By saraneville, May 19 2014 05:15PM
Many health professionals know relatively little about what it feels like to have bipolar disorder. If they can’t empathise, is it possible to provide adequate support? During the last 5 years, I’ve been using my personal experience to help them understand.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2004. Since then I’ve embarked on a difficult and enlightening journey of self discovery. I wanted to understand more about my condition and how it affects me, to help me come to terms with it. My research and my experience led me to write a book, and now I run programmes for health professionals, including doctors, psychiatrists and social workers, passing on the benefit of what I’ve learnt as a bipolar sufferer.
I’ve come across hundreds of people working in health and social care, many of them excellent at what they do. They’re very good at organising medication, visiting and generally listening; but they have no personal experience of what it is like to walk in the shoes of a person bipolar. They don’t understand how black depression can be, or how frightening mania is or how stressful it is for families who live with bipolar. My course sets out to tell them what it’s really like.
I talk about my harrowing experiences of being sectioned in the UK, how unnerving it can be to have intervention from a crisis team, and about the insecurities one faces in the early days of recovery at home. It can be emotionally draining to re-visit such distressing moments in my life. My sisters, who have also carried the burden of my illness and have been central to my recovery, come along to speak to some groups too, to describe their experience of bipolar.
Working in groups we discuss the answers to challenging questions and scenarios, that I hope will help doctors and social workers to empathise more closely with bipolar patients, and understand how small changes in their working practice can make huge difference to the experience of the ‘service user’.
Feedback is always overwhelmingly positive: ‘Fascinating insight that will help me in my professional life as a social worker,’ ‘Why aren’t all training courses this good?’ ‘Refreshing to attend a course run by someone with first-hand experience,’ ‘Excellent! This programme is practical and useful. Not a box-ticking exercise.’
I currently only work in the South East of England and I’d like to see more courses like mine run up and down the country. I’d like to see all health professionals given the opportunity to attend workshops run by people who have used the system – the ‘service users’ themselves. That way, health professionals will come to understand that the small, incremental changes they make can make all the difference to patients who are not only mentally ill, but often struggling to navigate their way through an unwieldy, bureaucratic system.