issue 102 (our 9th year)
issue 102 (our 9th year)
Enquiries 0451 880 711 or 0401 033 120
BY THE PSYCHLOPAEDIA TEAM, THE AUSTRALIAN PSYCHOLOGICAL SOCIETY
A focus on people’s strengths not just symptoms or challenges is helping people with mental disorders achieve a better quality of life and avoid being defined by their condition.
Positive psychology is part of the recovery movement that focuses on treating the entire person, says Professor Greg Murray, a psychologist who specialises in bipolar disorder from Swinburne University of Technology.
The area, which has been increasingly embraced by psychologists in the past 30 years, has shifted the traditional biomedical-model focus from treating a person’s mental health problems to promoting their strengths and overall wellbeing.
“A criticism of the biomedical model is that it overlooks the person with the mental disorder,” he says.
“When you are feeling vulnerable, with troubles around mood or anxiety, and you go to a mental health practitioner, you don’t want them just to pay attention to those symptoms – you want them to pay attention to you as a person.
“We all have broader goals and aims in life than just decreasing our symptoms – I want good quality of life, I want a job, I want a relationship, I want to get on well with my kids, I want to have some hobbies.
“In particular, people with serious mental disorders tell us they’re a bit sick of being defined solely by their mental disorder.
“The recovery movement says when we work with people with mental disorders we have to value them as people. It’s just sensible.”
How positive psychology works
Professor Murray FAPS* says positive psychology is an approach to wellbeing that adopts a more positive view of the person, cultivating their strengths.
“They might have problems in some areas of their life but things are going well in other areas of their life, and so we will build on those areas where things are going well or build on their qualities and their strengths rather than putting lots of energy into trying to decrease their weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
“When you do that, there are lots of arguments and quite a bit of data showing that people can naturally find their way out of their current difficulties.
“In a way it’s offering them a different aim, a different way of thinking about the difficulties of life and the different ways to say – yes, there are difficulties in life but what are the strengths and resources you have and where are you wanting to head with your life?
“By paying attention to those things, we often see evidence that people can find their way out of their own problems without so much of a medical focus on the problems.”
Positive psychology for bipolar disorder
Professor Murray has been heavily involved in two new positive psychology initiatives designed to help people self-manage their bipolar disorder while empowering them to improve their health and quality of life.
The online Bipolar Wellness Centre features evidence-based information, videos and advice on how people with bipolar can manage different areas of their lives, such as relationships, employment or study, their mood and sleep.
Professor Murray is also leading a four-year international study which will trial an online psychological intervention for 300 people with bipolar disorder, focused on achieving quality of life instead of symptom relief.
“In schizophrenia, this recovery-focused thinking has been around for longer but in relation to bipolar disorder, the evidence is lagging behind the practice,” he says.
“This will be the first time that anyone has directly tested whether for a serious mental disorder like bipolar disorder that we can directly improve the quality of life of people by using these sorts of approaches.”
Tapping into the benefits of positive psychology:
*Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society
Our new Bipolar Carers Support Group meetings are held at South Yarra on the first Tuesday of each month commencing at 7:00pm (except January) – see https://bipolarlife.org.au/south-yarra-bp/
Close family and friends (bipolar carers or caregivers) can be a primary source of support for a person with bipolar disorder. Discussions include ways caregivers can take care of themselves, deal with the bipolar disorder and the personal impact it has on them.
Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are over 18 and have bipolar disorder you may be eligible to help us trial new, online self-guided interventions designed to improve quality of life in people who experience bipolar. We are comparing two types of interventions that have been created by international experts which both include videos, exercises, tools, forums and an online coach.
To find out if these interventions are helpful, you would also be asked to complete 4 assessments (which include a telephone and online component) over a 6 month period. You will be reimbursed for participation in these assessments.
If you would like more information about the research or would like to participate go to: www.orbitonline.org
Cyclothymia, also called cyclothymic disorder, is a type of chronic mood disorder widely considered to be a more chronic but milder or subthreshold form of bipolar disorder.
Cyclothymia is characterized by numerous mood swings, with periods of hypomanic symptoms that do not meet criteria for a manic episode, alternating with periods of mild or moderate symptoms of depression that do not meet criteria for a major depressive episode.
An individual with cyclothymia may feel stable at a baseline level but experience a noticeable shift to an emotional high during subthreshold hypomanic episodes of elation or euphoria, with symptoms similar to those of mania but less severe, and often cycle to emotional lows with moderate depressive symptoms. To meet the diagnostic criteria for cyclothymia, a person must experience this alternating pattern of emotional highs and lows for a period of at least two years with no more than two consecutive symptom-free months. For children and adolescents, the duration must be at least one year.
The diagnosis of cyclothymia is rare compared to other mood disorders. Diagnosis of cyclothymia entails the absence of any major depressive episode, manic episode or mixed episode, which would qualify the individual for diagnosis of other mood disorders. When a major episode manifests after an initial diagnosis of cyclothymia, the individual may qualify for a diagnosis of bipolar I or bipolar IIdisorder. Although estimates vary greatly, 15–50% of cases of cyclothymia later advance to the diagnostic criteria for bipolar I and/or bipolar II disorder (with cyclothymic features). Although the emotional highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme than those of bipolar disorder and generally do not cause the same conditions, the symptomatology, longitudinal course, family history and treatment response of cyclothymia are consistent with bipolar spectrum.
Lifetime prevalence of cyclothymic disorder is 0.4–1%. Frequency appears similar in men and women, though women more often seek treatment. People with cyclothymia during periodic hypomania (euphoria) tend to feel an inflated self-worth, self-confidence and elation, often with rapid speech, racing thoughts, not much need to sleep, increased aggression and impulsive behavior, showing little regard for consequences of decisions—but may sometimes be somewhat, fully or hyper-productive for a period of several days at a time.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar 1 at age 21. I’d had a manic episode. After not sleeping for a few days I was admitted to hospital by the police. I had been depressed for a while before the manic episode and was seeing a counsellor. I was at uni and couldn’t handle the pressure – that’s when the depression started. My mother also had Bipolar Disorder. I had been studying accounting at uni but after the manic episode I didn’t go back. I tried a few TAFE courses but couldn’t maintain the willpower to keep attending.
When I got diagnosed it affected relationships with friends, although I didn’t have a lot of friends before diagnosis. My family were pretty good about it though. Unfortunately my parents have now passed away. When Dad was alive he would come to the hospital all the time. My brother and sister haven’t talked to me for the past two years since I damaged property during a manic episode. They were good initially. My brother used to be a big help. I have a cousin but he’s usually busy. I don’t have many people in my life at the moment so going to the Bipolar Life Support Groups was a turning point. I really look forward to the groups each month. Before that I was just working and not socialising.
Things I like about the group:
I get to talk about my life. I get to hear other people’s stories. It’s a chance to not feel so alone.
I’m unemployed at the moment. I’ve been finding it hard to find a job. My motivation to get employed and go to interviews is low because of depression. I’ve been employed all my life until recently. I was fired from a job in January. Some of my mates from the Bipolar Support Groups took me out for a meal the day after I lost my job. I really appreciated their support.
Currently I am taking Lithium and Olanzapine. I haven’t seen a psychiatrist for a year. The issue is financial. I am making plans to go to one again. I see a psychologist using a Mental Health Care Plan. It helps to talk to the psychologist and know they are someone who cares.
I do volunteer work for the homeless. It’s through the Avalon Centre. I drive around meeting homeless people and distributing clothes to them. It gives me a sense of purpose.
Most days I’m not doing much. I spend a lot of time in bed. I clean the house. My TV has been broken for 2 years. I use the computer but my modem is broken at the moment. I’ve been going to the library to apply for jobs online and look at books.
I was married from 2009-2012. I had a job promotion at that time too. That was a good time in my life. Then I had a manic episode. My wife got scared and couldn’t trust me anymore. Before we got married I had told her about the depression but not the mania. I should have been up front about it. The reason I had the manic episode is I stopped medication in the mornings for 1 week. That’s all it took. Eventually I lost the job too. The reason I stopped taking the medication is that I was starting really early at work and under lots of stress. I started forgetting to take the medication in the morning. I still took it at night but that wasn’t enough. Actually every time I have had an episode it has been because I stopped taking medication.
Things that have worked for me in the past or now:
Having a job – it gets me out of bed every morning.
Family (previously. Stay close with family if you can!)
Good weather (wet weather is hard for me)
Going camping with my mate from the support group
Going to the Bipolar Life Support Groups
Taking medication as prescribed