Why is the Bipolar Youth Action Project Cool? Author, Melissa – BYAP Youth Lead

The VERY rough idea behind the Bipolar Youth Action Project (BYAP) is that it is a research study that addresses, well…

Bipolar disorder.​

But for youth.

Obviously.

So what makes this project cool? It’s that it’s actually asking youth with bipolar disorder how they manage their disorder themselves!

Why is this so important? Well, because it’s an opportunity for us, youth with bipolar disorder, to talk about what WE THINK works!

As I see it, mental health solutions are usually “top-down.”

Picture it like this: essentially, psychiatrists are at the “top,” looking “down.” It’s kind of like they’re up in a big tower, where they can observe many people at once. With their bird’s-eye view, they would be able to see, say, if a bunch of people below are walking in circles. On the other hand, at the “bottom,” an individual person may not be able to realize they’re walking in circles, because they don’t see things from the vantage point of a person above.

In the real world, not crazy circle-walking land, what this means is: psychiatrists observe patients, then determine what a group of patients has in common that makes them “bipolar.” Then, they write out all of these symptoms in a big book (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, which released its 5th edition in 2013). Then other psychiatrists can look at the DSM-V and tell an individual patient that they have bipolar disorder by referring to the list of symptoms.

Now, this is all good! Psychiatrists are experts. It’s not like they just pulled this stuff out of nowhere – attempts to classify mental disorders date back to the mid-1800's, and the first DSM was released back in 1952, after a whole bunch of WWII veterans came home and the doctors were like, “Oh, wow, everyone has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. We should probably deal with this." (Well, not exactly, since PTSD wasn’t a thing yet. But yeah.)

Since that’s happened, research into mental disorders has been pretty constant. A new edition of the DSM is released roughly every 20 years, with revisions released in between. They’re pretty much always been reviewed and more research is being always done.

Okay, so, sounds pretty good. So is there any issue with this?

Well… what about the “bottom-up?”

Psychiatrists and researchers do have the benefit of seeing things from the “top.” They can see that, over large groups of people, certain symptoms characterize bipolar disorder, and certain treatments – such as medications, cognitive behavioural therapy, or mindfulness – seem to work. But because they’re not at the bottom, they don’t have the unique, individual experience of a person with bipolar disorder – and so their solutions can’t reflect that.

We, the people on the ground, understand what it’s like to actually LIVE day-to-day with the challenges posed by bipolar disorder. Because of this, we can come to solutions that work for us, as individuals. And hey, maybe if the solution works for an individual, it can work for other people with the same challenge!

This is the bottom-up approach, and it’s exactly what the Bipolar Youth Action Project is about. The BYAP is about asking youth who face the daily challenges of bipolar disorder what works for US. It’s an opportunity for us to finally have a voice in the conversation about managing mental health.

After all, we’re the ones who live with it!