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The Art of Awareness

Artist Marc Kullman is a private man who is baring his soul on canvases in order to touch emotions and encourage awareness and understanding about a debilitating mental condition: bipolar disorder.

Kullman, who had to retire as owner of a successful clothing business after he was diagnosed with the disorder, has gone public through his art in hopes that knowledge will help to lessen the stigma associated with the disease.

'It's not just about the art, really,' says Kullman, whose Just Today oil paintings are on display at Steve Martin Studio (624 Julia St., 566-1390). 'It's about the awareness and the destigmatizing. A lot of people don't know what [bipolar disease] is, so they're afraid of it. At first the doctor and other people told me to keep it a secret because there is such a stigma. I thought, ÔWhy keep it a secret?''

Kullman says he's been inspired lately by such things as an hourlong special on bipolar disorder in which television news personality Jane Pauley discussed how her fight with bipolar disorder encumbered her work with the networks. He also has been gratified that his paintings have found their way into the hands of celebrities.

'It's a pretty devastating kind of illness,' he says. 'At first I fought it and took a lot of drugs and alcohol.' Now he has it somewhat under control thanks to help from Dr. James Barbee of Louisiana State University's Behavioral Medicine, he says. What bipolar sufferers experience is severe mood swings from being very depressed to exuberantly happy, with rapid cycling between the two extremes. For Kullman, his symptoms came to a head after a thyroid condition prompted doctors to irradiate that gland. Medications to bring the disease under control are very expensive, Kullman says, with his running about $1,500 a month.

'Not many people can afford to take É $30,000 a year in medication,' he says. 'and people don't want to insure someone with mental illness. A lot of people just aren't treated, so they have very bad behavior. I've made it kind of my mission to make people aware of the issue. I think awareness is the first step in understanding.' In addition to the paintings, small versions of which also are sold at Hugh Martin Home (4222A Magazine St., 899-1882), Kullman is working with a writer on a book about his experiences with bipolar disorder. It should be on stands in about a year. Today Kullman owns a furniture store, is a general business consultant and serves the city as chairman of the Delgado Commission.

Free Screenings

East Jefferson General Hospital (EJGH) offers free blood-pressure screenings from 10 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Canal Garage ground link near the entrance of the hospital at 4200 Houma Blvd., Metairie. It also has scheduled the free screenings from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 4 and 28 at Clearview Mall (4436 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie), and from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, June 22, at Lakeside Shopping Center (3301 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie). Call 454-4066 for more information.

EJGH also is offering a skin cancer awareness session from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. on June 30 at Lakeside Shopping Center. It is free but registration is required. Call 454-4066.

Prescription Help

Louisiana residents who need help paying for prescription medications may be able to get help from the national Partnership for Prescription Assistance initiative, a cooperative effort among pharmaceutical companies, health care providers, community leaders and patient advocates.

The goal of Partnership for Prescription Assistance of Louisiana is to provide a single point of access to hundreds of public and private patient-assistance programs that provide free or highly discounted services to state residents who can't afford the prescriptions they need. To find out if you qualify for the program, call (888) 477-2669 or log onto www.pparxla.org.

Free Estate Planning Advice

Attorney Ronda M. Gabb, founder of the estate planning and elder law practice of Ronda M. Gabb & Associates LLC, will lead a free seminar about estate planning and wills from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. June 21 at St. Tammany Parish Hospital (Mandeville Conference Room, 1202 S. Tyler St., Covington, 985-898-4000; www.stph.org and www.sthfoundation.org). The seminar will cover Louisiana inheritance laws, community property, the state's forced heirship law, wills and trusts, disability planning, powers of attorney and other aspects of estate planning.

Space is limited and reservations are required. Call (985) 898-4174.

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