December 2009

Col Owens

Senior Attorney, Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio

     Attorney Col Owens

“I figured out early in life that I tended to have highs and lows.  Sometimes I was euphoric and at other times in a slump.  For many years I assumed this was everybody’s experience,” said Col Owens, senior attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio.  Col is well known in many circles throughout Ohio for his work on behalf of those who are poor, or disabled, or both.  What he is not known for is that he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.   Col spoke with NAMI Ohio recently about his illness, how he has managed it and how it has impacted his life in positive ways. 

Col reported that he has always been a high achiever academically.  “I remember when I was in 8th grade and brought home my first ‘B’ ever.  My father’s reaction was that he didn’t expect me to do any better than 100%.”  There was also tremendous, if unintended, pressure from his mother in that she was absolutely certain he would achieve greatness.  “She did not know how or in what field, but she was convinced that I would do something great.  Thus my drive to achieve was coupled with a high degree of vulnerability.  I was constantly in fear of what would happen if I didn’t excel,” he said.

Col did exceedingly well during the remainder of his public schooling.  After graduation he attended Harvard College for undergraduate school and then went on to Harvard Divinity School.  Following a few years in the ministry, Col applied to law schools.  He failed to get into Harvard Law School and attended Boston University School of Law.  Not being accepted into Harvard Law School was viewed by Col as a tremendous failure.  He felt that he let his parents down as well as himself.  It was at this time that he made his first foray into therapy when friends did an “intervention,” recognizing that his depression over Harvard’s rejection as well as his middle-of-the-class academic achievement was something more than a temporary effect of “not doing as well as I thought I should.”

Throughout the ensuing years, Col managed his illness on his own.  He was married and had two children.  After his 25 year marriage ended, Col concluded that he needed help. “It became evident about 12 years ago, both during and after my divorce, that I needed to get serious about therapy.  I read Kay Redfield Jamison’s book An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, and much of what she described fit my experience almost exactly – although fortunately I never had any suicidal inclinations.”

“Treatment has made a huge difference in my life.  I am absolutely clear about that.  I used to be very difficult to take at times.  I have seen over time how my productivity, my relationships and my overall quality of life are vastly improved,” Col explained.  “I am much more forgiving of myself and have a better understanding of my combinations of successes and failures.  I’m no longer chasing elusive greatness, but am content with occasional recognition,” he said.

Treatment has made a huge difference in my life.  I am absolutely clear about that. I have seen over time how my productivity, my relationships and my overall quality of life are vastly improved.

Col urges others who may be experiencing internal discomfort that is not the result of physical pain or who are unhappy, to seek treatment, “Therapy and medication have made a great difference in my life.  Therapy has been immensely educational while medication has helped to balance out the highs and lows.  I am now much better able to manage my feelings.  Therapy has truly enriched my life.  My relationships with colleagues, friends and loved ones are all better because I am easier on myself … less angst-driven.”

Col’s advice to others who may be reluctant to get help due to stigma: “Get help—it makes a positive difference.  You deserve to feel good, to feel happy.  Whatever you think might be put at jeopardy, take the risk.  The results can be life changing.  It is why I am so comfortable talking about this now.  When we are more loving to ourselves, we will be more loving to others.”

A Few Good Things Came Out of 2009

While 2009 has been a long and difficult year for many individuals and families touched by mental illness, we do have a few things for which to be grateful.  Foremost is that the Ohio General Assembly and Governor Strickland were able to end the impasse over the $851 million budget hole, and include a fix for the $14.7 million “drafting error” made earlier in the year to the Ohio Department of Mental Health’s budget.  Hopefully those funds will start flowing out to the communities soon and will have a noticeable impact on access to services.   NAMI Ohio appreciates the support of the Democrats in the House and Senate, Republicans Senators Bill Harris, John Carey, David Goodman, Tom Niehaus and Mark Wagoner, and Representatives Matthew Dolan and Ross McGregor for their support of H.B. 318.

We at NAMI Ohio are also grateful that despite deep cuts to many mental health programs throughout the state, we are in a position to continue to serve as Ohio’s Voice on Mental Illness in 2010.  Additionally, our statewide infrastructure of 55 affiliates remains intact and prepared to provide free education and support services to consumers and families throughout Ohio.  If you or someone you know would like to find out more about NAMI programs, please contact us at 1-800-686-2646 of e-mail us at  Happy New Year! 


Stigma Busting Challenge: Make it part of your New Year's resolutions to talk about mental illness with someone you have not previously discussed mental illness.