Interview with Doctor Jane Mountain, Author and Mental Health Advocate
When she was a practicing family physician, Dr. Jane Mountain never dreamed that she would someday sell her practice to become a professional speaker, author and coach.
Dr. Mountain’s passion for her own mental wellness and that of others has led her to become a voice for change in the community. Her books and articles bring breakthrough perspectives about bipolar disorder and depression. They have helped thousands find a path toward wellness for these challenging illnesses.
Dr. Mountain has been featured in BP Magazine and Vitality Magazine. She is a contributing editor to the newsletter of the International Society for Bipolar Disorders. Dr Mountain is also the founder and director of DBSA-Metro Denver, a leading support group for individuals dealing with mood disorders.
I now present to you…Doctor Jane Mountain, MD
Type of mood disorder you have: Bipolar, Type II
Name of your books:
- 1. Bipolar Disorder: Insights for Recovery
- 2. Beyond Bipolar: 7 Steps to Wellness
Name of your web site and link: BeyondBipolar
What was the inspiration behind writing your books on wellness and recovery?
At one time in my life I was a very sick cookie. I lived through many months of suicidal depression in spite of having the best treatment I could get. During this time I began to study the recovery movement in mental health. In doing so, I learned skills that added to my treatment and helped me find a path to wellness.
I wrote my books because I didn’t think others should become as sick as I was before they learned recovery skills. I wanted to share with others the hope that I had found.
In your books, you talk a lot about hope. Can you take a moment and tell us how you personally define hope with regard to living with a mood disorder?"
Hope is gaining courage in the face of intense challenge. It is finding others who carry your hope for you when you can’t muster the hope you need. Hope is the thing that makes life worth living. Depression steals our hope. In living with a mood disorder, there are times when our hope is lost to us and we have to dig in our heels, decide to live, and turn to others to find hope again. Here is what Emily Dickenson said about hope:
‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
Even when we lose the words of hope, the song goes on until we find it again.
There are some who might not believe that recovery from major depression or bipolar disorder is possible. What would you say to these people?
We know that these illnesses are chronic, remitting and recurring. It would be unwise to think that we can forget about treatment or ignore the possibility that symptoms might return. Recovery is the process of seeking wellness in the context of experiencing a mood disorder. We enter into this process by obtaining the best treatment we can find, and by adding wellness skills that others have learned by living with mood disorders. With wellness skills we can tell the story of depression, but gradually turn the coin over to tell our wellness stories as well.
What do you find are the major challenges when one is going through a major depression?
This varies from person to person. For some it is to continue friendships, or to stay at work or school, and for others it is to stay alive. Depression isolates us from the world around us and takes over our thoughts. When we seek wellness we learn in small ways to take back healthy thoughts and to break the isolation of depression. We begin by mobilizing in small ways and, with practice, gain huge strides that take us away from depression’s grip.
What can the loved ones of the individual who suffers from depression do to help the most?
It is most important to do three things. First is to become educated about depression from medical and experiential perspectives. Second is to take the best care of themselves as possible-continue the rhythm of life to stay well themselves and to present a healthy alternative to the sickness of depression. Third is to carry hope for their loved one with depression-to never give up the hope that life will become better in time.
Do you believe that therapy and/or medication can help those who have a mood disorder?
I believe that both are essential. Having said this, studies show that, for major depression, therapy and medication are equally effective. However, using therapy and medication together results in quicker recovery. For bipolar depression, medications are always needed but we must not exclude therapy. I believe in using every tool that can help us find wellness. The sooner we take advantage of those things that will help us to wellness, the less disruption we will have in our lives.
Are there some simple things that we can do to help prevent depression from getting out of control?
The simplest thing we can do is to notice mood clues of depression and address them as soon as we see them. Mood clues are the small things we notice in our thoughts or our actions that tell us we are heading for depression. Taking action before things get out of control can lead to better health. If we are already in depression, we will want to say “NO” to depressing thoughts and to begin mobilizing in small ways. Mobilization can give us an escape from depression.
Any tips on dealing with the anger, which can be inherent in depression?
Frequently “anger” of depression is really “irritability”. Irritability is diffuse and anger is directed at a particular object, person or situation. Irritability is a symptom while anger is a part of being human. It is natural to become angry when depression takes our life and energy. We can deal with anger in many ways-expressing it safely, exercising, or talking through our feelings with a therapist.
These are just a few ways to deal with anger. Anger’s waves may pass over us frequently, but we can gradually replace them with an acceptance that allows us to move forward in our lives. Anger will always hold us back. It will overwhelm us unexpectedly. But we can gain control over anger by dealing with it and gradually replacing it with an acceptance of self and illness. Each time anger gets into our lives we can take small steps to deal with it and replace it by a fierce desire to be well.
There is also an aspect of anger, which challenges us to learn to forgive ourselves and others. When we fail to let go of anger, it turns upon us in the form of rage or perhaps stops us in our tracks so that we become stuck. When we cannot manage to forgive, we can simply ask for a forgiving heart. Forgiveness will come to us as a gift as we continue to ask for what we need.
Can you give us a brief list of how to deal with the inertia often present during a depression?
Oh, I hate the inertia of depression! I think of it as my brain being unable to unleash the beginning of activities that would lead to the mobilization that can get me out of depression. For each of us, something different may help us break through the inertia of depression. The term “inertia” refers to the tendency of an object at rest to remain at rest and an object in motion to remain in motion. When we become the object at rest, we can push ourselves into motion in small ways. We don’t have to become a speeding bullet to be in motion, so let’s just get ourselves moving. Here are some things to try:
- Get out of bed and brush your teeth.
- If you can’t get up, imagine you are a slow, heavy object such as a locomotive that begins to gain speed and eventually becomes a tiny engine that flies gently into the air.
- Take a walk.
- Do the first step of a new project.
- Call a friend and talk for five minutes.
- Write a “do list”, chose one thing to accomplish and divide it into small enough steps that allow you to accomplish one small goal.
- Take some deep breaths. Think of the air moving in and out, and use your ribs and belly as an air-moving engine.
Depression is a serious, sometimes life threatening illness that we cannot ignore. It is also highly treatable. Adding wellness skills to treatment, we can learn to take care of ourselves. We can regain hope when all seems hopeless.
Support groups that emphasize finding wellness can help you learn wellness skills for depression. Here are a few resources to learn more or to find a support group:
www.DBSAlliance.org, (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)
www.NAMI.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
www.NMHA.org (National Mental Health Association)
Also check out my website for articles and encouragement in finding wellness. www.BeyondBipolar.com.