Prior to her death, actress Carrie Fisher was an outspoken advocate for mental health, sharing her experience with bipolar disorder and addiction in order to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness. Picture: Andy Kropa/Invision/AP.
South Africa - In an attempt to address the gap in local knowledge surrounding Bipolar Awareness Day, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) asked people in South Africa living with Bipolar Disorder to complete an online survey – and over 400 responded.
The results indicated a need for extensive treatment, as 65% of respondents report having manic highs, 81% experience deep depression, and 67% have been hospitalised at least once in their lifetime. Furthermore, 84% have attempted or considered suicide.
Of those that had previously attempted suicide, 27% were younger than 30, and 28% were earning less than R12 000 per month.
Overall, 77% of people who participated in the survey had received treatment from a psychiatrist in private practice, even though 53% said they earn R12 000 or less per month.
This raises questions about the affordability of these services.
Cassey Chambers, SADAG Operations Director, said: “This is definitely a difficulty. Many patients battle to afford upper-level medical aid plans. When their medical aid runs out – often half way through the year or after a limited number of psychiatric visits – they stop treatment because the bills are too high.
"This is likely to lead to relapse, and it raises the risk of suicide.”
The SADAG survey results reveal that of respondents who’d stopped their medication, 24% had done so due to finances. In addition, 40% indicated they’d stopped attending face-to-face counselling sessions because they could no longer afford it.
While it’s positive to see that most respondents had told a family member, friend or colleague about their condition, and that the responses were largely supportive, 26% still faced lack of understanding, disinterest, dismissal, insults, prejudice, or hostility. Of greater concern is that 45% reported experiencing discrimination in the workplace.
This kind of discrimination can take many forms, such as being labeled as ‘difficult to work with’, or being fired due to time taken off work for doctor’s appointments or hospitalisation. Patients may also not be accommodated when they’re going through a rough patch, or they could be unfairly reprimanded for tasks they are unable to perform.
Not easily identified, Bipolar Disorder is a severe mood disorder that affects between 1% and 3% of the global population.
Bipolar Disorder can be mistaken for normal, everyday shifts in mood and energy levels – the regular ups and downs of daily life. But Bipolar Disorder is not ‘regular’.
“People with this disorder experience unusually intense fluctuations in emotional states,” explains psychiatrist, Dr Frans Korb.
“These emotional swings usually occur from the overjoyed highs of a manic episode to the crushing lows of depression, and people with Bipolar Disorder swing between these two polar opposites.
"People may be irritable or aggressive, sad or hopeless; they may experience extreme changes in energy, activity and the need for sleeping and eating. These signs can all be part of the mood fluctuations,” he says.
The SADAG survey findings show that nearly half of the patients do not fully understand how to manage their condition. This highlights the importance of psychoeducation, which would help patients and their loved ones understand the condition, its symptoms, the treatments available, possible relapse triggers, as well as self-help strategies.
For more information, you can contact SADAG 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm on 0800 70 80 90. You can also visit www.sadag.org for information on bipolar disorder.