Although her illness first became apparent in the early 1960s when she was a 17-year-old student at Palisades High School, Kay Redfield Jamison didn’t seek treatment for her manic depression until a decade later, when she had completed her doctorate and was a professor of psychiatry at UCLA. In 1995, she bravely told the story of her own affliction in “An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness,” a book that went on to became a New York Times bestseller. Jamison will share her personal and professional reflections on mental illness in a lecture at the Palisades Branch Library, 861 Alma Real, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 7. Manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder, is characterized by extreme emotional highs and lows. It is a disabling disease that often becomes progressively worse if left untreated. In Jamison’s case-made all the more ironic by her education and training in psychology-the author initially felt that her depressions were a passing phase. “There’s a certain amount of denial involved to keep on going,” says Jamison, who now is Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. “I assumed I could handle anything that came my way.” In fact, like so many other sufferers, Jamison reveled in the highs, which brought periods of intense creativity and feelings of accomplishment. Although these episodes were inevitably followed by crushing, debilitating lows, Jamison was slow to accept the need for medication, fearing it would deaden her spirit. Her harrowing journey-and ultimate recognition of the need for both medication and psychotherapy in order to heal-is chronicled with candor and wisdom in her memoir. Jamison explored the link between mental illness and creativity in an earlier book entitled “Touched with Fire: Manic Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament” (1993). While her book outlines biographical and scientific evidence for a relationship between manic- depressive illness and artistic creativity, it does not romanticize the connection. “Nobody can be creative if they are hospitalized or dead,” says Jamison, who has spent her entire career advocating taking medication to treat depression and warning about the dangers of suicide. Her most recent book, “Night Falls Fast,” is a treatise on understanding suicide, something the author is increasingly optimistic about the possibilities of preventing, but deeply frustrated by the lack of public and professional awareness of the terrible toll it takes. However, Jamison is encouraged by a public that is increasingly better educated about depression. “People know the symptoms and how common it is,” says Jamison, a 2001 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship. “They’re much more aware that there are medications out there. It makes a huge difference.”
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