Part One of this topic discussed a way to get the ball rolling for alternative mental health in one’s local community: hold an event to inform the public about available resources. The experts and the recovery stories you can gather to showcase will be different than the ones who spoke on May 6 in Lawrence, Kansas–but they might raise some of the same issues.

As moderator, I opened with my story, trying hard to keep it short. Basically: a life from puberty tossed about by depression, anxiety, substance abuse and drama-queen behavior. Migraines and constant fatigue worsening at midlife,  finally met and married Mr. Right, but couldn’t get pregnant. Adopted a beautiful baby girl later diagnosed with autism.

I told folks how early on we got into nutritional/biomed strategies that helped her incredibly. I emphasized that when I began to use the same strategies on myself, in particular the GFCF (gluten-free, dairy–or casein, the protein in dairy–free) diet, plus addressing candida overgrowth…it turned me into the person I’d always longed to be.  Not perfect, not fixed, but fairly energetic for once, optimistic, and far less afraid of life.

I offered the idea that we could look to the autism saga for inspiration: where parents plus brave researchers and practitioners re-visioned the disorder away from “childhood schizophrenia,” a mysterious, lifelong incurable situation,  best served by residence in an institution.  Nowadays we speak of  autism as a metabolic disorder that strongly suggests environmental toxins as causation.  Not all agree, but the debate is a huge part of the discourse.

Take home message: could similar insights about common psychiatric diagnoses, coupled with such activism and independent research, revolutionize the “mental health” field at large?

Several weeks prior to the event, the founder of Safe Harbor, Dan Stradford sent me a coaching email about what makes an effective recovery story. He said to pay heed to what all good writers know:  show, don’t tell. Let them see how bad it was, in specifics, let them see the change in how you present yourself. Certainly our local restauranteur and sustainable-agriculture activist, Hilary Brown, did just that with her story.

Her description of temper tantrums, chronic pain, knotted muscles and ADHD behavior contrasted well with her calm presentation at the podium and obvious accomplishments as a downtown merchant. 

She then showed the audience a short DVD called “Localize Me,” a take-off on the anti-fastfood “Supersize Me” documentary.  Hilary’s DVD was the story of how her restaurant, Local Burger, fed a Lawrence man and avowed junk-food junkie for 30 days.  A physician checked his chloresterol and other vital markers before and after–significant marks for the better ensued.  The man’s change in demeanor was obvious too. Score one for healthy eating!

Then it was time to hear from the area’s only naturopathic physician, Dr. Amber Belt.  Without intent but simply by sharing a fact, Dr. Belt challenged the psychiatric-model by stating that when someone comes to see her with a complaint of depression, it is NEVER for depression alone. She stated there are always four (“if I’m lucky, only four”) or more things ailing the patient– physiological complaints.

A naturopathic medical doctor (NMD) treats the whole person, not just symptoms in separate baskets.  As she went on sharing stories of real patients, Dr. Belt detailed how problems with the thyroid or adrenal glands, for example, can dovetail with upsets in mood and behavior.

From the sidelines, I looked around the room. This was truly a cross section of the community, just as I’d hoped. Despite our large university blocks away, college kids were no majority. I’d expected women to far outnumber the male gender, but it wasn’t that noticeable. We had some Menonites in attendance, a sect related to the Amish–whose women wear the bonnet and men the beard…plus long-haired hippie types. I also know we had gay along with straight, and that the “chronically mentally ill” sat in the same row with mental health professionals.

The gathering was neither predominantly well-heeled nor downtrodden, but a mix of people struggling–either within or for a loved one–with the “noonday demon,” as the medievals called depression.

Because an epidemic is like that.

Was it my imagination or did the air grow charged with positive energy because it dawned we were all in this together?  Partly due to the warm and engaging style of the presenters, who never spoke as if on high, the distance between professional and patient disappeared, and along with it I felt the evaporation of the stigma on being afflicted with depression.

What happens when a person begins to allow that their distress may not be all in their mind, to question whether they could just buck up, if they only would?  For many people here, was this a new thought about the possibilities of natural medicine, an escape from side effects, real recovery?

A woman in front of me was taking copious notes. The handouts were gone in a flash. The books sold, and the food was sampled heartily. Dang, we were having a good time in the face of depression!

***NEWS FLASH**  If you missed this event and live in or near Lawrence, Dr. Ilardi will repeat his talk with power point presentation, and sign books on the evening of June 10. Location and exact time will be announced here!

The third and final Part of this report will focus on the new book by Dr. Stephen Ilardi, one of the night’s presenters.  I’ll take a look at why I feel that two things in particular are revolutionary about this book, and why you should expect to see new material even if you think you know about the benefits of fish oil, exercise, social support, etc.