Being Bipolar – 2 of 3 – But not really manic depressives

Being Bipolar (Channel 4 Documentary shown on 6th March 2015):

Three people diagnosed as bipolar were filmed and their troubles considered by psychotherapist Philippa Perry.

Paul, who is a self-made millionaire, was filmed while high, Sian was mainly low and Ashley was rapidly going from high to low. Paul seemed happy enough in his manic state, while Sian and Ashley brought out their boxes of prescribed drugs and revealed how desperate they felt with no real prospects of recovery.

What struck me, was how without any special psychotherapy, it became clear that all was not as it first seemed.

Near the end, Paul has come down from his high and tells Philippa how his high was fueled by smoking ‘legal highs’ that he explains certainly were not just ordinary cigarettes! These were the drugs on which he got high. This was not a manic episode caused solely by his perfectionism or a random mood swing.

Sian’s greatest fear turns out to be from the misconception that bipolar can be passed on genetically to her children. When Philippa takes Sian to meet genetics researcher, Prof Ian Jones, it is explained, “It is not a genetic disorder in that there is a gene for bipolar” and that “Nine out of ten children of a bipolar parent are not being diagnosed as bipolar”. This is new knowledge for Sian, who is now able to consider bipolar in a very different way. From having said earlier that she could not think of any causes other than genetics, she now feels able to talk with to Philippa about wanting to investigate what it was in her life/her environment that had led to mood problems and diagnosis. Towards the end of the programme Sian talks about wanting “to be open to change” and goes to see a psychotherapist based on her discovery that bipolar is not all genetic and pre-determined. She comes to believe that, “It is the start of the end of it.” And when asked “Do you think this is going to be transformative?” She answers, “Yes”.

Ashley suffered from something like autism from an early age and was bullied badly at school. Being prescribed anti-psychotic drugs since he was 8 years old, it comes as no surprise to find him struggling so much. These drugs are known to alter the brain’s development. Philippa says, “It is difficult to find a therapist who is on the same wavelength as someone who is on the autistic spectrum.” Interestingly, after Philippa’s visit, Ashley forms a band with two local musicians who are able to cope with his struggles to stay focused. This seems to give hope that he will be able to fit in better than he was ever able to at school, perhaps simply by being with people who share similar interests.

Overall, the programme did well in showing how diverse bipolar can be. For me, though the most important outcome was how none of three people filmed would, years ago, have been regarded as manic depressives, while each could be so much healthier if they could get access to help beyond their prescribed or acquired drugs.