Michael Spiers shares his personal experience of bipolar and taking part in the Bipolar Disorder Research Network (BDRN) mood monitoring system True Colours

Michael talks about getting involved in research with Bipolar Disorder Research Network

I am a lifelong sufferer of bipolar. I was formally diagnosed in 1999 although I recall my first episodes, undiagnosed, occurring as far back as the mid-1970s with triggers such as being sacked from a job and the breakdown of a relationship.

Over the course of many years, I realised that my mood went high and low in cycles about 2-3 times a year with no apparent logical cause. I sought help from my GP during a couple of depressive episodes. The response was being offered antidepressant medication, which I refused (fear, prejudiced views about people who needed to take such medication).

During a period of hypomania, I again sought help from my GP and was again offered medication. I responded that I didn't need tablets as I wasn't depressed at that time but having observed my own mood swings over several years, I was concerned that I would get depressed again.

A mood monitoring tool

The GP offered a referral to a psychiatrist. Upon psychiatric examination I was diagnosed with bipolar. It was a shock that I had a mental illness but also a relief that it was recognised and treatable. Since then I've been prescribed various medications, mood management education and other therapies. I am currently fairly stable and True Colours has become one of my most useful monitoring tools.

I first came into contact with the BDRN a number of years ago. It's the largest network of individuals with bipolar in the world with the overall aim of the research being to find out more about the causes of bipolar and related mood disorders.

After my initial research interview, I've continued to contribute to the BDRN research programme over the years. When I first heard about the proposed True Colours scheme, I was very keen to participate and amongst its earliest contributors.

At first I didn't derive much from entering my weekly data as the results had little meaning to me. However, with my regular addition of data, it's become much clearer and I'm able to recognise hypomanic and depressive episodes that I have occurred over the course of more than a year and associating them with what else was going on in my life at those times.

I'm now an ardent fan of True Colours. Every week I enter my data and receive an instant guide to my current mood based on the breakdown of symptoms rather than how I might think I am, along with an indication of my current trend. It's also useful for me to show this to my psychiatrist, providing him with graphs tracking my mood over time.

In my opinion, True Colours is a win-win scheme. Constant mood monitoring means I can watch out for anything untoward or the possibility of anything happening. It also provides invaluable regular data for the BDRN research, which in turn will lead to better understanding and treatment of the illness. 

Over 1000 people have registered to use True Colours, but the team needs many more participants because everyone’s experience of bipolar is different.  If you're interested I would encourage you to give it a go.