Julia Savage shares her personal experiences of bipolar disorder and taking part in the Bipolar Disorder Research Network (BDRN) mood monitoring system True Colours

I was first taken ill when aged eighteen, almost forty years ago, when psychiatric illness was rarely talked about openly.  Treatment was limited to drugs and ECT.  Thankfully, medical help and society has moved forward since that time.  I believe that research plays a vital role to find further improved treatment and a wider understanding of bipolar disorder.

I first took part in the UK Bipolar Disorder Research Network (BDRN) research programme over 15 years ago and I have been taking part in their True Colours project for the past three years.  For me, True Colours serves two purposes.  Firstly, the data submitted is used by BDRN for research.  Secondly, it acts as a useful tool for me to check the ups and downs of my mood by means of the graph, which is plotted on a weekly basis.  I can see quite clearly, at a glance, when my mood alters.  For example, I only have to see the graph peak by a small degree and I know immediately to take action to lower the mood back to a level that is acceptable to me.  Although I have learnt to recognise my own triggers, a visual graph confirms change in the variation of my mood.  This is a useful way of managing my bipolar disorder.  It is also possible to pinpoint the peaks and troughs by the date the data is submitted.  This means that I can cross-reference the date with events in my diary to try and analyse why the change may have occurred.  Often it is due to a stressful period which may only be temporary.

I have also taken my graphs to appointments with my GP and psychiatrist to illustrate the mood swings I have experienced at a certain period of time.

Earlier this year I attended Heart of Worcestershire College to talk about my experiences with True Colours Research to first-year students who are studying for a degree in Social Work.  I was happy to show the students one of my own graphs and explain how the research is implemented and the ways in which it helps monitor my mood.  The students were very interested in hearing about my experiences.  They appreciated seeing my graph and acknowledged that it was very personal to me and thanked me for being able to share this valued information with them.

Whilst I have found True Colours to be of great assistance to myself, I appreciate that this might not be true for every person with bipolar disorder. However, all the True Colours information provided by participants is very valuable to the research group to help them understand more about mood changes in bipolar disorder over time.

Over 1200 people have registered to use True Colours, but as everyone’s experience of bipolar disorder is very different, the research team needs many more participants.

You can find out further details about the BDRN True Colours mood monitoring system, and sign up for the research here: http://bdrn.org/research/true-colours/