Keith O’Neil is a former Super Bowl champion and the founder of the Forever Foundation, an organization whose mission is to educate the public about bipolar disorder and to de-stigmatize the illness. In September he spoke at the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation (formerly NARSAD) meeting in Washington, DC.
O’Neil’s life story holds many important lessons— not only about the difficulties of bipolar illness, but also about the hope of recovery. He described being six years old and experiencing high levels of anxiety and fear, and an inability to get to sleep. His mind raced and he was so irritable that he was nicknamed “The Bear.”
The anxiety and the racing thoughts continued, and O’Neil became increasingly depressed. When he was 10 or 12 years old, he began to experience suicidal thoughts and searched his parents’ medicine cabinet for pills he could use to commit suicide. Anxiety and depression became more prominent even though he was an “A” student, one of the most popular kids at school, and an extraordinary athlete, and had a loving family and many friends. He began to use alcohol excessively, had conduct problems, was impulsive and was always in trouble.
O’Neil excelled in football in high school, started college at Northern Arizona University, and quickly became an All-American linebacker at Penn State. He was a first-round draft pick for the New York Giants. His teammates would nap between workouts for coach Bill Parcells, but instead, O’Neil would sit and cry over his inability to sleep. When he was later picked up by the Dallas Cowboys as a free agent, he was unable to sleep for five nights.
O’Neil moved on to the Indianapolis Colts. He did not sleep for four nights before his first game, and told coach Tony Dungy that he needed help, as he did not think he could play the next day. Dungy took him seriously and had him meet with the general manager, the team doctor, and the trainer. O’Neil felt extraordinarily relieved to be able to talk about his anxiety for the first time and took some clonazepam (Klonopin) for sleep and anxiety. Although he missed his first game, he became increasingly successful and the captain of the team that three years later would go on to win the Super Bowl.
O’Neil returned to the Giants for five seasons. While in New York, his wife miscarried, triggering O’Neil’s first major manic episode. He felt super human, spent excessive amounts of money (bought a Rolex watch and three diamond earrings), did not need sleep, and was generally out of control. In 2010, O’Neil was diagnosed with bipolar disorder by Steven Dubovsky, one of the pioneers in the development of calcium channel blockers for the treatment of bipolar disorder.
After his manic episode, O’Neil swung into a severe 18 month–long depression, which he described as “the depths of hell.” He gradually improved and started on a regimen that included medications, exercise, and relying on his family for comfort and support. He then moved to Phoenix, Arizona to start his foundation—the Forever Foundation.
The foundation provides information about the illness and promotes de-stigmatization. O’Neil visits high schools to teach students about bipolar illness and the importance of talking about anxiety and depression and getting help.
In the question and answer period following his talk, O’Neil discussed his own treatment. His early experiences with antidepressants were somewhat positive for his depression and anxiety, but may have been influential in his first manic episode. He said he is now well, and described his current medication regimen, which includes lithium, the mood stabilizing anticonvulsant oxcarbazepine (called Trileptal, which is structurally similar to carbamazepine or Tegretol), and the atypical antipsychotic aripiprazole (Abilify), which works extraordinarily well for him and which he called his savior. O’Neil occasionally uses Ambien (zolpidem) or Seroquel (quetiapine) for sleep.
O’Neil talked about the importance of confronting his own illness and adopting a positive attitude about getting treatment and doing everything he could to get well. He had a family history of mood disorders including depression in his paternal grandfather and bipolar disorder in an uncle.
O’Neil remembered that in his days as a professional football player, even though he was a standout player, he was so anxious that he would get confused about the playbook and have to rehearse it over and over in order to remember. He felt that he dealt with his racing mind and his anxiety in part by funneling it into “controlled recklessness” as a football player.
Keith O’Neil received a standing ovation from the gathering of scientists and approximately 150 supporters of the Brain and Behavior Research Foundation .
It is noteworthy that after Keith’s presentation, many of the scientific presenters speaking about the latest advances in the understanding and treatment of anxiety disorders in children, depression, and bipolar disorder directly referred to his life story and the important messages embedded in it. Read more
Like cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, patients with bipolar disorder often have memory problems, particularly if they have had many prior episodes. Some memory tips from CancerCare’s Chemobrain Information Series may also help patients with bipolar disorder remember things better and keep their memory sharp. Here are some of their tips:
Make lists. Carry a notepad with you, or use a smartphone to keep track of errands, shopping lists, daily tasks, and when you should take your medications.
Use a paper or electronic day planner or a personal organizer to keep track of appointments and special days like birthdays or anniversaries.
Use a wall calendar and hang it in a place that you will see it multiple times per day.
Carry a notebook and record everything you need to remember, including to-do lists; the dates, times, and addresses of appointments; important telephone numbers; and the names of people you meet and a brief description of them. You can also use the notebook to keep track of medical information: your medication schedule, any symptoms or side effects you are having, or questions to ask your doctor. You can also do this using an app like What’s My M3 or by downloading a personal mood charting calendar from our website.
Leave yourself a voicemail message to remember something important. When you listen to it later, write down the information.
Organize your home or office. Keep things in familiar places so you always know where to find them.
Avoid distractions. Find a quiet, uncluttered place to work or think where you can focus your attention for longer.
Have conversations in quiet places. This will help you concentrate better on what the other person is saying.
Repeat information aloud, and write down important points. If someone gives you information about an appointment, you might repeat the time, date, and location of the appointment out loud while righting it down.
Keep your mind active. You can use crossword puzzles, word or math games, or attend events about topics that interest you.
When writing, proofread. Double-check whether you’ve used the correct words and spellings.
Train yourself to focus through mindfulness. For example, if you keep misplacing your keys, pay extra attention each time you set down your keys. You may say aloud, “I’m putting my keys down on the counter.” Hearing the auditory cue can boost your memory.
Exercise, eat well, and get plenty of rest and sleep. These habits will help your memory work best.
Tell your loved ones that you are having memory problems, so that they’ll understand that you may forget things you may normally be able to remember. They can help you or encourage you.
In late 2012, the Federal Drug Administration announced that 97% of online pharmacies violated state or federal laws and/or safety and practice standards set by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Medications sold by fake pharmacies may be fake, expired, contaminated, not approved by the FDA, or unsafe.
Here are some warning signs that may mean an online pharmacy is fake:
- Allows you to buy medications without a prescription.
- Offers prices that are too good to be true.
- Sends spam emails offering discount prices.
- Is located outside the US.
- Is not licensed in the US
Real pharmacies are licensed by the state where they are located. They should provide a physical address and phone number, where you can reach a pharmacist who can answer your questions.
An article published by Medscape reports that in a recent study by Dr. Joan Luby of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, non-depressed preschool children whose parents showed more nurturing behaviors during a mildly stressful task were found to have hippocampal volume almost 10% greater than their peers whose parents showed fewer nurturing behaviors. The hippocampus affects cognitive functioning and emotion regulation.
Unfortunately, parental nurturing did not effect the hippocampal volume of children with early-onset depression.
Dr. Luby and colleagues think their findings could have “profound public health implications and suggest that greater public health emphasis on early parenting could be a very fruitful social investment.”
“The finding that early parenting support, a modifiable psychosocial factor, is directly related to healthy development of a key brain region known to impact cognitive functioning and emotion regulation opens an exciting opportunity to impact the development of children in a powerful and positive fashion”.
Multiple investigative groups at the 9th International Conference on Bipolar Disorder (ICBD) held in Pittsburgh in 2011 reported on the use of mobile phones or other automated processes to provide a more detailed ongoing record of a patient’s mood fluctuations and response to treatment. A particularly notable study by Nolen and colleagues described an electronic version of the life chart method (e-LCM) that would be accessible via internet, and which could be integrated with the patient’s file and used for research. These investigators developed software for a patient version and a clinician version. The web-based version is not yet available for patient use.
Editor’s Note: Until this and other useful electronic monitoring procedures become available, we recommend using the written version of a life chart to provide daily assessments of mood, side effects, and comorbid symptoms in order to provide a detailed numerical and graphic record with which to judge treatment response. This method is extremely valuable in developing new treatment approaches for those with treatment-resistant illness, and if patients keep these records, physicians will have optimal and detailed input in order to assess response and make treatment recommendations.
My Mood Monitor provides another available approach. This system was developed primarily as a screening instrument, but also includes a longitudinal monitoring component. It is not designed for daily monitoring, but can be used repeatedly with a minimal interval of one week between ratings.
We’ve written before about depressioncheck, My Mood Monitor’s iPhone app that can quickly screen for mood and anxiety disorders.
My Mood Monitor, a website for mental health screening, has introduced depressioncheck, a free, mobile version of their M-3 Checklist, a scientifically validated screening tool for mood and anxiety disorders that can now be used via Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch. It can be found in the Itunes App Store.
Adapted from the online version, the mobile version provides a short series of questions that measure indicators of mental health. Developed by a team of mental health practitioners and experts, the checklist takes only three minutes to complete. It is ideal to fill out in the waiting room prior to an appointment with a general practitioner so the doctor can be made aware of potential problems in the area of mental health. Depressioncheck is appropriate for those 18 years and older and its accuracy was confirmed in an article published in the Annals of Family Medicine in March 2010.
We recommend My Mood Monitor and the new mobile application as simple and reliable screening tools that can assess the presence of unipolar and bipolar mood and anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and PTSD. Read more
If you have unipolar depression or bipolar disorder and are having trouble stabilizing your mood, we recommend nightly charting of mood, medications and side effects on the easy-to-use Monthly Mood Chart Personal Calendar (pictured below) or the National Institute of Mental Health Life Chart (NIMH-LCM), both of which are available for download.
Click on the Life Charts tab above to download the personal calendar, which includes space for rating mood, functioning, hours of sleep, life events, side effects, and other symptoms such as anxiety. Then bring the chart to each visit with your physician to help in the assessment of treatments.
Life charting can help determine which medications are working partially and need to be augmented further, and which need to be eliminated because of side effects. Since there are now many potential treatments for depression and bipolar disorder (some FDA-approved and some not), a careful assessment of how well each new treatment works for a particular patient is essential to finding the optimal treatment regimen.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gagin Joshi of Massachusetts General Hospital, who presented the work on carbamazepine and lamotrigine on page 1 provided us with his own general treatment algorithm for youngsters with bipolar disorder.
Joshi typically starts with 0.5 to 2 gms of omega-3 fatty acids because of their benign side-effects profile, the many studies suggesting they are effective in adult mood disorders, and a recent article indicating that they were effective in preventing the conversion of prodromal schizophrenia into full-blown illness in a randomized double-blind controlled study in Australia.
After the omega-3 fatty acids, Joshi’s second choice is typically the atypical antipsychotic aripiprazole (Abilify) because of its lesser degree of weight gain compared to atypicals quetiapine (Seroquel) or risperidone (Risperidol). Risperidone can be a third option if aripiprazole is not effective or tolerated.
We’ve just posted a more attractive and user-friendly mood chart you can use to keep track of your illness, how you respond to your medications, and any side effects you may experience. See Life Charting for Patients, or download the chart here:
You can print extras of pages 5 and 6 for each following month.