In this guest blog, Robert, who has bipolar disorder, looks at how the condition has been portrayed in the media in the past year.
What’s happened to us bipolar folk in the past year since 6 October 2014, the last Bipolar Awareness Day – a fairly recent innovation by the charity Bipolar UK?
To find out, I took a canter through the Daily Mail – not my newspaper of choice, but it’s online and seems to be bulging with stories about the condition.
The answer turned out to be, frankly, not a lot. At least nothing of great significance. In no particular order:
• Love it or loathe it, Claire Danes, playing Carrie Mathison in Homeland, did her representation of life with bipolar disorder as a CIA station chief in Afghanistan. (As tends to happen with these things, one of the scriptwriters has a loved-one with the condition)
• Stephen Fry, the most lauded bipolar celebrity, revealed that he took cocaine at Buckingham Palace, the House of Lords and BBC Television Centre.
• Frank Bruno has been back in hospital
• Kerry Katona has her children's names tattooed on her wrists to stop her from slashing them, apparently
• Marilyn Monroe had the illness, according to a documentary
• Gail Porter had a torrid time in the Big Brother house.
Of course, there have been some more serious matters. This news story really incensed me at the time (it actually happened in 2013, but I thought I’d slip it in). A pregnant Italian businesswoman with bipolar disorder, temporarily in the UK, was required by court order to undergo a forced Caesarean and then give up her baby.
Social services hadn’t even troubled to get in touch with her family back home. No doubt she was very ill, but the case provoked a wave of anger from MPs and campaigners. As a father of two young children, it is to my deep regret that I have been affected by the illness for much of their lives. It frightens me to think what might have happened to us without my ever-reliable wife to help care for them.
There was also the smattering of court and crime related stories about people with bipolar allegedly doing odd things, violent things and/or supposedly using the diagnosis as an excuse or to get off the hook.
Nothing like the halcyon days a few years back when we had a nice bipolar storyline in EastEnders (great for awareness); Mr Fry doing his ground-breaking documentary and A-listers like Catherine Zeta Jones joining the club. But then there was a backlash against celebs jumping on the bandwagon of this so-called ‘fashionable’ disease – and research claiming GPs had seen a huge increase in people wrongly self-diagnosing themselves as having the condition. Given the abysmally low rate of diagnosis this was perhaps a downside of an otherwise good thing.
Of course, there was research stuff spun into headline news in the Mail over the past year, such as: ‘How bipolar disorder could be price humans pay for their intelligence: High IQ in childhood raises the risk of developing the illness in later life.’ And:‘Creative people ARE prone to suffering mental illness: Actors, dancers and musicians 'more likely to have the genes causing schizophrenia and bipolar disorder'.’
What would have been nice, obviously, was a cure for bipolar disorder. Scientists did find out more incredible things about genes, proteins, biological markers, inflammation as a causal factor – all making absolutely no difference to the lives of people with bipolar disorder. The great life-changing medical breakthrough I’ve been waiting for since I was diagnosed at the age of 19, 23 years ago, still hasn’t happened.
Has the average of 10 years to diagnosis from onset of symptoms reduced at all this year? I’d like to know, but I doubt it. I met Bill Oddie, who seems to be in the papers every other month talking about his mental health, a few years ago. He’d recently been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder after a lifetime of therapy for depression. Here was a wealthy, high-profile connected man, not diagnosed until in his early seventies – despite having regular care.
What else? A British woman called Rachel said, not in the Daily Mail, but in the Huffington Post: "I wouldn't wish this illness on my most hated enemy.” Well, that’s on the money.