“Oliverian brought me out of my shell” – these were some of the first words spoken by Kat Kutlucinar, Class of 2007, when asked to reflect on her time at Oliverian. Like so many of our students, Kat found herself beginning at Oli not knowing anyone. Before she began at Oliverian, she could not eat or talk to people because of the severity of her anxiety. Oliverian changed that for her. She started during our summer session in 2006 to catch up on schoolwork so she could begin her final year of high school with us in the fall. By graduation, Oliverian was considered “home,” a sentiment she still feels to this day.
After graduation from Oliverian, Kat was hospitalized for the first time with what doctors referred to as a bipolar manic episode and she was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. But these diagnoses did not stop her from attempting to achieve her dreams. Kat received her bachelor’s degree in American history from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia, and then went on to teach Kindergarten at a local Montessori school, after having grown up attending Montessori schools.
During her time at Marymount, Kat struggled with her diagnosis and almost dropped out, but she was not ready to let the disorder get the best of her.
After much reflection as a kindergarten teacher, although she loved her students would miss being “Miss Kat,” Kat felt the need to change careers towards something more in line with her own personal experience she found herself working at a psychiatric rehabilitation residential program as a counselor for youth with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. Katrin taught medication management, medication adherence, illness management, and recovery, and even taught hiking courses like the ones she had at Oliverian. This is where her journey into the mental health field began.
Kat then decided to move away from the youth program to pursue a Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Maryland. During this time, she looked for an admin position in a psychiatrist office. But, in the true spirit of life, her search landed her as a research assistant for a world-renowned researcher and consulting psychiatrist, Dr. Robert M. Post, M.D., who specializes in bipolar disorder and is the head of the Bipolar Collaborative Network. Through Dr. Post, Kat not only dove deeper into bipolar disorder education but also into her own diagnosis, providing a more stable lifestyle for her for the first time since her diagnosis. Through Dr. Post, Katrin began networking with leading researchers in the field of bipolar disorder; some of whom sponsored articles she has published in peer-reviewed journals.
When COVID hit, Kat transitioned to working remotely but missed speaking daily with Dr. Post about their research on bipolar disorder. She began a Facebook group where people could post articles and discuss bipolar research. She knew that current research helps patients with medication adherence and management, become better members of their treatment team, and be more self-aware when dealing with their diagnosis. The popularity of the group inspired Kat to employ leading researchers to give guest lectures on recent articles they wrote on bipolar research. As the group continued to grow, Kat saw a need to begin closing the seventeen-year gap between research and clinicians on the academic study of bipolar disorder and bipolar disorder patient knowledge. Soon after, she began distributing the NIMH Life Chart Method mood journal, designed by Dr. Post 35 years ago when he was chief of biological psychiatry at NIMH. These journals are still used in clinical trials today.
Due to the cost of shipping, Kat was encouraged to turn her Facebook group into a non-profit organization and elicit donations from members. In May of 2021, Research and Conversations About Bipolar Disorder Inc, became a non-profit organization in the state of Maryland with Kat acting as the founder and director. The non-profit provides medication adherence kits, which include the mood journal, pill boxes, and pens for members all over the world, helping patients and doctors manage the disorder.
Today, Research and Conversations About Bipolar Disorder Inc is a federally exempt 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that continues its mission to bridge the academic study of bipolar disorder and the bipolar patient population. It encourages anyone and everyone to join to help fight the stigma of this disorder.
Kat has published several peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals over the years and has gained recognition from one of the leading organizations for bipolar research–The International Society of Bipolar Disorders. Additionally, she is working on two clinical trials on bias among clinicians in diagnosing bipolar disorder and determining the effect of Family-Focused Therapy on managing psychosis in schizophrenia. She has been invited to speak about her articles at several conferences this summer, including one in Portugal, the UK, and France.
Living outside the DC area, Kat also serves as a full-time therapist, while running the non-profit, and serving as Dr. Post’s research associate. She lives with her dog, Elliot the Hell Hound, and enjoys hiking, traveling, researching, and spending time with family and friends. She credits Oliverian with instilling in her a passion for helping people. She shared that her counselors at Oliverian were more like family, giving her the tools to open up, be herself, and thrive. Perhaps most poignant, Kat concluded her reflection with, “Oliverian saved me and made me the person I am today – able to open up and like myself.” On the contrary, Kat, you and your fellow alums have made Oliverian the special place it is today, and for that, we are forever grateful.
A note from Katrin:
“My favorite quote is life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats. Today, I “sing” my favorite songs loudly on this journey and I’m doing my best to help others find their voice too so they don’t go down with the ship.”