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Author Reaches Out to Bipolar College Students in Mental Health Month

Author Reaches Out to Bipolar College Students in Mental Health Month
 

Los Angeles, CA | May 18, 2021. The college years are a time for exploring life and self-discovery, along with growing academically. If you are a student with Bipolar Disorder, it makes the challenge of this period more daunting. An estimated 3.2% of American college students meet the criteria for bipolar disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health. For Mental Health Awareness Month, author Jason W. Park, PhD (memoir Bliss + Blues = Bipolar) turns his attention to bipolar college students, and he shares his lessons learned to help these pupils meet the challenges and succeed.

"Mental illness is just half the story. There's also mental health," says the author. "It's important to have Mental Health Awareness Month because gaining an awareness about mental health recovery is so important. And this is also true for college students with bipolar."

According to the medical info website Medscape, the average age of onset of bipolar disorder is 21. Symptoms most often begin to surface between the ages of 15 to 24, which includes the college years. Onset could occur as late as age 50.

For Jason, the most pronounced onset of symptoms erupted at age 23. He was on a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, just days after his graduation from Harvard University. His parents had returned to LA earlier, and he was alone. This experience is covered in Chapter 1 of his memoir Bliss + Blues = Bipolar. He remembers, "I was basically going from extremely enthusiastic and blissful to the deepest throes of depression. Or from hot and irritable to severely depressed. I couldn't keep my emotions tethered to a more normal baseline. Managing my way through the seven hours it took to reach LA was very, very difficult."

Jason was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just a month after he moved into his parents' Southern California home post-college. Later he learned that his heavy, daily drug use (cocaine, acid, Ecstasy, crystal methamphetamine, Ketamine, and others) during his junior year at Harvard, the effects of withdrawal when discontinuing them in his senior year, and the academic stress of being a Harvardian had acted upon his genetics to bring the condition forward.

Learning of his diagnosis was a blow, but Jason accepted it because the finding came from two sources at the same time—a PhD (a psychologist) and an MD (a psychiatrist). He recommends getting a second opinion if you also receive a bipolar diagnosis.

Similar to Jason's case, symptoms of bipolar disorder can include mood swings of depression alternating with varying degrees of euphoria. According to the Mayo Clinic, other signs of bipolar are a decreased need for sleep, unusual talkativeness, racing thoughts, difficulty focusing and poor decision-making.

To obtain a diagnosis, Jason recommends getting a referral from a trusted source, such as a friend, someone who has a firm faith in the psychologist or psychiatrist. Other sources of referrals could be the student health center, the campus disability center (if it has one) or advocacy and support groups. Or a diagnosis might come from an on-campus or near-campus mental health center.

He warns that you need to be careful whose advice you take at this vulnerable time. At Harvard, when he asked a friend if he should see a psychologist, the response was: "What could a psychologist do for you that you can't do for yourself?" He comments, "That's awfully bad advice. It's like saying, 'Suck it up. You have to deal with this yourself.' That is so not true. There is help out there for you."

Jason had no sense of the mental health resources available to him as an undiagnosed undergraduate at Harvard. But it was a different story when he enrolled as a grad student with a diagnosis at the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business. Upon arriving his initial semester, the first thing he did was visit the Assistant Doctorial Program Director who was a family friend. She referred him to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where he received referrals to the psychologist and psychiatrist that he saw his entire time in the area.

If you are diagnosed with bipolar before college, check the school's website for their protocol for working with students with mental health issues. They may have you work with your academic advisor, admissions officer, the mental health staff on campus or the school's disability office. Your contact can help you get special accommodations, such as a single dorm room or reduced course load, if needed.

Another important source of support will be groups on campus that offer meetings and information on bipolar. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) offers support groups via Zoom throughout the country. Organizations on campus include Active Minds, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) student clubs, and StrengthofUs.org.

The author recommends being "very cautious" about disclosing your diagnosis to professors. In grad school, he disclosed to two professors with mixed results. In one case, it was not helpful and may have even hurt his progress. In the other, the teacher became one of Jason's most important advocates and sources of support.

"Look at the character of each person," he advises. "Choose only the professors who would appreciate your coming forth with the diagnosis. Don't think you have to disclose to everyone. Don't do that."

Jason emphasizes that it's one thing to get support from professors, friends, family, groups and others. However, the bipolar individual has to realize that it's his or her responsibility to do the hard work of therapy, of adhering to medication protocols, of speaking up when adjustments in meds are needed, and of learning how to come to terms with being bipolar.

"Always remember that we all have strengths that cause us to excel in some respects, and we all have certain weaknesses," he says. "Leveraging strengths and compensating for weaknesses to achieve opportunities and neutralize threats is key for living life with purpose and meaning, versus struggling."

Bipolar disorder is widely misunderstood by both students and parents, according to a college survey done by NAMI and Abbott Laboratory. They also found that untreated bipolar can lead to both suicide attempts and encounters with law enforcement officials. Mental Health Awareness Month or Mental Health Month has been educating the public about bipolar and other mental health conditions since 1949. It was founded by Mental Health America, earlier known as the National Association for Mental Health.

Jason's book Bliss + Blues = Bipolar is available in paperback ($14.99) and ebook ($3.99) on Amazon. It is also sold at Village Well Books and Coffee in Culver City, CA. "This is a great book for people with bipolar disorder and their families," writes one reviewer. "The author is very open and honest about his experiences and gives a vivid portrayal of some of the ups and downs of living with bipolar disorder."

 

Learn more about the author at his website

jasonwpark.com/

Bliss+ Blues = Bipolar's book page on Amazon

Click here.

Further info on preparing for college as a bipolar student from NAMI

(National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Click here.

Find a DBSA Support Group Near You (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance)

www.dbsalliance.org/

Online Mental Health Test Screenings from Mental Health America

Click here.

Background on Mental Health Awareness Month from NAMI

Click here.

 

 

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Name: Jason W. Park
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