As mental health week is descending upon us, we must take this time to reflect and actively do something to help the growing afflicted 1 in 4.
In a time where taboo subjects of conversation still exist, and where fear and silence fill any space where there’s a lack of awareness or understanding, we thought it apt to take an exploratory approach to a stigmatised mental health illness. In this case, it’s bipolar.
Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a condition that affects your moods, which can swing from one extreme to another. Sufferers are often initially diagnosed with clinical depression before having a future manic episode (sometimes years later), after which bipolar disorder is the diagnosis.
“I was diagnosed with depression at 24 years-old before being medicated for personality disorder and then finally bipolar. I’m now 60,” sufferer X, who wishes to remain anonymous, candidly told TNT.
Depression affects 1 in 4 people every year. Although the precise causes of bipolar are unknown, many things can trigger an episode and each extreme episode can last for several weeks or even longer. To describe the effects as harrowing is an understatement.
“Until I got the right diagnosis, I couldn’t even plan the next day, let alone a holiday. It hindered my life. For years I couldn’t get out of bed,” sufferer X explained.
“You can be really down or high. At times I’d be elated; spending a lot of money, doing alterations to the house, very enthusiastic about things. Then I would be really unstable; take overdoses, harm myself. I’d stay in bed all day without opening the curtains. I’d put the alarm clock for 3.00pm so that I’d be up before the kids came back from school.”
A single mother of two, sufferer X’s condition had an understandable negative effect on the children growing up. They have, however, “both done well for themselves”: one is now a medical doctor, the other in the music business.
Manchester born and raised, she laments the closure of public mental health centres and services such as Withington Hospital’s psychiatric centre, The Stables.
“The Stables definitely saved my life. It was a place where service users could see a health nurse, do art, have exercises and be in different courses,” she said before expanding that it’s only in the past two years that her life has started to get better. She attributes this to the “groups giving me confidence, socialising more and being stable on (her) medication.”
Although government austerity on community mental health centres has been detrimental for sufferers, there are still some groups (like Start) trying to control the effects of bipolar episodes and help someone with bipolar disorder live life as normally as possible. Start, an arts-based mental health service for adults, is part of Manchester Mental Health and Social Care NHS Trust’s Recovery Pathways care group. The service also has a free online resource and help centre [Start2] where sufferers can find help and recovery pathways to well being.
Sufferers are usually referred to community recovery groups and centres by their Care Coordinators; be it their consultant, community psychiatric nurse, psychologist or even their GP.
Unlike sufferer X, not all diagnosed with mental health disorders are fortunate enough to have a strong support network of family and community. Currently, the diagnosis of children is rapidly rising owing to the prevalence of “unstable families and communities.When things [in the home] start crumbling then the children have no one to go to. It takes a village to raise a family,” Director and Clinical Psychologist of Just Psychology Iyabo Fatimilehin told TNT.
Having witnessed early signs of mental health illness from a very young age, sufferer X admits something was not always right.
“I had an eating disorder aged 10 before being anorexic at 18. I was always naughty at school, got into drugs, partying and unstable relationships,” she describes her symptomatic youth.
When it comes to treatment, however, it’s crucial to highlight that the waiting lists for referrals are concerning. Sufferers can be waiting for up to “18 months before being seen by a counsellor or therapists,” Iyabo agreed. Reasons why this is vary as it depends on the disorder, area or service.
If anyone suffering with mental health would like to share their story contact email@example.com
TNT Health Yasin Chinembiri