It was five years ago this week that a traumatic experience shattered my world and led to a suicidal crisis which nearly took my life. I attempted suicide twice in that year.
Shortly after that, it felt like GPs and mental health clinicians gave up on my ability to survive and recover. An out of hours GP commented in 2012: "There is a belief among GPs that you probably will kill yourself". In my psychiatric records, my long-term suicide risk was judged to be "high". It was as if they believed that there was little that they could do to mitigate that risk.
Perhaps this experience is part of the reason why my colleagues and I work so tenaciously at our Suicide Crisis Centre to ensure that our clients stay alive. I believe very strongly that every client who comes to us can survive and I continue to hold that belief for as long as they are under our care. We never think that a client "will probably kill themselves." We do everything we can for them. There is never a point where I think "Well, we've tried but I don't think we can do any more for this person." We will keep trying, for as long as it takes.
When the GP said that she and her colleagues believed that I probably would kill myself, it was as if they had given up hope. We need to hold the hope for our clients or patients who are at risk, especially when they no longer have any hope for themselves. We hold it for them until they are able to feel it for themselves again, however long that takes.
And, crucially, we need to ensure that everyone gets the right kind of help. If someone isn't responding to the support or treatment that is being provided, then we need to work with them to find out what will help them.
In 2012, no one knew that I had bipolar disorder. No wonder I appeared not to improve. Clinicians hadn't worked out what was wrong with me. When I was diagnosed in 2015, I was able to get the right kind of help. I have bipolar type 2, and that's particularly difficult to diagnose. GPs and mental health clinicians may recognise that you are depressed, but the hypomanic episodes can easily be missed.
When you have bipolar disorder, you experience poles of mood. In both types, the depressive episodes can be equally severe. The difference is in the "high" phases. In bipolar type 1, the high phases are more extreme (mania). In bipolar type 2, your high phases (hypomania) can involve having limitless energy, racing thoughts, and a feeling of euphoria, and you may be full of ideas and plans. You may sleep very little. It can feel great, and you may be very productive at work. Not surprisingly, many people never go to a GP during these phases, and so their bipolar disorder is never noticed or diagnosed.
That's why friends and family members can play an important role in noticing possible symptoms. It's World Bipolar Day on 30th March and this designated day helps create greater awareness of the symptoms of bipolar which you might recognise in someone close to you - or in yourself. It was a close friend who first noticed how I went from a deep depressive episode to the total opposite. At first he thought it was a miraculous recovery from a depression which was so deep that he was worried that I would survive. Then he thought about it and asked "Do you think you might have bipolar?" That was the start of my journey towards getting a diagnosis.
It's a treatable illness and there is medication which can balance the extremes of mood. Psychological therapy is also recommended.
Some of us don't appear to respond well to the methods and interventions of GPs and mental health clinicians because we haven't received the correct diagnosis yet. There are other reasons why we may not seem to improve. Whatever the reason, it's important that clinicians don't stop believing in our ability to survive.
It is never the case that a person has gone beyond the point where they can be helped. It is simply that they haven't found the right kind of help yet. My case is evidence of that.
Joy Hibbins is the Founder and CEO of Suicide Crisis, a registered charity which runs a Suicide Crisis Centre in Gloucestershire.
For information about the charity: http://www.suicidecrisis.co.uk