When Ken Duckworth was a child, his family didn’t talk about mental health, especially not his father’s bipolar disorder. It was an untouchable topic, but Duckworth knew his father shouldn’t be seen as a lost cause. Instead, his father and others like him might actually have critical expertise on how to navigate the world with mental illness — expertise they gained not through books and studying but through lived experience.
“It sounds like a dark story — we don’t know how the meds work, diagnosis is descriptive, the [mental health] system couldn’t be more fragmented and chaotic. And yet the truth is, people still get better,” said Duckworth, who is now a psychiatrist. “They find ways. Is it love? Is it faith? Is it lithium? Is there a certain kind of psychotherapy? Is it giving to others? It’s different for different people.”
The conversation is based on Duckworth’s First Opinion essay “Unseen mental health experts: people with mental illness.” In it, he makes the case that individuals who have lived with mental health conditions and their family members are an untapped source of wisdom on how to build a life and thrive while living with mental health conditions. Duckworth is a psychiatrist, the chief medical officer of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and author of the newly published book, “You Are Not Alone: The NAMI Guide to Navigating Mental Health — With Advice from Experts and Wisdom from Real People and Families.”
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