Mind / 27 May 2019, 10:00am / Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi
It’s not easy to talk about mental issues as there is still often a stigma attached to publicly admitting to your condition. Over the years, however, society has become more encouraging of those brave people who speak openly about mental health issues.
In the light of Bipolar Awareness Day yesterday, the conversation around this needs to be highlighted.
Graham Huxtable, 62, has been living with bipolar disorder for 14 years.
It hasn’t been easy, he says, but he has learnt to deal with it. He admits that there are some days when everything becomes overwhelming.
“Before I was diagnosed, I went through a series of depressive episodes. I also went through the manic stage where I’d go through a phase of over-spending on things that I didn’t even need.”
Huxtable said his turning point was when he accepted his condition and started on medication to manage it.
“My family had to go through all of that with me, we had to talk about it and it made everything easier,” he said.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), bipolar disorder affects up to 1% of the population - which might sound like a low number, but when you take in consideration that there are more than 56 million people in the country, it is a significant figure.
People living with bipolar disorder have extreme mood swings, from a high that feels like you are on top of the world, to a very deep depression that impacts on daily functioning, including work, home and relationships.
Bipolar disorder is more than just mood swings. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of misinformation about it, especially as stigma prevents a lot of people from seeking help or disclosing their diagnosis.
Mariah Carey has revealed that she has been living secretly with bipolar disorder since 2001.
Chris Brown was diagnosed with it and with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2013.
Mental health problems are not something you should be ashamed of, emphasises Sadag.
Even celebrities have spoken out about this condition in a bid to spread awareness and destigmatise it.
According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental health illnesses begin around the age of 14, with most cases going undetected and untreated.
Worryingly, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds.
The exact cause of bipolar disorder is not known, but it is believed to be a combination of biochemical, genetic and psychological factors, according to Sadag.
For Bipolar Awareness Day, Sadag is launching a #LetsTalkBipolar campaign to debunk the myths around bipolar disorder, and to encourage people to seek help and join free support groups in their area.
Sadag will be creating awareness, and sharing tips, tools and free resources for people living with bipolar disorder, as well as for their loved ones, via Sadag’s Twitter account (@TheSADAG) and Facebook (The South African Depression and Anxiety Group).
If you recognise any symptoms in yourself or a loved one, consult your local health-care provider, who may refer you to a mental health specialist who will be able to help with a diagnosis and treatment.