Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Self medication

In the wake of Robin Williams tragic suicide has come a plethora of analysis about the nature of comic genius and mental illness as we ordinary folk try to understand why anyone would want to kill themselves. Many of the accounts of his life note his long 'battle' with alcohol and drugs, he himself made comedy from it in that famous interview with Michael Parkinson. Even there amongst the laughter, was deep darkness.

A couple of months ago I met a woman who had struggled with alcohol all her life until a perceptive Children North East family worker noticed something that changed everything. When she was referred to us Paula was drinking a litre of vodka every day and her two teenage children were at risk of being taken into care. Our worker spent a lot of time getting to know Paula and gained her trust.

Paula’s life has been very hard – three female relatives including her mother all committed suicide. All the men in her life have been aggressive and involved in violent crime. But our worker recognised something else beyond this tragic story, a pattern of elation followed by depressed mood.

She encouraged Paula’s GP to refer her for psychiatric assessment and nagged the psychiatric service until they did. Paula was diagnosed with a bipolar illness which was then treated with medication. Since her teenage years Paula had learned to ‘self-medicate’ with alcohol, now she has medication she herself recognises that she no longer needs to drink.

When I met her Paula had not drunk alcohol for 6 months, I found her to be a warm, caring mother who told me the referring social workers had decided that her children will remain with her.

12th August was the United Nations International Youth Day, the theme this year is young people and mental health.Wouldn't it be great if everyone working with young people had the understanding to recognise mental health difficulties before they become problems that ruin the whole of adult life?

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