[Podcast] Finding a Life to Be Happy With - Overcoming Mental Illness

“One thing that helped me through… was just having a supportive community and family… who would just say to me, ‘All you have to do today is put on your shoes and go for a walk.’” —Brett Brinkmeyer

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five US adults live with a mental illness, varying in prevalence and severity by MI type. Individuals living with a mental illness struggle with external and internal stigma associated with their illness, which often leads individuals to avoid sharing their illness with others, especially employers, education providers, and even their own family. As discussed in a previous podcast, this self-isolation and negative self-talk often leads to far worse outcomes, including suicide. As Mike Hedrick shared in his article on Psychology Today titled You Are Not Your Mental Illness, "When I was first diagnosed, the word crazy hung over my head like some thick black fog. It gave me the impression that things would never be the same again, that people would never look at me the same and that I was doomed to a life of living under the label of mentally ill."

Many living with a mental illness are choosing to come out of isolation and openly share, dialogue, cope, and mentor others in similar situations. I represent the one in five, in a long-standing battle with major depression—a common but often debilitating mental health condition shared by an estimated 17.3 million adults each year. My attempts to cope and press forward include this Podcast—Facing Tomorrow—to be a place of storytelling and strength for those choosing to overcome, and needing hope for the same. Depression is one of two types of schizoaffective disorder along with Bipolar type. Our latest guest, Brett, lives each day with schizoaffective bipolar type. As you'll hear, Brett is an overcomer and a mentor, a storyteller and a poet, and has chosen—with thanks to regular medication and therapy—to positively impact the lives of others living with mental illness.

Unlike major depression, schizoaffective disorder is rare, with a lifetime prevalence of only 0.3%, and is commonly misdiagnosed—as shared by Brett—due to the complex nature of the disorder and the lack of clear cause. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, schizoaffective disorder may be seen in a combination of causes contributing to the development of schizoaffective disorder, such as:

  • Genetics: Schizoaffective disorder tends to run in families. This does not mean that if a relative has an illness, you will absolutely get it. But it does mean that there is a greater chance of you developing the illness. Our guest, Brett, shared that his family has not experienced a mental illness—but he is aware of this concern should he choose to have children in the future.
  • Brain chemistry and structure: Brain function and structure may be different in ways that science is only beginning to understand. Brain scans are helping to advance research in this area.
  • Stress: Stressful events such as a death in the family, end of a marriage or loss of a job can trigger symptoms or an onset of the illness.
  • Drug use: Psychoactive drugs such as LSD have been linked to the development of schizoaffective disorder.

What Brett and countless others have been able to overcome is remarkable - but it is in their call to help others that the true inspiration lies. As you'll hear, Brett is eager to use his "mental health adventure" to positively impact the lives of others through storytelling. This leads to the call to action: Brett has overcome misdiagnosis, clinical limitations, multiple hospitalizations, and self-stigma to create a positive life focused on assisting others. As a Peer Support Specialist, Brett found his purpose in helping others. He also produces FirstHand Poetry on KHOI Community Radio, providing a voice for local poets. Combining these opportunities, he has chosen to write a book, "A Field Guide for the Newly Diagnosed" is the working title. He is actively seeking stories of community members to include in this book. If you are willing to share your story, please reach out directly to him at brett.c.brinkmeyer@gmail.com.

During the podcast, we referred to a few research studies and websites and wanted to be sure to include links to them:

Self-Stigma of Mental Illness, from Jeffrey He in the blog from the “Students in Mental Health Research” at Harvard University. This link includes the Heirarchy of Disclosure Strategies from Dr. Corrigan.

THE SELF–STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS: IMPLICATIONS FOR SELF–ESTEEM AND SELF–EFFICACY, from the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 9, 2006, p.875-884

Challenging the Inevitability of Inherited Mental Illness shares the 1-in-3 statistic regarding inherited mental illness, but also taps into the affect of self-stigma.

How Schizoaffective Disorder Has Affected My Relationships provides a realistic account of one person's story of dating with schizoaffective disorder.

Incredible resources from local/national organizations can be found here:

Additional resources from Brett Brinkmeyer:

Brett has been making a positive impact for years, as evidenced by this article from the University of Iowa Alumni Magazine in 2011.

A little more from Brett and his writings can be found here.

Brett referenced a poem he had written, titled Combination Lock. You can find the PDF of the poem here, and can find Brett's audio recording [caution language] here.


Please feel free to add your comments, suggestions, and other books/resources below. Most importantly always remember, you are loved, you are needed, you are appreciated, and you should never feel like you have to walk alone! Thank you for listening!