In this episode, host Tina Marshall delves into her personal journey growing up with a family member who had bipolar disorder, shedding light on the lasting impact on individuals, families, and generations.
My name is Tina Marshall. Thank you for joining this podcast. Today, it’s just me and I will be talking to you about a lived experience, which is growing up with somebody who had a mental health issue. I’m doing this because I think it’s really important that we do what we can to raise awareness.
I feel as though it’s a duty of mine as somebody who has grown up in this environment that I can share part of my story to try and help the rest of the research and science community.
I think it’s really important to understand more about this lived experience, to help you really understand more about the disease itself, more about how you can help, how you can support, more about the signs, the symptoms, more about the tiny pieces of these diseases that we aren’t necessarily aware of.
Bipolar wasn’t actually a thing back in the day when I was growing up. He was actually called a hyper-manic depressive. This was my dad. He was called a hyper-manic depressive when he was diagnosed. Before he was diagnosed, he spent a lot of time in and out of prison and was arrested because they didn’t understand that he had a mental health condition. I would come home from a friend’s house, skipping down the road, and then off he would be going in a riot van where they’d come and then take him away.
I have other various memories as well as a child when he would come back to the house and he would shout out things through the door. “If you don’t let me in, I will crap on the doorstep.” All of those really lovely, wonderful things. But of course, they didn’t know what a mental health condition was and they certainly didn’t know what bipolar was. One day when he was in prison, the governor of that prison actually really recognised some signs of what was going on with him, and then from there he was able to receive the help that he needed.
But as we know, and anybody who knows who has dealt with this, mental health, particularly bipolar, comes in a cycle. So you can take your medications, think that you’re great, and then you can stop taking your medications. There’s no cure. When you go into a mental health facility, he was sectioned a number of times. And when he would go into the mental health facility, there would be no security. So then he would just walk on, back to the house and do what he did as in the story I just told you. So that’s not great and that’s not a great environment to be living in and to grow up in.
When I was around about nine years old, early one morning we got up and moved house. We did this without really telling anybody. Our neighbours helped us move, and then we moved away. We did this because having him come back all the time was quite distressing and wasn’t the easiest thing to deal with. Then we found that a few years went on and we were driving through town and we saw him, he looked like a tramp. He looked like he had been living on the streets. He wasn’t. He had been actually with the Salvation Army, I believe. I was nine, or ten at the time. But he essentially looked like he’d been living on the streets.
We stopped to speak to him. And I’ll be honest, I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to speak to him. I was the youngest of three, a bit of a mummy’s girl, so I wasn’t that keen. But we stopped and spoke to him. And he and my mum rebuilt their relationship, which was amazing to see. And he moved back in, again, which was amazing to see. And then he would still have some occasional loops, which is what we always used to call it when he went into one, but it was much calmer and it was much better and it was just really, truly amazing to see their love grow.
Where I find it challenging now at my age is that there is still a terrible lack of understanding of mental health conditions and a lack of awareness and empathy when it comes to these conditions. What I also see is that sometimes these labels are being flown around without relating to what’s going on with the patients.
Now conducting some research, for me, growing up, I was always told that my dad’s health condition was hereditary. Imagine growing up with that hanging over your head. And then I was always told that I would find out when I was either 21 or when I was pregnant, both of which those times came and went and I was absolutely fine. But imagine growing up with it hanging over your head that you may have a mental health condition. This was based on information, data, and education that was around at the time, and this had been passed down through generations.
Now, for me as a mum of two, I’m really keen to make sure that my history and trauma aren’t passed down through the generations. I read an article that said that actually, trauma goes through seven generations. So seven generations are dealing with trauma from their ancestors. Now, that’s something that we have to do something about and try and stop. We know that the Office of Life Sciences is putting a huge amount of effort into this area at the moment, they’ve got their missions for mental health, for addictions, for dementia, and it can’t come at a more needed time. This is where we absolutely have to put the focus because of course it’s not just the people who are suffering with mental health conditions now that are going to be affected. It’s their family, it’s their friends, everybody who’s touched them. And of course, it could happen for seven generations to come.
The prevalence of mental health is much, much wider than we know and how we think about it. And even now, Akrivia Health is a company, and our focus is on mental health and dementia. We are very passionate about that. Everybody in the organisation is very passionate about it. But you can still see a little bit of awkwardness in any scenario that I’m in where I talk about my dad having bipolar. And I do it quite regularly now because I want to normalise it in a way that people are more comfortable in speaking about it. Because when you’re more comfortable speaking about it, you’re more likely to recognise the signs and help support and empathise. I work with some amazing research scientists within the organisation who all want to go and do amazing things work with the community, and understand more about these conditions, which I really value. And I would say to every researcher, every scientist that has hopefully stayed with me to listen to this, then please get away from your desk and go and spend some time with organisations, with people dealing with these mental health issues.
Whenever I start a new job, I like to always do a “day-in-the-life” to try and better understand my customers and what’s going on so I can pick out their pain points, empathise with and provide solutions to help them. And I would really strongly recommend as many people do that as possible in the field that you are in. Spend more time with these people. Try and really understand the disease trajectory of the patients, the burden, the impact, the signs and symptoms that they’re dealing with.
I find it very interesting how sometimes as well people will be an asshole and they’ll blame it on a mental illness, and that’s not the case sometimes. They are just assholes. But again, most of it, from my perspective, comes down to understanding in every way, shape, or life.
And I can even give you another example actually. Yesterday, a friend popped over for a cup of tea. We were having a chat. Sadly, she had lost someone quite recently. We were talking about bereavement counselling and she had asked me if I went to bereavement counselling when my dad died. He died of cancer about 17, or 18 years ago. And I said that I did. I went to a national organisation. And during the first session with the counsellor, she asked me a number of questions about my dad, about my family, about my history, and I told her. And she said to me, “I can’t help you. You have too much trauma and I’m not qualified enough to be able to help you.” So imagine how that felt and walking away for that person who could not help.
Not everybody grows up in a 2point4 Children family. Many families are very different now. And so, we need to be able to have this understanding of mental health and dementias as part of our daily life so that when we have situations like that, we’re not turning people away and we truly understand how we can help them.
If you have any questions and would like to reach out at all, I’d be more than happy to share any advice I can to help with any lived experience you may be going through.
For this episode of Precision Neuroscience Reimagined, and more: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/precision-neuroscience/episodes/Beyond-the-Surface-Unravelling-mental-health-e28uhgs OR you can find the full episode on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/dGUs3CSt2L0?feature=shared