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March 30, 2017



30 March 2017 

World Bipolar Day is celebrated every year on the 30th of March, the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, who was posthumously diagnosed as possibly having bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder is the 6th leading cause of disability in the world, with an estimated 60 million people worldwide living with the disorder, according to the World Health Organisation. Despite its prevalence, bipolar disorder is still surrounded by stigma and misinformation. The reality is however that despite the severe and often debilitating symptoms, with the correct treatment and support many people with bipolar disorder are able to live functional and healthy lives as part of their communities. In order to fight the stigma surrounding the disorder, and to try and encourage understanding and support, the South African Federation for Mental Health is encouraging persons living with bipolar disorder to share their stories.   

Sifiso Mkhasibe Life Story - Living with Bipolar Mood Disorder

"I am a survivor of Bipolar Mood Disorder type 2. I can remember when I was told that I had this mental condition, I was confused and had no idea what it was and how to manage it. It was all new to me. I remember the doctor telling me that I had to take medication for the rest of my life, and it seemed like a death sentence. I didn’t understand why I had to be on medication and even worse why I was taken away from my family to stay in a hospital, I felt like my freedom was taken away from me. I didn’t see myself as a person who was chronically ill with a mental disorder. I knew I did not belong in hospital, it wasn’t a place for me. And so my journey began.

I remember I was extremely violent and aggressive. And when I was down I was so depressed I tried to kill myself. I didn’t know what to do with this mental disorder that had crippled my life. I was young in my late 20’s, doing well in college and working part time. I was excelling at everything I touched or did. So when I was admitted to hospital, I felt like my life had just ended. I never saw myself living in a lock up ward in hospital. I was always sedated, because of my violent outbursts and my manic and depressive episodes. I had given up on life and any chance of recovering from my mental illness.

My family’s response was that I was bewitched and would never be normal again, unless I went to the traditional healer. My family took me there but I was not healed, so back to hospital I went. I was written off by my family because they didn’t understand what was happening to me or how to help me. It affected them badly, my father even suffered a heart attack from thinking too much about my illness and what went wrong in his life. He blamed himself for my illness and that resulted in the heart attack, but he recovered from it. The rest of my family members kept their distance. I think it was due to a lack of education on how to support me during this time and confusion about my disorder.

Days, weeks, months went by, until I realised enough was enough. I had to take ownership of my bipolar mood disorder. I educated myself about the symptoms I had experienced when I was diagnosed. I went through depressive symptoms which included sadness and hopelessness, with no drive to live. I also went through hypomanic symptoms that included irritability and over excitement, I was also a compulsive spender, and at some point gave away all my belongings to strangers. Once I had learned how to manage my bipolar mood disorder, life started to become clearer, I knew what I had to do and how to do it. I was no longer a victim of my disorder. I stopped defining myself as a person with bipolar mood disorder, now I just say that I had those symptoms when I was diagnosed. I am on medical treatment and I do not present those symptoms any longer.

I am now a healthy and functioning member of society, and I work and study. I live life with a purpose to empower and educate people all over the world about bipolar disorder. I love to take part in outdoor activities. I’ve joined a gym in my community and play for the local soccer team, which consists of friends with bipolar and other mental disorders. I am a highly active South African Mental Health Advocacy Movement (SAMHAM) advocacy leader in my community, helping those who are struggling with their mental condition to understand and manage it, like I have done, and to fight against stigma and discrimination in our society. I work to help others live with dignity and respect, for them to know their rights as mental health care users, and to be responsible for their own mental well-being. 

The treatment I am currently taking has worked well for me over the years. I have come to terms with having to take my medication for the rest of my life, because it brings stability to my life. I am taking Epilim and Seroquel on a daily basis, and been for many years. I have had to make some lifestyle changes in order to manage my disorder, and this has helped me to be healthy.

I am Sifiso Mkhasibe… I am not my illness. My bipolar mood disorder does not define who I am. I used to present symptoms of bipolar disorder but not anymore. I am a survivor of bipolar disorder and I live a normal life. Remember to look after your mental wellbeing." 

By telling their stories in their own words, mental health care users living with bipolar disorder can help to combat the shame and silence that often surrounds mental illness, and they can become empowered through sharing their struggles, experiences and victories with the world. SAFMH encourages anyone living with bipolar disorder to send us their story to help and encourage conversation and education around bipolar disorder. SAFMH would also like to encourage all South Africans to educate themselves about bipolar disorder, in order to create a society that treats mental health care users with dignity and respect.


Marthé Viljoen

Programme Manager: Information & Awareness 

SA Federation for Mental Health

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Last modified on March 30, 2017