The West of the Narrows Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) chapter holds regular meetings the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church on the corner of Key Peninsula Highway and Lackey Road. Participants share their experiences and feelings as well as strategies for living successfully with mood disorders.
Local facilitator Kimberly Wood said, “In my own experience, it feels like coming home.”
The conversation often focuses on prescribed medications. “Group members want to know about medication experiences of others,” Wood said. “What to expect or what to do if meds don’t work.”
While important, a peer-led support group is not a substitute for a doctor’s care. Those seeking medical advice are guided toward professionals. “We don’t advocate any particular program or treatment,” Wood said. “We offer information about treatment.”
Though still fairly new, the group has had difficulty attracting people seeking mood disorder support in Lakebay, Wood said. She estimates the group has had just 15 total attendees from October through May. “The consensus is we’re needed; the question is how do we attract people,” she said.
According to the DBSA, in any given year, nearly 3 percent of American adults are affected by bipolar disorder, a mood disorder causing intense emotional highs and lows. Add those affected by depression, and the figure rises to nearly 10 percent. While only a third of those suffering from mood disorders seek treatment, support groups such as the one in Lakebay can help.
Stigma, whether actual or perceived, surrounding mood disorders can make it intimidating to join a support group. When one lives in a small, close-knit community such as the Key Peninsula, walking into a meeting for the first time can be even harder.
Wood experienced this herself when she tried to convince her adult daughter, Michelle, to go to a meeting. “She said she didn’t want to. I said, ‘Let’s try it out; you’ll be amazed how it feels to be among your peers.’” After her first couple of meetings, Michelle was tracking her mom down when it was time to go.
Wood gives similar advice to those on the fence about joining. “Come try it out at least three times and see if you feel at home,” she said. “See if you don’t get something out of it.”
One Lakebay group participant, Robbie, said, “DBSA gave me a safe place where I could share my ups and downs, my highs and lows, my failures and successes with other people who really understood how it felt to live with depression and bipolar disorder. I really enjoyed meeting parents and other family members who were all trying to be the best supporters they could be for their loved one.”
DBSA encourages all people suffering from mood disorders to get educated about their diagnosis in order to become an advocate for their own care. To this end, Wood provides a calendar for attendees to track their medication, foods and sleep to become knowledgeable about their own emotional cycles. The calendar forms an important part of the meeting’s conversation each month.
Confidentiality is a key component of the organization. Except for situations where a person’s life is in danger, what is said in a meeting stays in the meeting. Attendees are not required to provide their contact information and DBSA member lists are never sold or made public. No one may publicly reveal information about who attended or what was said in a meeting.
While simply chatting about one’s mood disorder experiences may seem inconsequential compared to medication or professional therapy, the impact of even a single meeting can be enormous, Wood said. She described the experience of local nursing students who join the Bremerton group each year as part of their coursework. While attending only to observe, more than one student has recognized personal experiences while listening to those of others, and “broken down and admitted depression,” she said.
DBSA meetings take place the third Saturday of each month from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Key Peninsula Lutheran Church. For more information, contact Kimberly Wood at 753-4270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.