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An Interview with Yulonda Brown on Surviving Abuse and Bipolar Disorder

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Jun 3rd 2008

download this podcast read the transcript

Yulonda Brown

One of the things that we do with Wise Counsel from time to time is to get the psychotherapy client's perspective. We have interviewed a number of well-known and highly-respected therapists, counselors, and research academics, representing a wide variety of theoretical perspectives. To balance out the picture, it's also important to hear from client's themselves about both the benefits they have received, as well as the challenges and possible setbacks they faced in their therapeutic journey.

Today's interview is with Yulonda Brown, an African-American woman who has successfully struggled with child abuse, depression, Bipolar Disorder, and ADD. She is an author, publisher, mentor to young women of color, and mental health activist.

Ms. Brown grew up in St. Louis, MO, a member of what she describes as an "unstable" family. She believes her mother, who was physically and verbally abusive towards her daughter on a regular basis, likely had some undiagnosed mental issues. Ms. Brown's brother would typically ally with their mother against her, she believes as a way to cope with the violent situation (so as to not be targeted himself). Her father, a Baptist minister, was aware of the situation, but would seldom if ever intervene. It was particularly painful to Ms. Brown that her father, who she saw as standing for justice, would turn a blind eye towards the abuse taking place in his family.

The major stabilizing factor in Ms. Brown's early life was her grandmother who would repeatedly tell her that it wasn't her fault, that she was a good person, and that she would one day become a success in spite of the abuse.

As a means of coping with her homelife, Ms. Brown focused her energies into school and social pursuits, particularly advocacy pursuits. While unable to alter her own home situation, she would speak out against injustice perpetrated upon others.

Her chaotic family situation and aggressive, bullying mother affected how she learned to be social with others, she believes. By the time she was a young adult, she was known for being herself aggressive. She was unaware that this was a social posture that would damage her relationships, however, and instead simply thought that other people were intimidated by her achievements when they rejected her. Apparently, it was difficult for Ms. Brown to sustain romantic and friendship relationships for a while.

Her husband, whom she married at age 22, was the first to really sit her down and help her make the connection between her focused, aggressive social style, her difficulty talking about her emotions and her family upbringing. This discussion took place in the wake of Ms. Brown's postpartum depression and suicide attempt in 1999, several months after the birth of her first child, and resulting in her psychatric hospitalization.

Though friends and family were horified to learn of her hospitalization, she herself saw it as a relief. While at the hosptial, she connected with a psychiatrist who prescribed medication and psychotherapy; both of which were very useful to her.

Very recently, in early 2008, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (probably Bipolar II), and ADD. She had read up on the criteria for these disorders and related strongly to the criteria described therein: grandiosity, manic energy, racing thoughts and some level of disorganization despite her strong drive to succeed. Her doctor concurred, and her medications were adjusted accordingly. Presently, she is prescribed Lithium, in combination with Seroquel, Wellbutrin, and Adderall. Adjusting to these new medications was difficult, as they initially impacted her ability to concentrate. With the strong support of her husband and her co-workers, she persevered through the initial adjustment to the medications, and subsequent medication adjustments (an initial course of Lexapro was abandoned) and is presently feeling good and functioning well.

All of this medication and the medical monitoring required to keep it adjusted is expensive. Ms. Brown is very grateful for the resources she is able to access to help her in this regard: her health insurance, and her employee assistance program (EAP). Even with these resources, maintaining her treatment program is still an expensive proposition. She is well aware that many people who do not have insurance are unable to afford or access appropriate care.

Dr. Van Nuys asks Ms. Brown to speak about attitudes towards mental illness within the St. Louis African American community that Ms. Brown knows. She reports that there are many strong stigmas still attached to mental illness within this community. By way of illustration, she relates that when she annouced her Bipolar diagnosis, many people she knew immediately shunned her.

Another aspect of this strong stigma seems to be that community members are typically uncomfortable discussing emotional or other vulnerability, but instead will craft and maintain social facades to suggest to everyone that things are just fine. She doesn't think well of this tendency, and believes it is partially responsible for some suicides that have occured in the community.

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About Yulonda Brown

Yulonda Brown

Londa B. (known as Yulonda M. Brown) is a native of St. Louis, Missouri. She resides with her husband of ten years Chad, and her children Chanda, Marcia and Chad Jr. She is also the mother to an English Mastiff named, Sir Oliver. In her spare time, Yulonda loves mentoring young women in monthly meetings that focus on the power of self-love, self-preservation and sisterhood within the community.

When she's not traveling or giving motivational speeches, she is busy working as a freelance writer, publisher and cheif editor of her own monthly newsletter, Purposeful Literary Publications, a publication which circulates throughout the midwest. This busy woman also works as an events coordinator of literary events and operates her own publishing company, Aminia Books and Publishing. She also focuses on campaigning for mental issues/awareness. This is very dear to her simply being that her culture, her people of color, are the highest statistical figures in mental health researches and findings. She is a member of NAMI, she works closely with the Mental Health/Behavioral dept at her employer, and she also speaks at church functions and makes appearances to local high schools to speak and educate the youth on mental health issues. The author has three books to claim to her name. All relate to mental health issues in a fictional kind of way. Her latest book, One by One Portraits of Mental Illnesses in America, is delivered straight from the mouths of the mentally ill.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

Rejected from birth - Gail - May 10th 2009

Thera was a possibility I was a bastard and in 1945 this was the end. My mother hated my existence because she had to care for me and i was a visible realisation of her wrong doing. Not having had good parenting herself, her response to me was reluctant, harsh, and blaming.

Thank you for telling your story - Demetria Cavallari - Mar 23rd 2009

Dear Ms. Brown,

I just came across this article that talks about your life situation. I am a 31 year old woman that was newly diagnosed with bipolar 2 and ADD five years ago. I was verbally abused by my mother and we were abandoned by my father before I was born. The only person I had was my grandmother, my mom's mom. Like you, she provided me with love and guidance. I know that if it wasn't for her my life wouldn't be what it is now. Our situations were very similar and I felt relieved to know that I am not alone. My husband has schizo-affective disorder which makes our marriage challenging but worth being in. He is my constant support in life along with his family. I have bettered my life with my mother but the pain is still present, Thank you for sharing your story.

Wishing you all the best!


Demetria Cavallari

Thanks Ms. Brown for sharing your story - - Mar 6th 2009

I can so relate coming from a verbally abusive mother and just being all out odd, finally finding out that I am ADHD and I have Cyclothymia and others... It's weird because you really think you are "normal" and it's other people until you start having symptoms or take test etc... Thanks Ms. Brown for sharing your story, Thanks for loving yourself and embracing yourself in spite of others. I can relate...

Thank you for interviewing Mrs. Brown. - Amy - Jun 13th 2008

I have seen many harsh mothers travelling around a city, and I always wished I could think of some way to help the women understand how they were damaging their children. I am so happy to read of an African-American woman who found the courage to seek mental health help in spite of the stigma. I know she will make a great difference in her city.

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