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Last updateMon, 29 Apr 2019 1pm

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Author and Mental Health Advocate Visits University

IMG 2910Nationally recognized author and New Jersey native Andy Behrman spoke to a crowd of University students, faculty, and members of the community about his experiences with bipolar disorder, how it has affected his life, and how he manages today at a lecture in Wilson Hall Auditorium on Tuesday March 31. 

Behrman based his talk off of the content in his book Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania, which was sold and signed before and after the event. The book describes his experience while he was undiagnosed. 

The author explained how he tried 45 different medications and eventually endured 19 rounds of electroshock therapy. He said that his memoir is a brutally honest and is not for the faint of heart, “I knew that if I was going to tell my story it wasn’t going to be sugar coated at all,” he said. 

The memoir was described as, “…a story that is like no other yet is familiar to so many,” said Erica Lee Lapid, University alumna and Co-Founder of Monmouth University’s Counseling Alumni Connection (CAC) who also introduced Behrman. This was his 411th talk since the publication of his book in 2002. 

One of Behrman’s main messages was the importance of talking about mental health and bringing awareness to the issue. “For me, the biggest issue is talking about mental illness,” he said.

“When this book was published in 2002 by Random House there were really only a few books out and people were not writing memoirs about their experience with mental illness, because there was so much shame involved in it. We need to continue talking about it because if you don’t continue talking about it, then it goes away,” Behrman added.

Behrman explained that it was difficult to diagnose him as being bipolar because psychologists had little experience with the mental illness at the time. “I would generally only present myself to a therapist in a severe rut or a low. I was diagnosed eight times with depression because every time I would go it would be during one of those periods. I was never asked any questions about any other periods or stages that I went through. They didn’t want to talk about emotionally where I had been,” he said.  

Current graduate student in the school counseling program, Alexzandra Earley, spoke about her past experiences and how they relate to Behrman’s. “The most profound thing that Andy spoke about was hiding things from his therapists/feeling embarrassed. As a student who suffers from anxiety and depression, I can remember being too embarrassed to tell people that I was having suicidal thoughts, or when I had a panic attack,” she said. 

“As a graduate from the Psychological Counseling Program at Monmouth, I am beyond passionate about what I do,” said Jennifer Trimarchi, co-founder of the Counseling Alumni Connection (CAC), Psychological Counseling Graduate Program. 

“Andy is one of those people who provides encouragement to the world of mental health, provides more purpose as to why mental wellness is so important,” Trimarchi continued.  

Many, including Dr. George Kapalka, Chair of the Department of Psychological Counseling, deemed the event a success. “The event worked well to expose attendees to issues that individuals with mental illnesses have to deal with, and what it is like to have a mental illness. Being able to hear this from someone first-hand is a rare opportunity,” he said. 

Behrman’s honesty was admirable to many in the audience, including Lisa Harris, Counselor Career Connect Coordinator at the University. “I truly appreciate Andy Behrman’s raw honesty throughout his presentation. I had read his book prior to attending, so I knew many of the stories he told, but I liked his laid back approach to presenting what he has gone through. It makes the subject more approachable and real,” she said.  

Harris also discussed what she took away from the presentation, “I feel what I have learned personally is to be more observant when it comes to the behavior of those around me, whether loved ones, friends, people I work with, or students.”

Others were impressed with the speaker’s honesty, including Matthew Tirrell, co-founder of the Counseling Alumni Connection. “He was willing to be brave enough to expose his vulnerabilities, defects, and lessons learned…. and he did it all with an amazing sense of humor.  I found that to be truly inspiring and worthwhile to witness,” he said. 

“I enjoyed the event because it was unlike any other lecture I have ever been to,” said Earley. “Andy was raw and open with the audience, and shared his story without holding much back. I felt his pain and could appreciate everything that he spoke about,” she continued. 

Behrman also discussed the myth behind the term “recovery,” discussing how people sometimes believe that mental health patients can fully recover from their illness but the reality is that recovery does not exist. “I’m not a big user of the word recovery because I don’t think people ever really recover, I think they learn to cope and manage,” he said. 

His presentation opened discussions regarding the stigma behind mental illness and what can be done to change this stigma. “Stigmas shame, shame drives you into hiding, and hiding keeps you sick,” said Lapid. “We need to be the driving force to break this cycle. By making conversations about mental health causal and frequent we are not only saving lives but improving their quality.” 

One of the ways to remove the negative stigma often associated with mental health patients is for people to talk about the issue, according to Trimarchi. “Andy’s story is an inspiration to help remove the stigma from mental disorders! That’s our goal - mental health is very important and needs to be acknowledged more and more,” added Trimarchi.

Behrman offered advice for any student who may be suffering from mental illness: he urged them not to go online and self-diagnose but to rather seek professional help. “At most universities there are mental health services and there is nothing wrong with going in and talking for 45 minutes or an hour and saying something feels wrong,” he said. 

Kapalka described the services available, specifically to all students at the University. “Monmouth University has the department of Counseling and Psychological Services devoted to assisting students with counseling and mental health needs. Students often also have the ability to utilize their health care benefits coverage to seek private services outside of Monmouth,” he said. 

PHOTO COURTESY of Graziella Ruffa

Contact Information

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Jules L. Plangere Jr. Center for Communication
and Instructional Technology (CCIT)
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Monmouth University
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07764

Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151
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