Kate, a stunningly beautiful 37-years old medical doctor was found in her surgery unconscious. She was lying in a pool blood. Her left wrist had been slashed. Busi, her secretary, quickly and tightly strapped the gaping wound and then urgently called for help. This was the second time in twelve months that her boss had tried to commit suicide. The last time, Kate had taken an overdose of aspirin tablets but luckily survived.
Kate was married for fifteen years with two children. Her husband, Rob, adored her despite her long term addiction to tranquilisers. They had met at university and had been together since. Kate had been an outstanding medical student, and frequented the honours roll. Her parents divorced when she was 18 years old.
With the assistance of a patient who had come in for a doctor’s appointment, Busi carried her stricken boss into a waiting car and took her to hospital. After her wrist wound was treated, Kate was admitted to the psychiatry ward. Her parents came to visit. Kate’s psychiatrist, Dr. Pon, was also informed. He had been treating Kate for Bipolar disorder (manic depression) for several years.
Bipolar disorder is a common but poorly understood condition. It can vary from depression to mania. The patient characteristically has mood swings, ranging from extreme ecstasy to plumbing the depths of almost suicidal melancholy.
Some patients, like Kate, are happily married and successfully raise families. They can be highly productive and successful in their careers. But others have their lives blighted with failure. Psychosis does occur, and is often characterised by hallucinations. Some individuals may, as in Kate’s case, have problems of alcohol and substance abuse. The reason for this is unknown. It may be that some people try to “treat” their symptoms with alcohol or drugs.
Bipolar disorder usually lasts a life time. Between attacks some people are functional while others have lingering signs of the disorder. The cause of the condition is unknown. There is a theory that it may be genetic. Therefore a careful interrogation of the family history must be done. Others postulate a link with substance abuse or post-traumatic disorders.
Its onset varies. For some the symptoms begin in childhood, for at least half in their mid-twenties, and with the rest it may start late in life. Males and females are affected equally.
Treatment is medical, using mainly anti-psychotics and antidepressants. Psychotherapy is also effective, and Electro-convulsive therapy, the so-called shock therapy, has recently found favour.
Kate’s mother has recently been admitted to hospital: a late-onset sufferer of Bipolar disorder. She unfortunately has the manic variety, and has been discharged from her job as a teacher. She has received the Electro-convulsive (shock) therapy twice.
Kate survived her attempt at suicide, and she made no further attempts to take her life. Her children, who are now both young adults, are her loyal caregivers. They are watchful of her mood swings, diligently accompany her to therapy and support group sessions, and scrupulously ensure that she takes her medication. They sometimes join her in hilarious conversations with her imagined personalities.
If her children’s lives are stressful it doesn’t show. Though the humiliation of having a “mad” mother has not been easy to take, they are both thriving at university. Kate, though her life is a beguiling mixture of madness and sanity, still has a viable medical practice. Her weakness for drink and drugs also withered and fell away. She is the lucky one. Some patient’s lives are destroyed and their families ruined by this condition.
There is still very little awareness of bipolar disorders in society, particularly its subtle and atypical variants. Some people carry on undiagnosed and untreated with devastating consequences for their lives.