I am pleased that we regularly hear about the importance of talking about our mental health.
However, as a long-term sufferer of bipolar disorder I have mixed feelings about the disclosure of my illness. The experience of stigma has a huge impact on anyone who has experienced mental health problems.
I have previously taken part in Mental Health First Aid courses, and have been very open about my illness and how I self-manage. I had a certain degree of anonymity and felt that I was in a safe and secure environment. I would now like to talk about my bipolar disorder in a wider arena.
Following three hospital admissions in 1992 and my subsequent diagnosis, I experienced both positive and negative reactions. I didn't accept my diagnosis at first and shied away from something that I knew would be a long-term illness. Such is the stigma within society that I found it hard to accept what I was being asked to cope with.
How was I to get my life on an even keel again? How effective is the medication I had been prescribed and how long would I need to take it for? What about the side effects?
If people know your diagnosis it sometimes feels like they have pre-conceived ideas about you and how you will react in certain situations. Because you suffer from mood swings it can sometimes be hard to explain to people when you are just being 'normal' or having a bad day like anybody else. I also became aware of the language that can be used to describe someone with a mental health problem and I became very sensitive about this.
Dealing with stigma can mean coming up against views that include people thinking that you are a danger to others. That having a mental illness means that you have a weak character. That a mental illness is incurable and that the chances of recovery are poor.
Early on in my relationship with my now husband he was advised 'not to touch me with a barge pole' by his GP. His GP had not met me but had been told of my bipolar illness. For the family members and partners of people with bipolar you have to find ways of maintaining a good relationship as you go through the process of finding stability.
I have been in employment but have sometimes found it difficult coping when my illness has reared its head again. I do think that when employers have a greater understanding about mental health these difficulties can be overcome.
I am proud of the fact that I have not needed a hospital admission since 1992. The vigilance involved in managing my illness can be frustrating but I have a supportive network of family and friends that are trained, to a greater or lesser degree, to help with potential trigger situations that we all encounter in life.
I consider I am the expert on my own mental health and feel strongly that I should be able to share my feelings and encourage a better understanding of what it is like to live with a major mental illness.