to heavenly places.  This feeds him and gives him a radical strength to stand up and ‘to be’.  He is completely over with the things of this earth.  He desires only heavenly things, that which really matters after looking down the long corridors of eternity.

In verse 26 he admits a desperate weakness.  He understands the foolishness of his flesh.  He knows that it is pathetic  and feeble.  There is absolutely nothing he can do about this.  He has tried and tried repeatedly.  His heart is like a colander that drains away all the grace and mercy that comes.  He can hold nothing. He must stay under the faucet.

But still, there is a profound realization that God is strengthening his heart.  He has done this on an eternal level.  What this means is this:  He has touched me and by that touch has made me eternal, like Him.  The rest of this Psalm extends and states certain things that the Psalmist has learned himself.

 27″For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
   you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28But for me it is good to be near God;
   I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
   that I may tell of all your works.”

Psalm 73, ESV

 Proximity determines everything.  Some will bounce to the other end of the spectrum.  Being close to Him confers life.  Moving away from Him brings nothing but certain death.  The issue in this Psalm is of ‘unfaithfulness’.  This is a biggie.  Being unfaithful means treachery, and a wagon load of deception, and nothing good will ever come from it.

“Every man is as holy as  he wants to be.”

AW Tozer

The Psalmist again deals with proximity.  God draws a person, but coming near is always your choice. The Psalmist sees that his “nearness to God is my good.”  He realizes that by taking refuge in God there is something that will be quite wonderful.  There is some effort that must happen.  So he makes God his refuge.  The Lord God is now a ‘bomb shelter’ or a covering for our souls.  He continues this process with the deep commitment to sharing ‘the works of God’.


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Surviving the Daily Grind


“I am reckoned among those who go down to the pit;
I have become like a man without strength,

Psalm 88:4

In May 2011, this is what I wrote–

“I feel like I am going through a meat grinder. Pushed against my will (and desire) I’m finding myself in a place I’d rather not be. My therapist confirmed today that I’m in a “mixed state” where bipolar mania and depression come together.  I compare it to two massive ocean currents smashing into each other.  (please Google, “mixed state”).

I’ve been into this state for just two weeks and the urge to commit suicide is starting to become surprisingly strong. For my own safety, I’m almost thinking that it maybe time to go to the hospital again.  I must tell you that these are places that you really don’t want to go if you don’t have to.  (FYI, my particular choice is Alaska Psychiatric Institute in Anchorage. It’s actually a somewhat “nicer” degree of miserable, and they have cooler art.)

I also get paranoid that people are attacking me and are plotting to ruin me. I am quite  suspicious of Facebook and my depression chat. I believe that the people that I encounter there are trying to get at me behind my back. Social networking with these type of services can be a nightmare.

But, then there is also the grandiosity. I believe that I think clearer, better, and faster than other people. It’s like I have superpowers.  I will think of myself as extremely gifted, superior to others.  I paint and write poetry and do “noble” things.

But I also have tremendous anxiety, with racing thoughts, and even heart palpitations esp. when I am sitting trying to relax. I don’t sleep well at all, in spite of the sleeping pill, the Klonopin and the melatonin, and the Benadryl, (to make sure I do sleep).

I continue to take my psych meds like a good boy. But they don’t seem to work like they used to. I think they can’t handle this particular concoction of depression/mania.  Sometimes, I feel like I’m getting better, but I never seem to get well.

The endless cycle of feeling really good and then feeling really bad is a challenging thing.  It is difficult to have a stable walk of discipleship under these circumstances.  I think being starkly honest and broken over my own fallenness is the key for me. (Now if I can only remember this.)


I know that I’m being very blunt here. Tact has never been an easy thing. As I read I remember the struggle, and how I couldn’t see a way out. I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit who led me when no one else could. I wrote this post some time ag0. I’ve been reasonably stable, but I’m certain that putting it up now maybe timely for some. I’m in a better frame of mind the last several months.

 “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.”

Romans 5:6

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