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INTRODUCTION

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nearly 1 billion people live with a mental disorder worldwide. The organization also states that every year close to 3 million people die due to substance abuse and someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds. The National Institute of Mental Health in the United States estimates 1 in 5 individuals in the U.S. have a mental illness. In 2021, they reported that the presence of mental illness was 27.2% higher among females than males, who experience mental illness at a rate of only 18.1% in comparison.

The Mental Health America Report of 2021 found “more people are reporting frequent thoughts of suicide and self-harm than have ever been recorded in the Mental Health Association (MHA) Screening program since its launch in 2014.” Having been suicidal myself, it was time for me to step up and keep my commitment to help other people, so I wrote my story to inspire people to heal spiritually and recover their lives. With these numbers, we cannot ignore that the mental health system is broken; it is a fragmented and outdated system that is associated with stigmatizing people, so they don’t seek services.

In 1977, I was diagnosed with acute paranoid schizophrenia at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Later, I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder (symptoms of schizophrenia such as voices, hallucinations, and delusions along with mood disorder, such as mania or depression), and sometime later with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression).

After developing the will to ultimately heal myself, I wrote this book to detail what happened to me and the steps I took to heal spiritually and transform my life. The methods I used were considered radical in the late ’70s and 1980s when prospects for recovery from mental illness were dismal at best. Before I got well, there was no recovery and no acknowledgment of spiritual healing. The only remedy was psychotropic medication to stabilize and maintain my condition with no hope of recovering or being cured. I knew there had to be something more than what was being offered as treatment.

For generations, the civil rights of people in the mental health system who were involuntarily committed to psychiatric hospitals were violated, by forced drugging, seclusion, and restraints. It wasn’t until the rise of two movements, the mental health consumer movement and the psychiatric survivors’ movement, in the early 1970s as people began advocating for change that things began to improve. The most important and critical change came in the 1990s with the introduction of peer support services provided in peer-run organizations or within the state mental system itself in such places as psychiatric hospitals and community mental health centers. These services are effective because of the personal shared experiences with mental illness they have with the individuals who they are serving. These same advocates in the 1990s introduced recovery as the vision for mental health services that never included recovery as an outcome.

Mental health professionals often promote the idea of chemical imbalances, which is only a theory, typically negating the impact of real-life experiences to explain disruptions in a person’s life, especially when it comes to spiritual emergencies. I found no information about the phenomena of spiritual healing regarding mental illness in the 1990s. However, I experienced it myself, so I knew it to be true. It wasn’t until years later that I came across a book written in 2011 by Catherine G. Lucas that validated what I came to believe all those years ago.

In her book, In Case of Spiritual Emergency: Moving Successfully Through Your Awakening, Catherine G. Lucas states that there is a relationship between symptoms of mental distress and those of spiritual crises and emergencies that are extremely complex. She further states that the danger is that mental health professionals do not understand the relationship between mental distress and spiritual emergency, so they tend to pathologize the entire experience as illness. She stresses strongly how damaging this is to so many people caught up in the mental health system, saying further, “There are literally thousands of people who have been through the mental health system who have not had the spiritual aspect of their experience honored.”

So, now, it is time to look at what science is saying about spiritual healing for both physical and mental health challenges. I hope the following scientific accounts will help you understand my backstory when you read the book.

The concept that there are spiritual aspects to improving physical and mental health is now backed by science. Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., is an internationally recognized stem cell biologist whose work bridges science and spirit. The more he researched cells and DNA, Dr. Lipton, who was an atheist, came to believe in God. He wrote in his book, The Biology of Belief, “We are made in the image of God, and we need to put Spirit back into the equation.”

His cell research indicates that certain cell enzymes are either deactivated or activated by real life experience to either shorten or lengthen one’s life. His research has put him at the forefront of the new science of epigenetics, which studies how behaviors and environment can cause changes that affect the way genes express themselves, in that they can be activated and deactivated by certain habits and behaviors, like the way we eat, whether we exercise, and whether we manage our stress, among other factors.

I learned from Dr. Lipton’s work that 95 percent of our lives come from the programming in our subconscious minds, and that only 5 percent comes from our consciousness, which is creative. The program in our subconscious mind was made in the first 7 years of our life — I was programmed with fear by my father during those formative years. Our childhood programming is the reason why we sabotage our lives when we are adults. However, we can change this programming by using our conscious creative mind with new affirmations that we repeat to ourselves, and it’s this repetition that reprograms our minds. In Chapter 4, I share as a child how my mind was programmed with fear.

Dr. Lipton found that the biology of belief can trigger a cell’s enzymes to reduce the length of life by poor nutrition, child abuse, domestic violence, PTSD, the absence of self-love or loss of love, as well as having no purpose in life. This is the case with so many people diagnosed with severe mental illness because they are treated without hope of ever getting better. This approach leaves them without purpose in life, as they are either locked away in psychiatric housing, experiencing homelessness, or receiving daily mental health services that do not lead to recovery.  Conversely, Dr. Lipton’s research also found the biology of belief can activate a cell’s enzymes to live a longer life by good nutrition (especially Omega 3), exercise, happiness and gratitude, positive outlook, self-love and love, being of service, and having a purpose in life.

A study conducted in 2006 surveyed the mortality data in eight states and found that people diagnosed with major mental illness die 14 to 32 years earlier than the general population. I can only conclude that Dr. Lipton’s research has the potential to suggest that this may be one of the causes to the physical health problems contributing to this early death rate for people with severe mental illness. It may be time to conduct studies that look at whether people diagnosed with a major mental illness can recover by learning to change the way their genes work by changing their thinking.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that neuroscience finally accepted that the brain is not hardwired but has the ability to remold and restructure its networks by repeating affirmations and changing thought patterns over time. It is through this process of brain plasticity that we can reprogram our minds and improve our lives as we create new networks. 

In learning about affirmations in Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich, published in 1936, there was a point in my healing in which I understood that I was reprogramming my mind as I repeated affirmations. Napoleon Hill’s book did not include a scientific basis that proved repeating affirmations created faith, but he convinced individuals that the subconscious mind believes it will receive what he/she has asked for and acts on that belief. He was ahead of neuroscience in accepting that repetition of affirmations reprograms our minds. This was confirmed for me when I knew my mind was completely healed in 1985 after using Napoleon Hills’ powerful autosuggestion of affirmations. However, I was unable to find any scientific evidence of this in any research on the brain at that time, only Napoleon Hill’s book described how others used this powerful technique that changed their lives for the better.

Dr. Joe Dispenza, a chiropractor who has postgraduate training in the fields of neuroscience and neuroplasticity, is a prime example of how powerful thoughts can heal physical injury. In the documentary, Heal, he describes being hit by an SUV at 55 miles per hour while riding his bike, which compressed six vertebrae in his spine. The prognosis was that he would never walk and needed radical surgery. He had a singular affirmation: “The power that made the body heals the body.” He checked himself out of the hospital without having surgery. Every day in his mind, he reconstructed his spine, vertebrae by vertebrae. He was back on his feet in ten weeks.

Another important book that confirms my experience is The End of Mental Illness: How Neuroscience is Transforming Psychiatry by Dr. Daniel G. Amen. He is a well-known psychiatrist, brain health expert, and bestselling author who has written books on brain health and psychology. He is the founder of Amen Clinics, which is a group of medical clinics that specialize in diagnosing and treating various mental health conditions.

Dr. Amen describes how psychiatry can become modernized by getting rid of old, unfair ways of thinking that stigmatize people with labels of mental illness. In his book, Dr. Amen introduces a program based on brain health and the whole person, using neuroscience and hope. One point he made is that “we are not dealing with mental health issues, but with brain health issues.” One thing he says is to reframe our thinking from mental illness to brain health, because it changes everything. By beginning to look at it as brain health, we begin to see that it is no different than having a heart problem. He believes this is one way to end stigma and discrimination because we no longer label people with mental illness.

Lastly, The New Yorker, a highly respected American magazine, had an article in their July 12, 2023, issue written by Dhruv Krullar, called Reinventing the E.R. for America’s Mental-Health Crisis.  In his piece, he explained an alternative to emergency rooms, EmPATH units, which are a new approach to the lack of proper care people experiencing mental health crises receive in the ER. EmPATH is an acronym for Emergency Psychiatry Assessment, Treatment, and Healing. The core concept is that patients are no longer languishing in emergency rooms. Instead, patients are in a communal environment where there are recliners that patients can relax in, eat snacks, watch television, and be wrapped in blankets. They are seen by staff who are trained in mental health. With the calming atmosphere, they may be able to go home in a couple days, without needing to go to a psychiatric hospital. The current system of emergency rooms engage staff who are not trained in mental health so adequate care is not available.

In an article dated September 1, 2023, in Alaska Public Media – Anchorage, Rachel Cassandra wrote an article about a new mental health crisis stabilization center in Anchorage that Providence Hospital has recently broken ground to build, similar to EmPATH. It is part of the state’s standard using the nationally recognized Crisis Now model as the framework. The center will be designed like a living room with recliners that can be used for sitting or sleeping and will provide peer support—individuals who have lived experience of mental illness or substance-use. These peer support individuals will demonstrate to patients that people can and do recover. This is one way to keep people in crisis out of emergency rooms and jails, where they can’t find the kind of help they need when they’re in crisis.

I have introduced research and advice from experts to show that we need to think about healing in a more specific way. I also suggest four important changes: (1) looking into Dr. Bruce Lipton’s research as to how it can help people with mental illness live longer, (2) studying neuroplasticity to understand how the brain can change and help people get better, (3) updating how psychiatry can improve by reframing its thinking to “brain health” rather than “mental illness,” and (4) creating EmPATH units for people in mental health crisis with peer workers instead of using regular emergency rooms.

As I stated earlier, I hope my story will provide insight into what the research is now showing, confirming my own experience with spiritual healing and recovery, especially for anyone diagnosed with mental illness, or anyone who has a loved one or a friend experiencing mental illness. My goal is to inspire my readers to pursue a path of recovery and spiritual healing through faith, hope, and love. I hope my story encourages the mental health system to make changes to modernize the system, moving it into the 21st century.

My narrative is written in five parts. Part 1 describes my distress at being admitted to Alaska Psychiatric Institute until I was discharged. Part 2 takes a step back to show how my childhood experiences influenced my thinking and behaviors as I grew into adulthood. Part 3 details where my journey begins as I looked for answers and when all hell broke loose, triggering a change from the life I had been living. Part 4 captures my spiritual awakening and how I started my life over. Part 5 guides the reader through my spiritual transformation as I transcend mental illness. The reader will go with me on my discovery as spiritual healing and recovery change my life for the better forever.

My story shares the tools and techniques I used to overcome a lifetime sentence of the diagnosis of mental illness. I hope this book provides inspiration for my readers, as I am convinced that complete healing is possible because there is more to recovery and healing than an endless cycle of prescription drugs, hospitalizations, electroshock, and talk therapy. This is the story of my personal hero’s journey, as I transcended the diagnoses of mental illness and all its trappings and transformed my life for the better.

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