Tag Archives: Creighton University School of Medicine

Changing Lives After a Life-Changer

September 18, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She never imagined that checking a small box on a job application would have such a big impact.

Jasmine L. Harris was trying to turn her life around from a couple of misdemeanors as a young adult. She learned that answering “yes” to the question of criminal charges in her background put up barriers to employment.

“All I heard was, ‘We can’t hire you’ for almost two years,” Harris says. “And that was with misdemeanors. Someone with a felony on their record doesn’t stand a chance.”

With only her family in her corner and a young son for whom she was now responsible, Harris determined she was going to get her life on track and make a better way for others with similar life experiences.

“I had to get a grip on my life because I was going nowhere fast,” says Harris, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, then a Master of Public Health from the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “If I didn’t make drastic changes, I was going to be dead or in jail.”

With her newfound lease on life, Harris became a health educator and tobacco prevention coordinator for Creighton University School of Medicine’s Clinical Research Office. She also served as civic engagement committee chair for the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, where she focused on advocacy and awareness of criminal justice issues.

Her passion became helping those who wanted to move beyond past mistakes and find someone to believe in their future. That passion led Harris to co-found Waymaker LLC, an organization that motivates women and girls to overcome setbacks from being involved in the criminal justice system—the kind of service Harris could have used when she was climbing her way back. 

“We focused on making a way of life—creating second chances—for women and girls who were having similar experiences as mine,” says Harris, who focused much of her work in North Omaha where she grew up. “A lot of times, all someone needs is a second chance.”

Harris was the driving force behind efforts such as Black and Brown Legislative Day, when people of color were hosted at the state capitol to learn about the legislative process and register to vote. She also helped push for legislation that would remove the “Criminal History” section from an application for any job in the state—a bill that didn’t make it off the legislative floor.

Harris then turned her attention to volunteering with a new Nebraska organization called Defy Ventures, a group that works with incarcerated and previously-incarcerated people to help them land jobs or become business entrepreneurs. 

She deployed programs such as “CEO of Your New Life,” which focuses on character development, employment readiness, and entrepreneurship training. Defy helps people in post-release develop a new business pitch in a “Shark Tank”-like competition—with the idea that the new business will eventually hire others who have been in jail.

“The main goal is to help people, upon release, be ready for gainful, meaningful employment,” says Harris, who landed a full-time position as Defy’s post-release program manager. “We teach how to talk about your incarceration in a way that doesn’t turn off employers or cause them to pity you.”

Harris, awarded the Omaha NAACP Freedom Fighter Award in 2017 and named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans by the Omaha Jaycees, knows there might be opportunity to help more people in a bigger city. But the “love-hate relationship” she had with her hometown when she was a teen is now all love. She is motivated by the endless opportunity she sees here.

“I came back here because I see the potential in Omaha,” Harris says. “I see people who sincerely want to help and are making the change. I want to be an integral part of that.”


Visit defyventures.org for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Bipolar Disease

November 25, 2012 by

“My husband didn’t know if he was going to come home to Cruella Deville or Dolly Levi from Hello Dolly.” That’s how Jane Pauley, broadcast journalist and former co-host of the TV morning show Today, described her battle with bi-polar disease in a interview on Healthy Minds, produced by New York Public Radio. “Who knows what provokes it, but it was like a swarm of bees that wants a target,” she says.

Being diagnosed with bipolar disease was a shock, recalls Pauley, but getting a diagnosis and subsequent treatment, however, allowed her to regain some normalcy in her life again.

Bipolar disease is a serious mental illness that is associated with extreme mood swings from mania to depression. “It is one of the most serious illnesses we deal with because of the disruptive nature of the disease,” says Sharon Hammer, M.D., psychiatrist at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). “It is more serous than depression or schizophrenia because it can lead to risky behaviors, such as drug and alcohol abuse, damaged relationships, and suicide. And because of the impulsive nature of the disease, there is often no time to intervene.”

The average onset of bipolar disease tends to occur in older teenagers and young adults ages 20 to 25 years old. “Many women may start to experience symptoms of depression in their teenage years followed by their first manic episode in college,” says Hammer. “This is a very risky time because the college years are often mixed with stress, sleep deprivation, and alcohol use, which are all triggers for episodes.”

“It is one of the most serious illnesses we deal with because of the disruptive nature of the disease.” – Sharon Hammer, M.D., psychiatrist at UNMC

Women with bipolar disease typically spend about 80 percent of the time in depression and 20 percent in mania. Episodes of mania are characterized by abnormal elevated moods that include irritability, being easily agitated, impulsivity, racing thoughts, and insomnia.

Many women tend to be in denial and don’t start taking it seriously until they have children, notes Hammer. Even then, it is often misdiagnosed as depression or anxiety due to the extended depressive states associated with the condition, and the fact that women are twice as likely to have depression than men. In fact, bipolar disease is the most under-diagnosed mental illness and the most challenging to diagnose, notes Hammer.

Misdiagnosis can create more problems because medications used for depression and anxiety are different than those used to treat bipolar disease and can make the condition worse.

In addition, untreated bipolar disease tends to gain momentum and become more malignant with time, says P.J. Malin, M.D., a psychiatrist with Alegent Creighton Clinic and an associate professor of psychiatry at Creighton University School of Medicine. “It can be very disruptive to other parts of your life. Approximately 60 percent of people with bipolar disease will develop substance abuse problems, and it carries a 15 to 20 percent suicide rate.

“Early treatment of the disease can help prevent the disease from getting more aggressive. Untreated bipolar disease, on the other hand, lowers one’s life expectancy by 10 years.”

If you are being treated for depression and are not responding to depression medications or you are experiencing negative or an unusual response, it is important to communicate this with your provider, adds Malin.

“Early treatment of the disease can help prevent the disease from getting more aggressive.” – P.J. Malin, M.D., psychiatrist with Alegent Creighton Clinic

You can also do your own test by taking the Mood Disorders Questionnaire (MDQ) online, which provides fairly accurate results and can help you and your clinician determine whether you are bipolar, notes Hammer.

Environmental factors and heredity appear to be the major risk factors for bipolar disease, says Malin. “There are different theories as to how the environment plays a role, but they include: obstetric complications, intra-utero viral infections, use of hallucinogenic drugs, and traumatic life events, such as the death of family or friends or abuse.”

Treatment typically involves a combination of medications and counseling that may be necessary over a person’s lifetime. “Counseling is huge for long-term success and stabilization,” says Robin Houser, a counselor for Nebraska Methodist Hospital’s employee assistance program, Bestcare EAP. “Bipolar disease is a lifetime problem, and counseling can help people learn coping techniques and avoid unhealthy thinking and unhealthy patterns of behavior. A lot of people think that once they have become stabilized that they don’t need medications or counseling anymore, but that’s when we’ll start seeing imbalances and manic episodes occur again.”

Women with bipolar disease are very sensitive to stress, lack of sleep, and environmental and seasonal changes, all of which can trigger an episode, notes Hammer. Practicing healthy lifestyle habits like getting regular exercise, adequate sleep, managing stress, and light therapy during the winter months can help keep the disease stabilized.

 “Counseling is huge for long-term success and stabilization.” – Robin Houser, counselor for Nebraska Methodist Hospital

Postpartum is also a common time to experience recurrences, probably because of sleep deprivation, says Hammer. There are medications that are safe to use during pregnancy, which are important to take to prevent a relapse. If a woman stops her medications during pregnancy, it can take up to six months to get the symptoms under control again, says Hammer.

“Newer medications as a whole have fewer side effects,” she says, “but it’s important that you are matched with the medication that works best for you and has the fewest side effects.

“Patients who are being followed and treated by a trained health care professional can function vey well and live a normal life.”