HEALTHY MIND: Di MacNevin has always been very open.
HEALTHY MIND: Di MacNevin has always been very open. Trinette Stevens

Di dispels stigma, is a ‘voice’ for those with bipolar

WHEN Rockhampton's Di MacNevin was 17, the stress from her university exams triggered her very first depressive episode.

She said she had "frozen" in one position for more than eight hours while she was studying for an upcoming exam.

Shortly after, Di was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and sought a variety of treatments including electroconvulsive therapy and medication.

"I was extremely depressed, not eating or drinking...the ECT was a very hard decision for my parents to make," she said.

"Still today it's treated as 'shock therapy' so you can imagine what it was like for my parents back then...but I really did need it."

Since that first episode, Di said she had been hospitalised around 10 times with severe highs and lows.

Bipolar sufferers typically have 'mood swings' that can vary from deep depressions to uncontrollable, euphoric highs.

In getting an early diagnosis, Di said she was one of the lucky ones who found a great psychiatrist.

"I got the diagnosis straight away, that was one of the lucky things...but I was so young, going to a psychologist made me think I was a loony," she said.

"There are a lot of people who don't get a diagnosis until their 30s and I don't know how they cope."

Now 30 years later and seven years without a hospitalisation incident, Di had a chance to tell her story at the Rockhampton Mental Health Week Wellness Expo on Tuesday, in the hope that her voice could help dispel the stigma of mental illness.

Di said getting on top of her illness had always been a struggle, but still considered herself to be very lucky and happy in life.

She was forced to retire seven years ago from her early childhood career in order to deal with her illness full-time.

"I loved my teaching but it was a very stressful job... and stress and bipolar just don't go together," Di said.

"Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar is something that I will have to manage for the rest of my life."

After her speech on Tuesday, Di said she had many people come up to her and thank her for giving them a voice.

"There is a stigma that's still there. I have nearly 30 years' experience and things have improved, but it has been very slow," she said.

"I think of myself as a person first and an illness last."

What is it?

  • Occasionally people can experience a mixture of both highs and lows at the same time, or switch during the day
  • Some people may only have one episode of mania once a decade, while others may have daily mood swings
  • Bipolar I disorder may be experienced by up to 1% of Australians over their lifetime
  • The lifetime risk of Bipolar II disorder is up to 5%

Famous people with bipolar include:

  • Stephen Fry
  • Catherine Zeta-Jones
  • Andrew Johns

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