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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 7/7/2008

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Jan Anastasato's Story

In high school, drawing the shades and listening to Rachmaninoff's "Isle of the Dead" on occasion could have been the beginning of depression or just teen angst.

In my 30's, I was a daily drinker, as were most of my friends, and I was trying various self-help programs to feel better. Many psychiatrists told me my use of alcohol was an attempt to self-medicate the mood swings, although I didn't drink while depressed, only when manic. Then alcohol lost its ability to stop me from being out of control.

At 41, a business failure and split from my husband threw me into a severe depression on the heels of what I now recognize was mania. Looking over my old planners, I could see the pattern of four months of mania followed by six months to a year of depression, then back to mania again. That same year I was hospitalized in Athens, Greece while manic. Being locked up in a foreign country by my ex was terrifying, but it was the first place my manic depression was recognized.

My other hospitalization was in Florida in 1980 when my ex cut off my funds. The IRS was after him and he wanted to make sure I couldn't testify. He had my psychiatrist write the IRS about my "condition." When I learned this months later, I was manic again and unable to press charges against the doctor. I have a son who was a teenager during this time and this was very hard on him. I finally learned that only time and my continuing stability would convince him to trust me again.

My last manic episode was 1991. I lost my job and lived on credit cards, which led to bankruptcy when I crashed into the inevitable depression. The second psychiatrist I saw in this period prescribed the right medications for me and I began to get better. In all, I have had 11 psychiatrists, only two of which I considered good for me.

I read all I could find about my illness. I also found a local support group where I got most of my information about the help available. There I learned that compliance with my medication and acceptance of my illness would begin my recovery. Thirteen years later, I now facilitate that group to make sure it's still there for others who need it as much as I did. I suggest people dealing with mental illness go to support groups where they will be with others who know exactly what they're going through and will encourage them, share information about treatment, deal with family members, and help build the life skills needed to cope with their illness. And they are free.

While getting computer training through Voc Rehab, I was volunteering at a new drop-in center. (I encourage others to volunteer as they are recovering. You meet new people, they are happy you show up, you earn a reputation for reliability, and you prove to yourself you are still competent. Somebody always knows someone who is looking for an employee to hire.) Through that director, I learned of an opening at the Mental Health Association of Broward, where my illness was an asset. In other interviews in the corporate world I didn't get a call back if I shared my illness.

My boss is the best advocate I have ever seen and my mentor. My first assignment was to compile a booklet of mental health services and support in our county, the back cover of which lists famous people with mental illness and the heading "People with Mental Illness Enrich Our Lives." Eleven years later, I am still there with a life that has meaning and running a unique program called 9Muses Art Center, Gallery & Frame Shop, a drop-in center with a focus on the arts. While our consumers participate for free, non-consumer members pay to join the classes, working alongside our consumers in a wonderful reversal of the usual stigma. THEY want to play with US!

Jan Anastasato

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.