Raising awareness of the ups and downs of bipolar illness on a rollercoaster in Hungary

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Imagine waking up one morning to find that your life in the last six months has been turned upside down. You're all alone because you've been neglecting your friends and family and you're about to be fired from work because you had called in sick too many times. This is what some people suffering from mental illnesses have to face and in Hungary, many of them face the battle alone. Kevin Jackson is a US citizen who is bipolar. Now in Hungary, he has found a clever way to attract attention and bring awareness to the plights of people who are suffering from the illness.

Mr Jackson and the patients' organisation Darkest Days Brightest Nights have begun an attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records with a ten-day rollercoaster ride. Radio Budapest's Agi Varga found out more from Mr Jackson himself:

"When I was 23 years old I was at university and I went through the first part of the illness, which was the mania part. I had incredible energy and incredible optimism, which is what we call the high side of it. The body produces a very powerful drug that makes you think that you can do anything in life and you want to do everything at the same time. But what goes up must come down. The depression starts to come into effect - I had six months up and six months down and the depression is very cruel. You look back all of a sudden and you have to clean up the mess of what happened in the six months before. I went through a period of that and then I had two years of being normal and then I went through another bipolar cycle again before I was ever able to understand what my condition was and what I needed to do to recognise it, accept it, and treat it. "

And then you came to Hungary?

"Yes. In 1996 I finally got a hold of this problem and I came to Hungary in 1997. At first I thought I could run away from the problem but you can never leave this problem. It's always with me. When I learned how to openly discuss it it's when I was able to accept what was happening to me and I think that was a whole big part of my treatment."

So, that is what you suggest to everybody?

"I really do. I think the first thing one needs is to be able to communicate. One needs to know that if you have a mental illness, it is not a curse. You just need to learn how to accept it and speak about it openly."

What would you like to achieve with the attempt for the Guinness record?

"The Guinness Book of World records, that's just a way to attract media attention so that we can put the spotlight on what we really want to achieve, which is to raise the public's awareness for bipolar illness and depressive illnesses."

I understand you would like to highlight that this illness isn't really known among the wider public in Hungary especially and in the rest of the world...

"Absolutely. This is a problem that happens in every country around the world. Hungary has a particular problem, I think, with public awareness with respect to mental illnesses and bipolar illnesses. Hungary has one of the highest suicide rates of any country in the world and I think a lot of it is related to the fact that people do not discuss openly enough mental illness, their symptoms, and how to treat them."

Do you know how many people are affected in Hungary?

"I really do not have the exact statistics. There are various degrees to which people are affected by this. There is Type 1 Bipolar illness, which is what I have and there is Type 2 and people who are depressive. It would be amazing to find out just how many people do have some issues with depression or bipolar when everyone would be open enough to speak about it. Mental illnesses are seen as a sign of weakness."