Jamison and Steel: Interviews on Suicide

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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.

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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.

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DANIELLE STEEL

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: http://www.nami.org/

 

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CT Interview with Brennan Manning

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The Dick Staub Interview: Brennan Manning on “Ruthless Trust”

http://www.brennanmanning.com/

Many Christians are still afraid to let God love them as they truly are, says the former priest, sober alcoholic, and author. This is just a small excerpt of an interview given by Mr. Manning to Christianity Today.

What is premise of this book about trust?

The basic idea is in one sentence: The splendor of a human heart that trusts and is loved unconditionally gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the sight of 10,000 butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.

It’s what Jesus said we need to bring into the relationship.

Yes. Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship. The supreme need in most of our lives is often the most overlooked: an unfaltering trust in the love of God no matter what goes down. I think this is what Paul taught when he wrote in Philippians 4:13, “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the one that gives me strength.”

But how do we know if we’re really trusting? Most people would say they trust God.

The dominant characteristic of an authentic spiritual life is the gratitude that flows from trust—not only for all the gifts that I receive from God, but gratitude for all the suffering. Because in that purifying experience, suffering has often been the shortest path to intimacy with God.

I’d also add that biblical trust grows out of love. My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.

In John 17:26, Jesus says, “Father, I have made your name known. I continue to make it known. And I pray that the same love with which you love me may be in them and I in them.” The very same love that the Abba has for Jesus is the same love he has for us when he’s in our hearts. The problem is most of us aren’t aware of it.

So part of this is an attention problem?

I believe that the real difference in the American church is not between conservatives and liberals, fundamentalists and charismatics, nor between Republicans and Democrats. The real difference is between the aware and the unaware.

When somebody is aware of that love, the same love that the Father has for Jesus, that person is just spontaneously grateful. Cries of thankfulness become the dominant characteristic of the interior life, and the byproduct of gratitude is joy. We’re not joyful and then become grateful, we’re grateful and that makes us joyful.

But there’s suffering, too. In your book, tucked away between talking about gratefulness and beholding God, you talk very personally about how, if we’re truly going to learn to trust God, we can’t avoid the personal suffering.

When I was outside an alcohol and drug rehab center in New Orleans, and I was clutching a pint of Taaka vodka, what I did not want was the lifesaving treatment of detox in a 28-day program.

I kept on drinking, a drunken child crying out, “Jesus, where are you?” How do we experience trust in the midst of pain, suffering, heartache, and throbbing despair? I mean, is it possible to endure and eventually move beyond the bleak and melancholy landscape of evil and destruction, back to the experience of God as unconditional love? That’s the problem I ask Christians. Do you trust that God loves you? Everybody says, oh yes, I’ve known that for a long time. Then just watch the way they live. There’s so much fear, so much anxiety, and so much self-hatred. The best definition of faith I ever heard was Paul Tillich when he said, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.”

Meaning? Faith is a code to accept that Jesus knows my whole life story, every skeleton in my closet, every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty, degradedness darkening my past. Right now he knows my shallow faith, my feeble prayer life, my inconsistent discipleship, and he comes beside me and he says, I dare you to trust. I dare you to trust that I love you, just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.

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Source/To read more, go to:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/decemberweb-only/12-9-21.0.html

http://www.brennanmanning.com/

For more Broken Believer teachings:  https://brokenbelievers.com/category/brennan-manning/

 

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The God-Players, [Death Wish]

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The Problem Is Myself,

  by Earl Jabay

 

About twenty-five years ago, in a small Midwestern city, a group of young boys were playing baseball. It was a team tryout. Every boy was doing his best to impress the coach. Robbie was a catcher. Younger than the two other boys who were trying out for that position, he was, however, a real beaver. Nothing was more important to him than getting on the team. There was no question about his talent. He was good. Any spectator could see that he was better than the other two catchers.

Late in the afternoon, the coach called Robbie over to him. Robbie studied the coach’s eyes for some hint of acceptance. It was not there, but then, maybe the coach was hiding his feelings. The coach began talking about how much ability Robbie had and that he really gave a lot to the game. And then it came. “Robbie, I hate to have to tell you this, but I can’t use you.” It was like being hit on the head with a baseball bat. “But . . . why?” Robbie fought to hold back his tears.

“Robbie—two things. You’re not a team member. You never joined us. You play your game when you are out there. You are a good catcher—but a loner as a team member. “The second thing is that you have a problem with me. You play my part, coaching the players and taking over. We can’t have a ball club on that basis.” “But Coach!—I was only trying my best!” Coach reflected. “There’s more to it than that, Robbie.” You were a good ballplayer, but your enlarged ego moved you right out of the ball club. “Forget it!” cried Robbie, as he stormed off the ball field. “I wouldn’t be caught dead on your crummy team!” Even as you stormed off the field, you felt like a king. You told them you were too good for them.

When I met Robbie, he was a man in his late thirties who had recently been admitted to a mental hospital. Rob was severely suicidal. “I’ve been struggling against taking my life ever since I was a young boy. Death has somehow always had a fascination for me.” He was seated comfortably in my study, and I just let him talk. “I remember that old Ford I had just before I graduated from high school. One night I took it out to the edge of town and ran a piece of tubing from the exhaust, through the window, and into the car. Then I started up the engine. Somehow, it gave me wild excitement to see how close I could come to taking my life. I chickened out, as you can see.” He laughed hollowly. “Another time, I tried to see how close I could come to the concrete abutment of an overpass. The car was doing about fifty-five when I hit it. Two days later, I woke up in a hospital with a broken back which still gives me trouble.” I thought of all the highway deaths and wondered how many of them were, in reality, suicides. “This thing with death really frightens me.” He paused and shook his head. “Well, it does and it doesn’t. Right now, I really don’t want to kill myself. But when I get excited or things go wrong, the first thing I do is think about some weird plan to kill myself. I have literally hundreds of ways all worked out in my mind. The idea has a hold on me.

Many times, it’s almost as if a dark, brooding presence comes over me and I have no power over it. I don’t believe in the devil, but it’s like an evil power—I find myself absolutely powerless to resist it. That’s what brought me here. This time, I slashed my wrists. One part of me tells me I wanted to do it—another says I didn’t.” Rob went on to tell me what he had tried to do about his problem. “I spent years trying to figure out what kind of a nut I was to have these weird ideas. I became such a nervous wreck that I went to a psychiatrist for some tranquilizers. Thought maybe that would help.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “The doctor gave me some pills and suggested psychotherapy. I had already read a lot about it, so I began treatment. At the time, I claimed that it was doing a lot of good and that I was finally getting some answers. I think I had to say that to justify paying him all that money! After two years, I ran out of money—and patience. I came to know a lot about my past, but that old problem of suicide was more of a threat than ever.

“Next thing I did was go to a minister. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not religious, but I heard that this minister was a counselor, so I went to him. True, he didn’t say much about God, but he sure had a lot to say about his church. His congregation was very busy and active with all kinds of study groups and community-action programs, all of which I was invited to join. When I finally got to tell him about my problems, all I recall him saying was that I should make a decision not to kill myself, and that I should use more willpower. Oh yes, he said I should also pray. I was hoping he would pray with me, because I felt I really needed prayer, but he never suggested it. I quit going to see him.”

I looked at Rob’s face. Fatigue was written all over it. And despair. I felt pity for this man who had tried so hard to figure out why he was losing his battle against death. I sensed that Rob had a little more to say. “The only conclusion I can come to is that my biggest problem is myself. I am my own worst enemy!—always have been. I’m a double person—maybe I’m schizoid, I don’t know. I do and then I don’t want to kill myself. I don’t understand myself. I don’t even like myself. Worst of all, I can’t even control myself! For God’s sake, Chaplain, tell me what’s wrong with me!” he cried, putting his face in his hands. “Does any of this make any sense at all?”

I knew it was time to level with Rob. “Okay,” I said, keeping my voice low, “I’ll give it to you straight: you are absolutely right when you say that you are your biggest problem. And the problem with you, Rob, is that you are a god-player. What I mean is this: you have tried to create your own little world with yourself placed squarely in the center of it. God has no place in your world because you have taken His place. Your whole life is a story of how you tried to set things up according to your will and plans. You wanted to be a king and build yourself a kingdom. The truth is that you are not a god, not even a king—you are a plain, ordinary human being who has never joined the human race.” Rob was listening now, not moving a muscle. I went on. “That early episode on the ball field, in a sense, tells it all. Even then you tried to take over. You tried to take that ball club—coach and all—and make them serve you in the Kingdom of Robbie. I paused, catching my breath, but Rob remained speechless.

“Now, about this problem of suicide,” I continued. “Suicide is the ultimate act of god-playing—even though you never consciously intended it to be that. Look, when anyone attempts suicide, what does he do? He insists of having the world his way, and if he cannot have it his way, he will kill himself. The king in us would rather die than accept the world as it is. He has such a deep love for his kingship and such a strong faith in himself to bring it about, that any failure or weakness in himself must be punished with death.” Rob nodded. He didn’t like what he was hearing, but he seemed to see it was the truth, and he wanted to hear more. “The Kingdom of Self, understand, is in our heads. We spend years building this fantasy kingdom unto our own glory. The king’s thinking becomes grandiose and his feelings ultimate. He believes all things can and must be done according to his will. And another thing; the king is never wrong. He is always right. Just ask him. He’ll tell you. So when the castle really starts to fall down around his ears and the king has lost all control of the world in his mind, he will fly out of control unto his own destruction. Then the forces of self-hate and self-pity move in and become so strong that the king is powerless to withstand them. He does, therefore, what he does not want to do—he attempts to kill himself because he can’t stand himself, defeated phony king that he is. It’s not that he particularly wants to die; it’s just that there doesn’t seem to be any alternative with his kingdom in such terrible shape.” I glanced at my watch and realized I had only a few minutes before my next appointment. “One more thing before you go: you are a god-playing king. So am I. Everyone is. You failed as a king. I, too. We are both failures—in fact, we even failed to fail successfully. But we are still alive, thank God, and there is much hope for both of us. If you want to, come back this afternoon, and we’ll talk some more.”

 

Earl Jabay was a Christian therapist in 1950’s.  He wrote a number of books, including “The Kingdom of Self” and “The God-Players.”

 

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