Electroboy Fights Stigma of Mental Illness

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While Hollywood is making his memoir into a major motion picture, “Electroboy” author Andy Behrman is on a one-man crusade to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Behrman is crisscrossing the country speaking to hundreds of mental health support groups, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, nurses, college audiences and book clubs. “With more and more young people being diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses, we have to educate Americans now to understand what it is like to struggle with and treat these invisible diseases,” says Behrman.

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For Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Vivien Leigh, bipolar disorder (or manic depression) has no doubt played a large role in their mythology and legend.

But for Andy Behrman, author of "Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania," bipolar disorder is an illness he copes with on a daily basis, and not what defines him or his creative legacy.

"Electroboy" is Behrman's chronicle of his battle with bipolar disorder which nearly ended his life and led him into one of alcohol and drug abuse, sexual promiscuity and illegal activities including an art counterfeiting scheme which the New York media “lapped up” and for which he was ultimately convicted and sentenced to prison.

Eliminating the stigma of mental illness is the goal of Behrman’s one-man crusade, as he crisscrosses the country speaking to hundreds of mental health support groups, psychiatrists, psychotherapists, nurses, college audiences and book clubs. “With more and more young people being diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illnesses, we have to educate Americans now to understand what it is like to struggle with and treat these invisible diseases,” says Behrman.

“Twenty percent of Americans suffer from some type of mental illness. Getting the word out is critical to helping raise awareness and promoting tolerance," says Behrman, who in the past fifteen years has been prescribed more than thirty-eight medications and nineteen electroshock therapy treatments to stabilize his condition.

Hollywood is currently making “Electroboy” into a major motion picture -- the first film in which the protagonist has bipolar disorder. “Not every person who has bipolar disorder is a genius, or a raving psychopath, or suicidal,” says Behrman, who is intent on dispelling the myths of mental illness. “The public needs to be educated about mental illness to understand that it’s no worse than having diabetes or even cancer. It can be overcome,” he says.

“The Bush administration spends $100,000 a minute on a war halfway around the world, but in this country I’ve seen mental health advocates redeeming soda cans to pay for support group expenses and suicide prevention programs, to reach people who are suffering needlessly,” says Behrman.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness highlighted by alternating episodes of mania and depression -- euphoric highs and desperate lows. It's an emotional disorder which is frequently overlooked by the patient, his or her friends and family and sometimes even by mental health professionals who are prone to misdiagnosis. And perhaps the most frightening fact is that the suicide rate during a manic depressive episode is higher than it is for any other mental illness.

More than 2.3 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, and these are just the people who are diagnosed – there are as many as five million more who may not be currently diagnosed. Bipolar disorder is an invisible illness, and sometimes the stigma of having it is almost as bad as the disorder itself.

“There has got to be a way for people who deal with life-long mental illnesses to be treated like other members of society – the way those who are diagnosed with diabetes or cancer or epilepsy are,” says Behrman. “I’ll fight until the end for the 20% of Americans who have mental illnesses, because mine nearly destroyed my life,” he adds.

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Andy Behrman