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World Bipolar Day: "Awareness needs to be raised in society about our disorder"

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World Bipolar Day: "Awareness needs to be raised in society about our disorder"
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Marked each year on March 30, World Bipolar Day (WBD) is a world-wide awareness initiative that aims to encourage global education, open discussion, as well as improving sensitivity surrounding bipolar disorder.

As many as 1% to 2% of the British population experience bipolar through their lives and recent research suggested as many as 5% are on the bipolar spectrum.

A severe mental health illness characterised by significant mood swings including manic highs and depressive lows, the majority of individuals with bipolar experience alternating episodes of mania and depression.

The services available to people with the illness vary between countries in Europe. With this in mind, Euronews spoke to people across the continent about their experiences of the illness.

"I found out I was bipolar in 2004, after being repeatedly misdiagnosed for 10 years, during which time I became increasingly mentally unwell, isolated and unemployable," said James.

"I ended up self-medicating with marijuana to escape. This culminated in a drug-induced psychosis, which caused me to become very vulnerable, open to abuse and exploitation.

"I was sectioned for the first time during this psychosis, released far too early and went into psychotic depression.

"In October 2004, I jumped out of a second-floor window and landed on my head — I suffered traumatic injuries and was very lucky to survive. I was severely disfigured by the suicide attempt, profoundly depressed and determined to hang myself when I was released from the psychiatric unit, although I was diagnosed with bipolar.

"There was a slight sense of relief because I had suspected I had the illness for some time and it explained a lot. In 2006, I had cosmetic surgery, which largely corrected my disfigurement and I was able to start volunteering.

"I am married and my wife is very supportive — we now have an 18-month old daughter. I have a small group of friends who are aware of my diagnosis and are also supportive, along with my colleagues at Bipolar UK.

"Despite the trauma I have been through, which I will never fully recover from, I see my bipolar as a positive. Without all my experiences, I would not be able to do my job in peer support to the high standards that I set myself."

James works as a peer support officer at Bipolar UK.

"I was 15 years old and it was the last day of school," said Ozlem. "I had missed out on getting a letter of commendation for receiving high marks by one point, which resulted in a stressful and sleeplessness night for me.

"Showing signs of depression, my family took me to a psychiatrist and a little while later I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which I've lived with for 33 years.

"A few years ago I set up an association through which I try to raise awareness of the illness in my community and build bridges between patients, families and charities. I organise activities aimed at preventing people with bipolar from being stigmatised in society."

"In June 1990, I woke up one day and thought that my wife wanted to kill me, with the help of her lover and my daughter — it was a panic attack," said Donato. "I panicked, ran away for a few days, and ended up at the psychiatrist.

"My family and friends wanted to know what was going on, so after a few months, I got the diagnosis of 'bipolar with a lack of affection and mixed manic episodes'. I trusted the doctors, even though what's written by psychiatrists and social workers can make vulnerable people more fragile.

"For 20 years I went down the pharmaceutical path — the relationship between my body and soul was shattered and my emotions prevailed. I didn't think my wife was trying to kill me this time, but I was unable to kill the parts of my life that I did not like.

"I got married when I was 18 and I have a 45-year-old daughter but we don't have a relationship now. After breaking so many things, I can look back without feeling anger and try to realise my dreams.

"I am now a mediator, a trade unionist, I have found myself by doing what I like. I'm not trying to save lives but I want to make sure people don't feel unwelcome. Bipolar people are powerful machines, sometimes they feel they can save the world with their energy, other times they fall deep into depression.

"For 20 years I was trying to switch off my light using medication but when I stopped I finally overcame my "inner tsunami". It is also important not to judge, as in daily life it's common for us to feel judged all the time. We are only the tip of the iceberg in a sick world that can't find a cure for its illness."

Donato works as a mediator at self-help groups with the NGO On The Road Again.

"At 24, I was going through a period of euphoria and decided to leave my business in someone else's hands and travel to another island. Alarmed by my sudden change in behaviour, my friends called my family who came to take me back. I was displaying such an obvious case of manic depressive psychosis that I was diagnosed in one phone call, although doctors did not tell me this until I was hospitalised.

"When the doctor told me that I have bipolar disorder, it was hard to take this on board. This happens to all of us: you're a person like everyone else and suddenly you become a person with a mental disorder.

"My family didn't react well back then either or in the years since my diagnosis. I chose to move away from them because I feel that they blame me for my disorder and that they think I don't know how to take care of myself.

"But that is not the case — over the years and with changes in medication, which have limited the side effects, I have been through long periods of stability. These were only interrupted by periods of high stress such as the death of my mother or my divorce. I have my tricks and we learn to live with the disease.

"However, stigma is still very much present: I'm a pharmacist and I can't tell people I have bipolar disorder. I know people don't understand and they would lose confidence in me. Awareness still needs to be raised in society about my disorder."

"I had my first depressive episode at 15," said Yuliya. "I was constantly depressed, it was hard for me to wake up in the morning, I woke up with tantrums. It became harder for me to communicate with people, I could not concentrate, I was shaking all the time.

"I learned that I had bipolar disorder last summer. Before that, I was put on anxiety disorder, but I noticed that I have no stable mood: it is either on the rise or I feel very bad.

"At first, I went to different doctors and they told me that I just didn’t love myself and prescribed antidepressants. By the spring of last year, my condition began to deteriorate. I began to fall into a protracted hypomania. Hypomania is a bit too high mood, but not yet mania.

"At that moment I was too active, I didn’t sleep much, I constantly wanted to do something. I left all the money in the shops, overeat ... If in a depressive episode I slept for 12 hours and did not get enough sleep, in hypomania I slept for six hours and I felt fine.

"It was weird and it was exhausting.

"It is difficult for people with BAR to get help, especially if it is not St Petersburg or Moscow. In Ryazan, bad with psychiatry. None of my five doctors could give me a normal diagnosis. The old generation of psychiatrists generally don't diagnose bipolar disorder.

"Sometimes I can fall in love with relatives, I have flashes and mood swings. Then some little things can seem very serious to me and I can take offence at trifling things. I find it hard to master information.

"With BAR, as with other diseases, a regimen is needed. For example, lack of sleep can lead to a depressive episode, with me it was. I try to comply with the regime, sleep normally. Exercise and meditation help a lot.

"My family and friends know about my diagnosis and support me. Mom gives money for treatment, although she does not fully understand the essence of this disorder. She thinks that if I drink pills, everything should be perfect and there should be no mood swings. But in general, they understand me.

"I am not hiding, but I speak only with people who are ready for this. Some time ago, I wrote posts about bipolar surgery, but then I was confronted with a lack of understanding on the part of people with a normal psyche. I realised that people in my city are not yet ready for this.

I understand that these people did not pass this, they did not feel it. Plus, our culture makes itself felt and I calmly relate to this. The main thing for me is that my surroundings understand me. And I think that gradually the stigma of the BAR will pass.

"My first bipolar incident happened at the age of 18, when I was studying in a medical school," said Ashley, not his real name. "I had a sharp decline, I was afraid to leave the house, unmotivated social phobia began. Since I did not understand what was happening, I could not continue to study and left the university.

"Then my moods started swinging up and down. I tried to find myself for a long time, changed many types of activities: I tried to learn different professions, managed to live in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Novosibirsk ... each manic phase began when I left somewhere and started from scratch.

"I had suspicions of bipolar disorder long before the official diagnosis. I was officially diagnosed last year in the summer. A serious factor in seeking medical attention was an attempt at suicide last summer.

"My condition worsened after moving to the Sverdlovsk region in 2017. These were the typical symptoms of the depressive phase when you can not get up in the morning and do not want to do anything. There was a complete loss of the meaning of life. I stayed in this state for half a year and ended with the thought that if I can't get out of it, maybe I shouldn't be here at all.

"My partner gave me the idea that something needs to be done about it, because it is not normal.

"When I did not know about my illness, the manic phases seemed to me to be some kind of superpower. It seemed to me that I was so different from other people that I understood more that I could be better. And this is so cool to be.

"You start doing different things that you didn’t care about before, meet new people. If you evaluate it objectively, you overspend your body’s resources.

"At that time I had enough for three or four hours of sleep, and the sleep was also restless. Your brain works without shutdown.

"Slow people start to annoy. If my ideas met resistance, I reacted to it aggressively. You just can not see and can not assess the situation objectively.

"I was able to achieve intermission only by starting to take drugs. When antidepressants began to act on me, I realized that I was in a neutral state and this is what a normal person feels. For me it was such a revelation, I thought: how is it that I lived almost 28 years of my life, not knowing how normal people can function.

"The people I work with do not know about my illness, I am not ready to talk about it now. Although, of course, there is a desire to open up, but we have any mental disorders strongly stigmatised. Whatever the open person, the society is still closed, unfortunately.

"My partner, naturally, knows this. He monitors my condition, helps me keep track of it. I am very grateful to him for this. There were difficulties with parents. All my drops and moves were perceived negatively, there was no understanding of what was happening. But now this problem is gone. When I was officially diagnosed, my parents said that they supported me.

"Now I am preparing again for admission to my university, from which I had been expelled due to my illness."

For more information about bipolar disorder, visit Bipolar UK's website.

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