Friday, February 4, 2005

Talk on bipolar offers support

Christopher Evans spoke of his personal experience with bipolar disorder. Photo by Tony Evans

For the Express

What did Vincent Van Gogh, Jane Pauley, and Ernest Hemingway all have in common? They all suffered from a neurobiological brain disorder known as manic-depression or bipolar disorder, according to social worker Gay Miremont who spoke at the St. Luke's Regional Medical Center brown bag lunch Thursday, Jan. 20. Miremont presented the latest medical information regarding bipolar disorder, including treatment options, and the changing perspectives on this chronic illness. Approximately 30 people, including Tom Hansen and Christopher Evans of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Wood River Valley, attended the talk. Evans also addressed the gathering about his personal experience and the effects of bipolar disorder on families.

"Bipolar disorder has been romanticized by some due to the creative genius of some of its well-known victims," Miremont said. "In reality, this is an extremely debilitating illness, which is attributed to neurochemical imbalances within the brain."

According to Miremont, bipolar disorder usually strikes during adolescence and afflicts between 1 to 2 percent of the population. It's marked by extreme shifts in mood between periods of manic energy and hopeless despair. Often bipolar disorder is accompanied by substance abuse problems, which may be an attempt at self-medication. Some researchers believe alcoholism and bipolar disorder are co-occurring illnesses. Depressed individuals run a high risk of suicide and should never be left alone.

"If someone you know is having suicidal ideas, he should be brought to an emergency room. This is a physical illness, just like a broken arm or leg," said Miremont.

Hansen discussed the difficulty of managing care for the mentally ill due to recent cutbacks in mental health funding. He was part of a task force arranged last year to establish a mental health court in Blaine County to divert those suffering from bipolar and other mental illnesses from the criminal justice system.

"We have to pool our resources in the face of these cutbacks in order to take care of our family members," said Hansen, whose son suffers from bipolar disorder.

Evans spoke as the consumer representative for NAMI Idaho, offering advice and encouragement. He has suffered from the bipolar effects of extreme mood swings and psychosis for over 20 years.

"The most important aspect of treatment is a proper diagnosis," he said. "There are a lot better medications on the market nowadays."

NAMI offers Family to Family training for patients and families affected by bipolar disorder, as well as biweekly support group meetings. For more information, contact Tom Hansen at 788-3178 or Chris Evans at 788-9474.

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