Page last updated at 17:07 GMT, Monday, 15 February 2010

'Why I sectioned my wife over her bipolar disorder'

By Fergal Keane
Radio 4, Taking a Stand

William and Kate Lyons in Edinburgh, photo courtesy Scotsman Publications
Bipolar disorder is having a big impact on William and Kate Lyons' lives

For both the sufferer and the carer, mental illness can be an experience of extraordinary loneliness.

According to the charity Mind, two-thirds of the population will know somebody close to them who has experienced mental illness.

The lives of Kate and William Lyons, a young married couple, have been radically changed by bipolar depression, a condition in which Kate experiences delusional highs and disabling lows.

For William, it meant having to commit his wife to hospital under the Mental Health Act. For them both mental illness is a dominating presence in their relationship.

Kate Lyons first experienced depression as she was about to sit her GCSEs in 1992 but says she was told by her GP that what she really needed was some fresh air.

Extreme behaviour

"I knew it was something really different," she remembers, "it was out of my control. But I didn't know anyone with depression particularly and I hadn't really talked to anyone about it."

The sense of depression as an experience which cannot be communicated to others is widely felt by those who have suffered.

When Kate met her future husband William at Edinburgh University in 1996 she had just come down from a "high".

LISTEN TO THE PROGRAMME
Taking a Stand is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 16 February at 0900 and 2130 GMT
Or listen via the BBC iPlayer

Her condition, bipolar disorder, is characterised by extremes of highs and lows in which the individual's behaviour changes drastically.

"It was a case of gradually losing control and having a lot of delusions about there being, for example, music playing in my room and I thought that the band were in my room as well," Kate recalls.

"Or walking down the street and believing that there were TV cameras following me. Or, that everything I did was incredibly significant and important and becoming very sort of outspoken with people," she adds.

Breakdown

"When I first had a high it was a really good experience for a few weeks and then it sort of escalated out of control. When I was hospitalised it became a really terrible experience."

For William Lyons the realisation that his wife had a serious long-term illness was initially countered by his admiration for her courage. "I suppose I was just attracted to her stoicism and intelligence. I remember the first time Kate broached the subject of being bipolar and I naturally thought I could deal with it," he says.

But one day he felt he could not deal with it.

The drugs seem to be very, very, very strong. You see people who are not able to function because this drug's just crushing them"
Kate Lyons

Kate, on a high, had literally not slept for four days, and was exhibiting very eccentric behaviour. A friend advised William to take her to the doctor, who in turn recommended the hospital.

The experience of having to have his wife committed to hospital had a profound impact on William.

He had Kate 'sectioned' - this is where an individual is placed in a psychiatric hospital under Section 4 of the Mental Health Act, 1983 - when he felt he could no longer cope with the situation.

"I was so relieved," he recalls, "I called for a car, a taxi. I have a contract with a taxi-cab and we got in and I told him to lock the doors and I said, 'to the hospital, please'."

'Zombified'

The breakdown came after Kate had stopped taking her anti-psychotic drugs. Several years of living symptom-free, while on medication, had led them to think that perhaps she was no longer ill.

Stephen Fry during a photocall for a mental health charity
Stephen Fry, also bipolar, campaigns to break down mental health taboos

The issue of medication, in fact the whole area of diagnosis of bipolar depression, is a subject of continuing debate.

In Kate's case she now feels medication is essential, but she believes the current drugs are too crude.

"To want to take as few drugs as possible is a good thing," she argues.

"But I would say that my thoughts on the drugs generally are that they're very, very unsophisticated for mental illness. They seem to be very, very, very strong. You see people with mental illnesses, you know, on the streets, wherever - inside hospitals, who are just completely zombified. They're not able to function because this drug's just crushing them."

The illness circumscribes their lives in another critical way.

Both would love to raise children but worry about the impact on Kate and about whether the condition might be passed on to another generation.

When I ask how their relationship survives the rollercoaster of Kate's illness, it is William who supplies an answer. "The good times are better than the bad times," he says.

Taking a Stand is on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday 16 February at 0900 and 2130 GMT. Or listen later via the BBC iPlayer.



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