By Eleanor Segall
Like so many sharing their stories this World Bipolar Day, I have lived experience of bipolar disorder. I am now 30, but was just 16 when I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 (the most severe form of the mood disorder) as an inpatient at the Priory Hospital North London. It was hard to deal with this diagnosis at such a young age and I didn’t know then what my future would hold. I was hospitalised due to having three episodes of illness: mania and depression in one year, which led to psychosis, where my mind lost touch with reality.
Bipolar is a serious mental illness that causes a change in mood states to either big manic highs or devastating depressive lows, with a normal state of functioning between episodes. As someone living with this, I also have experienced psychosis during my mania which needs quick hospitalisation as my mind spirals wildly out of control. I have been hospitalised twice for my bipolar (in 2004 and 2014), both times due to an extreme episode of mania and psychosis.
It was hard to deal with this diagnosis at such a young age and I didn’t know then what my future would hold.
As a teenager in hospital, I was depressed, anxious, fearful and vulnerable. I believed (falsely) that I had been sexually abused and my reality became based on this false belief (delusions). The doctors got me back to full health through a combination of starting on new medicine (mood stabilisers) and giving me anti-psychotic medication to bring me down from the mania. Over four months I also had one to one therapy, group therapy with the other teenagers in the adolescent unit and was supported by an incredible team of nurses and a psychiatrist who believed I could get well. I eventually went home once my mind was stable and started a long process of counselling and recovery.
I was able to go to university and get my degrees, travel, make friends, date and live my life. However, in 2013, after some life stressors, I began to experience a depression which featured suicidal thinking. It was very scary and we believe it is because my medicine Carbamazepine wasn’t working any more as I got older.
I had group therapy with the other teenagers in the adolescent unit and was supported by an incredible team of nurses and a psychiatrist who believed I could get well
Depression of this kind is incredibly hard to deal with. I stayed in bed all day most days with breaks for meals. I had no energy, no hope, no reason to get up. I was unmotivated and couldn’t cope with life. I barely washed or spoke to friends. Luckily, due to my fears about the suicidal thoughts, I shared this with my family and medical team. I didn’t want to act on it, just escape from the pain my mind was in.
Unfortunately, a few months later, the depression turned into a period of mania, possibly caused by my mood stabiliser not working and taking anti-depressants. This is always a risk with bipolar, that medicine can send you high. I was agitated, speaking very fast, with racing thoughts, raised libido and was vulnerable as a result. The psychosis then started, with my mind starting to believe falsely that I was being held by a criminal gang orchestrated by my family. It was so scary. I was sectioned, treated with medication again and over several months engaged with therapy in hospital, while they tried to bring my mood and mind back to lucidity.
My lifeline was starting on the medicine Lithium, which has stabilised my moods for the past 5 years. Bipolar can be genetic and my Dad has it, so there is a possible biological basis for this, although research is in its infancy.
The psychosis then started, with my mind starting to believe falsely that I was being held by a criminal gang orchestrated by my family. It was so scary.
Since 2014, I have not experienced an episode of mania or severe depression, however I am aware that it could return in the future, as bipolar is chronic.
I wanted to write this blog for Centre for Mental Health because I admire their philosophy of finding equality for mental health care. We need to find parity of esteem for mental health care in this country, with more funding going to NHS trusts to fund more staff and cut waiting times.
As my illness started at just 15 with an episode of depression, I applaud the work the Centre do for children and young people. Many mental illnesses start in childhood or adolescence as a result of life circumstance and environment or a biological link in families. It is so important that caregivers – parents, guardians and teachers – watch out for the signs of anxiety, depression, self-harming or illnesses such as bipolar. If you feel a child has had a manic or hypomanic episode and is also depressed, it is important to take them to the GP and get a referral to psychiatry.
Many mental illnesses start in childhood or adolescence as a result of life circumstance and environment or a biological link in families.
If it wasn’t for the support of my parents and doctors, I would not be here today. Support for young people (and any age) with mental illness is vital and this World Bipolar Day, I hope we can highlight this.