An electronic newsletter of the Coalition's Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery
The Center for Rehabilitation and Recovery provides assistance to the New York City mental health provider community through expert trainings, focused technical assistance, evaluation, information dissemination and special projects.
Malcolm, 37, was living alone in supported housing. Although he was often lonely, he loved the freedom that came from having an apartment of his own. He had started thinking about finishing his GED, and maybe someday getting a job. But what was most on Malcolm's mind? From the first time he sat down with his counselor, he was clear: he wanted a girlfriend. But he wasn’t sure that it would ever be possible for him to have a relationship.
“Many of our participants lack self-esteem and confidence, particularly around dating,” says Rori Crosson, LCSW, Director of the Harlem Bay Network PROS (Personalized Recovery-Oriented Services). “They don’t believe another person will think they are worth caring about, and that may be the biggest barrier to finding a significant other. So we start there – we work together with participants to identify their strengths to build their self-image. And we work on communication and relationship skills to improve their interactions with potential partners.”
Like many PROS programs, Harlem Bay Network is well-versed in encouraging romance. In addition to classes on topics such as self-esteem, self-advocacy, and social skills, the program offers an abundance of classes covering all aspects of dating. “A Date on the Weekend” focuses on flirting and other skills important in the early stages of a relationship. “Building Personal and Intimate Relationships” looks at strengthening interactions for people more deeply involved with a significant other – communication skills, conflict resolution, and the art of negotiation. Other classes focus on themes such as grooming and hygiene, local options for dates, and even basic skills such as making a good first impression.
“Our counselors focus on what is important to each of our participants,” says Ms. Crosson. “For example, if a participant has a personal or familial history of interpersonal violence, we might recommend, ‘I’m a Survivor!’ Or we work with the participant to learn to monitor relationships to make sure problems encountered in the family of origin are not repeated.”
Even if program participants have no history of trouble in relationships, counselors encourage participants to evaluate their romantic relationships. Do they support recovery? Do they make participants feel good about themselves? “Sometimes participants are so excited about being in love, they forget to look at the impact of the relationship on their lives,” says Ms. Crosson. “We want participants to ask whether their partner supports their healthy lifestyle, and their recovery. Of course we cheer for them when they get the date. That’s an extremely important first step. But we also want them to go past the first date to have a healthy, satisfying relationship that will support their recovery.”
Our loving long-distance relationship was about five years old when, for no good reason, the black lady (depression) knocked on my door and knocked me out. I was hospitalized against my will. I was suicidal and in the locked ward.
Having learned from my previous relationship that conversations while in the severely depressed state are anything but romantic, I asked my present love for a very special Valentine’s gift: he was not to call me on the phone while I was in this state of major depression. He acted as if this was the most normal request a beloved could make, and accepted it. He did call my neighbor every three days or so to find out how I was doing.
At times in my depressive mood, I was afraid that he would suffer a heart attack, or another life-threatening problem, and that I would not know about it by choice. Then I got even deeper into the black hole, but I just felt I was unable to communicate with him, or anybody else for that matter.
Five weeks later, when the depression lifted as suddenly as it had begun, I called him and told him that I was back out of darkness and into the light.
Our daily conversations resumed as if they had never stopped. He was clearly glad to have me back amongst the living, and I was ever so grateful that we could resume loving each other, and enjoying it. Meanwhile we are in our 23rd year!
Elizabeth Saenger, PhD
Question: Should clients disclose their diagnosis to people they are dating? And if so, how?
Answer: If a person is dating a prospective marriage partner, it is probably advisable to share the news upfront. This is fair to the other person, for whom a psychiatric diagnosis might be a deal-breaker. In addition, carrying around a potential bombshell can make many people feel uneasy, dishonest, or cowardly. It is also usually better for clients to prepare others for the stresses of the relationship in advance. Suddenly announcing that the CIA is bugging their apartment, and aliens will be showing up for lunch, can scare away unprepared lovers. On the other hand, a partner who has been warned can help in recovery.
Question: Should clinicians talk with clients about sex?
Answer: Anecdotal research indicates that people with schizophrenia—and presumably other conditions as well—are unhappy that their sexuality is ignored in treatment, and that their partners are excluded. They would like the opportunity to be able to ask psychiatrists and other health professionals about the ways their illness affects their sex lives. Letting clients know that you are open to talking about this topic, and making referrals, makes sense.
Question: I have a client with major depression who wants to marry her boyfriend, and have children. She is hesitating because he has bipolar disorder. Given that they both have an affective disorder, what is the likelihood that their child will have one as well?
Answer: The odds that a child will have a mood disorder increase greatly, perhaps thirty- to fifty-fold, when both parents have one. The risk of having a child with a mood disorder is more pronounced for parents with bipolar disorder compared to those with major depression. It is also higher for girl babies, since women are 1.5 to 3.1 times more likely to have major depression than men. Men and women are equally likely to have bipolar disorder.
The opinions expressed in RECOVERe-works do not necessarily reflect the views of the Coalition of Behavioral Health Agencies.
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