The symptoms of bipolar include mood swings involving extreme highs and lows, hence the reason the mental illness was once known as manic depression.
DR BOB SERICH (Chair, National Mental Health and Homelessness Advisory Committee): Bipolar disorder is a mental illness. It affects around two per cent of the population and in days gone by it was known as manic depressive psychosis. So therefore the features of bipolar disorder are episodes of mania and episodes of depression.
LYNNE (living with a mental illness): I was initially diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis. Over the last ten years I have had, I think four episodes. Four major episodes where I’ve had to go to hospital and eventually have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression.
JOHN KONRADS (Former Olympic swimmer): In 2001 I was diagnosed with bipolar 2. [It is] a mild bipolar, which I’ve probably been carrying, well we can trace it back for about 25 to 30 years.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ (President, NSW State Advisory Committee on Mental Health): Its characterised particularly by mood swings. People with bipolar disorder can go from huge elation down to the most severe depression.
LYNNE: Yeah mania is… it’s really intense. Emotions are intensified, you often can’t sleep for days, you have lots and lots of energy including lots of sexual energy.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ: And that’s when a lot of inappropriate behaviours can happen, promiscuity, over spending, grandiose schemes, taking on huge commitments that they cannot fulfil.
PROFESSOR GORDON PARKER (Executive Director at The Black Dog Institute): During a manic episode, by definition the person’s psychotic and what that means is their usually grandiose.
LYNNE: I find that I can become pretty creative, and I write lots of poetry when I’m manic. And I write lots and lots of lists about things I’m going to do. It’s a little bit like writing a new year’s resolutions but magnified 1,000 times. I’m going to dance, sing, write plays, act in plays you know, write short stories, long stories – save the world basically.
PETER SCHAECKEN (Consumer consultant, Sydney South West Area, Mental Health Service, Eastern Zone): I had one women with bipolar working for me – she used to work 100 hours a week when she was a manic – 100 hours a week!
LYNNE: Some people however become quite paranoid when they’re in a manic episode. So Spike Milligan for instance use to take an axe to his neighbours. So you can range from grandiosity through to paranoid thinking and a lot of irritability and aggression.
LYNNE: You know in terms of the episode I had in my workplace I started to get very paranoid. I was working for the government and so I started having all these paranoid delusions that the government was out to get me and you know they were sending security to get me.
PROFESSOR PARKER: During that time the person may have delusions. They may have hallucinations but certainly they would be out of touch with reality.
LYNNE: You become delusional about what skills you have and what you’re capable of doing.
PROFESSOR PARKER: They can also be quite reckless, so they might think they’re such a good swimmer that they could swim to New Zealand, or that they can fly from a building. So the risk of putting yourself in danger is a consequence of the manic mood state is very high.
LYNNE: Some people tend to think of mania as a bit glamorous, but it’s far from glamorous. It’s a lot more fun than being depressed.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ: And then the slide starts to go down into the depression phase and it can be particularly dangerous as people kill themselves.
LYNNE: Yeah I guess the pattern for myself has been, you know, if I’ve been hospitalised generally afterwards I will have a quite a significant time period of depression, which can lead to suicidal ideas. I guess because the positive emotions are so intensely magnified the negative emotions are as well and once you get into that black clouded space it’s really, really hard to see a way out of it.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ: Depression is either part of bipolar or by itself can be terribly dangerous. There are really good prognosis for depression but people kill themselves. It’s treatable, but it has huge causalities
LYNNE: When I’ve been in a really depressed state, it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to get in the shower, so it’s incredibly hard to go for a walk or a bike ride. I think having people around you to help to motivate you does that sort of thing can make a big difference.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ: You can pick bipolar because of the [mood] swings. I don’t think that the average person would pick depression all that well.
LYNNE: Yeah having someone that believes you and will support you. You know I’ve found that a lot of the negative things that have happened for me during having this illness has been that people can often equate mental illness with being manipulative and making things up and you know just wanting to be a bit of a drama queen, and not thinking about my actions and things like that. It’s not that you don’t want to do those things. It’s not that you don’t want to be responsible, but once the illness takes over its hard to think rationally.