Storying Sheffield

You want support for Bipolar? But you have such nice hair…

Many thanks to @drinksinthedark for this guest post. @drinksinthedark is a psychologist with newly diagnosed bipolar.


As those of you who follow me on Twitter are probably aware, I’ve recently experienced some stereotyping attitudes directed at me by a mental health professional, based on my physical appearance. Recently I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder (Bipolar II), which the psychiatrist also referred to as ‘Early Bipolar Disorder’ (whatever that means). In the report that was sent to me, he stated that my bipolar symptoms are currently of mild severity and therefore discharged me back under my GP’s care. I was disappointed with this outcome and felt that this opinion was based on a snapshot view of what the psychiatrist observed that day (I was relatively well at my assessment meeting with him, only experiencing mild depression on that particular day). I felt that that the psychiatrist had ignored what both my GP and I had explained to him about the severity of my depression symptoms (involving suicidal thoughts and leaving me unable to attend work or university at times) and the impact that my episodes of hypomania have had on my relationships and finances. He also seemed to ignore the fact that bipolar affective disorder is cyclical by nature and because I presented well that day, presumed I was ‘stable’ enough to be discharged from secondary care. My period of ‘stability’ at that psychiatric appointment lasted all of a week and I am currently once again facing moderate-severe depression. I have been left with no support, other than what my (part time) GP can provide, who is also in charge of the heavy-duty cocktail of medication that I have recently begun, consisting of Aripiprazole, Quetiapine, Escitalopram and Diazepam. It concerns me a psychiatrist is not even reviewing my medication, even just until I am actually stable and no longer experiencing the rapid cycling moods that I am at the moment.
I have written a letter to the psychiatrist complaining about the care that I have received and my GP has also written a letter requesting that I be placed back under the psychiatrist’s care. These letters were sent 2 weeks ago and I have yet to hear anything back from the secondary care mental health team. So yesterday I rang the CPN who originally assessed me and asked if they’d received the letter. She confirmed that they had and that they will likely be discussing my case next week. She then explained to me that she thinks the problem is that I am ‘so glamourous and have such lovely clothes and nice hair’ that people (including her?!) therefore do not think that I am experiencing enough mental distress to warrant further support and treatment from secondary care. I was shocked at this and asked whether next time I should show up in my PJs with unbrushed hair and teeth. The CPN then said in a concerned voice that I ‘shouldn’t do that’ because ‘they might not let you out of here again’ (implying that I might be sectioned).
It disgusts and saddens me that these stigmatising stereptypes about mental health and other invisible illnesses still exist. My physical appearance does not indicate that I am mentally well. I wear my make-up and do my hair to cover up how awful I am feeling, a lot of the time. If I’m going somewhere, I’ll wear my ‘mask’ or I simply won’t go because I don’t know how I’d face the world without it. Today I am very low and am writing this from my bed, sans make-up and with messy and unwashed hair. Glamourous, hey? I suppose I must really be ‘mental’ today.
Follow @drinksinthedark on Twitter.
Illustration by Joseph Houlders.