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A halt in meds led to suicide

By Tom Davis

You'd think the last candidate for suicide would be apsychologist.

But psychologists say: Never underestimate the power ofmental illness.

Ask Judy Eron, a clinical socialworker and singer-songwriter. Her husband, Jim, was a licensed psychologist whokilled himself a decade ago after he abruptly stopped taking lithium.

Shouldn't a psychologist know better?

Eron, who grew up in Millburn, callsit "the question of the ages." The circumstances can be completelybenign and harmless, she said.

"We left on our regular summer trip to Washington State, and we were about four hours fromhome when Jim said, 'I forgot to bring my lithium,'Ÿ"Eron said.

"With my acute 20/20 hindsight, clearly we should havejust turned around and gone home to get the lithium. But we were immenselyignorant, despite both being mental health professionals."

Once Jim entered the realm of "mania," she said, there was no bringing him back.

Eronrecounts her husband's year-long decline and the events leadingto his death in "What Goes Up ... Surviving theManic Episode of a Loved One" (Barricade Books).

Eron, who now lives in Texas,said her book is "what I would have wanted to read then," as shestruggled to care for her husband. She considers it a guide for people who carefor people who suffer from mental illness.

Mental health professionals have lined up to endorse thebook, saying it's a "must-read" for anyone who has a loved one withserious mental illness.

"I have no doubt that her candid description of herexperience will be healing to others," said Xavier Amador, a Columbia University professor and a member of theNational Alliance for the Mentally Ill's board of directors.

But it's also for those who - because of their credentials -may feel as if they're immune.

Brain disorders don't discriminate, mental healthprofessionals say. Psychologists often have to treat other psychologists formania and other illnesses.

"Mental illness can be biologically inherited.Secondly, it can be learned," said Samuel Shein,a Teaneckpsychologist. "If I had a rejecting and abusive parenting, I can end upfeeling very, very inadequate and depressed as an adult.

"Patients learn it or inherit it and so do mentalhealth professionals," he added. "We're the same."

While her husband suffered, Eronsearched for resources. Although there were many books on depression, only afew dealt with someone who is manic.

"We were so ignorant," she said. "In kindnessto myself, I remind myself that almost none of the current books on bipolar hadbeen written in 1996-97, when all this happened."

In the book, Eron talks of herhusband's decline with hopelessness. Her many years of experience were uselessonce Jim was engulfed in his "horrific" state of being.

At that point, Eron said, she andher husband had just read Kay Redfield Jamison's "Unquiet Mind," inwhich she describes her own manias, with a certain longing.

"It's part of the illness to want to be off meds, tofeel that juice," Eron said. "I think thatinfluenced Jim and reminded him of the power of mania."

Reproduced with permission of The Record of Hackensack, NJ.

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