One in three South Africans has a mental illness.
Today, as the world commemorates World Bipolar Day, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group says in order to have more awareness and information out there, there needs to be conversations happening in safe spaces.
Cassey Chambers, the operations manager at SADAG says stigma is still a problem in our country. She describes bipolar as extreme mood swings that have very high highs and extremely low lows.
“People are not able to talk freely about their conditions because they fear the stigma and being othered. The way we speak in front of our family and friends should not make them feel uncomfortable about their conditions. People often misconstrue bipolar as split personalities disorder which is incorrect.
“We have found that the slang some people use can be triggering to others. You’ll hear someone say ‘oh, I’m so depressed’ or ‘she’s so bipolar’ or ‘I just wanna kill myself’. Those people do not really mean what they are saying but they are expressing emotions they feel in the moment and not the real mental health issues they are talking about.”
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Cassey says just like nobody describes cancer or diabetes patients by their physical conditions, people with mental health illness should not be described as such either.
“Language is very important. We don’t say people are bipolar, we say they are living with or that they have bipolar. Just like you do not say a person is cancer or diabetes, you should not say someone is bipolar. They are just living with the condition, and they are not their diagnosis.”
She says getting a mental health diagnosis should not be seen as the end of the world.
“There are many successful people all over the world, including Hollywood and Wall Street who have mental health illnesses. With the right kind of diagnosis and treatment, people are able to have successful high functioning lives.”
People often have their first bipolar episodes in their early 20s, Cassey says.
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“The symptoms could vary. But often people have manic episodes, or they experience psychosis. Unfortunately, there are no blood tests that can be taken that will show if a person has a mental illness or not.
“There is no one specific cause for bipolar, it could be a combination of factors and people need to get proper diagnoses from the correct professionals to know. The bipolar could be genetic of induced by other factors such as trauma, too much stress, physical or even substance abuse.”
One percent of the South African population is living with bipolar and though it seems like a small number, Cassey says, it is actually a lot of people.
“Mental illness does not discriminate. Anyone can have it, regardless of their class or social standing. People often think that educated or well put together individuals cannot have bipolar and that is incorrect.”
World Bipolar Day is about creating awareness to bipolar disorders and to eliminate social stigma.
According to worldbipolarday.org, Covid 19 has had a huge impact on our communities worldwide.
“During periods of stress and social isolation, it is even more important to maintain your quality of life and to attend to both your basic needs such as nutrition, sleep and health. As well as the things that give you fulfillment such as hobbies, social interaction, exercise and relaxation.”