Emily Maguire is a singer-songwriter who has spoken openly about her diagnosis of bipolar. Emily found time in her busy tour schedule to speak to us about music, bipolar and her recent series of gigs in mental health hospital...

Emily McGuire

Tell our readers a bit about yourself

My name is Emily Maguire and I'm a singer-songwriter. I've released four albums on Shaktu Records, the record label I set up with my Australian partner Christian Dunham in 2003. At the time we were living in a shack made out of recycled wood, tin and potato sacks on a goat farm in the Australian bush. We financed my first two albums by seliing goats cheese (I was the cheesemaker). Since coming back to the UK in 2007 I've had three songs playlisted on Radio 2 and toured with major acts including American legend Don McLean. In 2010 I published a look called 'Start Over Again', a very personal account of my experiences of dealing with bipolar disorder.

Tell us about your recent tour of mental health hospitals?

From February to April this year I performed for staff and patients in every mental health facility in Avon and Wiltshire, 17 gigs in all. I played on men's wards, women's wards, intensive care wards, rehab units, wards for people over 65, wards for people with dementia and medium-secure units of young people with serious mental health problems who have been through the criminal justice system.

What was the inspiration for the tour?

After I 'came out' about having bipolar disorder when I published my book 'Start Over Again' back in 2010, I was asked to perform in two mental health hospitals in Bristol. I read extracts from my book and sang my songs about surviving mental illness for the patients and staff there. The response was amazing and they were the most moving and rewarding gigs I've ever done. I've been wanting to do more of these gigs ever since. Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust kindly agreed to organise this tour for the benefit of their staff and service users.

What was the reaction to the tour?

The response from both staff and service users were fantastic. They all knew I'd been sectioned myself and that the songs I was singing to them are about my experiences of dealing with mental illness. People seemed to really enjoy the music and I gave all the service users a signed CD so I got to meet everyone personally. I'm a great believer in the power of music to make people feel better so I hope this tour will inspire more music in these hospitals. Out of the 17 gigs I did, only two places have music as part of their regular programme of activities.

Could you share a bit about your personal experience of bipolar?

I had acute clinical depression as a teenager but was only diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I had my first diagnosis in my early 20s. The best way I can describe my personal experience of bipolar disorder is in the words and music of my song 'Over the Waterfall' (from my album 'Bird Inside a Cage'. You can see a video of the song on Youtube.

What tips can you share with our readers for coping with bipolar?

Find a creative outlet - be that art, crafts, music, poetry or gardening. Anything positive and fulfilling, I regard all this energy in my head as something precious, something I can transform into creativity. It's where my songwriting comes from. Creativity for me is the silver linging to the bipolar cloud. My other tip is Solution Focused Hypnotherapy. It's an amazingly powerful combination of hypnotherapy and psychology that lifts me out of depressive episodes quickly and effectively.

What influence has music had on your life?

The two things that have saved my life, quite literally, have been music and my Buddhist practice. Music keeps my head in the clouds, meditation keeps my feet on the ground. Both are an experience of the wonders of life which make all the tough times worthwhile.

What's next for you?

A crazy 30-date tour of Germany in June then back to my attic studio to carry on writing my first instrumental album. My fifth album of songs is also in production so it's going to be a busy year before I start touring the UK again next spring. But being busy is good for me - it keeps my mind focussed and fulfilled. 

Where can our readers find out more about your music?

My website has info on all my albums  and my book 'Start Over Again' as well as videos, my blog and tour schedule. I can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.