Trysten McClain of Nashua is a community health field organizer with Rights & Democracy.
The lack of attention to adequate mental health and addiction treatment in New Hampshire is a public health issue that needs to be addressed faster.
In my work with Rights & Democracy, we advocate for harm reduction not to be seen as a minor issue. The pandemic has brought to light the lack of resources in the respective areas as the system becomes overloaded and the increased response must be sustained. I have experienced many different difficulties throughout my life, but none have proven to be as troublesome as my diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder and my Substance Use Disorder.
From a young age, my mental health has been a struggle. My parents’ divorce and a series of premature deaths and suicides in my life around the age of 10 triggered my bipolar disorder. There’s a memorable photo of me on the verge of bursting into inexplicable tears at 16 on Christmas Eve unwrapping presents that stands out as a major red flag as I sought psychotherapy for my mental health.
Unfortunately, my bipolar was not diagnosed due to manic episodes that went unnoticed by my parents. I went from extreme highs to depressing lows into adulthood, with numerous suicide attempts, a crippling struggle with addiction, lost jobs, estranged family and friends from erratic and sometimes confrontational behaviors, and I felt a lot of distress at not being able to understand why these things would happen. I felt completely broken as a person.
At 22, I got health insurance for the first time in five years through an employer and was prescribed Effexor to treat my depression. Employer health care is not readily available to the majority of the public, let alone affordable treatment with the insurance provided. This drug triggered a major manic episode, where I experienced psychosis. I drank to self-medicate with inexplicable symptoms, and drinking alcohol and street drugs only made the symptoms worse.
Night after night I had conflicts, I slept minimal hours and my job performance suffered badly, often having trouble keeping my job for long periods of time. I eventually experienced legal issues and homelessness due to my erratic behaviors, and I am still recovering four years later from the damage done to my life.
Bipolar disorder is defined in the DSM-V as a group of brain disorders that cause extreme fluctuations in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. With Bipolar I, manic and depressive episodes can be experienced with or without psychotic features. Psychotic features are hallucinations, delusions, and confused and disturbed thinking (rapid and constant speech, abrupt topic change mid-sentence, and sudden loss of train of thought). My life would be much better financially, professionally and emotionally if treatment were more easily accessible.
Some bipolar facts include that the disorder occurs in 2.5% of the population, manic and depressive episodes can coexist, treatment is lifelong, having a first degree relative with the disorder and stress can increase the likelihood of diagnosis, and between 25% to 60% of those diagnosed will attempt suicide with 4% to 19% committing suicide.
Finding treatment was difficult when I finally concluded that I was probably bipolar at age 24, as the waiting lists for a psychiatric evaluation, finding a provider, the right combination of medications, and how to control my mood lability turned out to be a process of several months. I have gone through many hospitalizations, mental health crises and treatment for substance use disorders to find myself in a calmer and more serene state today at 26 years old.
Today I am happy, stable, and able to live independently through the use of support groups and medication. The stigma surrounding these issues prevents many people from getting the care they need. My bipolar disorder gives me increased focus, productivity, heightened emotional intelligence, and a richer life when I’m at my best. Living clean empowers me to empower my life and show up for a fuller life than ever before.
Harm reduction in New Hampshire is one solution that could have saved a lot of my sanity over the years. My history of substance abuse, my episodes of homelessness, and the instability in my life could have been avoided if the proper resources had been made available. Making resources more adequately available could benefit the state as a whole.
New Hampshire ranks 27th in the nation for mental health services, 21st for substance abuse facilities per 100,000 people and third for drug overdoses per capita. It’s time to revamp our approach to mental health and addiction. To learn how to help change what’s happening in our home country, get involved with Rights & Democracy to help advocate for a better future.