PERKASIE — Up until recently the closest Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance groups have been in Willow Grove, New Jersey, Allentown and Philadelphia.
Now, though, the nationwide organization includes meetings 10 a.m. the first and third Tuesdays of the month and 7 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at St. Stephen's UCC, 110 N. 6th Street, Perkasie.
All of the DBSA groups are peer led support groups where the participants are people who deal with bipolar or depression, Cranford Coulter, the facilitator for the Perkasie group, said.
One of the guidelines for the discussion groups is that people use "I" language, he said.
"It's not 'You should do this,'" he said.
"It's 'In my experience this is what I have found,'" Coulter said. "We can't say what is right for you. We can only say what we have experienced."
Along with sharing what works in their lives, participants can also share about resources available to help, he said.
"Most people's insurance provides for six sessions a year with counseling," he said. "You need something more."
Participation in DBSA groups is free, although the group does accept contributions to cover the nominal costs involved, he said.
"The goal is recovery, not just maintenance, but recovery," he said.
"This is not a treatment group or a therapy group," Coulter said. "This is peer support where we come together and we can discuss our therapy, we can discuss our treatment one with another, but it's basically, it's just to encourage one another along the way."
When word was put out about plans to start the Perkasie group, a lot of people said it was a good idea and there have been donations for it, but attendance may be hampered by two factors, he said.
One is the stigma attached to mental illness and the other is that some people are shy about meeting in a church setting, he said.
"While not hostile to faith, this is not a faith-based group nor a 12-step program. It is a peer led support group," a flyer for the meetings says.
The group is not affiliated with the church, Coulter said.
"They're just kind enough to provide a free space for us," he said.
The group is now an outreach of the DBSA Dennis Hazam Memorial Group in Philadelphia, but wants to eventually become its own independent chapter, he said.
"I hope to see this grow so that we have meetings in various places in Bucks County," Coulter said.
The Perkasie group currently does not have a formal name because the name will be decided by the group as it grows and reaches the point of writing its own bylaws, he said.
"My goal is to get this going and then train other facilitators and other leadership, then step back and not be a leader," he said. "I want younger blood to take over."
The group is open to people with depression or bipolar, as well as support persons, he said.
Millions of people in the United States are living with depression or bipolar disorder, DBSA information says, telling those who are that, "You are not alone."
Coulter, who in 2018 painted the Birds of Perkasie mural at 5th and Spruce streets in Perkasie, has since started to do a series of portraits of people who committed suicide.
"I've had 18 close friends, including my sister, who've committed suicide, 42 total acquaintances who have committed suicide," he said, "which could explain my severe depressive disorder."
After starting to post the portraits and stories on his website, "I decided I needed to intersperse it with personal heroes because it was just too much of a downer," Coulter said.
He estimated he has now done 40 to 50 portraits in the series of heroes and suicides.
He's been asked if there are any of the portraits that fall in both categories, he said, and the answer is that there is one — Aaron Swartz, co-founder of Reddit and Creative Commons who hung himself in 2013 while facing a jail sentence for having downloaded academic articles not freely available.
"It was such a waste," Coulter said. "His only goal was the free sharing of information."