Andrew Thompson first saw a psychiatrist when he was 19 but was only diagnosed with bipolar at 50. Here he explains how the diagnosis inspired him to develop a Mood Tracker app for Bipolar UK

I had an extremely challenging childhood with an abusive mother. When I was two years old, I was taken into care and fortunately ended up with a loving foster family.

I joined the army when I was 16 and over the next three years, I had a love-hate relationship with it.  I was confused and had mood swings and a few outbursts when provoked.  Ultimately, I started having dark thoughts and more severe mood swings which brought me to the attention of an army psychiatrist.  I was offered the opportunity to leave and I took it but was never given a diagnosis.

Now 30 years on, it makes me sad because I can’t help wondering what would have happened if I’d been given the correct help and treatment at that point. Maybe I would still be in the army!

Coping for decades with a misdiagnosis

I’ve had lots of different jobs over the years from menial to highly skilled – factories, stores, lab work, teaching and computing.

For years I took antidepressants and had counselling for depression, but I didn’t find it very helpful – mainly because I’d feel really depressed when I saw the GP who referred me, but by the time I saw the counsellor 6 weeks later I would feel okay again. So, I never received the counselling when I needed the help. 

I struggled with low moods for weeks and months and years on end. At times I was happy and at others I was irritable and angry. I was spending too much money facilitating the multiple hobbies and activities that I was constantly pursuing; never achieving the gratification I was seeking.

The two things that kept me going through all those years were a) the support of my wife, our two daughters and now our three grandchildren, and b) my running - I run every day, it sorts my head out!

My daughter told me I might have bipolar

Three years ago, when I was 50, my daughter who was in her final year studying medicine at the time, suggested I see a psychiatrist because she thought I might have bipolar. The psychiatrist I saw diagnosed bipolar type II, put me on a mood stabiliser and adjusted the dose of the antidepressant. He couldn’t believe that the diagnosis hadn’t been picked up sooner.

Everybody around me noticed the difference straight away, it’s really helped iron out my moods. Getting a diagnosis has made a huge difference to my confidence because it explains things and justifies me.

I was inspired to develop a Mood Tracker app

The psychiatrist referred me to the Mood Scale on the Bipolar UK website and gave me some sheets to fill in to keep a record of my moods. I was annotating all over them and, because I’m an app developer, had the idea to create a mood tracker app.  I contacted Bipolar UK with a prototype and the rest is history.

Over 18 months we discussed all the options, consulted people with bipolar in focus groups and asked medical experts to review it. Now that we’re ready to launch the pilot on World Mental Health Day, I’m really proud of how it’s turned out. I hope it will help other people with bipolar in the same way that it’s helped me.

Find out more about our new Mood Tracker app