In the past I once believed mental illness was reserved for a certain type of person. Not me. I thought bipolar was exclusively the worst type of mental illness one could get, alongside schizophrenia. I believed people with these conditions all had a family history of it, were from an abusive background, or it was induced by drugs and alcohol.

When I have previously thought of bipolar disorder I immediately thought of individuals I’d seen talking to themselves on the street or what the media told me. I believed the “men in white coats” would eventually take them away to a psychiatric hospital because they were dangerous people.

So the last thing in the world I could ever imagine was being diagnosed with bipolar disorder myself. I was mortified. I believed my diagnosis would somehow change me into “an evil and horrible person” and I’d end up sectioned in hospital. 

Those were some of the myths I believed about bipolar and mental health. I now know it could not be further from the truth. Mental illness, namely Bipolar, is layered and quite frankly can affect anyone.

The Black community have a long history of stigma surrounding mental health. From denial that poor mental health exists, to shunning those who struggle with it, our ways in which we have coped with mental health issues has been woeful. This has not been helped by the feeling that organisations set up to assist those in need do not look after our interests and are not geared towards us.

Stats surrounding mental health have not helped to encourage trust either. Detention rates under the Mental Health Act during 2017 / 18 were four times higher for people in the Black or Black British group than those in the white group. In addition, the risk of psychosis in Black Caribbean groups is estimated to be nearly seven times higher than in the white population. Given our needs for care and support are fairly acute we need to act to remedy the way we deal with mental health issues as a matter of urgency.

I was misdiagnosed with depression first of all many years ago, and began antidepressants. But after a couple of years I noticed a massive shift in my behaviour. I’d become super anxious. I’d go from being suicidally low to euphorically high. My family and friends just thought I was moody, and it was part of my personality. It was confusing because I was the life and soul of the party but could easily become irritable and lash out with my words.

I was diagnosed correctly with bipolar 8 years ago and it’s been the hardest journey. However, I’m happy to say that with the correct diagnosis and medication, it led me to get the help and I desperately needed. 

Although I am still learning to fully understand my condition, I kept my diagnosis a secret in fear of what others would think of me. I was embarrassed and fearful. I also thought it would affect my career and work prospects. Again, another myth.

Last year I spoke publicly on social media for the first time about living with bipolar and it’s been the most liberating thing I've done throughout my entire rehabilitation so far.

Since learning to accept my mental illness I feel empowered and free. Hiding it due to my embarrassment was such a heavy burden to carry. Now that I'm able to speak about it openly I feel a sense of purpose because I realise it’s a positive leap forward.

In a strange way I feel proud to be bipolar and understand that despite its ups and downs it’s possible to live with it successfully. There’s life after diagnosis but first let’s learn from our history to prepare for our future.

Love and light,

 

Leah CK x

 

Author: Leah Charles-King is a TV and Radio Presenter and Bipolar UK Ambassador. Follow her journey on social media: @leahcharlesking