Journeys from Mental Illness to Mental Health Focus on Bipolar Affective Disorder
One Man’s Story: I am a 58 year old grandfather who enjoys his family, gardening, music (classical and roots), literature and creative writing. Next year I will take vows as a lay Buddhist. I love nature. My illness, bipolar disorder, presents as racing thoughts, alternating with periods of exhaustion – to a devastating degree. When unstable my inner environment was distinctly altered from the norm. This, for many years was a horrible state beyond imagining. I was diagnosed in 1968 when I willingly sought help. As I seem well, I was mistakenly diagnosed with an “identity crisis”. When I was properly diagnosed, it was crushing for me and my family. I would wake up hoping it was all a bad dream. The “curtain would fall” when I realized it was not. The impact of my illness is that I was unable to work or to return to university. Because of this, some people struggle to accept my illness. Discrimination and stigma were extremely difficult to overcome. Once, in the 1970’s, I actually found bags of human feces tied to my shrubs that I took to be a show of discrimination against me as a person with mental illness. My wife, however, was very loving and supportive. In fact, my wife, son, daughterinlaw and grand daughter are crucial in my continued health. Also, medication and meditation – Buddhism and my Buddhist colleagues at the Atlantic Soto Zen Center; having gone to the mental health inpatient unit, and New Hope where I have gained acceptance and loving kindness; my wonderful, loving friends – have all been vital in allowing me to maintain my health. I would like to stress that there is very definitely life after illness. We are all individual human beings who have an illness – we are not our illness. For those who find themselves ill presently, my advice is to educate yourself. Be proactive. Don’t do it alone. Don’t let the stigma keep you from seeking help. Comply with your treatment program, don’t selfmedicate with drugs or alcohol and divert yourself with interests. Never give up. Deeply satisfying joy is still possible. Bipolar Affective Disorder Facts: Bipolar Affective Disorder is a mental health condition that affects a person’s ability to regulate their mood or “affect”. The term bipolar affective disorder basically means mood that goes from one extreme to another. People with Bipolar Affective Disorder can have periods of lows in mood to the point where they are experiencing a clinical depression, alternating with periods of elevated mood or mania. During the low or depressed phase, the person experiences depressed mood or irritability along with loss of interest or pleasure in their normal activities. They may also experience a number of other symptoms of depression that might include changes in appetite, weight loss or gain, changes in sleep patterns, feeling restless or slowed down, fatigue or loss of energy, feeling worthless or guilty, poor concentration, or recurrent thoughts of death. These feelings persist for two weeks or more and represent a change from the person’s normal functioning. In the manic phase, the person experiences an elevated, expansive or irritable mood lasting at least a week. This elevation of mood is accompanied by a number of other symptoms such as inflated self esteem,
decreased need for sleep, more talkative, racing or distractible thoughts, increased activity or restlessness, and a tendency to become excessively involved in activities that are pleasurable or dangerous. Bipolar Affective Disorder currently affects approximately 1% of our community. Men are diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder as frequently as women. The impact to society from this illness includes lost work days from work, days of hospitalization, and an increased risk of suicide for individuals dealing with this illness. It is estimated that mood disorders, including Bipolar Affective Disorder will be the number 1 public health issue for the 21st century. Treatment for Bipolar Disorder: The treatment for Bipolar Disorder is a combination of medications to assist with the regulation of mood, and case management and rehabilitative supports to help the person manage the illness and recover lost areas of functioning. Medications most commonly used for Bipolar Disorder are called mood stabilizers and include lithium and epival among others. In some cases, medications to deal with depression or anxiety may be given in combination with the mood stabilizer to assist with managing some of these symptoms. A psychiatrist often works with the person’s family physician to determine the best combination of medications to assist with the symptoms the person is experiencing. The Community Supports for Adults Program, a service of the Department of Mental Health, Pictou County Health Authority, provides case management and rehabilitation supports to people with Bipolar Affective Disorder and other long term mental health issues. Case management refers to the process of a health professional providing one to one support with the person to educate about the illness, teach positive coping strategies, and set goals for regaining roles in work, education, community living and relationships. A range of professionally facilitated and consumer led groupbased programs and services are offered both at the New Hope site and at the Aberdeen site that allow participants to add various services to their treatment plan based on need and interest. These services include yoga, meditation, Qigong, acupuncture, exercise, nutrition and wellness, social connections, community living skills, and a sense of community involvement with the day to day operation of the New Hope site. For more information on Bipolar Affective Disorder or any other mental health issues, contact the Pictou County Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association at 7559441. Leave a message and someone will get back to you with the information requested. To access any of the programs and services available in our community for individuals with Bipolar Affective Disorder, please contact the Department of Mental Health Services, Pictou County Health Authority at 7551137. The hours of service are Monday to Friday, 8:30 to 4:30.