- By Matt Murray
- BBC Wales News
Thousands of people in Wales have waited nearly 12 years for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, according to the Bipolar Commission in Wales.
The Bipolar Commission at the National Center for Mental Health (NCMH) will release more findings later.
Sarah De Garnham, diagnosed in 2017, said: ‘I knew when I was growing up, I wasn’t normal. Whatever is normal.’
Bipolar UK is calling on the Welsh Government to reduce the average wait to five years.
The charity said more than 60,000 people living with the mental health disorder in Wales have been let down by the healthcare system.
The Welsh Government said it has increased funding for mental health services.
Currently waiting in Wales for diagnosis is two years longer than in England.
Ms De Garnham, a model from Cwmafan, Neath Port Talbot, was originally misdiagnosed with depression before she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“I knew I would react differently to things than my friends, and they have reacted differently to me,” the 35-year-old said.
Ms De Garnham was told by a doctor that the pregnancy triggered her bipolar disorder.
“The diagnosis made me feel like I’m not crazy or insane. This is a condition that has a name and now I can learn about it and do things that can help me,” she said.
But getting that diagnosis hasn’t been easy for the single mom.
She said: ‘I saw a doctor and explained my triggers and was told, ‘Don’t be stupid, you don’t have bipolar, you’re dramatic.’
“I went to my psychiatrist and he explained that it shouldn’t have happened to me because I have bipolar. It made me feel like I wasn’t going crazy. It wasn’t easy for me to get to that level, but you have to do it and keep fighting .”
Ms De Garnham said modeling helped her cope with her diagnosis.
She said: “When I was growing up, models had long hair and good figures and I’m not that.
“I have a shaved head, I’m a plus-size woman, I have bipolar disorder and if I do it, so can you. You really can. Nothing should be off limits.
“This career has saved me. Mental health is a big thing for me on social media and I will always try to talk about it as openly as possible because I don’t want people to think I have the perfect life. I want them to know I’m not just butterflies and rainbows”.
“Incredibly poor availability”
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition in which individuals exhibit extreme moods, which can last for several weeks. Deaths from suicide are higher in people with bipolar disorder, but many with it can be treated with medication.
Ms De Garnham said: ‘When I’m manic, it’s like I can’t finish my sentences or if I start something I can’t finish it. One time I was cleaning, and I was having a manic day and I just hammered all the tiles in the my kitchen off the wall. It’s just crazy and different for everyone.”
The charity Bipolar UK said there are more than a million people with the condition in the UK and millions more are affected by close friends and family.
The Bipolar Minds Matter report calls for an immediate restructuring of the health system in Wales.
Simon Kitchen, chief executive of Bipolar UK, said there were “incredibly low levels of bipolar supply” in Wales.
He said: ‘Imagine living with a condition for almost 12 years without the right treatment and support – this is what people across Wales are faced with. It’s just not good enough.
“This is due to a combination of factors including the social stigma surrounding the condition, people not seeing their GP when suffering from hypomania or mania, and a lack of specialist bipolar education across the healthcare industry.”
“The changes will literally save lives”
Mr. Kitchen added that people living with bipolar have a suicide risk that is 20 times higher than people without bipolar.
He said the charity’s mission is to clear up the confusion surrounding bipolar disorder and promote faster diagnosis.
“These changes will not only improve the quality of life for people with bipolar disorder in Wales, they will literally save lives,” he said.
“We are calling on the Welsh Government to reduce the average time to diagnose for bipolar disorder from nearly 12 years to five years, within the next five years or less.”
The Welsh Government said it has increased funding for mental health services “to respond to local needs”.
A spokesperson added: “This year we have also invested £6 million in the implementation of the Strategic Mental Health Workforce Plan for Wales, which sets out actions to achieve a sustainable mental health workforce.”
The professor. Ian Jones, director of the National Center for Mental Health and professor of perinatal psychiatry at Cardiff University, said the organization was “delighted” to launch the research findings.
“Together, we are reaching people with lived experience of bipolar and hope to build an innovative and collaborative research community dedicated to increasing understanding of bipolar; its causes, triggers, and how best to manage the condition,” he said.
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