It’s been really refreshing to see BBC3 run a series of programmes on the topic of mental health issues in an attempt to break down some of the stigma that surrounds the people suffering from these illnesses. I wanted to take half an hour to do a quick post about one particular programme, ‘Rachel Bruno – My Dad and Me‘. The programme follows one of Frank Bruno’s (a former British heavyweight boxer) daughters, Rachel, as she learns more about her dad’s bipolar condition. Having gone through some of the issues that Rachel, her sister Nicola and her brother Franklin have experienced, it really hit home to me the importance of a support network of close family and friends are to someone suffering from a mental health illness.
Rachel and her family have had to go through a situation I’d never hope anyone has to experience, and thankfully so far I haven’t had to find the amazing sense of courage that Rachel’s sister Nicola had to muster up. When she was just 20, only a few months older than me, Nicola had to sign the papers for her dad to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Giving someone permission to take away one of your parents because they have become a danger to themselves must be one of the hardest things anyone could ever have to do – not just at the peak of mental ill health, but also later on. Nicola recounts how her dad wouldn’t speak to her for 8 years because she signed him into a psychiatric ward and Rachel speaks about her worries of making the programme and talking to her dad about his illness in case she upsets him, or triggers a manic or depressive episode. It’s clear both daughters are a little uneasy about their father’s condition and I couldn’t help thinking about how many other people don’t know much about mental health illnesses like bipolar disorder and don’t really know what to say to someone suffering from it.
Rachel goes to meet Dave, a man very similar to her own father, who is also divorced with 3 children and suffers from bipolar disorder. Dave was a successful businessman, multi-millionaire, owned several barn conversions and drove several expensive cars until he had a breakdown. He’s sure that his bipolar disorder gave him the drive to succeed but eventually, this caused him a great deal of anguish. Dave now drives a much more modest car and lives in a one bedroom council flat but is now learning how to cope with his condition. He still struggles with some aspects, like being afraid to take all his prescribed medication in case this causes suicidal thoughts – something that he says many sufferers of Bipolar will experience, but is very grateful of how incredibly supportive and understanding his grown-up children are who have learnt as much as they can about their father’s condition.
The second person who has Bipolar that Rachel meets is Paul, a self-employed man who lives with his partner and his partner’s parents, one of whom also has Bipolar. Paul describes in great detail a manic phase, and it’s something I’ve seen happening many times in my own father – being unable to sleep, difficulty concentrating, hallucinations, having a hundred thoughts at once and ultimately, being frustrated that everyone else isn’t as full of energy as you are. Paul’s partner also explains how when he first met him, he would often take things that Paul said when in a manic episode literally, some of which could be very hurtful and this was something that resonated a lot with both Rachel and I.
Inspired by Paul and Dave’s means of coping with Bipolar, Rachel makes a conscious effort to spend more time with her dad, learn more about his condition and attend a self-help support group with her sister for sufferers of Bipolar and their families. By the end of the programme, both Rachel and her dad agree that having as much as information as possible about Bipolar has helped them become closer and live with such a serious illness. It can be hard having someone so close to you having Bipolar, and it’s certainly not easy on anyone, but getting access to the right support – medical and emotional, and being informed can make the situation a bit better to cope with. It’s not something anyone should ever have to go through alone and there are organisations that are there to help, some of which are listed below.
Bipolar Scotland – http://www.bipolarscotland.org.uk/
Samaritans – http://www.samaritans.org/
SAMH – http://www.samh.org.uk/