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Norfolk woman's battle against stigma of bipolar disorder

PUBLISHED: 17:05 06 May 2010 | UPDATED: 10:17 02 July 2010

Gemma Nicholls

Gemma Nicholls

Dan Grimmer

A Norfolk woman who suffers from bipolar disorder is encouraging people to stamp out discrimination and prejudice surrounding mental health.

A Norfolk woman who suffers from bipolar disorder is encouraging people to stamp out discrimination and prejudice surrounding mental health.

Gemma Nicholls, 29, was one of hundreds of people who attended the Time to Change event in at the Forum in Norwich this week to make a pledge to end the stigma faced by people who experience mental health problems.

Ms Nicholls, who works for Trading Standards, was only diagnosed with bipolar disorder recently and admitted it was a “long road” of mental illness before she was given the help she needed.

Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder, manic depression or bipolar affective disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders.

Ms Nicholls said: “I have had problems since I was a teenager,” she said. “But I faced a lot of barriers getting help. The situation has improved a lot and I have a really great GP now but I found no one was really listening to me.

“I was once called silly by a medical professional and have been referred to as “difficult” before. That does not help as it really knocks your confidence and makes you scared to seek help.”

Mrs Nicholls, who lives in Rothbury Close , Wymondham, takes medication for her condition and attends weekly group therapy sessions organised by the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust.

She also said one of the best therapies is “constantly talking” about her condition with others.

“Communication is above all the best form of help,” she said. “And that means not to be afraid to talk about feelings. I am not now and share my experiences with others but many people with mental health still worry about the perception of them from others and prejudices.

“Events like Time to Change are so valuable because they highlight mental illness and make it more acceptable. It is all about getting the word out and telling people it's normal to have problems and to talk about them.”

Time to Change is England's most ambitious programme to end the stigma faced by people with mental health problems. At least 100 people signed boards pledging to end discrimination and have their photographs taken at the Norwich event on Tuesday and hundreds more attended the event.

Maggie Wheeler, chairwoman of the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust, said there had been a “fantastic turnout”.

“This is a way of highlighting mental health,” she said. “And anything we can do to improve awareness is great. One in four people will experience mental health problems so it is something we can't avoid.”

Celebrities such as Frank Bruno, Trisha Goddard, Mel C, and Gok Wan also signed the special visual pledges at the Forum.

For more information log onto www.time-to-change.org.uk

The Time to Change campaign is run by leading mental health charities Mind and Rethink, and backed by £16m from the Big Lottery Fund £4m from Comic Relief.

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