NEPA locals share battles with mental illness

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First Posted: 9/22/2014

We live in a world where mass shootings are common and where a national struggle for understanding destructive decisions plagues the minds of society.

Mental illness surfaces in some through mixed emotions, ranging from hatred filled words in letters begging for understanding, to instant breaks with reality. These situations and the unfortunate growing list of others, creates a stigma, that people suffering from mental health issues are maniacal killers.

Sometimes people with mental illnesses do snap and commit unthinkable acts of crime, but not always. Dr. Matthew Berger, a psychiatrist from Kingston, said that people suffering from mental health issues can be at the receiving end of those types of crimes. He said they are more likely to be hurt by people without a mental illness.

Because of the tragic killings such as the ones that happened in Columbine and Aurora, Colorado, Newtown, Connecticut and at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, awful crimes as these are associated with people with mental health disorders, Berger said.

“You get that one person with a psychiatric episode and it stigmatizes mental illness, making people afraid to tell their friends or even too afraid to get the treatment they need,” Berger said.

Common misconceptions behind seeking treatment often include fear of getting committed or not being able to get a certain job Berger said.

With the proper treatment, mental illnesses can be undetectable. You probably see people every day who have been diagnosed with a mental illness and you don’t even know it, Berger said.

That barista who helps wake you up every morning with a fresh cup of coffee.

That guy who pumps your gas.

The professor lecturing your class.

“People need to understand that mental illness is an equal opportunity employer. It affects all walks of life. There are doctors, lawyers, teachers, even airplane pilots that suffer from forms of mental illness,” Berger said.

Weekender reached out to residents of Northeastern Pennsylvania and came across three people who show that mental illness can affect anyone including your sibling, your classmate or even your hero.

Your Sister

Dylan Kiehart of Scranton always knew about depression but he didn’t understand that it was a disease until it affected his sister, Kelsie.

Dr. Berger said more people need to realize depression is a disease.

“People think it’s a choice. It’s neuro-chemical. It’s brain chemistry. It can’t be turned off by thinking positive thoughts,” he said.

Raised by their grandparents without a father or mother in their lives, brother and sister relied on each other for support. They were best friends.

When Kelsie’s behavior began to shift, Dylan, a songwriter, turned to music to express his feelings.

“I saw Kelsie going through a lot of pain. I wrote a song called ‘Kelsie’s Pain’ hoping to give some insight to what people with depression are feeling and show it through the perspective of a loved one witnessing it,” Kiehart said.

This verse in “Kelsie’s Pain” says it all:

“Are you listenin’? I noticed somethin’ different.

There’s shadows in the place of where your eyes would always glisten.

I’m tryna understand but you won’t tell me what you’ve hidden and I still can’t comprehend what got you thinkin’ you don’t fit in.

Would you look at me? Tears on my face doesn’t prove a thing, but it hurts so much like I’m losin’ me.

Won’t let you leave, don’t do it to me.”

Despite watching his sister suffer from depression, Kiehart never really thought the day would come where Kelsie wouldn’t be in his life. To lose her to suicide was tragic, especially since she was always full of energy and making people laugh.

On a snowy day in December 2013, his worst nightmare became a reality.

Kiehart said his sister asked if she could stay at his house after a party. Although he would not be home that night, he thought nothing of it told his sister of course she could stay. She knew her brother would not be home that night, perhaps she new both their lives would change forever.

The next day, Kiehart thought it bizarre that he hadn’t yet heard from his sister, his best friend.

“I went to my house to check on her and I found her dead in my bathroom. It was the hardest day of my life. It felt as if my world was ripped in half and I was all alone,” Kiehart said.

Depression causes many people to feel alone. According to Dr. Berger, however, it affects more people than one may realize.

“One in five people will at one time develop a depressive disorder,” Berger said.

Following his sister’s suicide, Kiehart continued to write music based on the moment that left him crestfallen.

“When I write about Kelsie, I realize things I haven’t consciously faced,” Kiehart said.

As the one-year anniversary of Kelsie’s death approaches, Kiehart is in a better place when it comes to remembering his sister.

“My new song ‘For My Angel’ is meant to lift spirits and motivate those who lost someone,” Kiehart said.

The lyrics say it all:

“Put your hands up, do it for ya angel. Open up ya heart let ‘em save you.

Let ‘em fly, we all got an angel in the sky. The spirit never die.

It’s only in a different life, yeah I’m feelin’ it tonight.

My sister lookin’ down on me tellin’ me it’s alright.”

Your Classmate

When Samantha Bone of Dunmore looks in the mirror she sees a young woman that appears 35 pounds heavier than she actually weighs. Chunky. No muscle tone. Just an overall awkward body type.

Judging by the amount of guys that like her photos on social media, it’s safe to say she’s the only who feels that way.

Standing 5 feet 3 inches tall, Bone weighs a mere 105 lbs. She suffers from body dysmorphia.

“My parents noticed I was refusing to eat or drink any food or liquids when I was about 16. They made me do an outpatient treatment program. That’s when I was diagnosed with the disorder,” Bone said.

Some days it’s a struggle for Bone to look in the mirror.

“People just look at me and say ‘Don’t think that way’ or ‘That doesn’t make sense. You’re fine’. The truth is that it doesn’t make sense, but it’s a serious disease that messes with the minds of many women,” Bone said.

Berger said women are not the only ones who suffer from body dysmorphia.

“The disease is more so seen in women, but men also suffer from body dysmorphia,” he said. “It’s important that people realize that and that they realize it’s not a choice.”

Eating disorders are a common form of self-medicating body dysmorphia. Bone said she never “had” an eating disorder. She will “always have an eating disorder.”

Bone is bulimic and anorexic.

“It’s something I struggle with every day. I was doing fine for a long time, meaning I wasn’t bingeing or purging or restricting food,” she said.

When school became stressful at Jolie Hair and Beauty Academy of Wilkes-Barre, Bone relapsed. The stress of worrying about how disgusting she looked and what other people were thinking about her weight and image caused the 20-year old to start bingeing and purging again, playing a role in her decision to leave school.

“It’s such a sick way to relieve stress and I know that. I like to binge and purge because it’s one thing I can control during stressful situations,” Bone said.

In and out of treatment over the past four years, Bone said that counseling provided her with amazing tools that allowed her to accept herself and gain weight. When she relapsed, she felt as if she threw all of the knowledge she was given out the window. More dominantly, Bone felt in control.

“It is truly a very sick love affair,” said Bone of her relationship with body dysmorphia.

Your Hero

Many people consider Earl Granville of Scott Township a hero. He served his country in Bosnia and Iraq with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. In 2008, he volunteered for active duty in Afghanistan.

While there he lost his left leg from a roadside bomb explosion. Despite losing a limb fighting for his country, the University of Scranton senior has a most positive perspective on life.

Granville balances school and family with empowering wounded warriors through speaking engagements at National Guard units and high schools across the country — even finding time to complete the occasional Tough Mudder. On November 28, Granville will be roasted at “Roastin’ for a Cause” held at the Radisson in Scranton to raise awareness for suicide.

This local hero, however, has a hero of his own, his twin brother, who is not around to share the glory of their achievements.

Granville lost his twin brother, Joe, on December 18, 2010.

Joe took his own life after the suffering from post traumatic stress got too unbearable. It’s an anxiety disorder known as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that occurs after a person suffers an extreme emotional trauma that involved the threat of injury or death.

“We served together in Bosnia and Iraq,” Granville said. “When I volunteered for Afghanistan, where I lost my leg, Joe didn’t go. The guilt ate at him that he wasn’t there with me. Then when he wanted to go back to Iraq, they wouldn’t let him go because of my injury.”

Joe started taking out his anger and stress on his family.

“There was a change in him. He wasn’t himself” Granville said.

Granville remembered his brother before suffering from post traumatic stress as someone who was a natural protector.

“I know we were twins and he was technically 35 minutes older than me, but he always took on the role of the big brother. Always looking after me. I’m around to get all of this attention for my service, but he was a better soldier than me. He was so much more committed. He was my hero,” Granville said.

Having also experienced post traumatic stress after losing his leg and twin brother, the wounded warrior began self-medicating with alcohol. After hearing what his twin said about how much he admired how he handled losing a limb, Granville starting wondering “What would my brother be thinking of how I am acting right now?”

This outlook continues to inspire Granville, as he tries to slim the statistic of veteran suicide and break the stigma that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

Berger said that PTSD, and any other mental illness, is not a sign of weakness. Some of the strongest minded people in history suffered from mental illness including athletes and Abraham Lincoln, said Berger.

“Our veterans average 22 suicides a day,” said Granville, who admits to seeking help.

“There were times I was at a real low point and I had to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. People need to realize you don’t necessarily have to be suicidal to call. You can just be having a bad day or a bad time with something. Sometimes that little bit of support is all you need,” Granville said.

When understanding PTSD, Berger said people should know sufferers come from outside the military too. Three out of ten patients in a traumatic situation develop PTSD.

There are numerous outlets available for help for those suffering from any mental health disorder. If friends and family notice that something might be a little off with someone they love, Berger said, reach out, get help or assistance before it is too late.