How One Friend Helped Gabe Howard: From Suicidal Thoughts To Paying It Forward

(7-12-17) Sometimes I believe we underestimate the power of one person to change another person’s life. Gabe Howard was once depressed, untreated, and suicidal. He was spared that awful fate because of one person intervening in his life. One person made a difference!

Today, he tells his story in his writings, podcasts, and speeches. “Society often sees people living with mental illness at their worst,” Gabe says. “I want to balance that out by living openly with mental illness.”

I am swamped completing my new novel this week, so I asked Gabe to write a guest blog for me. He chose the topic of the importance of caregivers taking care of themselves.

But first, here’s more of his personal story.


 In 2003, Gabe was formally diagnosed with bipolar and anxiety disorders after being committed to a psychiatric hospital. Prior to being diagnosed, Gabe suffered the effects of untreated bipolar and anxiety disorders and thought about suicide daily.  Because he and his family knew nothing about mental illness, no one interceded to offer him medical care or support.

In fact, his family believed his behavior to be “acting out,” and tried to punish the behavior out of him. This led to him not only getting sicker, but feeling misunderstood, unlovable, and insignificant. Like his family and society, Gabe also felt what he was going through was a personality flaw and a moral failing.

These unchecked and untreated mental disorders, along with everyone’s lack of understanding, further isolated him and greatly affected his chances of living a stable, healthy, and productive life. Gabe’s chances for wellness improved greatly when he met a woman who understood mental illness. Luckily, she took the time to intercede and saved Gabe’s life by taking him to an emergency room. He has no doubt that, without her, he would have died by suicide.  GabeOverweight

At the time Gabe was committed to the psychiatric hospital, he weighed 550 pounds, was delusional, suicidal, and had just come off a manic phase that had lasted about a year. His first wife had left him and he had rented an apartment to carry out his suicidal plan because, in his words, he “didn’t want to stigmatize the house he owned and lower its resale value.”

Within a few weeks of being discharged from the psychiatric hospital, Gabe had gastric bypass surgery to help control his ballooning weight. He attended two separate outpatient treatment programs (approximately six months apart), and began taking psychiatric medications, all the while living alone in the apartment he’d rented to end his life.

Today, he “spends more time living life than managing bipolar…There were good days, bad days, and lots more bad days, but I always worked to move forward. I describe it as an epic battle.  And it’s one I’m still fighting and still winning.”

Do Family Members of the Mentally Ill Need to Practice Self-Care?

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Any discussion about mental illness isn’t complete without discussing the caregivers.  Let’s focus on family members who are caring for their mentally ill loved ones.

Whether someone provides care one hour a day or 24/7, there is one universal and important truth that needs to be taken very seriously.

Not Practicing Self-Care Can (and Does) Make Things Worse

Family members who don’t practice self-care may not be in the best position to provide care, and that can lead to serious issues – even death – for the person living with mental illness. The primary caregiver is especially vulnerable to being overwhelmed and the chance of this only increases when caring for a loved one.

As an example, when I provide any type of care for my wife, I am deeply invested in the outcome. Whatever is affecting her is affecting me, even if to a lesser extent. In other words, this is very personal to me, and I haven’t yet considered her experience at all.

Now, add to that fear, setbacks, and even things like lack of sleep, and it doesn’t take much imagination to put together a scenario where something could go wrong. This isn’t because of lack of caring, or poor intentions, or even lack of effort, but it is because of poor planning and decision making.

Mental Illness Caregivers: Caring for Yourself Is Supporting Someone Else

What we all need to understand is that self-care is part of the job as a caregiver. A caregiver who is not at the top of their game can significantly diminish the potential outcome for the person who needs support. This isn’t just a problem for the person receiving care, but it can, and often does, lead to adverse psychological effects for the well-intentioned, overwhelmed caregiver.

When I speak to caregivers, the same flawed thinking is demonstrated over and over again. People believe that if they aren’t providing direct care for their loved one, then they aren’t providing any care at all. And, what is worse, some family members start to believe that because they aren’t sick, it wouldn’t be fair for them to enjoy life.

This is a strange thing to think, since one is in no way tied to the other. It is possible to have a high quality of life and acknowledge that someone else has a lower quality of life. This is a good thing, because it is much easier to pull someone up the hill when already at the top.

Self-care is not selfish; it is necessary. Not enjoying life doesn’t improve any situation or make anyone better.

Perhaps the best way I can sum this up is to ask: If you needed help, would you prefer your caregiver be well rested, prepared, and ready to assist or tired, resentful, and angry?

And which caregiver do you want to be?

 More about Gabe Howard: Along with Vincent M. Wales, Gabe is the host of a popular podcast on called the Psych Central Show.  His writing has appeared in  numerous online publications, including HealthyPlace,, Health Central, Elephant Journal, WEGO Health, and The Mighty. In addition to his online work, he has appeared in Bipolar Magazine, the Columbus Free Press, the Wall Street Journal, Columbus Dispatch, Columbus Monthly, NAMI Advocate, and multiple other newspapers. His column on Psych Central is entitled: Don’t Call Me Crazy. This article previously appeared on and can be found here

About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.