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HELLO! Online speaks to Dr Linda Papadopoulos about 'Silver Linings Playbook' and bipolar disorder

February 22, 2013
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Silver Linings Playbook is nominated for Best Picture at this year's Oscars. Cast members Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro and Jacki Weaver are all in with a chance of scooping a prestigious Oscar statuette too. Bradley plays Pat, a man struggling to cope with daily life following his release from a psychiatric facility. He meets a troubled young widow, Tiffany, played by Jennifer, and the film documents their developing relationship. Silver Linings Playbook has been praised for its depiction of mental illness, particularly for shedding light on the increasingly common bipolar disorder. HELLO! Online spoke to psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos about the film and bipolar disorder.

Have you seen Silver Linings Playbook? I have and I loved it. I almost never tweet but the first thing I did after seeing it was tweet "you've got to see this movie" and I've been telling everyone about it. As a psychologist you get so frustrated with mental illness only appearing in the news with negative stories. Even in fiction, the portrayal has never been really realistic, so seeing it being portrayed in one of the most positive, genuine, realistic, intelligent ways I've ever seen is really great. Is it a realistic representation of bipolar? Absolutely. I didn't know at the time but subsequently I found out that the director basically made the movie for his son who struggled with OCD for years. You can see that not just within the depth of the characters but also with the interactions between the characters. It also shows in the way that parents deal with it and that polemic between wanting to protect their children from everything but still wanting them to give them some sort of independence. At the beginning of the film, Pat is in denial about his illness. Is this a common symptom of bipolar? It's quite common with a lot of mental illness, it's almost a defence for some people. If you think about it, a mental illness is a distorted perception of reality. So if you're depressed, reality looks darker, if you're anxious it looks scarier, if you have OCD you perhaps feel more in control than you really are. So by virtue of that distortion, the way you can understand your condition, its impact on you and those around you, is very rarely going to be particularly clear.

How is bipolar diagnosed? It meets certain medical criteria and is quite easy to diagnose. But as an individual, it would probably take a while to figure it out. It's not like depression where you always feel very low. During the manic parts, you're almost unaware of what's going on. It can feel like you're being very functional but actually it comes at a time when you're at your least functional of all. It isn't the easiest condition to see in yourself. Are there any alternative treatments to medication? As with most conditions, the best treatment you can get is specific to your own case. We're talking about a biochemical imbalance so that needs to be balanced. Are there any lifestyle changes you can make to improve your condition? You need to get social support. Mental illness isolates people. Basic self-care skills help any illness. They certainly won't cure any mental illness but the basics of ensuring that you have social support, that you eat well and that you sleep well are very important across the board. But with bipolar we're talking about a serious imbalance so you absolutely need professional help.

 How is access to mental health care in the UK? It could be better. There's a lot of will out there. What tends to be very useful is having continuity of care and I think that's something that a lot of patients in the system feel they don't have. Patients are often passed from doctor to doctor, so they tell their story over and over again to different healthcare professionals in different units and that's often not the best thing. I think we need a better consistency in who people receive treatment from over long periods of time. It's all well and good to have medication but you absolutely should be offered psychological therapies where it's relevant and other kinds of therapies that will be able to bolster that. Who should be the first port of call for someone wanting to tackle mental illness? Your GP needs to be the first person you see but I think a lot of people worry about wasting their GP's time and that they're not sure what to say. I would advise jotting down exactly what you're feeling and for how long you've been feeling like that. Take someone with you – a sibling, a parent or a friend - if you feel that you are not sure that you'll through with it. There are some amazing charities out there like Mind and the Samaritans that can give you information and support and help you through it as well. With any mental illness the sooner you get treatment the better and the more likely that you'll respond well. Even if you're not sure, it's not something that you should put off. Mental illness affects people across the board. Every year one in four of us will present with a mental illness. It is very common. Just because you can't see it, it doesn't mean it's not there. Just because you can't see it, it doesn't make the pain any less real or the importance of getting help for it any less important.

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