A 24-YEAR-OLD woman from Whitchurch is using her own experience to raise awareness about bipolar disorder and the challenges people face.

Eleanor Bell, who is now a senior communications officer for Bipolar UK, is fighting the stigma surrounding bipolar, and connecting people with the condition the support they need.

Saturday, March 30, is observed as World Bipolar Day.

Eleanor's own story is a powerful example of the struggles faced by those with bipolar disorder.

"I was first unwell when I was 16 at school," she said.

"I was in and out of education. I was unwell for quite a long period of time and then I would seem fine and back to normal. Unfortunately, I dropped out of education when I was 17. I was too unwell to continue with sixth form.

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"I tried to take my life about three times before I was diagnosed. For someone so young, it was really difficult time."

She was first diagnosed with depression and was put on anti-depressant medication. But Eleanor said this can actually be dangerous for people with bipolar disorder as anti-depressants can push their mood up.

"For someone with bipolar, that can trigger manic or hypermanic episodes that can make you quite unwell. So I would go through episodes where I would have so much energy and I would feel like I could conquer the world. I had these crazy ideas and even set up an animal charity, and then I would go through months of really low mood and depression and which was even harder."

Finally, at 21, a psychiatrist correctly diagnosed her bipolar disorder and prescribed medication. However, finding the right medication and dosage remains an ongoing challenge, requiring regular blood tests.

Eleanor, who was fortunate to be diagnosed at the relatively young age of 21-22, said there is a significant delay in diagnosis for the disorder, with an average wait time of 9.5 years.

Many people have to wait much longer and this can leave them struggling for years without proper treatment.

"Symptoms for bipolar can often start from the late teens," Eleanor said.

"But most people are diagnosed in their 20s, because symptoms don't start showing until they are older. For some people, it comes as a post-partum condition because of hormonal changes."

To combat the isolation that often accompanies the condition, Eleanor stresses the importance of support groups.

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Her organisation Bipolar UK offers online and in-person groups, along with a peer support line, an online eCommunity, and a mood tracker app.

For World Bipolar Day on Saturday, March 30, Bipolar UK is organising an annual conference, which will be presented by Leah Charles-King.

At the conference, the attendees will talk about the importance of getting a diagnosis, managing bipolar in the workplace, and the stigma around bipolar.