A triumph of marketing
We can't tell our left from right
But we know we love extremes
Getting to grips with the ups and downs
Because there's nothing in between
—Echo & The Bunnymen
In his excellent slim tome Strictly Bipolar, Darian Leader says the postwar period was the “age of anxiety,” the 1980s and ’90s were the “antidepressant era,” while now, today, “we live in bipolar times.”
For people with the genuine, extreme symptoms of what is called “bipolar disorder,” the too-high highs and the too-low lows can make for an extremely difficult, roller-coaster life with times of great recklessness and wretchedness, danger and despair, and only fleeting glimpses of the straight and narrow.
The diagnosis formerly known as manic depression has, says Leader, increased 4,000 percent in the past 20 years. Why?
Partly because the definition has expanded to include broader categories that accommodate many more people, pathologising everyday human reactions such as “responding strongly to losses.” Anyone who has ups and downs in life, which is to say anyone, could choose to identify with the label “bipolar.”
Increasingly, it has become a designer label, with some “celebrities” seeming to regard bipolarity as a lifestyle choice, a creed, an accessory to match the Hermes bag.
The manic highs—like real life but with the wattage turned up all the way—are portrayed as thrilling interludes of high-intensity work, love, creativity in keeping with the frenetic pace of modern life.
Stephen Fry, diagnosed at 37, says of his mania (it’s obligatory to include a quote from Stephen Fry in any story about bipolarity): “We are kings of the world, nothing is beyond us, society is too slow for our racing minds, everything is connected in a web of glorious colour, creativity and meaning.”
Who wouldn’t want some of that now and again?
On screens large and small, bipolarity looks rather attractive. Whether you agree with him or not, Stephen Fry’s star burns brightly, such as when he denounces religion. If you’re CIA agent Carrie Mathison in Homeland, played by Claire Danes, bipolarity makes you passionate and intrepid. If you’re Cameron Stuart in the new movie Infinitely Polar Bear, played by Mark Rufallo, being bipolar makes you an eccentric, lovable rogue (to be fair I haven’t seen the film—I’m just judging from the trailer).
The too-low lows barely get a look-in.
Is bipolar’s boom a sign of the times? Or is it a triumph of marketing fuelled by big—and big profit-seeking—pharmaceutical companies?
As Leader points out: “Historians of psychiatry have all made the same observation: it was precisely when patents ran out on the big-selling tricyclic antidepressants in the mid-90s that bipolar suddenly became the recipient of Big Pharma marketing budgets. Websites helped people to diagnose themselves; articles and supplements appeared all referring to bipolar as if it were a fact; and nearly all of these were funded by the industry.”
The system is predisposed to tell you that you are sick, and that there are pills to make you better. In fact, the pills might not work. And you might not even be sick. You might be simply human.
Cuts to UK mental health services are destroying lives and families
In the UK, we have some of the best emergency medicine in the world for physical health. But when it comes to emergency mental health we can make no such boast. In fact the system is in crisis.
Last year nearly two million people in this country sought help for mental health problems. But many didn’t get the what they needed. In June a report by the Care Quality Commission revealed thousands of people in urgent need of care received “inadequate support”.
My own family experience in the last couple of years has persuaded me that those with mental illness, particularly the young, get a raw deal. Early intervention can make a vast difference and yet there is no easy way to get help. It is haphazard. You may get help or you may not. It may happen quickly or it may not. Teenagers may be in a children’s unit or thrown into an adult one. Worse still, you may be sent hundreds of miles from home, where your parents struggle to be with you. It is absurd – no wonder the outcomes are so poor.
It is why on ITV News this week we are running a series of reports on the state of mental health care in Britain. An investigation by ITV News and the charity Young Minds has revealed that in the last year alone £35m has been cut from children and adolescent services, £80m in the past four years.
Independent report calls for more 'balanced' and 'truthful' reporting of mental health issues
A new front opened this week in the battle to improve media coverage of mental health problems.
The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) has launched a report on what society should expect from psychiatry and vice versa.
The report, entitled "A Better Understanding, Psychiatry’s Social Contract’", explains that society must support doctors in delivering high quality mental health care.
Along with an appeal for government to tackle issues like unemployment, which contribute to mental illness, there is a powerful call out to the media.
The MHF is asking the press to report on mental health issues in a ‘truthful' and ‘balanced’ way.
If we want a caring society, we need to combat ‘irresponsible' newspaper reports that reinforce stigma and negative stereotypes. And the MHF says “journalists who work on mental health stories should have at least a basic understanding of the role and responsibilities of psychiatric services”.
Juvenile detention centers actually suck for kids with mental health issues, study finds
In 2011, more than 60,000 young people were placed into juvenile detention centers, and new data is raising questions as to the efficacy of the system when dealing with mental health issues. A new study from Stanford University School of Medicine looked further into the mental health of kids in the juvenile justice system, and found that “juvenile inmates are much more likely to be hospitalized for mental health problems than children and teenagers who are not incarcerated.”
The study, which tracked roughly 2,000,000 hospitalizations of California boys and girls over 15 years, suggests that these detention centers probably aren’t helping kids who are already struggling with mental health. To put that into perspective, according to the study, “Mental health diagnoses were responsible for 63 percent of hospital stays by young people in the juvenile justice system, compared to 19 percent for those not in the system.”
US schools introduce mental health programs to address teen cutting problem
Schools around the country have begun offering new classes and mental-health programs to help stem a sharp rise in the number of adolescents found to be engaging in self injury, especially cutting.
School officials, from high school to elementary levels, are working with adolescent psychologists to train their mental-health staff and teachers to counsel at-risk teens and to educate all students in dealing with stressful emotions. A growing number of the programs are based on a treatment called dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, which aims to help people regulate their emotions and teach skills for avoiding self-injury when the urge arises.
What is believed to be the first randomized, controlled study of DBT in self-injuring adolescents was published in October and showed the treatment significantly lowered the frequency of self-injury in 77 teens compared with other common therapies.
Preventing long-term mental health issues in Nepal
More than 8,700 people have died since the April 25 earthquake struck Nepal. As the country begins to rebuild, mental health professionals are reaching out to those in need.
"I saw a lot of grief in people," says counsellor Dristy Gurung.
"If it doesn't get treated or if you don't intervene in such grief or trauma, in the long run it might create some mental health issues for people."
According to the UN Resident Coordinator in Nepal, 2.8 million people are still in need of some form of assistance.
Gurung works for Transcultural Psychosocial Organization (TPO) Nepal, one of the country's leading psychosocial associations.
While the organisation advocates for mental health laws and acts, Gurung says the country always puts physical health first and that mental health is put in the shadow.
Gurung and other mental health professionals in Nepal say this can have major repercussions after a natural disaster of this scale. Gurung says they have already heard of cases of suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Qatar: counselling centres urged for expats
In view of the stress felt by expatriate workers who have to live away from their families for long durations, some residents have called for counselling centres across the country, especially in areas with a high concentration of single workers.
Besides low-income workers, many middle-income expatriates - particularly those facing financial problems - may also require psychological support, say residents.
The counselling centres should be staffed by specialists who can effectively address the problems faced by workers, including depression and stress, they pointed out.
“As there has been a huge increase in the number of workers in recent years and many more are expected to come in the next few years, there should be adequate facilities to cater to the psychological needs of expatriate workers, a majority of whom is living here without families,” said an engineer working on a major infrastructure project in north Doha.
In Qatar, depression affected about 18% of the population, according to earlier reports. Cases of suicide involving expatriate workers are also reported at times.
New Zealand: Kiwis crave advice to support young people
Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand:
New research by Common Ground shows another side to youth mental health.
Nearly three quarters of the New Zealanders surveyed say it’s the responsibility of the community, not just the immediate family, to support young people who are experiencing personal issues however only 23% say they felt they could help out, with 15% saying they would like to help but don’t know how or don’t feel equipped to help.
Common Ground is a dedicated website for those helping troubled young people is part of the Prime Minister’s Youth Mental Health Project and developed with collaboration from the Mental Health Foundation, Youthline, Skylight, Innovate Change and Curative.
The new research shows that communities really want to help, Dr Theresa Fleming, University of Auckland psychological medicine senior lecturer and youth mental health advocate says.
“Mental health is not just up to the experts. If family, friends and communities reach out, then no-one needs to struggle alone. This research highlights that Kiwis do care, and with a little info and support all of us can make a difference.”
Should I stay or should I go?
Jannah Walshe in the Mayo News:
To properly assess your current relationship, I’d recommend you first have a think about your own perspective on your relationship before going through it with your partner. It’s a good idea to write it down so that you remember it when you do speak about it together. The following questions may help you.
> Is this relationship serving us both or just the other person?
> Do I spend more time questioning whether the relationship is right or wrong than enjoying it?
> Is there more to learn for me in this relationship, or can I best learn and grow outside of this relationship?
> Would leaving this relationship be an act of self-care?
7 signs your therapist is good at their job (because some of us are weirdos)
Kathleen Smith, in Bustle:
Finding a good therapist is a lot like shopping for a good pair of pants. You’re going to have to try a few on and maybe even make a few alterations before they start working for you and help you feel great about yourself. Science tells us that psychotherapy works just as well if not better than medication, but unlike a pill, your therapist is a human. This means that personalities can clash, misunderstandings can occur, or occasionally people can just be outright weirdos. But once you get started, how do you really know you’ve found a good therapist?
I know the first time I went to see a counselor, he told me to tap my shoulder blade three times and say out loud that I loved myself. Then he expected me to write him a $200 check for his oh-so-random nonsense. Rather than see someone else, I shied away from the idea. It wasn’t until I considered the profession as a career for myself that I began to see how talking, processing, and strategizing with a professional can be an invaluable resource. Because sometimes having someone with skin who can actively root for you and shine the light on new insights is better than any self-help book.