National mental health charity, Bipolar UK, will celebrate 40 years of their peer support services on 25th February – at which time it has helped hundreds of thousands of people across the UK.
It all started in 1982 when Bipolar UK founders Sheila Woodhead and Philomena Germing independently placed adverts in The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer newspapers searching for people who were directly affected by bipolar.
When the two women eventually met, they joined forces. The 180 people who responded to their adverts were invited to the first ever bipolar peer-to-peer meeting on 25th February 1983 at Westminster Abbey Church Hall.
40 years on, Bipolar UK, as the charity is now known, continues to bring people affected by bipolar together so they can listen, understand and offer vital support to each other.
Regarding the 40th anniversary, deputy CEO of Bipolar UK, Rosie Phillips said: “At Bipolar UK, peer support is at the heart of what we do. Our groups, peer support line and Community are all led by fully trained staff and volunteers who either have the condition themselves or have a loved one with bipolar.”
“Sheila was an incredible catalyst for change, and we continue to strive to fulfil her vision that everyone affected by bipolar can access the support and understanding they need.”
“The beauty of peer support is that anyone over 18 affected by bipolar can take part. People often tell us that sharing experiences is powerful and stops them from feeling alone.”
“In the years ahead, providing peer support services will remain central to everything we do. Hundreds of thousands of people affected by bipolar still lack basic support and self-management knowledge. We want to ensure everyone affected by bipolar can live well and achieve their potential.”
Peer support groups are based across the UK and allow people to meet in person and online once a month. Our peer support line is a callback service providing free advice and support by phone or email. The moderated eCommunity is open 24/7.
Alongside providing peer support services, Bipolar UK has raised public awareness and understanding of bipolar and its effects.
Rosie added: “In 2021, we launched the “Bipolar Commission”, which seeks to address key issues our community faces proactively. We estimate that every day at least one person with bipolar takes their own life – a statistic that urgently needs to change.”
“Another one of our aims is that everyone with bipolar can get consistent care within mental health services. We also strive to significantly reduce diagnosis time from the current average wait of 9.5 years.”
“Since the charity was established in 1983, we have always focused on direct service provision and meeting the needs of individuals affected by bipolar. We now run over 55 support groups across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”
“As a small but growing charity, we have seen how service demand has increased dramatically. So many people with bipolar are not getting the treatment and support they need and deserve. Which is why our peer support services are more important than ever.”
At an in-person event in September to celebrate 40 years of peer support, volunteers for the charity will receive a commemorative pin badge from acknowledging how far the charity has come since the first peer support group while remaining true to its roots by providing peer support for so many people within the bipolar community.
Neil, who has been using Bipolar UK’s peer support services for seven years, said: “I go to a monthly Bipolar UK peer support group. When I first went, I’d just been diagnosed and had no information or support.”
“Joining the group has been a tremendous help as I’ve learnt about the condition, and it’s helped solve some of the mysteries of my life.”
“Finding this space where I can be open and honest without judgement or repercussion was a relief after years of guilt, shame and utter confusion about my inexplicable behaviour.”
“The groups are so important to me that when I recently moved house, a key selection criterion was ensuring a support group nearby.”
“Joining, contributing and listening at meetings has been most liberating. Learning from other people’s experiences has changed my life. I now live with self-acceptance and gratitude.”
Bipolar UK also has a 20-minute free e-learning course for those wanting to learn more about the condition and a mood disorder questionnaire to help anyone who thinks they might have the condition get the support they need and receive a quicker diagnosis.