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An Interview with Lorna Hyde Graev on Living with Bipolar Disorder

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Apr 18th 2008

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Lorna Hyde GraevThis Wise Counsel Podcast features an interview with Lorna Hyde Graev and is from the patient's rather than from the therapist's perspective. Mrs. Graev, who is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, is a public relations professional who serves on the board of directors of Fountain House, a mental illness rehabilitation and advocacy organization based in New York City. She spoke with Dr. Van Nuys about her illness and about the work done by Fountain House on behalf of members suffering with severe and persistent mental illness.

Bipolar disorder runs in Mrs. Graev's family as it does in many families. Her mother was diagnosed with Manic Depression which began at age 31 as a postpartum depression in the wake of the birth of her second daughter. There was no medication treatment available at that time and she suffered greatly, as did her sister, who also developed the condition. She was one of the first participants in a study of the efficacy of lithium treatment for manic depression, and this treatment benefited her tremendously and greatly reduced her symptoms. She continued to take it for the rest of her life.

Mrs. Graev herself describes a pattern of impulsiveness in matters of spending and a tendency to drink too much alcohol which manifested itself prior to her first manic episode. She believes today that her alcohol use then was in part a means of self-medication. At age 41, she was in the midst of a divorce, and also working on a career change from public relations for the fashion industry to art history. While studying in London, she suddenly found herself one evening physically paralyzed, and then shortly thereafter greatly agitated and unable to calm herself. Ten days of unrelenting mania left her physically exhausted and temporarily experiencing suicidal ideation. Two friends came to see her and encouraged her to return to New York City where she had family and friends, and an established psychotherapy relationship.

Mrs. Graev was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder as an adult at age 41. Her mother was also Bipolar as was one of her aunts, and a cousin or two. Her mother was diagnosed at the age of 31 with Manic Depression - onset was due to post-postpartum depression after the birth of her younger sister. No medication at that time (late 1940s). She was one of the first study patients for Lithium. Lithium medication was successful and changed her life for the better. Mrs. Graev's onset was in the middle of a divorce and during a midlife career change from public relations to art history (a time of great stress and upheaval). Out of the blue she became first physically paralyzed and then very agitated. She was "cycling" in a manic state - couldn't stay still or calm down. Walked around in a bathrobe through the city of London trying to shake it off. Suicidal for a time. This went on for days. She knew what depression felt like but the mania was without precedent. Two friends came to see her and took her back home to NYC where she had a therapist and family support. Her doctor wanted to hospitalize her but she refused. She was offered Prozac, a medication which left her feeling even more agitated and manic. The Prozac was discontinued after 2 months, and was shortly thereafter followed by lithium, which quickly and dramatically reduced her symptoms. She recalls thinking to herself that her body must have been craving this medication because of the rapid good it did her. She was hesitant to go on lithium at first for fear of weight gain, but once on the medication it was clear that the benefits outweighed the side effects. She did gain some weight but was able to keep it to a manageable amount with exercise and diet. Most recently, she has reduced her lithium consumption and supplemented with Lamictal combination therapy, which has worked out well. She has made use of psychotherapy as well as medication therapy, and is a supporter of the value and importance of psychotherapy for those suffering with mental illness.

Mrs. Graev's participation with Fountain House came about after a discussion with her psychiatrist. She remarked about how lucky she was to have access to good doctors and asked her doctor for organizations where she might volunteer to help out those less fortunate. Her doctor recommended several organizations, one of which was Fountain House, on whose board of directors she now serves.

Fountain House is a rehabilitation organization founded in 1948 in New York City and located at 425 West 47th Street. They pioneered the "clubhouse" model of treatment and advocacy for the severely mentally ill which has been widely replicated in other locations. Over 16000 members have been served over the course of Fountain House's existence. Participants are known as members rather than patients to signify their active participation in all aspects of the management of the organization. Fountain house provides a place to be, and meals, educational assistance, and job placement for those in need. The majority of members are suffering with Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, but many other diagnoses are represented as well.

Dr. Van Nuys closes the interview by asking Mrs. Graev what advice she has for people dealing with mental illness. She responds that talking about your illness is very important as it helps you get better. The more you hide your illness, the more your illness owns you.

Links Relevant To This Podcast:

  • Visit the Fountain House website at www.fountainhouse.org.

About Lorna Hyde Graev

Lorna Hyde GraevLorna Hyde Graev is a successful public relations businesswoman who also has suffered from Bipolar Disorder. As a result of her own experiences with mental illness and her high-profile business background, she has been active on the Board of Fountain House, a pioneer in the field of community mental wellness and psychiatric rehabilitation services.

Fountain House began in 1948 and now has over 400 programs worldwide. Mrs. Graev has been an integral and active member of the Fountain House Board of Directors since 2002. She is diagnosed with bi-polar disorder and feels passionately about helping others with mental illness. She chose Fountain House as her means to assist others and to help eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness. Mrs. Graev states, "The Fountain House model is compelling because it really works. I have witnessed it over and over again."

Starting in 1967, Mrs. Graev worked in public relations for Christian Dior, both in New York City and Paris. She continued her successful career in fashion by becoming Jones Apparel Group's spokesperson for Christian Dior's sportswear line in 1979. Four years later she went to work for Richard Feigen and Company, specializing in Old Masters and Impressionist paintings. She studied Art History at Christy's in London and at New York University.

Mrs. Graev is married to Lawrence Graev, Chairman and CEO of the Glen Rock Group.

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