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Blogging about things that matter to me. Photographing things I love - Instagram @debcyork. Writing about both. Only wine and chocolate can save us… You can also find me on Twitter (@debcyork) and Facebook. If you like four-legged views, try @missbonniedog on Twitter

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Mental Family History

Well once again it is a worryingly long time since I sat down to write.  Between half term and puppy training, I am just incapable of getting off the sofa to sit down and think by the evenings and there has not been a spare minute during the days.  The modern problem.  Every magazine and Sunday supplement seems to have articles about being happier, getting more time, making time for people who matter to you, being more relaxed, blah blah.....

However, since this is a family history related blog, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to be able to understand how many of these "problems" are indeed a modern issue.  Every age must have had its problems.  Maybe it is simply that they did not have names for the problems a century  or so ago.

In part, I wanted to write this post because it was announced a couple of weeks ago that thousands of mental health records, dating back to the eighteenth century, are to be put online.  It will not be via the subscription sites so you may not be aware of it.  This link will take you to the article relating to the release.  From there, you can link to the various organisations involved in this fascinating project.  It looks like there will be a mass of information available eventually - and not just from London hospitals either.

On a personal note though, for the past ten years, I myself have battled mild depression.  Sometimes it does not feel so mild, to be sure, but in comparison with what many people suffer, I guess it is mild.  So I do have quite an interest in all the "be happier" articles and I have done a lot of work with a fantastic therapist (now, sadly for me, retired.  I am sure she is quite relieved!).  I have an even stronger interest in the idea of a family link with depression because I was always told that my paternal grandmother was a "manic depressive".  In modern terms, this is now known as Bipolar Disorder and everything I have read points to a strong genetic link for the condition.  Family history is very important in diagnosis.  Stephen Fry, above, is bipolar and has done a huge amount to publicise the condition. He is president of MIND.

I have always wondered about my great grandparents and even further back on that side.  Certainly my grandmother suffered quite extreme symptoms in later life - the main characteristic of the condition is mood swings - and was then subjected to quite extreme electric shock treatment in attempts to ease her situation.  [She died very suddenly of a heart attack at a relatively young age - I also wonder about the link between that and the stress that the shock treatment must have put her heart under but I need to really understand the treatment more...]

Unfortunately, at first glance, it does not look like I will find my grandmother's records in the new release.  I don't think her era will be released - too modern.  And my age old problem, as regular readers will know, is that my paternal side were Anglo Indian so finding their medical records in India is not going to be easy - in fact is probably impossible unless they were in the army.  The relevant paternal great grandmother did die in the UK though, so maybe I should start with her death certificate and see if that holds any clues.  I did meet her when I was very little but I have no clear memory of her.  (Although I do recall being given an old handbag of hers when her things were cleared out - it was red and it was in my dressing up box for years!)
Sadly for my grandmother, these days Bipolar Disorder is much better recognised and is treated mainly with various medication, therapy and lifestyle advice to deal with drink/drug/sleep/weight issues.  It was only in the 1980s that she was properly diagnosed, I believe.  There is reference, in the articles that I have read about the disorder, to recognising "triggers" which would bring on episodes of extreme behaviour - be it mania or  a real low.   I do recall mention of "triggers" when my parents tried to explain to me about Nana's illness.  I think her own siblings were a major trigger but I have never properly asked my father about this.  I think I need to get brave and find out.
I suppose, given my own recent history, one could be worried that one may develop Bipolar, given the family link.  After all, we do worry about our own future's if a relative is diagnosed with cancer or heart disease.  However, I do believe that Nana suffered so much in part because of ignorance of the condition. Maybe, for example, like myself, symptoms started years before - post natal like my own or even before.  If mild symptoms had been treated, maybe the condition would not have gone as far as it did.  Sad but highly likely, I believe.  Nana certainly had huge life changes in her time - children, issues with her family, leaving India after Partition, to name but a few - and I know only too well that for some people, change has to be carefully managed.
So maybe there is a place in the modern age for all the self help articles.  We do now have names for things and we do have an awareness of lifestyle choices and how they affect our mental well being.  That does not, of course, mean that we always follow the "path of good".  Personally, I self medicate with Maltesers quite a lot of the time.....

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