Come join our group every Friday from 230 pm - 430 pm.

Greenwich Chapter of DBSA

Challenges come in many forms. Perhaps few are greater than the profound illness of a child and the helplessness that a parent feels. I don’t know if the challenge is greater or less when you are supposed to know something about how to solve the problem, and then you discover how helpless you really are. As the parent of a child with bipolar disorder, I know what that feels like. My son’s illness began almost 30 years ago.

I had been a board certified psychiatrist for many years. I have treated hundreds of patients, conducted research, published many scientific papers, sat on distinguished panels and taught medical students and residents the art and science of psychiatric evaluation and treatment for decades. Presumably, I, of all people, should have been prepared for this challenge. But the truth is I wasn’t.

My son was diagnosed correctly with bipolar disorder which, at that time, was still called manic depression. His life was chaotic and several times he threatened privately and publicly to harm me.

Of course. He received the best available professional help (medication and psychotherapy) from a number of highly competent psychiatrists and was hospitalized 3x at excellent facilities all in the New York area... Sadly and tragically for him and for me, none of this was effective.

At first I was not able to recognize and admit that it was not just my child who needed healing. I needed help as well. For quite a while, I chose not to discuss the issue, rather than honestly facing my personal anguish and despair, my fear that he might kill someone or be killed himself, my helplessness, my anger and, sadly but honestly, my shame with the my son’s illness and its seeming insolubility.

When I couldn’t find any solution for my son’s illness despite over a half dozen attempts at treatment and several hospitalizations which extended over a 10 year period I thought that perhaps I might be able to do something more (something beyond my practice, my teaching and my writing) that might help others with this disease including suffering parents like myself. My search began (long before this type of information was readily available on the internet) for any support program that might exist in our country that might assist other patients like my son or parents like me who were struggling with depression and/or bipolar disorder.

A colleague of mine who was then Medical Director at Silver Hill Hospital, where I had once been research director for 5 years in the early 1970's, told me that he thought there was an organization with that mission based in Chicago. He was correct. In 1985 Dr. Jan Fawcett, a psychiatrist then in Chicago encouraged a group of his own patients to start a group which had grown in 15 years into the Depression and Manic Depression Association with chapters in many states and several hundred support groups around the country. With help from the national office, a few of us started a chapter and a support group in Greenwich, Connecticut in my home office. At that time, ours was the first and only chapter in the state of CT. Now there are 8 chapters and groups in Ct. and 1000 support groups like ours in the 50 states. In 2002 the organization changed its name to the Depression and Bipolar Alliance (DBSA)

Since our first meeting in the fall of 1999, our group has held almost 1000 pro bono meetings, which occur every Friday afternoon for two hours. These groups met for over 20 years in my office and were regularly attended by 20-25 members who were either suffering with depression or bipolar illness or by a loved one (ie. a parent, spouse or child of someone with this condition). It has literally helped hundreds of patients and their loved ones over 20 years, saved many lives and prevented many hospitalizations.

Since Covid these groups have been held at the same time on Zoom. This means that we are now able to assist people from all over the world and not just people who live in close proximity to my office in Connecticut – and we do welcome people from all over the world.

State of the Group Today

I have been consistently impressed by the group's ability to accomplish a number of functions. Among the many benefits, participating in these support groups has resulted in an increased sense of safety, security, confidence and self-esteem; diminished feelings of loneliness, isolation, anxiety and hopelessness; and an increased ability to accept and address problems without blaming oneself or others. Over 20 years I have always been impressed with the ability of the support group to provide a deep sense of community, caring, wisdom, accountability, and to share effective coping strategies.

Our Greenwich DBSA Group members have learned not only how to cry but how to laugh. From despair they learned to rekindle and renew hope and in helping others they learned how to ultimately save themselves.

Perhaps as a postscript I should add that my son is doing fine. We play tennis 2-3x a week and now he only “kills” me on the tennis court which is not that easy since I just finished competing in the world championship for men in my age group (85).

Covid presented unique problems for people already suffering with mood disorders. A Mailing from national DBSA during covid posed the following question: How can we keep people healthy, mentally and physically, during the COVID-19 outbreak. Their answer: DBSA needs to open additional Online Support Groups in response to the potential dangers of in-person support. People need peer support now more than ever during this time of increased social isolation.