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Beyond Blue

Kay Redfield Jamison: A Profile in Courage

kay redfield jamison.jpgJacqueline L. Salmon wrote a beautiful profile of my mental health hero, Kay Redfield Jamison, in BP magazine. It captured the personality and life experience behind the bestselling author and expert on manic-depression. After I read “An Unquiet Mind,” I somehow thought her struggles were in the past. Not at all. She still has “rough patches” and somehow, just hearing that, comforts me in mine. I’ve excerpted part of the article. You can get to the original by clicking here.


The small woman in the black sweater sitting near the podium at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) annual conference in Norfolk, Virginia, was intent on her notes, preparing for her keynote address to the crowded auditorium.

One by one, her admirers appeared. They lined up to ask her about medications and doctors, or to vent their frustrations about a medical system that often seems to little understand their illness. And one by one, Kay Redfield Jamison, PhD, listened patiently and answered their questions.

With her blond hair, upturned nose, and girlish cotton skirt and sandals, Jamison looks much younger than her 62 years. She raises her eyebrows when told that she had been expected to be more subdued. “I’m not a quiet person,” she says with a laugh.


Lively and sharp-witted with almost a bird-like quality to her, Jamison sat for a brief interview with bp Magazine at the DBSA meeting in September 2008. It’s tough to get Jamison alone at such a gathering. She is continually bombarded with admirers; she listens to their stories, nodding sympathetically to tales that must seem woefully familiar to her by now. After a few minutes, she slips away from one conversation, only to be wrapped up in another.

At a reception the evening before her address to the DBSA conference, Jamison carefully slid her chair out from against a wall with a practiced gesture so she wouldn’t be trapped if she needed to move away from questioners. The public attention Jamison faces is constant–she received 30,000 letters following the publication of her bestselling 1995 memoir, An Unquiet Mind, a raw and honest story of her own battles with bipolar.


Indeed, the author of five books and more than 100 scientific articles about bipolar disorder has become the public face of the illness because of the book’s impact, and also from her appearances on popular television programs like The Oprah Winfrey Show and Larry King Live.

Those suffering from bipolar illness certainly see her as one of them.

“Her book was very inspiring,” says Susan Millikan of Concord, New Hampshire, who attended the DBSA meeting in Norfolk, marveling at “all that she went through, and she came out from it.”

Recent years have brought significant challenges to Jamison. Her mother, Dell, with whom she was very close, died in 2007. Her husband, Richard Wyatt, chief of neuropsychiatry at the National Institute of Mental Health and “the major support” in her life, died in 2002. But Jamison and her friends say she has rallied from these losses. Moreover, the lithium that she has been taking for more than three decades continues to curb her illness. Despite a “rough patch” last summer, Jamison tells bp Magazine that she is feeling well. “I’ve been very, very fortunate,” she says.


“How she manages is an inspiration,” says Myrna Weissman, PhD, professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at Columbia University and chief of the Department in Clinical-Genetic Epidemiology at New York State Psychiatric Institute, who has known Jamison for years. “She has great intelligence, great spirit, and a wonderful family, and her personal qualities attract many friends who love and support her when and if she needs it.”

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  • Rasa

    Now is the time I have to work through my envy issues.
    As a former Social Work Mental Health Clinician, I want to be able
    to follow Kay’s path and continue to work and shine in a professional career. I haven’t been able to do that. I have a fairly severe Learning Disability and it has gotten worse over the years or my brain has frizzeled from the disease. Who knows? I do have 5 children and that makes a difference. I know I should be cheering her on but find it hard. I have had to deal with my children’s severe food allergie, IBS, migraines,scoliosis/kyphosis surgeries,husband’s Stage III Kidney cancer, friend and then sister’s Terminal Breast Cancer, and now my Mother’s entrance into Hospice. Oh and the two children acting out episodes this spring.
    She has written books and I can only publish my poetry here and there

  • Mary Jane Hurley Brant

    Dr. Jamison is a role model in courage. I was fortunate enough to hear her present several years ago and to even get a seat. There must have been another 100 people standing up!
    Life is oftentimes so hard. Rasa’s comment above alone made me stop here today. How much she has on her plate. I hope she continues to take her stress and pain and put it into words, save it up to publish. It will give such meaning to her life, its pain and loss and it will no doubt help others with our human conditions.

  • Lora

    Very inspiring story.

  • Arlene Heffernan

    My son Jeff and I have read books and this site, and needless to say are very impressed with Kay Redfield Jamison’s experiences and advice. I have frantically been searching for a psychologist/psychiatrist that specializes in bi-polar for my 48 year old son, Jeff, who was diagnosed with dual-diagnosis bi-polar approximately 3 years ago via a blood/urine test. Jeff resides in Palm Harbor, Florida, however, he has also received treatment at Alexian Brothers in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. I reside in Prospect Hts., Illinois. Jeff received treatment as an outpatient for approximately one month at Alexian Brothers, however,they did not have a psychiatric specialist in bi-polar, nor was I able to find one at Lutheran General Hospital, or North Shore hospitals.
    Jeff will have to be treated in Palm Harbor/Clearwater area. If you could PLEASE recommend a doctor in said area I would be most appreciative. I would prefer someone who also has bi-polar like Kay Redfield Jamison, but a specialist at the very least.
    I look forward to hearing from you at your very earliest convenience.
    One other questions, does Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison treat patients, as well as teaching? Please let me know.
    Thanking you in advance, I sincerely remain, Arlene L. Heffernan,
    203 Royal Court, Prospect Hts., IL 60070, 847-421-2341.

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  • Hilary Chaney

    I’ve just started blogging about my own manic break and hospitalization. It’s about recovery and treatment, but more importantly about discovery of a new post-religion faith where there is no hell, no original sin, you are God, and heaven on earth is real, radiant and right around the corner. A wild and triumphant ride.

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