The Bipolar Youth Action Project – Summary of Findings

The  Bipolar Youth  Action Project –  Beginning the Conversation  

The Bipolar Disorder Society of BC and CREST.BD are currently writing a grant proposal for the Vancouver Foundation to conduct a study called the Bipolar Youth Action Project (BYAP).  It is an innovative, youth-focused and youth-led project that will train and challenge young adults aged 16 to 22 to perform research into how to live well with bipolar disorder. 

Andrea Paquette and Erin Michalak met with five youth (four young women and one young man) who live with bipolar disorder for an initial conversation to collect insights and help design the research, sparking conversation on topics ranging from wellness strategies to how to get the message out that youth ought to be talking about their mental health.  The session lasted over an hour and it was evident that excitement and passion carried the conversation.

Youth Wellness Strategies

The youth shared numerous and diverse strategies that contributed positively to their wellness.  For example:

  • They agreed that exercise is at the forefront for staying well.  Whether it is strenuous or a simple walk around the block, the youth all identified that physical activity helps them with their wellness. 
  • Lara stressed that a creative outlet helps her feel at ease during times of stress. Painting is her preferred method of staying well. 
  • Playing music and “doing something exciting” proved to be creative outlets for Shannon. 
  • Samuel viewed the following up with his medical professionals as important and said that he does his best to surround himself with positive, non-triggering people. This helps him ensure that he has the support he requires. 
  • The group discussed the importance of sobriety and of simply avoiding drugs and alcohol. 
  • Christine felt that her vital coping strategies were staying in the moment and neither worrying about the future nor dwelling in the past.  Having fun, creating balance and having a full work and volunteer schedule has proven to be successful in helping her stay healthy and productive. 
  • Lastly, the youth agreed that a good night’s sleep and a solid routine around sleep helped them to stay well.

Strategies Particularly Useful for  Youth

Most of the youth felt that a number of their personal wellness strategies might also be useful for adults living with bipolar disorder; however, they recognized that their parents played a major role in their wellness.  Many of the youth, feeling that older generations often have inaccurate understandings of mental health, mentioned that they had taken a proactive role in educating their parents.  The relationship and role of a parent changes drastically as one matures, and for younger generations the impact is often significant; for example,  Lara identified her father as a strong supporter and their positive relationship as an integral component to her wellness. Many of the youth also agreed that extra stressors from parents can play a negative role in a youth’s recovery, especially for those who have experienced a hospitalization or breakdown. 

The group pointed out that young people and adults can have very different lifestyles; however, several of them believed that, although it is attractive for them to ‘live in the moment’, a certain amount of planning must take place as one transitions from youth to adulthood.  Wellness strategies for an individual navigating this transition were identified by the group as distinct from wellness strategies employed by someone who had fully matured.

Information Sharing with Other Youth

An array of avenues for sharing information were identified by the group. For example:   

  • Many of the youth identified tools such as PowerPoint, used in a school assembly presentation on mental health, as an effective option.
  • Conversation ignited creativity and Shannon and Marissa saw great opportunity in using social media as a vehicle to expression.  Facebook is a popular and creative way to reach the masses, as are blogs and YouTube.
  • Regardless of how information is shared it was thought important to keep it real and authentic. One idea was to follow a ‘day in the life of’ a real youth living well with bipolar disorder to demonstrate their coping strategies. 
  • Christine expressed that the key is to make it interactive and to remove stigmatized words that hurt youth, creating conversations free of stigma.
  • The group expressed that there is a need to get the right information out, but also to include personal narratives.

It was thought that the best approach would be to identify the core wellness strategies, then to creatively share them via diverse channels, with an overarching goal of creating a network of general BD information made authentic with real-life examples and stories.  The youth believe that sharing information with other youth as opposed to having adults share the information was key.  The youth identified that they are at a specific point in their lives where they can relate to and communicate with each other better than with adults.  Therefore, the majority of the group felt that it was important to focus primarily on youth, rather than extending the focus of the project to parents.  The group agreed that youth themselves have the greatest need for this type of research, and that it is amongst youth where the research findings would have the most potential for impact. The research findings will likely end up being shared with parents, but the youth agreed that it’s important that the project stays focused. 

What’s in it for Youth?

Many of the youth saw themselves as agents of change in society, making a difference with their attitudes and actions.  Looking ahead, the youth in this group want to work as agents of change by being active in their community, educating others and sharing the details of their lives.  Lara seeks to progress and help others be well. Others stated that ongoing learning about their own illness helps them be more comfortable with the disorder: this project would help them develop the skills that they need to carry out these desires.  Shannon is thrilled to explore public speaking, boost her confidence, learn from the public, and help people who are self-stigmatized.  All the members of the group envision this project as an opportunity to work in a research environment to reach towards tangible solutions to real-world problems.

The youth realize that there may be repercussions to their work. They identified that putting themselves ‘out there’ may make them vulnerable and may be triggering for others.  The amount of work may be stressful but the youth stated that having the project span a two year period is comforting, as is the prospect of having mentorship from experienced researchers. The group specified that a set of safe guidelines is a positive avenue to averting unnecessary complications or concerns.

According to all the youth involved, it was a fantastic idea to perform this consultation early in the process of developing the research, giving them the opportunity to shape it right from the start. They also stated that were keen to be involved with  a project where they will unite youth with bipolar disorder  to make a positive, long lasting and significant impact.

Photos approved by Pilot Participants

The real names of the participants were not used in this summary.