Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Mental Health Awareness Week: “I wish for my voice to be truly heard, and not to be judged” – living with bipolar disorder

THIS week is Mental Health Awareness Week – an opportunity to improve awareness and understanding of mental health conditions, and to break the stigma surrounding mental health.

Natalie*, who lives with bipolar disorder, has chosen to share her story to raise awareness and help others understand what it’s like to live with bipolar.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that affects people’s moods, which can swing from one extreme to another. It used to be known as manic depression.

Many people who have bipolar disorder are initially diagnosed with depression – Natalie had previously had depression for many years, but it was after her dad died in 2012 that she started experiencing symptoms of mania.

Natalie said: “I started feeling high at night, listening to loud music, not sleeping, eating late. It felt like my mind was throbbing. I contacted my mental health team as I was worried – then I was diagnosed with bipolar.”

She spoke about how she felt about her diagnosis: “I was scared at first, and ashamed due to the stigma and judgement I might face. I was worried people who did not know or understand me would label me as ‘crazy’.

“Now I feel I am getting used to my bipolar diagnosis. I feel more open talking about it with people I know and trust. I feel it is part of me and my identity.

“Bipolar affects my life every day in a major way. I struggle with highs and lows, and it can change throughout the day. I am triggered by people I do not trust, large crowds, public transport, changes to my routine and feeling unsafe.”

With support from mental health services at Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust (EPUT), Natalie has found some ways to help her manage her mood and cope with the challenges of bipolar, but still struggles with it on a daily basis. She has a few close friends who understand some aspects of her mental health, and she enjoys being creative, when she feels well enough to do so.

“I remember a care coordinator said to me that we are all different, and bipolar affects us all differently, so with support we can find a way to manage it.”

But for Natalie, a lack of understanding of bipolar can still be a barrier to receiving the support she needs: “I often feel alone, as many people do not understand bipolar. When I’m sociable or high, people think I’m fine – which I might not be.

“A psychiatrist said to me that I will be on medication for the rest of my life, as bipolar worsens and never gets better. That was really unhelpful. Some people would only ask about my symptoms and not about me – what’s going on in my life, what I’m feeling, what trauma I have experienced.

“People’s lives are complicated. We need to explore other factors that may have caused bipolar. I’ve experienced a lot of grief, trauma and bad relationships in my life, which have contributed to my bipolar.”

Natalie started volunteering with EPUT earlier this year, hoping to help staff learn from her lived experience and improve mental health services:

“People still find it hard to understand this condition. I want myself and others across the community to be supported so we can not only survive, but thrive. I wish for my voice to be truly heard, and to not be judged.”

*Natalie’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

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