My Big Bipolar Travels Project!

As many of you know by now I am bipolar and have been severely crippled by the illness for the last 15years. After a lot of treatment I am now stable and doing well.

I am travelling to the USA next year 2016 for a few months for three reasons.
1. I have never been able to travel due to the limitations my illness placed on me.

2. I want to visit people living with bipolar all over the world but the USA to start. I want to learn their stories and try to understand how people live well with their illnesses, I have already started this process in Ireland.

3. I want to make a Vlog of the experience of travelling while having bipolar with all the challenges that it brings (For example, I will have to bring about 1000 tablets with me, that will be fun going through customs) and documenting the experiences of others to share with the world. I don’t believe anything similar currently exists.

I guess what I want to achieve is to capture real life examples of those living with bipolar from all walks of life all over the world. I believe by doing this we can learn some real insight into living well with mental illness.

I will have enough savings for a short trip, but not enough for vlogging equipment and visiting as many people as I would like.

If you can support me in anyway that would be great, I will in return share all my adventures with you through daily blogs and vlogs. Please let me know your thoughts and any advice.

http://www.gofundme.com/bipolartravels

I have set up a gofundme page but even if that doesnt work out I still plan on travelling and recording stories on a smaller scale.

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Decisions decisions – in a bipolar world

Being bipolar I have recently realized has blunted my ability to make decisions. Not because of my mood but because of my mistrust in myself. I am not sure if this unique or other bipolar people have the same problem.

For example, I am 33 and have wanted a tattoo for the last 15 years or so. However, it took until last month for me to be able to take the plunge. I never quite knew what I wanted to get and I wondered like most people if I would regret it later in life. These are quite normal feeling for most people contemplating getting a tattoo. In my case though in the background was the constant inability to make the decision because I did not trust myself. I wondered, am I depressed? What if I get a tattoo because I am depressed and hate it when I am back to normal or worse still am I high making an impulsive choice. Inevitably, I would put it off until I was completely stable and really knew what I wanted.

This day never came, because no matter how well I feel, unstable moods are a part of my life and a part of me and I had to learn to accept that and really that was to accept that I am bipolar.

I got the tattoo, I like the tattoo and what it means to me is acceptance, acceptance of being bipolar and learning to trust myself no matter what my mood is.

I found the reaction of my nearest and dearest to my tattoo extremely interesting. Just to say it is a very simple tattoo on my forearm effectively two bands around my arm, not very big. Some people who don’t like tattoos, didn’t like my tattoo, some people who didn’t like my tattoo design just didn’t like my tattoo.

But then there were the others, a couple of people who I am close with were truly shocked and disgusted by my tattoo. I think there a couple of reasons behind this

  • Fear of an episode, the tattoo indicated to them that I might be having an episode of some sort and this scared them.
  • I am different. I am bipolar. As well as me accepting being bipolar the tattoo has called on them to accept that I am bipolar too.

This is understandable; I have always hidden my bipolar disorder as much as possible. I have always tried to fit in and look and act normal. The only time they have seen me any other way is when I am hospitalized, because I am so good at hiding it, this always came as a shock. Those that reacted this way fear another episode, they fear that I am different because they are trying to protect me and want what’s best for me. They want me to be like them, to dress like them, to have jobs and relationships like them, because then I won’t be bipolar. I wanted that too.

Not now, I have really begun to accept myself. Tattoo or no tattoo.21329a864c6854d4e7fc7258581a4011

Do you find it difficult to make decisions? Please share your stories.

 

Irritability – a difficult and relatively unknow symptom of Bipolar

Irritability is a prominent feature of my bipolar. Early in 2013 I installed an app to help me track my mood changes. The app is called eMoods. The app allows you to log and rate four symptoms, depression, elation, irritability and anxiety. I had never considered irritability as a symptom of the illness. As I logged for the next few months, I began to notice patterns. One pattern which was unexpected and led me to research further is irritability and mania. Before I started logging if you had asked me when I feel irritable I would have said when my mood was depressed. This is incorrect, my irritability increases as my elation increases. So I decided to educate myself a little about this. Here is what I’ve found.

Irritability

What is irritability?

Irritability occurs when a person responds excessively to physical or emotional stimuli.

How does the irritable person feel?

Irritability is a very uncomfortable feeling. It is opposite to the feelings of euphoria and intense pleasure that could also occur in bipolar mania. The person suffering from irritability feels very stressed.

To the observer, irritable behavior may seem exaggerated. The person appears to be over-reacting. The person’s experience, however, is intense. The feelings are urgent and important.

How can I recognize this symptom?

The person may present as argumentative, demanding, intrusive, hostile, impatient, angry, or over-sensitive.

The person takes most things personal. The person is easily and quickly offended at seemingly neutral comments. The person may feel threatened when faced with normal, harmless stimuli, and as a result, may respond aggressively.

The person may become angry quicker than usual. Intense feelings of anger may not be controllable and possibly results in verbal or physical aggression.

How does irritability impact life?

A person who normally is respectful, careful and socially appropriate may find themselves arguing with strangers over trivial matters. Their demanding and intrusive behavior may prevent them from creating new relationships.

The person who suffers from irritability and other mania symptoms may initiate altercations that result in verbal or physical disputes. The person may find themselves in trouble with the law.

The person may not realize the consequences of their words, behavior, or arguments. To the observer this seemingly selfish, unloving, and arrogant behavior may be unacceptable.

Like most symptoms of bipolar disorder, irritability can have disastrous effects on relationships and quality of life. Continued irritable behavior may lead to job loss, terminated relationships, and marital conflict.

Link to original 

Digestion and Mental Health – some research

Since the age of 18 (a year before my bipolar diagnoses), I have had problems with my digestion, usually suspected ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome noted as being responsible. I go through bouts on and off every few years. This year I spent a lot of time working on my diet as I had a bout of it. Interestingly, I then had a bad period of mixed mood lasting several months. I say interestingly as I have been reading recent research into the connection between your gut and your mind. Here is some of what I have found.

“There’s a strong relationship between gastroenterology and psychiatric conditions,” said gastroenterologist Dr. Stephen Collins of McMaster University in Canada, at a symposium here at the New York Academy of Sciences.

Research has found, for example, that tweaking the balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria in an animal’s gut can alter its brain chemistry and lead it to become either bolder or more anxious. The brain can also exert a powerful influence on gut bacteria; as many studies have shown, even mild stress can tip the microbial balance in the gut, making the host more vulnerable to infectious disease and triggering a cascade of molecular reactions that feed back to the central nervous system.

Collins and his colleagues carried out an experiment in which they kept mice in a dark box with access to well-lit outside areas. Some of the mice were “germ-free,” because they were raised in sanitized conditions. The mice were allowed to explore at will. The researchers measured the amount of time all the mice spent outside the box: The more time they spent out exploring, the less anxious they were considered to be.

Compared with normal mice, the germ-free mice spent more time exploring outside the box, and standing on high ledges, a sign of risk-taking, Collins said.

The researchers then gave antibiotics to the mice with normal gut bacteria. The rodents became less cautious or anxious, venturing outside the box more than usual. At the same time, their levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a molecule linked to lower depression and anxiety, increased. When the mice stopped receiving antibiotics, their less-adventurous behaviour and brain chemicals returned to normal levels.

In another experiment, Collins and his colleagues colonized germ-free mice known to have passive behaviour with bacteria taken from mice that exhibit daring behaviour. The treated germ-free mice became more active and less cautious, they found. Likewise, when they colonized mice that were normally active with bacteria from passive mice, the animals became more passive.

In a 2011 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, Bienenstock and colleagues fed one group of BALB/c mice broth laced with Lactobacillus rhamnosus, a microbe frequently touted for its probiotic qualities. Mice in a control group got just broth, with no microbial bonus. After 28 days, the researchers ran the mice through a battery of tests to detect signs of anxiety or depression.

Compared with mice in the control group, those fed Lactobacillus were more willing to enter exposed areas of a maze, and also less likely to give up and just start floating when subjected to a “forced-swim” test—a test that serves as a mouse analogue of some aspects of human depression. The probiotic diet also blunted animals’ physiological responses to the stress of the forced-swim test, causing them to produce lower levels of the stress hormone corticosterone. And in the mice fed Lactobacillus, some brain regions showed an increase in the number of receptors for gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA—a neurotransmitter that mutes neuronal activity, keeping anxiety in check.

It remains unclear exactly how gut bacteria may influence mental health. Researchers have noted that the vagus nerve controls the rhythmic motions of the digestive tract and sends sensory information back to the brain, could be involved.

Gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity. When you consider the gut’s multifaceted ability to communicate with the brain, along with its crucial role in defending the body against the perils of the outside world, “it’s almost unthinkable that the gut is not playing a critical role in mind states,” says gastroenterologist Emeran Mayer, MD, director of the Center for Neurobiology of Stress at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Jane Foster, associate professor of neuroscience and behavioural science and part of the McMaster University & Brain-Body Institute, says gut bacteria ‘talk to the brain in multiple ways through either the immune system or the enteric nervous system’. However, while using probiotics may help a ‘subset of patients’, she said. It’s not a ‘magic bullet’. Early life stresses, nutrition and building a strong immune system all play an important role in a person’s mental health, she said.

Although I am sure it wont ‘cure’ me, I plan on introducing probiotics into my diet immediately.

Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  

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Okay so this blog is about all things mental health related, so it seemed about right that I commit to the promotion of mental health and reduction of stigma.

To find out more about the campaign click here

Over-generalised Memory

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New years eve, my good friend asked me what were the best things to happen to me this year? I answered, am.. I think… am…it has been a good year but I just cant think. Therapy was good.

Next day, my good friend asks me, what things make you happy? I answered, am.. I dunno, like loads of things, movies, music, my nieces….there’s more I just cant think.

A few months ago, I told someone that I could never understand how people were so self aware. How people could say things like. Every September I get my asthma really bad, its the change in the weather. People being able to pinpoint really specific events and how they felt made me hugely uncomfortable with myself, because I couldn’t do the same.

I am currently doing a mindfulness course. An eight week program by Williams and Penman. I have reached week six and have had a WOW moment. I found out why I cant recall specific memories. My memory of any of my hospitalisations are very vague but I sort of understood that, presumed I had repressed them as they were too bad. But I also thought that I was the least self aware person on the planet, because I have such difficulty recalling specifics. Turns out I have an over general memory.

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Many theorists have suggested that the reduced ability to access specific memories of life events, termed overgenerality, is a protective mechanism helping attenuate painful emotions associated with trauma.

Mark Williams, PhD, a clinical psychologist and researcher at Oxford University, came across this term in the 1980’s when asking people to recall certain memories and they gave him vague responses. He had asked research subjects to write down the memories elicited by certain cues. After investigators read them a cue word, they have 30 seconds to recount a single specific memory, meaning an event that lasted less than one day. When they left the page blank he thought he had given unclear instructions. Soon he began to wonder about the significance of the omissions.

Usually people seeking a particular memory traverse a mental hierarchy, Dr. Williams said. They begin by focusing on a general description (“playing ball with my brother”) and then narrow the search to a specific event (“last Thanksgiving”). Some people stop searching at the level of generality, however and are probably not conscious of having done so.

In response to the word “rejection” one participant responded, A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with my boss, and my ideas were rejected.” Another said, “My brothers are always talking about going on holiday without me.”

You can see how the second response is vague, it’s generalizing over time, and it’s not a specific event.

Advantages of an over general memory

Researchers at Leuven discovered that students who did poorly on exams and were more specific took longer to recover from the disappointment than those who were more general. The overgeneral students thought less about the details of what happened and so fared better, at least in the short term.

Similarly, overgenerality has been found to be prevalent in Bosnian and Serbian teenagersexposed to the traumas of war. “Some people will discover at a certain stage that being overgeneral is a way of dampening emotional effects,” Dr. Hermans said.

But these researchers say problems can arise when overgenerality becomes an inflexible, blanket style.

Links to depression

Without detailed memories to draw upon, dispelling a black mood can seem impossible. Patients may remember once having felt happy, but cannot recall specific things that contributed to their happiness, like visiting friends or a favorite restaurant.

“If you’re unhappy and you want to be happy, it’s helpful to have memories that you can navigate through to come up with specific solutions,” Dr. Williams said. “It’s like a safety net.”

What can you do?

Dr. Williams has found that specificity can be increased with training in mindfulness, a form of meditation increasingly popular in combating some types of depression. Subjects are taught to focus on moment-to-moment experiences and to accept their negative thoughts rather than trying to avoid them. It may help by making people more tolerant of negative memories and short-circuit the impulse to escape them, which can lead to over-generality.

Ground to reality – The first thing needs to be grounding to the reality of the present moment. One of the more effective ways to do this is just allowing the feeling in the body to be an anchor to the now. Breathe in, acknowledge the feeling, breathe out, and recognize you are here.

Search for other memories – Ask yourself, are there other memories that speak to an alternative viewpoint. In other words, in respect to the example I gave earlier, are there instances in life where people have paid attention to your needs?

Have compassion – You may just have a natural inclination toward a negative sort of overgeneral memory, so as best you can, be kind to yourself when you notice this happening. This patience and kindness will create a greater sense of resiliency.

Hope for the future

Some experts think such insights could also be helpful in treating depression. For example,Spanish researchers have reported that aging patients showed fewer symptoms of depression and hopelessness after they practiced techniques for retrieving detailed memories.

Exercise your Mind(taken from mindfulness, a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world)

Look at the words below. Think of a real event that has happened to you, and that comes into your mind when you see each of these words. Keep in mind or write down what happened. (It doesn’t matter whether the real event happened a long time ago or only recently, but it should be something that lasted for less than one day.)

For example, if ‘fun’ was on of the words, it would be OK to say, ‘I had fun when I went to Jane’s party’, but it would not be OK to say, ‘I always have fun at parties’, because that doesn’t mention a particular event. Do your best to write something for each word.

In each case remember to come up with something that lasted for less than one day.

Think of a time when you felt:

  • Happy

  • Bored

  • Relieved

  • Hopeless

  • Excited

  • Failure

  • Lonely

  • Sad

  • Lucky

  • Relaxed

Having it Out with Melancholy

by Jane Kenyon   

If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure.    –   A. P. CHEKHOV The Cherry Orchard

1  FROM THE NURSERY

When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.

And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad — even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.

You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
“We’re here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated.”

I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours — the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.

2  BOTTLES

Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.

3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND

You wouldn’t be so depressed
if you really believed in God.

4  OFTEN

Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep’s
frail wicker coracle.

5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT

Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.

I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors — those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few

moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.

Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
“I’ll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!” After that, I wept for days.

6  IN AND OUT

The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.

Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life — in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .

7  PARDON

A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.

We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.

8  CREDO

Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.

Coarse, mean, you’ll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can’t
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can’t sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can’t read, or call
for an appointment for help.

There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.

9  WOOD THRUSH

High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome

by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.

The trouble with words

Urban outfitters depression t-shirt – (link) article in the Guardian on January 7th by Jessica Wakeman.

460depression

The author explains that urban outfitters who stocked a t-shirt with the word depression printed on it, has received a number of complaints form the public. So much so that it will no longer be stocked by the store. Apparently the store becomes involved in controversies once a year or more by stocking clothes deemed offensive by some. This of course is clever marketing on their part because of the critics inadvertent advertising of the product.

It is suggested by critics that the t-short is mocking mental illness. As someone who is bipolar I tried with all my might to be offended about a t-shirt with the word depression written all over it. I couldn’t.

In fact, the most offensive thing is contained in the article itself. When in the last line the author proclaims that “Really, it’s enough to make me feel depressed”. Feeling depressed and having depression, very different things. If it is the feeling of depression that she finds offensive then no t-shirt should ever have any feeling words printed on them, sad, angry, bored, dejected, jealous….?

Its true that some words relating to mental ill-health sometimes offend me BUT it always depends on context. I’ve made a list of possible offenders-

  • nuts
  • maniac
  • bonkers
  • loony
  • batty
  • crazy
  • mad
  • lunatic
  • mental
  • schizo
  • psycho
  • bat shit crazy
  • fruitcake
  • daft
  • off her rocker
  • not all there
  • cracked
  • sick in the head

A study by Rose et al. 2007 explored the labels used by 14 year old to stigmatise people with mental illness.  The majority of words used were derogatory, more related to specific illness, and a number related to violence.

The following is taken form the report

“Derogatory references about people with mental illness appear commonly in the print, broadcast and cinematographic media. For television and newspaper items about mental illness, for example, between one third and two thirds refer primarily to violence….  Almost a half (46%) of all the episodes contained some reference to mental illness, especially in cartoons, where the vocabulary analysed in one New Zealand study was ‘predominantly negative fundamentally disrespectful. The characters were typically losing control, constantly engaged in illogical and irrational actions’, and were ‘stereotypically and blatantly negative, and served as objects of amusement, derision or fear.’ Children’s programmes in the USA have produced almost identical results, where the images were ‘typically used to disparage and ridicule. More specifically, a Canadian study examined Disney animated films for children and found that 85% contained verbal references to mental illness and they were mainly used to ‘set apart and denigrate’ the characters.”

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1925070/

Using your recovery story

Continuing along the theme of peer specialists. The recovery story is a method peer specialists use to help service users. The story is the peers own story of their recovery and is seen as one of the strongest tools she possesses to help others. It can help eliminate the self stigma that gets in the way of recovery from mental illness. And it can be a powerful symbol-a true example-that recovery is possible.

Sometimes telling our stories we can concentrate on the negative and it become an illness story rather than a recovery story. Features of the recovery story are that it concentrates  on overcoming challenges, focuses on choices and responsibilities and emphasises strengths and opportunities.

A study that Dr. Patrick Corrigan, University of Chicago looked at the best ways to combat stigma against people who have a mental illness. In his study, he tried three things…First, he looked at education he tried to change people’s minds with facts and figures about people with mental illness. Secondly, he looked at what he called “protest.” This is taking the “shame-on-you” approach with the public and telling them they should not think bad things about people with mental illness. The third thing he tried, he called “contact”, or personal stories. Dr. Corrigan found that contact, or one person telling another person their story of mental illness and recovery was the only approach or the only system that really worked – people talking about their real lives and challenging stereotypes by just being themselves. Dr. Corrigan also found that stories from celebrities actually were less effective than a personal story from your neighbor or co-worker.

Elements of the recovery story

  1. Briefly describe yourself and your situation when you were at your worst.
  2. What helped you move from where you were to where you are now? What did you do? What did others do?
  3. What have you had to overcome to get where you are today?
  4. What have you learned about yourself and what we call recovery? What are some of the strengths you’ve developed?
  5. What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself on the right path?

Peer-provided services and Advocacy

I often ask myself, what supports would have helped me deal with my mental illness? What would have liked to know about serious mental illness when I was diagnosed and through those first few years.  What would I like to be in place for others. And crucially, knowing what I know now how can my experience and knowledge help others starting out?

Outside of the difficulties a serious mental illness has on you mind and body. There can be a myriad of other elements of your life affected negatively by your illness. Social issues such as social welfare, money, housing and education have been particularly difficult for me. With the added difficulty of being out of touch with reality and completely losing interest in your life.

I would have loved for someone to just lead me down the direct path and at many times just do it for me. Because although many people try to enable you to do something for yourself, sometimes you are so sick that you just need someone to do it for you. There is no shame in that and service providers would do well to remember that.

I have always known about advocacy services. As an inpatient, the service is visible, my impression was that the dealt with tribunals for people detained involuntarily. My impression was also that issues would need to very serious to go to an advocate, I was somehow aware that they were understaffed also.

In recent years, I have understood advocates and their role more clearly and have admired the work they do. So I began researching the position of advocates in Ireland which I have outlined below. Turns out what I had been looking for is called peer provided services and advocacy.

A Vision for Change (2010) Peer-provided services are services that are run by service users and offer peer support and opportunities for re-integration and independence in the community. Research evidence shows that peer-provided services bring benefit to all stakeholders. The benefits to service users include improvement in symptoms, increase in social networks and quality of life, reduced mental health service use, higher satisfaction with health, improved daily functioning and improved illness management.

A vision for change highlights the role of the advocate who should be a peer who has used the mental health services and has received recognised training in advocacy.

The role of the advocate is to

  • To provide a listening ear, information and support.
  • The advocate will empower the service user to do things for themselves; to reclaim control over their own lives.
  • The advocate can inform the service user of social welfare benefits, housing and other matters of concern, or can point in the direction of this information.
  • The advocate can present the service user with options that may be available to them (but should never prescribe a course of action as this is not part of the advocacy role).
  • Advocates have as their priority the service user’s interests and needs. Their own opinion of what is best for the service user should not enter the situation.
  • Peer providers themselves benefit by experiencing reductions in their own hospitalisation and having opportunities to practice their own recovery, build their own support system and engage in professional growth.

As well as the benefits to service users the document outlines benefits to the system as well.  Saving in costs through decreased hospitalisation and reduced use of mental health services, a reduction in negative attitudes towards services, improved relationships with service users, improved mental health outcomes, and having the needs of those alienated from services addressed.

 Considering all this then it is with surprise that there are just 15 advocates for the whole country listed on through the Irish Advocacy Network site. 

The reality of mental illness doesn’t fit into a sanitised sound bite

Although clearly well-intentioned, the irony is that in order to reduce perceived stigma the media has given us a palatable portrayal of mental illness.

WHEN THE MEDIA highlights mental illness it’s the same story all the time, on the TV or on the radio – an average young man who feels down.

Though it is clearly well-intentioned, the irony is that in order to normalise the disease and to reduce the stigma endured by mentally ill people, the media has given us a sanitised, palatable portrayal of mental illness.

The man portrayed is “just like you and me”, he’s “one of the lads”, but he’s just not himself right now. He has no energy, wants to stay in bed all day, and he loses interest in the things he used to love; he loses interest in life.

He isn’t identifiably mentally ill and still very approachable – not at all like the homeless man talking to himself in the street, or the woman rocking back and forth on the bus. Definitely not “weird”, definitely not “strange”, he is “normal”, just like you.

The man then experiences a series of positive changes. Support is received from family, friends, the GP, or his Irish mammy. Some medication is taken, or alternatively some counselling. The young man “recovers”.

The End.

Such stories are realistic, and this young man is like many across the country. Many people do suffer a one-off, temporary depression, but recover fully and return to their normal day to day life.

For many, it is not temporary  

Many are not so lucky. Their suffering is lifelong, and they must learn to accept their fate and live with their illnesses. They look weird sometimes, act strangely sometimes, and they make you uncomfortable sometimes. They are different.

I do not want to paint a purely pessimistic picture of mental illness. Even with all its difficulties, a good standard of living is possible with the right help and with an adequate support system.

To achieve this, an honest and realistic outlook is essential. Acceptance that they will have this disease for the rest of their lives. Like Crohn’s disease or diabetes, they have a lifelong illness that can be managed but will never go away. There is no magic quick fix. They are not responsible for the illness and will have limited control over it.

The one-size-fits-all presentation of mental illness – in which someone is depressed and gets over it – is dangerous because so many who experience depressive episodes do not return to their lives as they knew them. Their illnesses grow and change over the years. They often receive new diagnoses of bipolar, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, etc.

They continue to suffer periodic episodes of psychosis or depression. They struggle with medication and its side effects. They will also face an understaffed, underfunded, chaotic health service. Their lives never return to how they were before. Relationships are seriously affected. Employment is a serious challenge. Poor physical health is common. The suffering of lifelong mental illness is immense.

Though it waxes and wanes, it never really ends.

The struggle to understand 

Like society in general, the media finds it difficult to accept long-term mental illness and they struggle to understand sufferers. They want to fix them, to find that magic formula that would get them back to normal, but those involved have learned the hard way that there is no getting back to normal. There is just acceptance of this new life as the normal.

Those with life-long mental illness face stigmatisation, discrimination and social exclusion. When they are seen to refuse to present themselves as normal or to recover as others have, that is how society treats them. Such societal attitudes are heavily influenced by politicians, public commentators and the media.

What I would love to see and hear in media portraits of mental illness is not the facile cliché or the banal sound bite, but the whole truth.

This article appeared on thejournal.ie find it here http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/living-with-mental-illness-1577505-Jul2014/

If many remedies are prescribed for an illness, you may be certain that the illness has no cure