Gareth and I wrote this post to go along with his fundraising story for the Cardiff half-marathon as he raised money for Bipolar UK, a charity that gives an incredible amount of help and support to people with bipolar, otherwise known as manic depression.
Suffering from manic depression doesn’t mean you have just ‘mood swings’. The mental illness is made up of severe episodes of depression (lasting from 6 months to over a year), and episodes of mania/hypomania (lasting at least 4 months), or mixed episodes. A massive part of the condition is also severe anxiety. Whilst depression and anxiety are fortunately often met with more understanding now thanks to raised awareness, it is important to bear in mind that many mental health conditions are still highly stigmatised. Strangely, although manic depression contains severe depression and anxiety, it is still unfairly – and often just wrongly – stereotyped because of a general lack of understanding. This is shown plainly in the fact that ‘bipolar’ is still used as a term of abuse.
It goes without saying that a massive part of the struggle for sufferers is the constant stereotyping of the condition. Many people feel unable to be honest even with those closest to them, because not only is the stigma extremely degrading, a lot of the time it is entirely misguided. In this post, I’m hoping to overturn some of the most common misconceptions about the illness.
Bipolar depression is a lot different than I think many people realise. In addition to symptoms of severe depression, sufferers experience extremely disturbing hallucinations and delusions, social impairment, pathological guilt, psychomotor disturbance and cognitive dysfunction which can lead to pseudo-dementia. With episodes lasting for as long as they do, and with no complete break from symptoms in between episodes, it is a real struggle for sufferers to maintain even daily tasks. As I have mentioned, it is a life-long condition, meaning no treatment would cure it, and therefore it is essential that sufferers are educated about the illness and given treatment such as cognitive behavioural therapy to be able to help themselves on a daily basis, because it is all about constant self-management.
It’s pretty impossible to imagine losing control of your consciousness and your grip on reality unless you’ve experienced it, but trying to understand makes a big difference. Sufferers don’t deserve to be made to feel defective.
Unfortunately, with the lack of budget for mental health services in the NHS (particularly in Wales), and some mental health conditions being over-diagnosed in cases where the issues are very short-term, doctors aren’t able to give people with life-long conditions the therapies that they really need to target the condition (the waiting list in Wales for CBT is minimum over a year). Even though there are wonderful doctors, they are simply unable to see patients as often as they should, so really strong mood stabilizing medication is prescribed in massive doses. No one really knows which medication – if any – will work for which people, and the side effects caused by these tablets can cause more problems than they solve. They can have such a sedative effect that they may dull senses and help patients to sleep, but they then exist in such a haze that it can become impossible to continue with work and studies regardless. Even when medication is effective, medical guidelines state that it can only tackle up to 40% of the disorder. The rest needs to be a combination of therapies and daily self-management to deal with the constant balancing act of the illness. (In my previous post I wrote specifically about medication in conjunction with a really interesting article from the point of view of someone ten years down the line in trying to find a combination of tablets that help)
I have only touched on some aspects of the illness, but in another post I will go into more detail about misconceptions about mania and hypomania, and also about the severity of anxiety in manic depression. I really appreciate anyone who’s taken the time to read this post and any others that I have written, because improving understanding of mental illnesses like bipolar could make such a difference to those who suffer!
A wonderful charity that offers incredible help to sufferers is Bipolar UK. They not only offer help and support in terms of support groups and mentoring services, but they work to help educate sufferers on how to deal with the symptoms and how to help themselves. They also work to overturn stigma, so that those with this illness can feel more confident about being honest about their struggles, and to come forward and ask for the support they need.
As its Bipolar Awareness Day, Bipolar UK are calling for better research into the illness to help those who suffer, and greater education about the condition. It would be an incredible help if you could sign their petition, which is just asking for the research and respect that those doing their all to manage their illness deserve.
Find some more information here: https://www.change.org/p/support-us-in-asking-for-increased-research-funding-for-bipolar 🙂
Thank you so much for reading! 🙂