I have not study on this, but I would like to share my experience with those vulnerable ones and especailly the Chinese who suffer from this illness.
I had my first breakdown in Sydney at the age of early twenties. Had four since then, one more in Sydney, one in Hong Kong and one here in New Zealand some twenty years ago. I experienced shame about my illness and was told not to mention it – most Chinese have the believe that it is not something honourable to even mention. I was lucky in the way that at least I was sent to psychiatrist and take medication. Stigmatisation is very scary. I even stigmatised myself. I remember I went to visit a friend who had returned to Hong Kong from Sydney to see her newborn baby. I love babies and holding them is always my desire. That friend knew what happened to me in Sydney but she never stigmatised or discriminate me and she's not afraid of me having experiences of mental health and she passed her baby to me to hold it. The problem is with me. I, happpily held the baby and walked out to the balcony – a thought struck me, did my friend had any apprenhension about letting me holding the baby and taking it out to the balcony? Would she be afriad that I could suddenly turned cracy and dropped her baby down onto the street? Quickly I took the baby and returned it to the mother. Is it because I didn't trust myself or will it really happen? Of course looking back it seems very silly to have such thoughts. But my culture (Chinese, I can only speak on my behalf as a Chinese) we were taught that mental illness is something not honourable and all these are due to the stigmatisation initiated by myself.
Well I'll briefly describe my illness here. I was told afterwards that I was misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. Not knowing, not understanding nor did I bother to find out. Being crazy and did bizzare things meant you're mentally ill. Then the same vicious cycle repeated each time I had a breakdown – first in a manic eposide, believing that I was so rich and powerful because I brought peace to the world, then a period of paranoia when I believed that the Chinese communists are trying to persecute me and my loved ones, followed by a long period of depression until the next period of manic. Four times, with the same symptoms and each time no one spotted it, not the psychiatrist who I made regular visits or my family. Duefully I took my medication and accepted it all. I didn't know I had depression, I was quite ignorant then, I just thought losing all my interests and didn't feel like doing anything was because I was lazy. I was not aware of the symptoms leading to the crisis.
Twenty years ago I migrated to Auckland with my family and was happily settled. We brought all our savings. I was very contented to be just a housewife and mother. I never had a career, I did work for some time but I had to give it up because of a breakdown. So leave it to the man of the family to bring home salary every month to keep the household running. Then after several trials it proved to be not working. My husband couldn't get a job. I was worried calculating how much money we had and how long it would last. Very stupidly and under my coercion we went into the property development business. With no experience in business, either of us, it failed badly and I had my breakdown again. But this time I'm on my own here with no concerned parents who have overprotected me all the time, especially when I had mental illness. They gave me anything, love of course, and any materail things I need when we couldn't afford. Here we faced any problems and we had to deal with it. And thank god I'm here otherwise it might be another unsolved issue believing that with medication I'm well and under control, and very likely that vicious cycle will creep up on me some other times.
I had given a lot of trouble to my family, my husband and my daughter. Poor thing she was fourteen only and all the mad things I did had turned our family upside down. But no need to go into detail. What I want to say is that when I was given medication and my determination to get well helped me to be who and how I am now. Dr Sai Wong has been very helpful, he was my psychiatrist. The psychiatric nurse did the best thing for me when she introduced me to Toi Ora, an organisation where those who have experiences of mental health issues, there I did free courses – creative writing, dramma, art. After two years I decided to do some serious self actualization and I enrolled to do a BA degree at University of Aucland. It took me nine long years and it's been a struggle but I finally made it. I began to revive my passions and add a few more. Sometimes you never know a misfortune can turn into something so great for me – a blessing in disguise. If I did not have this breakdown here I would not have passions and to be able to carry them out. Of course my husband has been very supportive and has become the best house husband, looking after me, taking me to Uni, to places I want to go. It's no point to go into detail here, this is meant to be in echo of Dr Sai Wong's study.
We, I mean species of our kind with mental illness, are very vulnerable people. And Chinese traditional beliefs that we shouldn't talk about our illness or some very unfortunate ones they do not dare or even are allowed to see a psychiatrist, to seek help – of course there are many reasons, but one very usual among Chinese is that the vulnerable ones who can be the mother, a daughter or a son are living in the awe of a dominating male figure and when he said no to getting help because it is shameful and that they show weakness by doing that. I actually had a young friend coming to me some years ago with his girlfriend who's suffering from some sort of depression to seek advice. Her father would not let her to seek help. Everyone should be hush hush about it. This is just one example and I'm sharing this with all of the readers that an illness like this, well actually all kind of illness, need to be addressed. Why on earth you go to see a doctor when you have diabetics or the scary of all cancer? Why you can be open with these diseases and not mental health? Mental illness is worse than caner. It grows on you and you suffered and one disastrous end product is having suicidal thoughts and deciding to do it when you feel you have no other ways. I've joined in working to fight stigmatisation and discrimination for a while and I have done very little on it for a while now. But I feel the need to write about it now when my son-in-law told me two nights ago about Dr Wong's study.
I did try to kill myself with the third breakdown and I was so lucky to be saved and live till now. I'm living a fulfilled life and I'm proud of myself for all the years of struggle which has paid off. There are many ways to help when you're in a desperate position. First thing first go to seek help. You may think your mind is troubled and you do not how to handle it. You do not know how to distangle all the problems held inside you. A good councellor, a good psychiatrist can help you with that. Of course you have to stay strong and actually do something to help yourself. As agreed by most psychiatrists medication can help you may be 30% or 40% but your own effort counts a lot.
Mothers who have children who suffer from this kind of disease and even you all are living in the awe of the dominate figure, mostly a male one, stand up and make some decisions on your own. I'm not trying to ask you to start a revolution at home, but sometimes if you know something's right you have to stick to your belief especially it's so important to your loved ones who are sick. You can ask for help, for example a trusted friend, and be brave and start doing something. It's not going to be easy but speak up and act for the sake of your loved ones.
Here I'd like to make some suggestions. How can I break my vicious cyle? It's mostly knowledge, I learn more about my illness and the knowledge took away my paranoia. I'm aware of it and have acknowledged it. Now I can criticise on the Chinese government, the Americans and put my thoughts on my blog and website. I've once admitted that I'm not brave because I can speak out my mind now on issues I haven't got the guts to but I'm brave in admitting that I have bipolar risking that people may sneer at me or look at me differently. But so far by being open about my illness I only get positive results. Knowledge, education is of utmost importance to help and arm those who never bothered to think that these things do benefit everyone.
To close this article I wish the government may help in running courses to educate these vulnerable ones, change their age old taboo beliefs and arm them with strength to fight the illness. Thanks for reading.