Raje is the author of the book 'Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health' where she shares her journey and provides guidance to others.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. In India, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) alone treats around 45,000 patients with bipolar disorder each year.
Last year, the hospital saw 4,000 new cases of bipolar disorder. Despite this, there are still many misconceptions about the disorder and many people do not receive a diagnosis or adequate treatment.
On World Bipolar Day — observed on 30 March — Aparna Piramal Raje, who was diagnosed as bipolar two decades ago, spoke about her personal experiences with bipolar disorder.
Raje is the author of the book Chemical Khichdi: How I Hacked My Mental Health where she shares her journey with the disorder and provides guidance for others dealing with mental health issues.
“As a coincidence, today marks five years without me having any manic episodes. From being someone who, just a decade ago, walked up to the terrace of my building, wanting to know if I could jump to my death, I have now reached a stage where I can come out in the open and talk about my disorder and motivate others to show that you can make your life worthwhile even with bipolar disorder,” said Raje to an audience comprising psychiatrists, psychologists, nursing students, family members of patients with bipolar disorder, and even patients themselves.
Bipolar disorder is a complex disorder that can be difficult to diagnose. Dr K Muralidharan from Nimhans also spoke about the disorder on the occasion of World Bipolar Day and even released patient information material.
Here are some signs that could indicate bipolar disorder:
Extreme mood swings: People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of mania or hypomania, which are periods of high energy, euphoria, and impulsivity. They also experience episodes of depression, which are periods of sadness, hopelessness, and lethargy.
Changes in sleep patterns: People with bipolar disorder often experience changes in their sleep patterns. They may sleep very little during manic episodes and they may sleep excessively during depressive episodes.
Changes in appetite: People with bipolar disorder may experience changes in their appetite. They may eat very little during depressive episodes and they may overeat during manic episodes.
Impulsivity: People with bipolar disorder may act impulsively during manic episodes. They may engage in risky behaviours.
Treatment options: Dr Muralidharan explained that it is mainly prescription medication, prophylaxis medications, and that some severe manic cases may require admission. Supportive treatments like psychological therapies and lifestyle modification are some of the treatment options.
At the event, Aparna Raje spoke candidly about her struggles with bipolar disorder, which lasted for two decades. She talked about how the disorder affected her personal and professional life, and how she was often judged and doubted by others.
However, she didn’t let these obstacles hold her back and worked hard to manage her mental health and lead a balanced life. Raje also emphasised the importance of seeking help and support for mental health issues.
She spoke about how she struggled to find the right treatment and support, but eventually found a combination of therapies that worked for her. She encouraged others to not be afraid to seek help and to keep trying until they find what works best for them.
She spoke of three essential therapies that helped here: Love, medicine, and talk therapy.
She said, “It is most important that the patients are aware of their condition and also these three important therapies have to go hand in hand.”
Speaking briefly about the three, she said as far as medicine as therapy goes, taking medicines like lithium helps, though for some people it may give a numb feeling and may not really work.
“If medicines are prescribed as a treatment plan, it is important that patients with bipolar disorder take it,” she said.
Also talk therapy and medicines have to go hand in hand. It is absolutely necessary to speak to your therapist at least twice a month, she stressed.
Aparna calls this “lifestyle therapy” and she told patients to look at mental health as a garden and not as a discipline. “When you consider your mental health as a garden, then it becomes easier to nourish it,” said Raje.
She said that there are four important factors that play a very significant role. Workplace, allies, conversations with oneself, and spirituality. She said that many people shy away from informing their workplace about their disorder.
She cited her own example of how she could not keep up with deadlines and when she informed her workplace about this, they were accommodative and this helped. She insisted that companies should take extra care to understand and be considerate of the mental health of their employees.
She also insisted that families not be judgemental and, at the same time, asked bipolar patients to have a set of “daily download friends”. She stated that this is absolutely important.
Also, self-therapy is where one has to take charge of one’s own mental health. She said, “No one else can do this for you. You must take charge, be honest, and rigorous with yourself. Honest conversations with oneself, journaling and so on, are also a kind of therapy that helped me,” she said.
Throughout her talk, Raje emphasised the need for greater awareness and understanding of mental health issues, particularly in India where there is still a lot of stigma around mental illness. She spoke about how her own experiences with bipolar disorder inspired her to write her book and share her story with others.
Director of NIMHANS Dr Pratima Murthy, Dr Prabha S Chandra, Dean, Behavioural Sciences, Dr YC Janardhan Reddy, Professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, and Prof Shankar Narayana Rao, Registrar, NIMHANS, were present at the event.
Bipolar disorder is just mood swings: While mood swings are a symptom of the disorder, bipolar disorder is much more than just mood swings. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings that can last for days, weeks, or even months.
Bipolar disorder is rare: Bipolar disorder is actually more prevalent than we believe and affects about two percent of the population.
People with bipolar disorder are crazy: This is a harmful misconception that contributes to the stigma around mental health issues. People with bipolar disorder are not crazy. They have a medical condition that can be treated with proper care and support.
Bipolar disorder only affects adults: While bipolar disorder is more common in adults, it can also affect children and teenagers.