What do you remember about first being diagnosed with bipolar disorder?

My challenges began well before I was first diagnosed and it wasn’t until many years after my formal diagnosis that I had a real handle on what I was experiencing.

As a child, my father took me to a psychiatrist, who told me I just had “bad nerves” and that there was nothing I could do about it. I felt doomed. This was in the 1960s – the field of psychiatry wasn’t as advanced as it is now. It seemed that this was just the way life was going to be for me.

So by the time I was formally diagnosed with bipolar disorder about 30 years later, it came as a surprise that there was a name for what I was experiencing. But it wasn’t until much later that I came to terms with my diagnosis.

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What changed to help you come to terms with your diagnosis and get the help you needed?

I had many psychiatrists. It’s hard to find a match. Eventually I found a psychiatrist in the small town where I was living who I was able to develop a wonderful partnership with. After talking to him, he helped me understand that I needed a consistent regimen. I trusted him. So when he recommended the regimen, I trusted him in our partnership.

What would you want someone recently diagnosed with a mental health condition to know?

You’re not alone. There are ways to manage your condition. It’s not easy – but it’s worth it.

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If someone else living with a mental health condition wanted to understand your approach to living well, what would you say?

For me, my support team includes my wife, who truly loves me and is wholly committed to my mental health. It also includes my psychiatrist, who I have a committed partnership with. And lastly it includes my orchestra, which is very much a part of my wellness team.

Can you tell us more about the Me2/Orchestra and what motivated you to start the organization?

Over the years, I faced stigma in various ways because of my diagnosis with bipolar disorder. I was even fired from a job after they found out about my diagnosis.

My wife and I started the Me2/Orchestra with the idea of creating music for mental health to fight stigma. It’s the world's only classical music organization for individuals living with mental health conditions and the people who support them. Our mission is to erase the stigma surrounding mental health conditions, including addiction, through supportive classical music ensembles and inspiring performances.

It started very small, just with my desire to heal myself – and that turned into healing others. We now perform throughout the year in traditional music venues as well as prisons, rehabilitation centers and hospitals – bringing beautiful music to people who rarely get to experience any beauty.

What message do you hope people take away from the Me2/Orchestra?

My hope is that we can continue to send the message that people living with mental health conditions can do something meaningful and create something beautiful – something that heals people.

What does being vocal mean to you?

To me it means expressing yourself and who you are. This is true whether you’re living with a mental health condition or not. In general, it’s a better way to live.

Is there anything else you want people to know or understand?

You should never, ever give up on anyone – including yourself.

 

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BIPOLAR DISORDER

Bipolar disorder affects approximately 12.6 million individuals in the United States and an estimated 29 million people worldwide.1,2

A person is usually diagnosed with bipolar disorder when they experience at least one manic episode, and the occurrence of both the manic and depressive episodes that are not better explained by another mental health condition, such as schizophrenia.3

Although each person's experience is unique, bipolar disorder is characterized by debilitating mood swings.4 While some people experience periods of stable mood and behavior after a period of abnormally excited or elevated mood, or mania, people with bipolar disorder usually experience at least one depressive episode, also known as bipolar depression.5,6 When individuals with bipolar disorder are experiencing symptoms, most tend to be depressed, rather than manic.3

There are many different types of mental health conditions that cause individuals to feel depressed. The presence of sadness and feelings of emptiness and irritability are shared across most forms of depression. These symptoms can diminish a person's ability to set goals and complete activities that once seemed simple.3

While everyone's experience is unique, many people seek help during the depressive phase of bipolar disorder when they're experiencing symptoms.3

Symptoms of depression often persist over a two week period and may include:3

Symptoms of mania are typically persistent for at least one week and include:1

IMPACT

  • Bipolar disorder can create significant losses in people's ability to function and enjoy life.7
  • It can affect personal and work relationships, create stress for the individual and their family, and reduce expected lifespan.5,8,9

CAUSE, DIAGNOSIS AND MANAGEMENT

  • Although research is ongoing, there is no single cause for bipolar disorder. In fact, there are many contributing factors including genetics and environmental factors.2,10
  • Diagnosis can be a long process and can take up to 10 years. It can take 15-20 years for those with alcohol or drug problems to be diagnosed properly.3
  • For many, the symptoms can be controlled.11


1. “Bipolar Disorder.” Decision Resources. Table 2-2: Number of Total Prevalent Cases of Bipolar Disorder in the Major Pharmaceutical Markets, by Subtype, 2012-2022. Burlington, MA. December 2013.
2. World Health Organization. Global Burden of Disease, 2004 Report. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.who.int. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Health Topics, Global Burden of Disease, The Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update).
3 American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth Edition. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association, 2013.
4. National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.nimh.nih.gov. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Health & Education, Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depressive Illness), Featured Publications About Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder).
5. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Mood Disorders and Different Kinds of Depression. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.dbsalliance.org. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Education, Brochures, Mood Disorders and Depression and Bipolar Disorder).
6. Mental Health America. Bipolar Disorder: What You Need to Know. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Health Info, Mental Health Info, Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder: What You Need to Know).
7. National Alliance on Mental Illness. The Impact and Cost of Mental Illness: The Case of Bipolar Disorder. [Internet]. Available from: http://www.nami.org. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Communities, Living With, Bipolar Disorder).
8. Perlick, DA et al. Impact of Family Burden and Affective Response on Clinical Outcome Among Patients with Bipolar Disorder. Psychiatric Serv. 2004 Sep; 55(9): 1029-1035.
9. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Bipolar Disorder Statistics. [Internet] Available from: http://www.dbsalliance.org. Accessed March 29, 2013 (To Access: Education, Bipolar Disorder, Bipolar Disorder Statistics).
10. Nurnberger JI, Jr., Foroud T. Genetics of bipolar affective disorder. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2000 Apr;2(2):147-157.
11. Pary R, Matuschka P, Lewis S, Lippmann S. Managing Bipolar Depression. Psychiatry (Edgmont). 2006 February; 3(2): 30-41.