Despite healthcare professionals describing bipolar disorder as a debilitating illness, it is important for Darren Clark to know that many people with bipolar disorder can get well, and stay well.
Healthcare professionals often associate bipolar disorder with substantial suffering. We hear a lot about the high rates of suicide, substance abuse, unemployment, criminal behaviour and divorce. We hear much less about those of us with bipolar disorder who stay well.
People with bipolar disorder are often just ordinary people living with a manageable illness. Bipolar disorder is not a character flaw, personality trait or sign of personal weakness. It is an illness that can affect us all, regardless of age, race, social class as athletic ability.
By learning what works, and what does not work, people with bipolar disorder can learn to control the illness. Staying well often involves friendship, local community, laughter, dog walking, sunlight, diet, medication, exercise and sleep. The challenge is to manage the illness so the symptoms of illness – depression, psychosis, mania, anxiety – do not interfere with our day-to-day life.
If healthcare professionals look outside the mental health system, they may discover that many of us with bipolar disorder are getting on with our lives. We are doctors, politicians, plumbers, lawyers, journalists and so on. Many of us are parents. Although we may take medication each day, not all of us endure substantial suffering, nor do we consider bipolar disorder to be a debilitating illness.
First published as a letter to The Sunday Age on 21 May 2006