A family’s journey with bipolar depression
By Rona Ross
Key Themes: adolescent bi-polar manic depression, family experience, mental health services, sectioning, suicide
“Bathed in Blue; Richly Informative. Ms. Ross does not only give us a resourceful reference for bipolar disorder but also a fascinating narrative of her daughter’s suicidal process.” – By Dr Paul Wong, Clinical Psychologist & Training Consultant Hong Kong University
This is a real life drama about a child of nine developing into a young woman and as the onset of puberty evolved, so did the condition bipolar affective disorder. Jennifer and her family struggled with an unnamed, unmedicated serious medical condition for 6 years before eventually the diagnosis bipolar affective disorder was made after a traumatic hospitalization. Once Jennifer was eventually hospitalized her troubles were not over. The metaphor for treating Jennifer was the equivalent of that of an ostrich, – some professionals putting their heads in the sand and hoping she would go away.
According to Stephen Fry’s BBC’s documentary ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive’ the incidence of bipolar affective disorder has risen from 1%-5% in the population. New research proves that there are genetic links; bipolar affective disorder is not going away and the sufferers at risk of suicide are more than 15 times at risk to succeed at taking their own lives.
Jennifer’s story highlights that the early diagnosis and subsequent treatment for bipolar disorder needs to be improved.
Jennifer asked me to be her voice to tell her story. The stigma of mental illness and high suicide rates renders sufferers invisible and after suicide – mute. Their stories buried or cremated with them. I describe our difficulties to access help for Jennifer in acute and chronic situations in two different countries. Jennifer describes her situation in the wards, in the community and her struggle to be heard by her psychiatrist and her thoughts on suicide, her treatment and her life.
After her fourth episode Jennifer sat down with me and asked why it
was it so hard to get the help she needed? We decided together write about it. Hence her personal writings.
I hope by writing this book that the illness can be better understood by professionals and the community. I want the treatment to improve so much that the lives of chronic sufferers become more worth living and that suicide is taken seriously in sufferers with bipolar disorder and is no longer a high risk.
About the Author
When Rona was twelve her father was “committed” to a locked ward in the local psychiatric hospital. A short time later one of her aunts was also detained in the same hospital. Happily both relatives recovered.
At seventeen Rona trained and worked as a Registered General Nurse in Scotland. Her training included experience in this same psychiatric hospital where she worked on the same high security locked ward where her father was ‘committed’. She also worked in Dr Naylor’s famous metabolic unit for sufferers of manic depression.
Two decades later she visited her seventeen year old daughter, Jennifer, who was “committed” in a locked ward under section 28 of The Mental Health Act of 1984 over a six year period.
Therefore, mental illness is not a stranger to her.
Her two children were brought up in Hong Kong and both went to university in Britain. She did her degree in Humanities in Hong Kong and at the same time she trained as a counsellor with two Non Government Organizations. She has worked as a counsellor since 1988.
As a young student she won prizes for writing at school. She also encouraged Jennifer to write about her experiences as a manic depression sufferer and this book is the result of that.
Rona became Jennifer’s voice for this book which is written for all those who want to further understand bipolar disorder.
She wants people to know the realities about mental illness and to promote understanding and help break down the stigma which surrounds mental illness.
Introduction by Jennifer
This is a book about mental illness to reach the hearts of the people. I wish to reach out to carers and sufferers, their friends and society in general.
Something has to change – the mentally ill have little voice. Psychiatry is in its infancy and the drugs and treatments are not always helpful.
One of the most important reasons I am writing is because I believe there is not enough information about bipolar affective disorder. It is an illness that is shunned, untalked about and brushed under the carpet. Another reason is that information about bipolar affective disorder in self help books do not seem to be set in the harsh realty that I and many others have experienced and had to struggle with. I read a book about depression written and illustrated by a young person and it was about how she fought depression and how other people could too. This encouraged me to do the same for manic depression. I have written this book to let go and release the experience for me.
This book is for all the loving supportive people in my life who have enriched my life and made me stronger. This book is also for all the negative people in my life because maybe you made me struggle harder, longer and hurt more. I believe you need your enemies; they make you fight that little bit more and why should I give up and let negativity win?
This book is also written for my ex boyfriend who took his own life and wanted to be a writer. God Bless you.
Introduction by Mum
When I was twelve I woke up on the 19th of December 1967 to urgent shouting coming from our kitchen. I cautiously made my way down the stairs and as I came closer I heard my Mother using my father’s Sunday name and asking him ‘Roney, please come away from the back door, your getting a draught’ .
My father was shouting ‘I’m Ok’ in the most unusual voice I didn’t recognize and it sent shivers up my spine. The volume was too loud, urgent and he was speaking too fast and he sounded far away. I entered the lounge and started towards the kitchen;… the door was ajar and my father was standing against the back door of the kitchen saying he couldn’t move. His hair was standing on end and he was so tense he was rigid. I stayed where I was until my mother noticed me. She was upset and asked me to run nearby tomy uncle’s for help. My uncle came and a doctor was called. The doctor came and looked puzzled, but he managed to help my father come and sit down on the settee. Dad was freezing and he told us he had been standing at the door since 4am that morning. The doctor stayed with us till theambulance came and the rest of the day was spent in casualty. Towards late afternoon my father was “Committed” to a locked ward in the local psychiatric hospital for 28 days as he was a danger to himself.
He was not ill the way I had seen him ill before and this puzzled me as he could walk around and he could eat. He was difficult to talk to; hard tounderstand, he cried a lot and I had never seen my father cry before. My father was in fact “psychotic” due to encephalitis. He had had all of his teeth extracted and had “immediate insertions” (new porcelain teeth) fitted straight after the surgery and had contracted a blood virus in his cephalic blood system and we were told he would either get better, get worse and be disabled or die. He remained a patient in this hospital for 4 months.
When we visited him we had to press a bell and the male nurse in charge would unlock the huge, solid, white, heavy door and let us in. When we left we had to ask the nurse in charge to unlock the door.
Three years later when I was fifteen one of my aunts suffered from mental illness and I remember visiting her in this hospital; she was also psychotic. Happily both of these relatives recovered and lived the rest of their lives free from more psychiatric episodes.
At seventeen, I trained and worked as a Registered General Nurse in Dundee, Scotland. As a ‘comprehensive nurse’ my training included experience in the local psychiatric hospital. I worked as a student nurse on the same high security locked ward where my father was ‘detained’. By then female staff were allowed to work on this ward. I was also privileged to work in Dr Naylor’s famous metabolic unit for sufferers of manic depression.
Manic depression is the historic name for bipolar affective disorder. I use bipolar affective disorder, bipolar disorder, bipolar depression and manic depression throughout the book and they are interchangeable.
Two decades later I visited the same hospital when my seventeen year old daughter, Jennifer was detained in a locked ward under section 28 of The Mental Health Act of 1984. She was detained because she was in an acute psychotic condition and a danger to herself. Therefore, unfortunately, mental illness has not been a stranger to me.
This is the true story about my daughter developing into a young woman and as the onset of puberty evolved, so did the condition bipolar disorder. Jennifer struggled with an unnamed, unmedicated medical condition for 6 years before the diagnosis bipolar affective disorder or its historical name manic depression was made. Once she was eventually hospitalized, her troubles were not over. The metaphor for treating Jennifer was the equivalent of some medical professionals putting their heads in the sand.
According to Stephen Fry’s BBC’s documentary ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive’ the incidence of bipolar affective disorder in some form or another has risen from 1%-5% in the population. New research proves that there are genetic links; bipolar affective disorder is not diminishing and the sufferers are 15 times more likely than other people to succeed at taking their own lives.
Jennifer describes her difficulties to access help in acute and chronic situations, in the wards, her struggle to be heard by her psychiatrist and her thoughts on her treatment and suicide.
Jennifer’s story highlights that the early diagnosis and subsequent treatment for bipolar disorder needs to be improved. After her fourth episode Jennifer sat down with me and asked why it was is so hard to get the help she needed. We decided together to write about it.
Unfortunately she died before we finished. Whilst clearing out her apartment after she died I found her writings describing the impact of the illness. On the front page she wrote:-
“Dear Mum this is as far as I’ve got tonight, please help me write this book, you can be my memory banks, I love you,
With the stigma of mental illness, sufferers become ignored and ineffective. Coupled with the high suicide rates, sufferers of mental illness, who succeed in completing suicide become silent about their illness and their treatment. Their suffering and their plight becomes forgotten and nothing changes. This renders them invisible without a voice. Jennifer asked me to be her voice and this book is her voice.
I hope by writing this book that this illness can be better understood by professionals families and the community. I want the treatment to improve so much that the lives of chronic sufferers become more worth living.