People struggling with bipolar disorder on the West Shore now have a new place to go to meet others and find support.
The Bipolar Support Group is set to bring together people of all ages and persuasions who have bipolar disorder to meet, talk and help one another. Healthy choices will be a focus, with members discussing lifestyles, drug and alcohol issues and other facets of living with mental illness.
“Sometimes opening up to complete strangers is more therapeutic than opening up to people that you know really well,” said Andrea Paquette, executive director of the Bipolar Disorder Society of B.C. “You feel a sense of safety and eventually you form friendships and you feel comfortable. … The dynamic is so powerful.”
Paquette believes the group is the first to specifically focus on bipolar disorder on the West Shore. People with other mental illnesses are welcome, but the focus will be bipolar. The group is not a place for advice, but rather a listening ear.
The first meeting was held yesterday (Jan. 14) but the group is informal and people can to join or leave at any time. Paquette does ask people who wish to attend contact her ahead of time so she has an idea of numbers.
Paquette has been working towards helping people with bipolar disorder for about five years now, starting with a youth support group, called Teens 2 Twenties, run out of her home starting in 2009.
“I saw a need for youth to gather together to form friendships and talk about their challenges,” Paquette said. “And celebrate their successes.”
Since those humble beginnings, Paquette has formed the Bipolar Disorder Society of B.C., which is a non-profit, registered charity providing four mental health programs. Along with the Teens 2 Twenties, the group offers classroom presentations, a women’s support group and community presentations.
In a one-year period Paquette said the society presented to 1,800 youth all told.
“It’s been astounding,” Paquette said of the feedback she’s received. “They’re changing their attitudes around mental health, they see people in a positive light now, they’re changing their perspective. It’s just mind blowing.”
With startup funding secured, Paquette said money will be needed to keep the group going. She will go to municipalities and individuals with an interest in mental health to drum up support.
he society has also been awarded a $159,000 grant for the Bipolar Youth Action Project, in conjunction with a research network based out of the University of British Columbia.
The project will see youth from 16 to 25 years old with bipolar disorder from throughout Vancouver Island converging in Victoria and Campbell River once every few months to take part in a research project where they research their own illness. The project will take place over two years and its findings will be presented to the public.
“What’s neat about it is it’s not research top down,” Paquette said. “It’s going to make a positive impact for youth with bipolar disorder.”
The West Shore support group is every Tuesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Centennial Centre (2805 Carlow Rd.), across from Spencer middle school. For more information visit bipolarbabe.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.