The 30th of March 2020 marks annual World Bipolar Day (WBD). The theme this year is Strength for Today, Hope for Tomorrow. This commemorative effort is to ensure that people are informed and reminded of the seriousness of Bipolar Disorder that affects, and in the same breath to also raise awareness on the management and treatment of the disorder. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Bipolar Disorder is a prevalent condition, with figures indicating that it affects between 40 and 60 million people worldwide.
Three-quarters of the people in South Africa who suffer from mental disorders, including Bipolar Disorder are not getting the care they need, due to stigma, other forms of social discrimination, and various other factors. The provision of services for mental health in our public health institutions remains far from optimal. The public sector faces a severe shortage of psychiatrists and psychologists. The minority of Clinical Psychologists registered with the Health Professions Council of SA are working in the public sector.
The core feature of Bipolar Disorder is fluctuating episodes of mood changes (i.e. between abnormally high moods and abnormally low moods), and these emotionally distressing experiences can affect various aspects of one’s life such as occupationally and interpersonally. In the South African context, one can imagine that stressors such as financial difficulties, health problems, and high levels of unemployment etc. may be triggers that may not only predispose one to developing a mental illness, but also to perpetuate and worsen pre-existing symptoms. For example, it is well documented that untreated Bipolar Disorder can lead to reckless behaviours, substance abuse, as well as an increased risk of self-harm behaviours. It is the hope that raising awareness of Bipolar Disorder, its presentation and management through accurate dissemination of information, in educational, religious, occupational institutions etc., that people can seek appropriate and timely treatment to manage symptoms, that encourages leading a normal life and preventing relapse. Through the careful management and education about Bipolar Disorder, we edge forward in decreasing stigma around mental illness and dispelling myths that create fear.
Overall Bipolar Disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives. It is encouraged that individuals who feel they are experiencing symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, consult their local GP, a psychologist, or psychiatrist who will be able to assist with treatment options or at least a referral for adequate treatment.
Individuals and families can contact the South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) which is a non-governmental organisation seeking to advocate for and uphold the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities and people with intellectual disabilities, if they are concerned that they may be experiencing bipolar symptoms and/ or would just like further guidance to help someone else.
SAFMH contact numbers are Telephone: +27(11) 781 1852, Facsimile: +27(86) 558 6909 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively, they can reach out to Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) office on (011) 486 3322, who can assist to locate the registered Psychologists in their geographical area.
In light of COVID-19 challenges, members of the public are encouraged to consider a “virtual” observance of WBD this year. Live webinars, short video recordings, social media postings, blogging, etc. are all tools that are familiar to many and can help get the message out.
For those using social media to post videos and photographs to help raise awareness of bipolar disorder, you are encouraged to use the hashtags #WorldBipolarDay and #BipolarStrong whilst tagging @intlbipolar on Twitter and Instagram and @InternationalBipolarFoundation on Facebook.
The below articles contain useful overview information that can be accessed to learn more about Bipolar disorder and its management: