Clare Waismann: “Stigma around mental illness stems purely from lack of education”

Exercise. I try to go to the gym at least four times a week regardless of my schedule, even if for 30 minutes. Exercise is scientifically proven to boost your mood and decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and physical pain. It increases endorphins, which produce feelings of happiness and euphoria while raising self-esteem because when […]

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Exercise. I try to go to the gym at least four times a week regardless of my schedule, even if for 30 minutes. Exercise is scientifically proven to boost your mood and decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and physical pain. It increases endorphins, which produce feelings of happiness and euphoria while raising self-esteem because when you work out, you look better.

As part of my mental health interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clare Waismann, a certified addiction treatment counselor (CATC). She is the founder of Waismann Method® Advanced Treatment for Opiate Dependence and Domus Retreat.

Since 1998, Waismann has provided patients suffering from opioid use disorder with the highest level of professional care in the drug treatment field. She has assembled a leading team of medical professionals so that patients can receive comprehensive and effective detoxification treatment based on age, medical history, and present health. These specialized medical protocols, including rapid detox, take place in a private, accredited, full-service hospital, where each patient receives individualized care in a private room, which ensures privacy, safety, and comfort. Through continuous research and advances on the medical protocols, the Waismann Method® team has provided patients with a nearly 100% opioid detox success rate and has maintained a 20-year reputation for superior medical care and results.

Clare Waismann founded Domus Retreat in 2005 because she felt there wasn’t a recovery center where opioid-dependent individuals were not judged, mistreated and labeled. At Domus Retreat, licensed drug treatment and recovery center, patients have an opportunity to be adequately psychologically diagnosed so an effective plan for continued success can be put in place. Furthermore, therapists and staff provide the necessary support throughout this challenging transitional phase. This comprehensive, all-encompassing treatment allows those previously suffering from opioid use disorder a much greater chance to continue on a healthy path in life.

For over two decades, Waismann has been an advocate committed to fighting the stigma of addiction and mental illness, which keeps so many from seeking the help they so desperately need. Another focus of hers has been educating people about medical detox options, including anesthesia-assisted detoxification.

Waismann has been featured as a trusted source for opiate addiction information in numerous national and international media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, and Fox News.

Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

My path started purely as a professional opportunity to put together U.S. doctors willing to learn new approaches with techniques already used in Europe to medically detox opioid-dependent patients, specifically rapid detox. But almost immediately, it became much more than an opportunity for me — it became a real chance to help so many find the help they need and hope for.

I also understood that a successful medical treatment had to include much more than rapid detox; it needed protocols that would fit each patient’s specific needs, and that included detox with and without anesthesia. The more I worked with patients, the more I understood that detoxification was just part of what they needed.

People needed a place to recover where they would not be judged, looked down on or labeled. They needed a place where the focus was solely “the person” and not the condition (addiction) — a place where a capable mental health professional could assess emotional issues and figure out the best path for a full recovery, without pre-existing rules, thoughts or regimens. For all those reasons, I founded Domus Retreat, a safe place patients can go after detox, where they feel heard, seen and, more importantly, cared for as an individual and not an “addict.”

I also understood how important it was to start educating the public on what opioid use disorder is and its consequences. I work diligently with the media and all social outlets to provide information to help change how society views and treats those affected with opioid addiction. For the last 20 years, I have put my heart and soul into making Waismann Method® a trusted source for those suffering from opioid use disorder and now also alcoholism as well. I am proud to say we are considered one of the most successful opioid detox centers in the world. I am even more proud to say we have been able to provide a healthier path in life for thousands of patients, and that is a blessing in itself.

According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition. Yet there’s still a stigma about mental illness. Can you share a few reasons you think this is so?

Stigma around mental illness stems purely from lack of education. When someone mentions “mental illness,” most people immediately associate the condition with something like that horrifying depiction of patients in the film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” The truth is that this association is so far from the truth and so damaging for those who need help. Most people around us live with some kind of emotional condition, from depression and anxiety to obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, and when properly treated, most people can live a productive, happy life.

Can you tell our readers about how you are helping to de-stigmatize the focus on mental wellness?

The best way to de-stigmatize mental illness and getting treatment, or mental wellness, is by educating the public about what it is and what treatment options are available. Additionally, words like “disease” and “illness” have a negative connotation. Instead, we can refer to most of the treatable disorders as “conditions.” Solutions and options bring hope, and that is what most people are needing in our society.

Was there a story behind why you decided to launch this initiative?

I guess it would be my understanding of the void. In my opinion, untreated mental illness is responsible for most tragedies in this country, from homelessness and drug abuse to mass shootings. So much support is needed and so much is done, but not nearly enough. What is done is not always for the right reasons, and definitely not always with the right actions.

This job allows me to give someone the best chance to find a healthy path in life. It gives people a real opportunity to seek drug treatment and emotional assessment without fear and shame. The rewards of providing relief, comfort, and healing for those who feel so lonely, lost and misunderstood are enormous.

In your experience, what should a) individuals b) society, and c) the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?

Stop relying on pharmaceutical companies to find all solutions for all societal issues. Although medications for mental conditions are incredibly helpful, they are a small part of the solution. More research needs to be done by nonprofit sources; more health care providers and scientists need to be involved in medical policy decisions instead of politicians.

People need to be adequately assessed and individually treated. The treatment has to be based on the patients’ specific needs, not preset rules based on cost or time. We have the science and resources to help people; we just need to use it wisely and with the best interest of the public in mind.

What are your 6 strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?

1. For me, first and foremost is faith. I don’t mean religion. I mean believing in G-d. Believing there is something bigger than me to make final decisions. In a way, it takes a bit of responsibility off my shoulders while also keeping me accountable for all my actions. It also makes me find gratitude in things that are present in my life. But most importantly, it makes me humble and hopeful.

2. Exercise. I try to go to the gym at least four times a week regardless of my schedule, even if for 30 minutes. Exercise is scientifically proven to boost your mood and decrease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and physical pain. It increases endorphins, which produce feelings of happiness and euphoria while raising self-esteem because when you work out, you look better.

3. Listen to music. Music is a major part of my life. I often match the choice of songs to my mood, which takes me to another level. That habit is great for happy moments while not so helpful at sad times. Still, it is important to allow yourself a moment to feel whatever feeling you have. You need to listen, respect and protect your body.

4. Read. I was brought up by an avid reader. My mom reads more books than anyone I have ever met, and the older I get, the more I am starting to appreciate momentarily disconnecting from my reality and learning from others through books.

5. Sunlight. As unpopular as the sun has become in the last few decades, I enjoy walks on the beach, reading by the pool or simply walking my dog in the sunlight. In a way, I feel recharged by the sun.

6. Eat healthily. I truly believe that your gut health can transform your physical and emotional life. What you eat is the fuel to maintain your body and mind. I do love sugary treats and chocolate, and I don’t prohibit myself from enjoying them, but my overall choices are mostly healthy ones.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a mental health champion?

I frequently listen to TED Talks on mental health and substance abuse. One of the books that were most influential to me as a child was “The Little Prince,” by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, because it had so much to do with understanding human beings, how complex they are, and how differently we all view the world around us. As an adult, an influential book for me has been “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor E. Frankl, a book about understanding our own limitations and how resilient we can be when we emotionally focus on what really matters.

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