So I am on a course. I’ve been on plenty in my life especially during my teaching career, the theory being that we have to develop our skills in order to help our students learn appropriately, particularly when government changes disrupt syllabuses and carefully designed schemes of work already set with objectives for the year.
The course I am on comes under the umbrella of ‘health management’. I have friends who are on courses on managing Diabetes or dietary illnesses. This is the new way forward and courses aim to reduce strains on our fragile National Health resources, both financially and in terms of staffing on hospital wards, in health centres and out patients’ departments.
Imagine my dismay when, on telling a friend, about my imminent course, she looked disapproving and made the comment ‘is it free?’ Her expression told me in no uncertain terms that I was using National Health resources which would be better spent elsewhere.
Why was the course on Managing Diabetes more acceptable? Simple. Because it is unrelated to mental health. There is still considerable stigma and ignorance about depression and other mental health conditions. Despite more awareness this stigma remains and sufferers face discrimination on a daily basis. A throw-away comment, suggestions that these are not real illnesses, rolling of the eyes and judgemental statements are commonplace.
My course is titled ‘Living With Bi-Polar Disorder’. I attended a similar course seven years ago and it changed my life. I realised I was not alone, that there are ways we can recognise signs and symptoms (Early Warning Signs) and action we can take. Yes, sometimes the action is to call the doctor but for most occasions we can practise strategies which avoid this last minute step.
Why, you may ask, if I found it so helpful before, do I need to re-do the course? After a severe relapse linked to a physical illness last year, my psychiatrist suggested a ‘refresher’. I revisited my ‘wellbeing file’ which contained handouts and notes from 2007 – all of which helped me to recover but I knew I needed to attend a few refresher sessions. Unfortunately, it was necessary to undertake the whole course but I now realise how important this is.
So what is happening? First of all research has moved on in seven years and it is refreshing to hear of newer studies such as those which show a clear link between creativity and Bi-Polar. I had always suspected this and had read references to such links but this research demonstrates a significant correlation. So that is why I write! So that is why I am better when I write.
My first impression, as before, is the wide age range among participants. The predominance of young people with mental health issues saddens me as they have so much life ahead of them struggling with the highs and lows, which both cause problems for the sufferer and those around them. The second impression is that the course members display a high level of intelligence. When they vocalise their difficulties or thoughts on their condition, it is apparent they are well read, well educated with high verbal and visual IQ. The third has to be the devastating effect of the illness on relationships, home and work. Loss of employment or the positive choice to leave a stressful job can result in homes being put at risk, relationships under strain and severe upheaval, all of which works to reinforce the least desirable traits of Bi Polar.
One major change is the mode of delivery. Now a peer specialist assists the Clinical Nurse Specialist in delivering the weekly sessions. She has assisted in the compilation of newer and more accessible resources. She speaks each week on her own experience and there is a definite consensus of understanding between course members and course delivery specialists.
My favourite new resource is a small booklet which comprises a mood chart. It is small enough to fit in my ‘meds pouch’ – an old cosmetic bag – and I keep a small pen with it too, so there is no excuse. I am now monitoring my mood on a daily basis. Previous attempts have been akin to wandering in a desert compared to this focused and understandable resource.
For more details on later sessions watch this space. You can follow me on twitter @dinahcas or find me on Facebook.