In the first event of its kind, 21 youth participants aged 16 to 25 from Vancouver Island came together on a summer day to focus on, and share strategies for, living well and with resilience. All the youth participants shared a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (BD), as do all 7 members of our Youth Action Group, which was instrumental in planning and facilitating the forum.
In reflecting on the forum, the term “resilience” came to mind because of its powerful meaning. In the field of psychology it refers to an individual's capacity to adapt, to thrive and fulfill potential despite or perhaps even because of life stressors and catastrophes[i]. Implicit is the recognition that amidst the most severe challenges life may bring, individuals and their communities can, and do, adapt and regain health and wellbeing.
Experience of mental and emotional crisis and imbalance is varied and subjective, and as old as time itself, but positive coping or adaptation strategies can greatly improve the lives of people who live with mental illness, including BD. Pharmacological treatment of symptoms, alone, without development of strategies for adapting to and managing stress, is often insufficient. Modern psychiatry is often concerned with medical solutions to acute or severe situations and thus, can be slower to provide psycho-educational support. Efforts to alleviate mental illness with a proactive and preventative approach are gaining ground, however, and this is where the Bipolar Youth Action Project can make a real impact.
The researchers leading the Bipolar Youth Action Project have, from the outset, focused on learning about resilience, and on learning from those with lived experience. At the forum, members of our 7-member Youth Action Group spoke about their personal experiences of battling with and overcoming the challenges of living with BD. In groups, our 21 youth participants were asked what actions – or ‘self-management strategies’ – they take to stay healthy. As the youth drew on their experience, and built on each other’s responses, a collective wisdom emerged along themes such as the importance of key relationships, essential lifestyle practices, and commitment to treatment.
The sense of hope and courage among participants was palpable. As a Youth Action Group member and forum facilitator, I saw that attitudes of resilience grow when shared. Using the knowledge we generated, our team members are ready to show that the strategies can be learned as well.
We’ll be doing this at our second forum on Sunday, November 15th in Victoria, BC, so get in touch if you’d like to join us.
Thank you for reading!
By: Alan, BYAP Member and forum workshop facilitator