Mark Lukach the author of the internationally bestselling memoir, My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward. The book chronicles his wife Giulia’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder and how he supported her as a caregiver through her three hospitalizations with psychosis and her suicidal depression. His writing has also appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard, Wired, and other publications. He has shared his family’s story as a keynote speaker at businesses, universities, and mental health organizations across the country. In addition to writing and speaking, he is the ninth grade dean at The Athenian School, where he also teaches history. He lives with his wife, Giulia, and their two sons in the San Francisco Bay area.
Mental Illness As a Shared Experience
Statistics suggest that 1 in 4 American families are touched by mental illness, but most treatments of mental illness focus solely on the person with the diagnosis. But the experience of mental illness is shared as a family, and as such, should be approached that way in times of crisis and recovery. The focus of this talk is on the unexpected arrival of my wife’s bipolar disorder, her terrifying plunge into psychosis and suicidal depression, and then the return to normalcy…followed by two more episodes. Throughout, Mark and Giulia had to work together, as husband and wife, and also as parents, to thrive as a family in the face of a mental illness diagnosis.
- The importance of active listening
- Planning for future relapses as a way to create a harmonious recovery plan
Mental Health Patients Are Not Islands
The American mental health system focuses almost exclusively on the patient, and not their expansive web of family, friends, and colleagues, all of whom are impacted by a mental health diagnosis. Mark was often kept at arm’s length throughout his wife’s three inpatient hospitalizations, as well as her outpatient programs, and yet it is the family who spends the bulk of the time with the person, and who has to administer medication. This talk is one of advocacy for a more inclusive vision of the treatment of mental illness, one that welcomes family members to the table.
- Mental health treatment should welcome input from family members, treating all voices are valid while respecting the autonomy of the diagnosed patient
- Family caregivers need formal care and support from the mental health system
Ending the Stigma of Asking for Help
Mental illness is still deeply stigmatized in this country. When Giulia first experienced anxiety at work, both she and Mark thought taking the antidepressants she was prescribed was a sign of weakness, rather than a source of help. The only way to chip away at this stigma is by sharing stories of struggles, which are often so much more universal than we would imagine. This talk chronicles the onset of Giulia’s illness, and how they waited until a clear emergency to get the help they needed. Just as importantly, it looks at how Mark had to accept that he couldn’t fix Giulia, and needed his own help to cope as her caregiver.
- The most important step in getting help is to ask for it
- Caregivers need to prioritize self-care and avoid isolation
“Mark Lukach spoke in San Francisco at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association about his recent book, My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward: A Memoir. He’s an engaging speaker even for a sophisticated group of practicing psychologists. Mark connected immediately with the audience of psychologists who appreciated his frank, sometimes emotional, account of his experiences. He showed how mental illness is a family affair. By giving a voice to the families of individuals with serious mental health challenges, he inspired hope and gave recognition to a long-neglected group.”
“Mark Lukach was a featured speaker during Goldman Sachs’ Disability Awareness month in 2017, where he lectured to a global audience of about 500 people about how mental illness impacted his marriage, and the influence it has had and continues to have on his role as a husband and father. Mark is an incredible speaker! During his lecture, Mark engaged and inspired an audience somewhat uncomfortable with open conversations about mental health in the work place. Within the first five minutes of his lecture, however, Mark’s honesty broke down the corporate walls and connected with everyone in attendance; some actively working with a disability, but most of whom were open-minded colleagues willing to deepen their understanding of mental health challenges. Mark was certainly a catalyst for change, and has helped foster greater dialogue around mental health issues and increased awareness at Goldman Sachs.”
“How many times do you meet someone and say to yourself “Wow?” I’m guessing not many, but you certainly say that and even out loud when you meet Mark Lukach and hear his story. I was asked to “Have a Conversation” with Mark in front of a library crowd that was to hear him speak about his book- My Lovely Wife in The Psych Ward. I couldn’t wait as his story was like none other and told like none other. Mark didn’t need me to have a conversation with. He just needed the audience as everyone was taken by every word he said. An amazing speaker, with a sincerity to match. He had every single person in the room glued to his every thought. He is remarkable. His story incredible and one full of love and inspiration that needs to be shared.”
“I have been a member and past chair of the program committee of the Rotary Club of San Jose, some 400 members, for 16 years. We evaluate our weekly speakers, and Mark Lukach had one of the highest ratings, and for good reason. Mark was not only an outstanding speaker, he was engaging, sensitive and covered a tough subject with humor and compassion. I recommend him for a speaker for any audience.”
“I have coordinated Silicon Valley Reads for 15 years and worked with dozens of authors. Mark Lukach is one of the best. At each of the 10 events he did for us (in less than one month), he talked about his family’s story and his book as though it was the first time. He displayed genuine emotion, articulate concern for others whose lives have been touched by mental illness, and a sincere desire to connect with each individual in the audience. I received many highly complimentary comments from people who heard him speak, including their gratitude for having the privilege to learn his family’s story and to be inspired by it. He was the perfect choice of an author to reflect the 2018 Silicon Valley Reads theme ‘No Matter What: Caring, Coping, Compassion.'”