Bipolarlife Newsletter September 2017

issue 96  (our 8th year)

September 2017

Bipolar Life Victoria

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Article I

Positive Psychology turning Mental Illness on its Head



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:

  1. Change your thinking. Positive psychology is not about being happy all of the time. It focuses on understanding an individual’s strengths as well as their preferences, achievements, qualities, goals and hopes, and works to compliment traditional therapy and treatment.
  2. Ask a psychologist. Most psychologists in Australia now utilise positive psychology. Ask your psychologist what are their goals for the treatment of your problem. “The answer should be that the client actually has to tell the practitioner what they want to get out of treatment,” Professor Murray says. “People should really challenge their practitioner to think beyond that medical thinking and say – ‘no the goals of treatment should be that I’m leading the best quality of life that I possibly can’. That probably will involve a focus on the disorder but it should involve a focus on other things as well, such as quality of life goals and what you want your life to look like in five years’ time.”
  3. Learn to live with your mental illness. With no cures for mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder, it’s important to focus on how you live with your condition. “We want to manage these conditions and decrease the symptoms,” Professor Murray says. “These are problems that have to be carried rather than treated and we want to help people carry them more comfortably.”
  4. Use online resources. Check out the Bipolar Wellness Centre website, which is designed to help people learn how to manage their bipolar disorder through their quality of life.

*Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society


Frankston Bipolar Support Group

Our new Frankston group opened on Monday 28 August 2017.

Monthly meetings are held at 7:00pm at the Orwil Street Community House, 16 Orwil Street Frankston on the fourth Monday of each month. Next meeting is on Monday 23rd October 2017.

Enquiries to

Bipolar Carers Group

A new Bipolar Carers Support Group is opening at South Yarra commencing Tuesday 3rd October 2017 and will be held on the first Tuesday of each month commencing at 7:00pm (except January).

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


Looking for new ways of living well with bipolar?

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:


Mental Health Foundation Lecture Series – Melbourne Clinic, Richmond

Lecture by Dr Chris Mogan


Tuesday 3rd October 2017 – 7:00pm (Free)

Further details:

Our Stories

Journey in the Highlands

It’s difficult to count now, but I suppose I’ve had around 20 intense high’s through my life. This is an account of a particular high, and looking back, I realise it caught me by surprise on New Years Day a few years back.

Four years ago, in conjunction with my psychoanalyst, I worked for some 12 months on learning to recognise the early signs of onset of my bipolar symptoms. It’s usually difficult to do this when getting elevated as rationale is already going out the window. We also developed a crisis plan which incorporated adding more antipsychotics to my medication diet, also focusing on sleep, and doing relaxing things such as reading etc. Previous to this particular high, I had successfully thwarted a number of highs by enacting this plan, and they had only lasted 2 – 3 days. I am now wondering if I had an overconfident perception of saying goodbye to highs.

I guess everyone is different but the main early tell-tale for me is sleep. It’s amazing how you can miss a simple thing as adequate sleep when you are getting elevated, but it did on this occasion. After three nights of two hours sleep, the penny finally dropped and I enacted my crisis plan. But too late! – the momentum of the high had gathered steam. I was still sensible enough to inform my family, friends and close associates as I’m quite open about my bipolar. I always do this now as I have learned what emotional damage I can cause to other people in this state.

I also have a very positive minded younger brother who then starts regularly checking up on me, in fact it was he, not my many psychiatrists, who some years ago worked out my triggers. When I was in a psych ward once, he went round to my house and did some investigating. He got into my PC to check up on what I had been up to, and was suspicious about my email and phone output, saved the lot and later sorted them. As emails and phone bills go back years, he constructed a time/count graph and discovered that the peaks on my email output graph closely coincided with my previous documented highs. He’s in the wrong profession, my brother!

I can recall a day in a high some years ago when I looked at the times of my first and last email, and it worked out that I had spent 8½ hours straight at the keyboard typing emails! Another problem here of course, is that a day or two later you get hit by a barrage of replies, so then it’s like chasing your tail. The other thing that happens to me with emails concerns quality. My sentence construction and rational order really goes astray. I’ve often winced when reading my emails back on a later calm day, and if I had a rubber I’d ruin the screen! What I try to do now if I feel I’m getting elevated, is file my emails in the “drafts” folder and send them off the next morning after reading them through AND amending them.

Racing thoughts are another strong symptom of mine. So it’s “bing!!”- and it’s 2:00am. Sometimes I go for a walk through the streets in the dark, and when I get back some time later, I find that I cannot remember how far or where I’ve walked. My racing thoughts have jumped through hundreds of subjects and I guess it gets trance-like. There has been the occasional positive, once one of these 2:00am bings turned into a patent. I have to say that I have always been a skeptic when it comes to those famous BP people in history doing wonderful things when high, but I’m not so sure now.

Decision making is a real problem for me when high. I’ve been bankrupt twice in my life and both times it has been caused by me choosing to take the shorter and more risky path when elevated.  Once also when high I “did a deal” with a guy to go into a business partnership with him, and we shook hands on it. After thinking it through when balanced a few days later, I realised I was wrong so I had to go back to him and “undo” our handshake (he was not happy). The price we pay!

Other abnormal traits I inherit when high are “shortness with people”, “talkativeness” and “aggressiveness”. This is obviously not ideal and I’m still wondering how to contain these unfortunate behavior problems. Family members or friends just don’t understand our widely fluctuating experiences and seem to focus on how our behavior affects them and other family members.

My highs in recent years are not so pronounced as in my earlier undiagnosed days. My assessment is about 66% intensity as before and this is no doubt due to the lithium mood-stabilizer I take. Historically my highs  lasted 1 – 3 months and this was my worry with my recent episode after missing it in the early phase. Not sure about other bipolar people but I reckon I can “feel” the high in my fatigued body. The racing mind is alert but the body just goes downhill as time goes on. However, in this case, after 15 days I could feel the high subsiding.  I then really started to focus on sleep, and am now happy to report that I touched down and landed safely a few days later.

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