The First Bipolar Youth Action Project Forum by Anna Graham, Youth Peer Researcher

After careful planning and organization, the day for the first Bipolar Youth Action Project finally arrived. We set out to make our mark in the world of bipolar disorder (BD) research and we were ready to make it happen. Our goal was to find out what helped youth with BD to live meaningful and healthy lives: what skills they employed, and what tools they used to keep themselves balanced and well while living with the disorder. After a day filled with fun, new insights, and a plethora of information, we have gathered invaluable data that will help shed light on our cause.

The day was ready to begin with all the food, tables, and chairs set up in our space. Our 21 forum participants, all youth who live with BD, came through the doors, registering and acquainting themselves with each other and with the members of the BYAP. As everyone got settled introductions were made and the tone was set for the day — we were in for a lot of fun and information gathering. Throughout the day we had Erin Stewart Elliott, our graphic facilitator, creating images to represent what we were accomplishing that day. Erin’s graphic record outlined our journey as it developed, creating a unique visual reminder of what we had done. She began her process at the beginning of the forum and we watched as her drawings and words captured the feel and energy of the information that was being presented that day.

The participants then formed into groups in order to prepare for the focus group portion of the forum. The participants were organized into 4 groups with a facilitator asking questions and managing the flow of the conversation and a co-facilitator supporting and taking notes. This was the crucial portion of the forum, the time to gather data that we will organize and then present during our next forum. In the focus groups, we discussed methods for wellness and achieving balance and stability. It was an honest and unique view of how youth stay well while living with BD. After the focus groups were finished we broke for lunch and enjoyed delicious sandwiches and salads!

Then to finish off the day we had our workshops. The workshops were run by the BYAP members and covered topics such as mindfulness and how to live successfully and happily while not letting your disorder define who you are. The workshops were great, with lots of participation and interest. Laura walked us through a mindfulness segment in which we used a piece of chocolate to find ourselves in a state of calm and mindfulness; it was very effective and well received by the participants! Michelle and Alan also did a mindfulness exercise that taught us how to live within the present moment.

Overall the day was fantastic, and was successful in achieving its goal of finding new information to help in understanding how youth live well with bipolar disorder. Now we prepare for Forum 2, where we’ll share the information we collected in Forum 1! It will be an amazing way for people to see what self-management strategies are employed by youth and how they manage living with BD and staying well. I feel so grateful for being able to participate in such a meaningful project and can't wait for the next installment to get underway!