Mental Illness is More Than Depression and Anxiety

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For many people, as soon as the term ‘mental health’ is brought up, what comes to mind is depression and anxiety. In no way in this post am I trying to say that depression and anxiety aren’t important, they can be crippling and severe. The problem here is that so much emphasis is put on these conditions, but we must be speaking up about all mental health issues.

There are conditions out there that are seen as less palatable and not as relatable. Personality disorders, post traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder to name just a few. The general public can relate to depression and anxiety as they are more common and chances are, they themselves or someone they’re close to has suffered from these conditions. It’s easy to forget about a disorder when you have no real life experience of it.

When I’ve brought up the subject of mental illness and my struggles either with bipolar disorder or psychosis with people their first response is usually along the lines of,

“I get anxious/depressed sometimes.” That’s great that they can feel honest and open with me, but that wasn’t the point of the conversation. People will often turn a conversation around into something they can relate to. Talking about psychosis makes people uncomfortable and often they don’t know how to respond.

These less talked about conditions are also more stigmatised. With a personality disorder you’re seen as manipulative and attention seeking, with psychosis you’re seen as crazy and could snap and murder someone at any moment. Continuing to not pay these conditions any attention leaves sufferers feeling incredibly isolated and alone.

We need to raise awareness of all conditions under the mental illness umbrella. Ignoring conditions because the conversation is harder to start will only further alienate sufferers. Allow people to share their story. Their experiences are valid and important.

Mental health, the internet, and conspiracy theorists

 

Last week Time to Change charity shared this blog post What not to say to someone with Bipolar Part 2 on their social media channels. It was great to be able to reach a wider audience and to find new readers. In my foolishness, I decided to go on facebook, and read the comments section. This was a massive mistake. Although the majority of commenters were supportive and agreed with what I was conveying, I came across one poster that was vehemently against the recognised science behind mental illnesses. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but this one poster was spamming the comments section and making what I believe to be harmful statements. This is how it began:

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The poster was referring to medication, and how it doesn’t work. Intrigued, I looked up Kelly Brogan, a ‘holistic psychiatrist’, who believes that mental illnesses, (and cancer) can be cured through healthy diet and exercise alone. I felt that it was important to engage with this poster, and try to explain how medication is vital to many people living with bipolar disorder.

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After this calm, polite and factual response they went on the defensive, quoting a psychologist (who would have no training in medication or psychiatry), showing me a photo of a course they attended but not the information about the college or school, and swearing at me.

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I wanted to get to the facts and decided to ask where all the evidence for these claims were. Many people that are against psychiatric medication in the UK often cite opinions and ideas that originated in the US. I thought it was important to make it clear the stark differences between the UK and US health systems.

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After my questioning I was sent a barrage of photos of healthy meals and how eating this way would cure mental illnesses. It was also insinuated that myself and other people posting were not eating healthily otherwise we would be cured. The response below shows that the person is living in a fantasy land, comparing themselves to Martin Luther King or Gandhi. It seems they believe the majority of mental health sufferers are in the wrong and are being lied to.

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I found her responses to be incredibly rude, patronising and downright strange. Again, I asked to see some evidence that wasn’t anecdotal, but a serious, long term study. At this point, I was struggling to keep my cool, this whole conversation was making my blood boil.

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I still feel my responses were needed and respectful. What this woman was spreading was dangerous stigmatising of mental illnesses. This was the end of the conversation, as I received no response beyond this. Obviously she wasn’t able to back up her claims with hard evidence, which was my main point. As I said in my last comment, someone reading these comments could be in a serious crisis and in desperate need of support. Lecturing them about their eating habits and how medication they have been given is toxic could push them over the edge. All of us should live a balanced lifestyle with healthy eating and exercise at its core, but it does not cure bipolar, or other chronic, serious mental health issues. Medication as I’ve said previously, saves lives. The right balance and combination gives people a chance to live and thrive. As a community, people with mental health problems need to look out for one another. When we can, we need to stand up for those that do not have a voice, or are too unwell to see past such dangerous claims.

So, What Is Bipolar Disorder?

 

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Bipolar disorder is characterised by extreme lows, and extreme highs. What I mean by this is extreme mood swings. Lows can lead to suicidal depression, and highs resulting in mania. Bipolar is extremely difficult to diagnose, as it affects people differently. Not everyone has extreme mania, which can result in reckless behaviour and delusions and hallucinations.

Depressive Symptoms 

If you’re depressed, it often manifests as being tired all the time, crying over little things or for no reason at all. You’ll find yourself losing interest in hobbies and activities you used to enjoy and not wanting to socialise or leave your home. Depression can leave you feeling worthless, hopeless and fill you with dread. The most serious aspect of depression is having suicidal thoughts, planning and possibly acting on them.

Manic/Hypomanic Symptoms

Hypomania begins with accelerated speech, where you talk very fast and people find it difficult to keep up with what you’re saying. You’ll not need to sleep or eat as much as you used to. Thoughts are uncontrollable and constant. With mania, your judgement may become impaired and you start to act impulsively. The most serious aspects of mania are characterised by a complete lack of control and putting yourself in dangerous situations, as well as delusional thinking (believing wild ideas about yourself or others) or hallucinations (seeing, hearing, feeling things that are not really there).

According to the charity Bipolar UK;

  • More than one million people in the UK have bipolar.
  • It can take on average 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis.
  • Individuals with Bipolar are misdiagnosed, on average, 3.5 times.

Below is a mood scale that explains the extremes of Bipolar. Most people will usually find themselves between 4 and 6 on this scale. With Bipolar, mood swings could leave you falling anywhere on the scale.

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My Experience

As  I’ve already mentioned, Bipolar unfortunately can take a long time to diagnose. I first became very ill when I was 14 and was misdiagnosed with depression. It took until i was 27 to finally have a definitive diagnosis of Bipolar. The problem I have found is many people misunderstand it and only ask for help or are given support when they are depressed. Bipolar in young people can sometimes be misdiagnosed as ADHD, because of the manic symptoms they are showing.

I was on antidepressants on and off for years. Initially I was given counselling as a teenager, and took antidepressants in my twenties. They didn’t help me, but made my mood what I would call hyper. I couldn’t stop talking, I did reckless things, drank too much, took drugs. I would feel amazing and full of confidence on anti depressants. I would often become very angry and upset people and get into arguments and fights.

Now I’m doing really well, I’m stable and I’ve found the right combination of medication that helps me manage Bipolar. It’s taken four years to find the right combination of drugs that help me stay relatively stable. I need to be very strict with myself and take them everyday and limit how much I drink, or they won’t work how they are supposed to. I’ve been told by my psychiatrist that it is a life long condition, and I need to learn how to manage it.

So where did your bipolar come from? 

To be honest i have no idea what the cause of it was. I came from a happy family, although we struggled with money and had arguments, nothing traumatic happened to me during my childhood. My Dad believes that my Grandmother had it, but she was never diagnosed that we know of, and we think I may of inherited it from her. As a child I was quite quiet and would bottle up my emotions, and then I became very depressed as a teenager. It wasn’t until I was about 16/17 when my behaviour changed and now I realise it was probably mania. It was like my whole personality changed overnight and I became very loud, talkative and hyperactive.

Advice on what to do next

I think it’s important to be careful before diagnosing someone with Bipolar. It is a severe and life long condition and the medication is serious stuff. Doctors I understand want to be careful before referring patients. To be diagnosed, you have to have a psychiatric assessment with a psychiatrist, but you first have to be referred by a GP or counsellor. Often it helps to take someone with you to an appointment. Sometimes a doctor needs to see supporting evidence from family or a partner before you are taken seriously.

My advice if you are worried that you or someone you know may have Bipolar is to keep a mood diary. Track how you are feeling everyday over a period of a few months and take it with you to see a doctor. I know that seems like a long time but it’s better than waiting years to be heard. It might also help to sit down and write a chronology of your problems from when they started up until the present day. Both of these can then be evidence to show a doctor, and will show if there is a pattern of depression and mania.