AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: “Everyone has a brain, which plays a major role in mental illness. I think everyone is — temporarily or not — a little mentally ill.” That’s what our next guest is told by a leading psychiatrist, whom she meets in Rome, in a quest that takes her from a psychiatric ward in Los Angeles to Italy and Bolivia, as she tries to come to grips with the effects of lithium, the drug she’s prescribed when she’s diagnosed at the age of 16 with bipolar disorder. According to the American Psychiatric Association, bipolar disorders are, quote, “brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function.” Bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, every year some 44 million Americans experience mental illness, of which almost 6 million are diagnosed as bipolar. In her remarkable memoir, titled Mental: Lithium, Love, and Losing My Mind, Jaime Lowe shares and investigates her experience with mental illness and the drugs used to combat it. She was on lithium for two decades but was forced to go off it when she experienced serious kidney problems as a result of the medication. She points to statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show the use of prescription medication for antidepressants among all ages increased nearly 400 percent over the last two decades.
To talk more about her experience with an illness that’s still associated with social stigma despite affecting tens of millions of Americans, we’re joined now by author and journalist Jaime Lowe.
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jaime.
JAIME LOWE: Thank you so much for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: This is a profound book.
JAIME LOWE: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you start off where you first learned, where you first were diagnosed, and talk about your experience at the age of 16 in a Los Angeles psych ward?
JAIME LOWE: Well, it started a little bit before that, because I…