“Did you hear that Mary Jones died? She committed suicide. You probably know that she had a history of mental illness.” With those few sentences, each of us is capable of creating our own inaccurate story about Mary Jones and mental illness. Based on perception and personal beliefs, a misrepresentation of Mary and mental illness unfolds.
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With each conversation among friends the story is often enhanced. Before long Mary’s story is about mental illness and Mary is forgotten.
I would like to introduce you to two people and their stories.
Mary always felt there was something unusual about her. It was hard to explain, but her brain seemed to work differently from others. She was incredibly artistic and creative, and she often stayed up for days painting.
In her 30s, she went to county mental health services for help because she did not have insurance. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. For the next several years she went to all of her appointments, followed all medical directions and consistently took her medications. The medication made her feel drugged; she spent most of her days sleeping or lying on the couch. She tried to explain how she felt to her psychiatrist, but it was difficult to express because her thoughts and words were confused. She fell further and further into depression. Her family phoned the mental health facility and took her to the hospital. She was turned away for not meeting the hospital’s admission criteria. Not long after that, she went to her room, sat in a corner in the dark and ended her life.
Janet was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her 30s. She had insurance and sought out a psychiatrist who put her on a combination of medications. The medications made her feel unfocused and non-functional, and she gained 85 pounds. For the next eight years, Janet struggled with daily life. She was unable to sleep for days, her mind raced, and then she fell into depression. She saw a therapist monthly, attended a support group offered by a local hospital, read books and checked out Internet sites for help. She was desperately trying to manage her life but felt helpless and hopeless. It seemed impossible to find anyone or anything that would help her. Her marriage was in jeopardy, and her family had abandoned her. Then one day a friend told her about an ad in the Mountain Democrat for a group called Bipolar Insights. The friend encouraged her to attend. Without hesitation she went to the meeting that week.
Janet quickly learned that a medication regimen should be tailored to her individual needs — that combinations of medications and dosages are unique to each person’s symptoms. She was also introduced to a user-friendly method of daily journaling which allows her psychiatrist to see at a glance how her moods are fluctuating. It provides the information her psychiatrist needs in order to effectively treat his patient. She also learned that the medications did not have to cause weight gain if properly managed. More importantly, learning that bipolar disorder is not her fault — that she has value, worth and a purpose in life — was something she had never heard before. With this new knowledge, Janet began to thrive. She began to consistently meet her own needs and believe in her own ability to be a self-advocate. For the first time in her life, she was in charge of her future.
Why did one story end in suicide and the other with a young woman striving for a better life? Was the lack of health insurance to blame? Was it the county mental health system? Did Mary herself do something wrong?
The answer can not be found in blame.
Individuals and their families need a place of refuge — a place where they are told that they do not have to suffer through this disorder alone. Bipolar Insights is the catalyst for achieving a managed and balanced life.
I am only one teacher, and Bipolar Insights is only one group. Each time someone tells someone else about the education Bipolar Insights offers, connections and friendships grow within the community. The interaction with the county and the members’ psychiatrists creates an atmosphere of working together for the good of those with bipolar disorder.
As more people become willing to learn that mental health issues can be managed, we at Bipolar Insights are able to teach and reach those who feel helpless and hopeless.
Together we can make a difference. I invite El Dorado County Mental Health, support groups and psychiatrists to come and visit Bipolar Insights. We need to work together as a unit for the good of those who need us.
The co-founder and facilitator of Bipolar Insights, Marcia Rose can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Meetings start at 7 p.m., on Monday in Room 304 at Green Valley Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville and Tuesday at Marshall Medical Health Library, 681 Main St. in Placerville. The fee is $5 per person. Check bipolarinsights.com for complete details and further information.