Depression And Bipolar Support Alliance

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) provides hope, help, support, and education to improve the lives of people who have mood disorders.

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$2.7M

Annual Revenue

70%

Program Expenses

5%

CEO Compensation

Advocacy

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Awareness

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Direct Service

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Private Sector Collaboration

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Policy Legislation

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Research

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Financials

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Management

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About the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) was founded in 1985 in order to provide peer-led support for people living with depression and bipolar disorder. More than half of DBSA staff and board members have a mood disorder, which helps to foster an environment of understanding and support. DBSA provides an array of services and programs including educational materials, webinars, podcasts, advocacy tools, and online and in-person support groups. In order to continually improve and better service their target communities, they have both an extensive list of core programs and new initiatives that are added every year.


Why We Chose to Feature This Organization

As we’ve learned from our other organizations, the stigmatization of mental illness can often lead to isolation. Bipolar disorder affects approximately 4% of the population and depression affects approximately 7%. While these illnesses are not rare, it can be hard for individuals to find others whom they can confidently confide in. That is where DBSA steps in.

DBSA offers a safe place for like-minded individuals to share their feelings and experiences regarding depression and bipolar. Their peer-led support groups are not therapy and should not act as a substitute to treatment, but sometimes people just need a place where they can talk freely and be understood. This service is especially important in a culture where people with mental illness frequently face stigmatization and isolation.

In addition to in-person support groups, DBSA offers numerous online communities and tools to help those living with these mood disorders. Here at Simply Virtuous, we believe that many things done in-person can and should be offered online, and we appreciate organizations that use the internet it to expand their offerings and further their reach. Not everyone lives near a support group or has the desire, time, or means to attend in-person events. Anyone with an internet connection can benefit from DBSA’s online support communities and tools, making their organization well worth funding.

Direct Service

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Financials

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Management

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Advocacy Toolkit

Like many non-profit organizations, DBSA provides an advocacy toolkit which teaches interested individuals how to best connect with their elected officials and push for policies that support their cause. We found that DBSA’s advocacy toolkit went above and beyond the most other toolkits. In addition to the typical sample letters and thank you notes, DBSA’s advocacy toolkit includes tips for making messages stand out, building and maintaining meaningful relationships with politicians and their staff, how to react to different questions and remarks, and how to get others involved. They also explain congressional committees, key staff positions, and the congressional session process. These are very important things to understand, and unless you’re incredibly interested in politics or recently took an American government course you may need a refresher on these topics.

Members of Congress represent a portion of their state’s citizens, with the average Congressman representing 700,000 people. Unlike the Senate, who represent the interest of the states, the House of Representatives (Congress) is there to represent the interest of the people. Individuals should therefore focus their efforts on speaking with their Congressional representative about issues that are important to them. Members of Congress can be implored to vote certain ways by hearing compelling personal stories from their constituents, encouraging data about the economic impacts of proposed policies, and data about the potential positive effects on people’s lives. There is power in numbers, so Members of Congress can often be swayed when they hear from hundreds and thousands of constituents. They (generally) listen, but first we must speak up.

When an advocate begins organizing a meeting, they may find that they are arranged with a member of staff instead of the legislator themselves. This is not necessarily a bad thing given that the staff are responsible for much of the hands-on work in the legislative process. They are also very influential to their bosses. If you wish to reach out to staff regarding mental health policy issues it is best to begin with the Legislative Assistant. Legislative Assistants monitor and analyze specific legislation and give recommendations for the best course of action to their member of Congress.

If you can meet with a member of Congress or a Senator themselves, make sure to plan accordingly. Arrive on time (meaning ten minutes early) and be well-prepared. Know which committees the Congressman/woman serves on and which policies related to your issue they’ve supported in the past. Always address them by their title “Senator”, “Congresswoman”, or “Congressman”. Focus on one issue and make your argument in under ten minutes. Avoid general requests and instead ask for concrete things such as supporting or voting against proposed legislature. Always follow up with a brief thank you letter.

The next step in the process depends on the feedback you receive. If your elected official says that they will sign on to everything you proposed, thank them and try to obtain their mental health or health Legislative Assistant’s contact information so that you can follow-up if necessary. If they ask for more information regarding letters circulated about the bill, refer them to the immediate actions/requests listed on the fact sheets provided by DBSA. If they seem hesitant but willing to learn more, offer to act as a resource and provide them with more information as requested. Finally, if they say that they oppose federal funding for mental health issues, remain cordial. Let them know that you disagree with them and that you hope they will learn more about the issues and see that these programs are indeed worthy of federal funding.

Emails and telephone calls are another option for contacting elected officials. When sending an email, begin with requesting a specific action be taken, such as voting for XYZ bill. The next two to three sentences should use relevant facts to support your request. Keep these sentences to the point and avoid acronyms or industry jargon that they may not understand. State your expertise on the issue (experience working in the field, community involvement, etc.). Finally, politely request their support. If you are making a phone call, have a plan for what you will say. Start with a brief description of your relation to the issue and follow with a direct request for support.

Improving the lives of people with severe mental illness such as bipolar disorder and depression requires that our policies are drastically changed. When elected officials know that this is a concern for their constituents, they will make it a priority that proper policies are enacted. Being an advocate is a great way to get involved and make a difference.

Local, Peer-Led Support Groups

The main activity of DBSA is providing peer led support services to individuals with mood disorders and their families. In-person support groups vary widely by state and are led by local independent affiliates of DBSA. There are approximately 650 support groups nationwide.

Mood disorders such as depression and bipolar can be extremely isolating. Support groups help bring together people who share similar thoughts, experiences, and emotions. The meetings are not group therapy, nor are they the place to make a diagnosis or act as a substitute for professional treatment. Instead, they are a meeting place for people to share resources regarding local mental health professionals and services, as well as a place for people to share their feelings and personal strategies for managing their illness. The key elements of a DBSA chapter support group are:

  • Focus on Self-Help: Each person has the ability to make use of available resources in order to fulfill their needs. Each person ultimately decides for themselves what they need to work on and what they need to do to manage their disease.
  • Peer-Led: Meetings are facilitated by a group participant or a friend/family member depending on the target audience of the group. The facilitator guides the discussion, making sure that the group stays focused and that guidelines are followed.
  • Safe and Accepting: The atmosphere should be supportive, respectful, trustworthy, non-judgmental, and nurturing.
  • Confidential: What is said at the group stays in the group, except in cases of immediate danger. DBSA chapters are strictly prohibited from selling or renting group membership or participation lists.
  • Regular Meetings: The group determines what is “regular”, but the DBSA national office recommends meeting at least once a month
  • Free of Charge

Facing Us Clubhouse

DBSA also offers solutions for those who do not live near a support group or who do not wish to participate in them. One such solution is their “Facing Us” Clubhouse. Facing Us is an online community where individuals with mood disorders can track their health, share and learn tips for managing their illness, create wellness plans, keep a journal, express their creativity, and provide or receive support. Thanks to its ease of use and numerous features, it was named one of the Best Apps for Bipolar Disorder in 2017 by Healthline. For this report, we will explain the wellness plan creation process:

The wellness plan includes seven different sections:

  • Goal Setting: Individuals choose three big goals and small steps that can be taken in order to achieve them.
  • Daily Self-Care: Individuals choose three activities that they will try to do daily that will help them relax, maintain their energy, keep a healthy routine, and prevent stress from building up.
  • Setting Up a Support Network: Individuals write down the names and contact information of people who can support them when they are in need.
  • Watching for Warning Signs: Individuals identify and monitor their personal warning signs, or things that trigger symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mania.
  • Listing Triggers and Steps to Take to Avoid or Improve the Situation
  • Creating a Booster Plan: An individual makes a list of things that can be done when they are feeling especially depressed, agitated, or stressed.
  • Crisis Management: Individuals can download a crisis management plan and keep it in a spot that is easily accessible by themselves as well as family and friends. It is also a good idea to share it with their doctors and therapists.

Once the wellness plan is completed, users can select a pre-designed cover and print it so that they can track their progress and evaluate what is and isn’t working. DBSA recommends making regular appointments to evaluate the plan and revise as necessary. It is also recommended that individuals share their wellness plan with their doctors.

Management

Depression And Bipolar Support Alliance

Allen Doederlein

President

Experience and Education
  • Vice President of Development at DBSA National Headquarters
  • Bachelor of Arts in Theatre and English Literature from Knox College
Compensation
$131,000

Depression And Bipolar Support Alliance

Cindy Specht

Executive Vice President

Experience and Education
  • Vice President of Products and Programs at DBSA Headquarters
  • University of Wisconsin - Madison
Compensation
$105,000

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