FOR Laura May, the diagnosis came as something of a relief, but in reality it was the start of a much bigger problem.
After visiting her doctor last year with symptoms ranging from hair loss to panic attacks, she was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar disorder.
With the benefit of hindsight, she can see the problem had been going on for some time, and at last she was able to find a solution.
Now the 25-year-old is using her experiences to help promote the Time to Change campaign, aimed at reducing the stigma attached to mental health problems.
“I’d been treated for depression since I was about 14 and it’s a long time to have a problem,” she said.
“So when I was actually diagnosed, it was a relief.
“I had gone to the doctor with various symptoms and he put me in for blood tests, a CT scan, everything, but it came back fine.
“Then he said it could be something mental which was affecting me physically, so I saw a psychiatrist at Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford. They diagnosed me as having rapid cycling bipolar disorder.
“It takes hold so quickly that in the space of a week you can go from feeling suicidal to being totally elated.”
Laura has learned to accept her illness, but it means life is not all plain sailing.
She said: “It does mean I’m very creative. I paint, I write and I have a lot of energy to channel, but it has negative effects.
“I’m short-tempered and I get very angry. I also have a tendency to set myself up for a fall.
“I tend to spend a lot of money because I don’t think about the consequences of my actions. My partner has had a lot to put up with.”
Laura, from Braintree, has also had seven jobs in the past three years. She said: “Employers have had a mixed response to my illness. Some have been great, very understanding, but I get so restless.
“I find if I’m doing a good, challenging job, I can stay there.
“But companies see my high absence levels and that I need flexible working hours so I can attend psychiatric appointments.
“Every so often the doctors decide to change my medication a bit and when that happens, I can get symptoms that would mean I wasn’t a good employee.
“My family have been great. They make a joke of it, especially when I forget whole conversations, and that really helps me.
“My friends haven’t been so tolerant.
“I can’t go out and get drunk like I used to because that would remove the reason for taking my medication. So a lot of friendships have fallen by the wayside.
“The good thing about this campaign is that it’s about educating people about mental health.
“The first thing I did when I was diagnosed was go to the library and learn all about it.”
One in four people sufferer illness
TIME to Change is an ambitious project aimed at ending discrimination against people with mental health problems.
The programme features 35 schemes across the country and is led by Mental Health Media, Mind and Rethink.
Its research will be evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College, London.
It is the first anti-discrimination programme aimed at changing people’s behaviour and recording the change.
Hilary Caprani, spokesman for Rethink and partner in Time to Change, said: “It’s an attitudinal change. A lot of the problems are created by ignorance.
“We’re more open about depression now than we were years ago, but we have a long way to go.
“There is still a stigma. People still struggle to get jobs if they have had time off for depression in the past.
“We know of one woman who had cancer. Her employer was really supportive and she got better, but when she was off with depression, they didn’t want to know. However, mental health problems are a lot more common than people realise.
“About one in four people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. So at some point in your live, most will know someone who has been affected.”
People don’t realise the effect of the stigma, she says.
“It can stop people getting the help they need and can lead to relationships breaking down,” she said.
The campaign has been given £16million by the Big Lottery Fund and £2million from Comic Relief.
5:10pm Wednesday 4th March 2009
By Lynne Milford »
Extracted from Braintree and Witham Times