Mount Union Senior Speaks Out to Promote Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day

April 27, 2010

Thursday, October 5 was designated as Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day (BDAD) and Mount Union senior Amber Ferguson has stepped forward to share her own experience in order to promote awareness of bipolar disorder.

Photo by Kevin Graff, The Review

Ferguson, a physics and astronomy major of Dayton, took advantage of a class assignment to come forward. She decided to share her story in hopes of educating people about bipolar disorder and reaching out to those who are suffering.

'In my 'Movies and Madness' class at Mount Union, I was assigned to discuss how stereotypes of people with mental illnesses are portrayed in film and how they negatively influence public opinion,' said Ferguson. 'I felt compelled to share my own story to help prevent someone else from having to go through the ordeal that I went through along with my whole family.

'When I was 14,' she explained, 'my parents got divorced and our lives began to unravel.'

Ferguson's mother, who had been diagnosed with depression at the age of 22, was left to raise four children alone and the stress started to get the best of her.

'She went from being a strong independent woman to losing her job along with many others after that one,' said Ferguson. 'She would swing from sleeping for days at a time to being awake for days at a time.'
Then she started spending a lot of time away from home, leaving Ferguson, the oldest, to take care of her three younger siblings.

'As our lives fell apart, I watched my beautiful, strong, loving and caring mother turn into a substance abuser and an alcoholic,' said Ferguson.
After a suicide attempt, Ferguson's mother was hospitalized and finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

'All those years she had been misdiagnosed and her mania was out of control,' said Ferguson. 'Finding the source of my mother's suffering and treating it not only saved her life but also my whole family.'

Bipolar disorder is a serious brain disorder that causes extreme shifts in mood, energy and functioning. Diagnosed in 2.3 million adult Americans, the symptoms of bipolar disorder often go unrecognized or are misdiagnosed and many more may be suffering.

Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day provides the opportunity to reach out to persons living with bipolar disorder and help shape public commitment to early intervention and screening for bipolar disorder and access to effective treatment.

Since 1990 Congress has designated the first week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week. Throughout the week special events are sponsored by the NAMI, including Bipolar Disorder Awareness Day.

'Leveling the Playing Field,' NAMI's theme for 2006, reflects the hopes and possibility of reclaiming lives in all communities across the country. This theme also challenges people to remember that many barriers remain that often delay or negatively influence recovery of the victims of mental illnesses.

In addition to sharing her story, Ferguson is promoting awareness of bipolar disorder by posting flyers around campus and distributing pamphlets throughout the community.

Other suggestions for erasing the stigma and discrimination against bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses include donating a book to your public library, sharing your own story, volunteering, writing your congressman to enlist support in addressing the many issues surrounding mental illness and joining an advocacy group such as The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill or The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

For more information, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website at www.nami.org.

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