UPDATE: SANE Australia has just released a very thorough overview of the policies of both parties here.
I happened to catch Triple J's Hack special Election show last night featuring the Mental Health promises of the major parties.
In the lead up to the 2016 Australian Federal Election vote, there are many promises being made. However, mental health is an incredibly powerful and important issue that the major parties are only just starting to realise, evidenced by both throwing support and money into national programs for national mental health initiatives. This includes a more coordinated national suicide prevention program.
However, as Hack investigated last night, there are some differences between the two parties' approaches.
Mental health is too important to NOT educate yourself on what the major parties are promising. I urge you to set aside your political leanings and really listen and understand what is on the table for mental health.
Here are the main points covered in the show last night - for more detail here is the link to the full episode.
The Coalition promises to:
Labor aims to:
The Greens will:
For all that information set to groovy mood music, see the video posted to Triple J's website (Source: Triple J Hack program, 28 June 2016)
Love Natasha x
This blog was first published on LinkedIn, 11 February, 2016
Offering meaningful support to those battling mental illness or grief is easier said than done at most workplaces. But with a little compassion, managers can do very simple things to help their employees facing tough times.
My story starts with a rising career. I had just landed a great marketing job at global technology firm with a senior title that I felt fitting of the hard work I had put in to get there. It was important for me to feel secure in my career, given what I was going through at home.
I had, at that stage, been struggling with a partner who was battling undiagnosed mental health issues. At the time, both of us were largely in denial that anything was wrong. The stigma of mental illness put pressure on both of us to battle on regardless, placing enormous strain on the relationship and at our respective workplaces.
My relationship didn’t end well, with my husband committing suicide; a story I detail in my book, Marrying Bipolar. All of a sudden I was thrust into a world of grief I had no clue how to navigate. The one thing that would stand out in my mind was the response from my manager.
“Take as much time as you need.”
The first response can often be the most raw. Mine was possibly one of the more awkward cases - an employee who has been suddenly thrust not only into grief, but the additional shock of suicide that rocks everyone. You may not be facing this as a manager (or co-worker) but rest assured, your colleague will only need to hear that they are supported in what they are going through. A simple “I’m sorry for your loss” will be sufficient if you don’t know them very well.
The most important thing, though, is to acknowledge that they are going through a tough time and that will-power alone will not be enough to get through.
“You will be tired quite often.”
With these simple words, my manager gave me permission to admit I wasn’t going to cope some days and he also told me it was okay for me to be absent when needed. It may be as simple as a “mental health” day when the weight of grief was too much to bear. Some days it was simply leaving work at 3pm. Knowing that I had his unquestioning support to feel all aspects of grief, especially the physical and mental drain it places on you, meant I coped in those early days.
The difference I experienced at this workplace compared with thousands of other tales I have heard is that my manager mandated this compassionate behaviour from the outset. While some colleagues may not have been happy to look the other way with my frequent absenteeism, he led by example and gave me room to get back to full strength in my own time. In doing so, he cemented my loyalty and guaranteed I remained supportive of him and committed to the team when the company went through its own turbulence the following year.
“Are you okay?”
Grief, situational depression, and eventually post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) hit me. I didn’t realise at the time, but each year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness. It is crucial that employers play their part in supporting staff retention and helping people return to work after tough times. Mental health issues can refer to early signs of stress as well as medically diagnosed conditions such as depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
By asking this question frequently, and meaning it, my manager also rallied support from my co-workers. I had one colleague suggest an introduction to a psychologist that she had seen through a stressful time. It proved the start of my years-long journey back to a full recovery and mental wellness.
“There’s no pressure to perform at the same pace.”
It was clear my output was nowhere near the level it had been when I joined the company. However, I never felt there was any pressure to perform at any level other than the one I could cope with. You may think “this can’t apply in our workplace”; however in many cases simple and cost-effective workplace adjustments can make a big difference and can allow people with mental health issues to keep in touch with the working world and live healthy and productive lives. The adjustment needed could be a change in practice or workload.
There are plenty of resources out there for anyone to access in helping employees through tough times. Start with BeyondBlue, The Black Dog Institute and SANE Australia - these are all reputable support institutions that can help with information and practical advice on how to support employees facing a difficult time.
From a business perspective, proactive management of employees’ mental and physical health can produce a range of benefits, including reduction of sickness absence, greater staff engagement and productivity, and reduced staff turnover, recruitment and costs. Making a few small adjustments to enable a member of staff to continue doing their job is far less expensive than the costs incurred through recruiting and training a new employee. Most adjustments cost nothing.
I’d like nothing better than to see many of these suggested practices begin before they are needed. Coping with stress and nurturing mental health is an essential part of working life, and equipping workplaces to have greater sensitivity and compassion can mean the difference between losing valuable employees to mental illness and going beyond surviving to thriving as I did again!
According to The Guardian this is already happening in the UK, as some employers are beginning to build mental health support into the core of their working practices. After a partner at the tax and auditing firm Deloitte UK suffered an episode of acute depression, the senior management started a discussion about how better to support the company's 14,000 employees. The result was a network of mental health champions who are available for informal chats or to provide more detailed advice on the support available to those who might be struggling.
One thing is certain, all of us works with, or has worked with, someone facing mental illness or grief. As an employer, if you're not seen as having a much more open culture around mental health, you'll be seen as being totally out of touch. What kind of message do you want to send to your employees?
My book, Marrying Bipolar, is available for purchase here. Each copy is delivered signed with a personal message for each reader.
My managing director during this time of my life, Tony Hughes, who showed infinite wisdom and compassion ten years ago with my situation has also written a great blog on Suicide And The Workplace — Sales Career Truth from his perspective.
It is frustrating so see that Bipolar is still being dismissed or downplayed so much in society. While public perception of mental illness has come a long way in the last twenty years since my husband was first diagnosed with a psychotic episode, we still have so far to come in understanding and accepting the various forms that it takes.
I still come across prejudice and ignorance, something that has cut quite deeply considering how much I have been through to get to a place where I can advocate for those who can no longer speak on their own behalf. People like my husband who committed suicide.
It has cut deeply in responses like the Huffington Post Australia's Editor in Chief, Tory Maguire, who told my publicist and friend that she found the fact that my husband wasn't officially diagnosed to be "problematic", and downplayed the fact that we still have so far to come in educating the public on the very fact that this is the most misdiagnosed and misunderstood of mental illnesses. Her perception is that "ten years isn't that long."
How sad that a media outlet with such influence and reach has a representative who still holds these views. *
But is she so very different from the average person? In fact, the lack of awareness in society of understanding how to spot signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder is the very reason I wrote this book. In my book I describe my husband being medically diagnosed early on with a psychotic episode and how we were warned it could lead to schizophrenia (a common misdiagnosis and the first that I knew of). When he was found by police in his car after committing suicide, he had a bottle of antidepressants with him. A doctor had diagnosed him with depression (the second misdiagnosis), which according to Headspace Australia is a common misconception of the disease.
According to Headspace, bipolar disorder is the most misdiagnosed affliction of all the mental illnesses. Overall, about 50% of people who develop bipolar disorder will do so by the time they are in their early to mid 20s. Bipolar disorder in young people may sometimes be misdiagnosed as depression. Australian researchers have found that from the average age of symptom onset (17.5 years), there was a delay of approximately 12.5 years before a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made.
Furthermore, it is important to note that antidepressants do not work on bipolar disorder, in fact they can exacerbate suicidal ideation. Bipolar needs to be treated with mood stabilisers.
So it's not unusual for someone like Tory Maguire to completely miss the point of my book. Let's take a deeper look at this disease and educate ourselves a bit better. Even better, if you come across someone who doesn't understand the disease, send them a link to this blog!
What is Bipolar Disorder?
According to the Black Dog Institute, bipolar disorder describes a set of 'mood swing' conditions, the most severe form of which used to be called 'manic depression'.
Bipolar disorder I is the more severe disorder in terms of symptoms - with individuals being more likely to experience mania, have longer 'highs', be more likely to have psychotic experiences and be more likely to be hospitalised.
Bipolar disorder II is diagnosed when a person experiences the symptoms of a high but with no psychotic experiences. These hypomanic episodes tending to last a few hours or a few days.
The high moods are called mania or hypomania and the low mood is called depression.
Read more at the Black Dog Institute page on Bipolar Disorder here.
Why is Bipolar Disorder so easy to miss?
Bipolar disorders, especially Bipolar II, is not easy to spot, even by professionals (as my husband and I experienced first hand). Most people will present while they are in a depressive state, and sometimes the mania does not manifest until after the person is in their early 20s, by which time they are often diagnosed as having unipolar depression.
What makes it harder to spot is that bipolar depression can look like a regular major depression. They share many of the same symptoms (e.g., feeling hopeless, sad, chronically tired, mentally sluggish, and loss of pleasure). Nonetheless, there are some important differences between the two that involve character of mood and intensity of symptoms.
Patients and carers are not always able to provide physicians with sufficient information to make a bipolar diagnosis, because of a lack of understanding of their mood, energy and activity levels when they feel bad versus good.
Hypomania can also appear quite normal, especially in Bipolar II. What are symptoms of mania can often be misunderstood as the person simply being optimistic, highly productive, interested in people and activities, have a lot of good ideas, mental clarity, and motivated to start new projects.
What's not to be happy with that state of being? Especially after a long period in a depressive state.
How can you spot Bipolar in a loved one?
This is where I don't proclaim to be an expert. Several psychologists told me my husband is likely to have had Bipolar Disorder from my description of his symptoms and our problems. However, looking at the checklist below, he checked every one of the criteria.
Use this checklist (which I have sourced from Psychology in Everyday Life website) to see whether aspects of a person’s personal, family, mental health, work and relationship history that may point to a Bipolar disorder. If you think your loved one may display some, or all of these, talk through your concerns with them, and encourage them to see a mental health professional.
1. Have they had depression in childhood, adolescence or as a young adult? The pattern of the depressive episodes is important, here. If they have frequent episodes of depression or are sad a lot of the time (at least once a year), there is a strong likelihood that it is a part of a bipolar disorder.
2. Is there a genetic basis to their moods? A family history of psychiatric illness, such as a nervous breakdown, alcoholism, depression, mania, or psychosis is also a red flag for bipolar disorder. Is there a parent, sibling, aunt, uncle or cousin who has bipolar disorder or another mood disorder? Has a family member ever been hospitalised for severe depression or mania?
3. Have they been hospitalised for depression or mania?
4. Have they had periods of hypomania in their life?
5. Do others see them as the “artistic type” (temperamental, moody, highly strung, quirky, hypersensitive, emotionally fragile or unstable)? Dramatic shifts of mood, energy and activity levels affects one’s attitude and self-image that leads others to see them as fickle, temperamental and moody.
6. Do they have a history of fits and starts of uncompleted projects? In particular those with Bipolar II start many projects in a hypomanic state. They have many good ideas that the negative symptoms of hypomania (hyperactivity, errors in judgment, and distractibility) may not let them complete. Or, bipolar depression takes them over before they can fulfill the projects started in a hypomanic phase.
7. Do they have trouble in work and personal relationships? Their swings of mood, energy and activity levels do not allow them to work productively with other people. They may chronically show up to work late or have irregularity of job performance.
8. When they feel well, do they engage in risky behavior? Hypomania can lead to over optimism, faulty judgment and an overinflated self-esteem. This can lead to excessive spending, sexual activity, gambling and alcohol and substance abuse.
9. Are they sensitive to stressful changes? This includes internal (illness, hormone shifts, or change in lifestyle habits) and external (job and relationship changes, conflicts, pressures) changes.
10. Do they mention dying or taking their life? Suicide is a high risk for Bipolar I and II people. The mortality rate for bipolar illness is higher than many forms of heart disease or cancer. As many as 1 in 5 people with bipolar disorder have committed suicide. This is a rate approximately 30 times greater than that of the general population.
To learn more about me and my experience living, loving and leaving a husband with bipolar, visit the About the Author page, to learn more about Marrying Bipolar go to About the Book. If you want to purchase a copy of my book, you can visit the store, each book is delivered signed with a personal message from me to each reader.
Persistent myths about Bipolar Disorder
99 Bipolar Disorder Facts
Bipolar II Disorder: Misunderstood and Misdiagnosed
45 Truths People with Bipolar Disorder Wish Understood
*In an email exchange with my publicist, who gave Tory the facts about bipolar misdiagnosis and urged her to reconsider, she responded "I stand by the decision and will not reconsider."
I was recently asked "how did you bounce back from your experience so well?"
This person wasn't in my life during my rollercoaster years, so I was very careful not to jump up and down, saying "I didn't bounce back, it was a long and hard road." But that's the truth!
I also recall a family member saying at the time "it's Tash, she will get through this." Meaning, I was a resilient person so would eventually recover, and she wasn't worried about that at all. She was right, of course, but at the time I felt devastated that the level of my "broken-ness" wasn't being seen.
It is hard to let others into our pain. Experiencing trauma leaves your nerves raw and your resilience low. I know that I am someone who doesn't like people seeing me in pain, or knowing I am vulnerable. I can now see with the benefit of greater self-awareness and hindsight that I wasn't being fair by expecting my loved ones to simply intuit the level of my pain. I also journalled at the time as my way of coping with what I was going through.
Anyone who has gone through trauma will tell you it's like being ripped from your anchor. You didn't even realise that anchor was there until you are left lurching and reeling in the wake of events, unable to grasp at the ground and hold on. In the aftermath of my husband's suicide my emotions, on razor's edge from walking on eggshells, were now completely unpredictable. I didn't know whether I would be cackling at something trivial to try and feel happy again, or numb, or unable to get out of bed.
This lasted for a year, until I hit my rock bottom. Watch my video below where I describe this point in my life: "after a week of my sleep I took
a bottle of sleeping pills washed it down with whatever alcohol I had in the
house and felt my heartbeat slowing down"
That was my rock bottom.
However, once I decided I would live, I decided I would do whatever it takes to get back to mental wellness. I pursued whatever seemed like it would work for me - psychologists, meditation, buteyko breathing technique and ultimately kinesiology. I found the holistic practice of kinesiology helped me get to greater depths of self-awareness. Not only did it pinpoint what emotions I was holding onto around my goals in life, it also gave me the tools to reduce their hold over me. Over the course of more than five years I have been using these tools to help myself and others to become aware of subconscious patterns of behaviour and move through those, freeing myself bit-by-bit to becoming my brightest, happiest self.
Kinesiology may not work for everybody (although I have seen it yield incredible results even with skeptics). To overcome trauma, you need to find what works for you. Have an open mind, what works for you may be completely unusual. It could be medication. It might be long chats with friends over a cuppa tea. It might be solitude and prayer (although be careful about coralling yourself from the world for too long).
For me, it has been a ten year journey so far, and it is far from over. I didn't "bounce back" but I certainly recovered and moved towards health and happiness. If it is possible for me, it is possible for anyone. It does take a commitment to yourself to work through whatever issues come up, and faith that there is light at the end of the tunnel. But once you see the light and work towards it, you will find yourself in brighter circumstances than you could have imagined there to be.
To learn more about my story on living with, loving and leaving my husband with bipolar, and the fallout of grief that I overcame, buy Marrying Bipolar. Every copy is signed by myself, Natasha David, with a personal message to every reader.
Love Natasha x
My publishers have informed me that Marrying Bipolar has passed the 300 sales mark in just 6 weeks! So I want to thank my amazing readers from the bottom of my heart for your support and the huge response I have had via email, text and Facebook messages from those of you who have read it and told me how much you enjoyed reading it.
To give you some perspective on how fantastic 300 sales is for a first-time author, according to a Wall Street Journal article (in 2004), 85% of all books sell fewer than 200 copies, and only around 3% will sell more than 500 copies.
So 300 copies is no mean feat, and I am eternally grateful to everyone who has shown interest in, and supported, my little book.
If you would like to buy a copy of Marrying Bipolar, head over to the store! Each copy is personally signed (by me) and shipped the next day.
Love Natasha x
Welcome to my book website, Marrying Bipolar. As you made it to the blog, you may be interested in learning a little more about me. I was born and bred in Sydney since 1973 to a very tight knit and loving family. We all have our issues, though, and my life's ambition was to become the best person I could be through education, hard yakka (that's work for non-Australians reading this!) and trying to learn as much about myself and others as possible.