In an April issue of People magazine, superstar singer-songwriter Mariah Carey revealed she has bipolar ll disorder, a mental health condition characterized by periods of high energy followed by episodes of depression or hopelessness. With Bipolar l disorder, the mood swings are the same—each phase sometimes lasting weeks or months—but the mania is more severe. Left untreated, either condition can be disruptive for patients, making it difficult for them to have positive and healthy relationships or thrive in the workplace.
Carey waited 17 years to reveal her battle with mental illness, explaining to People Editor-in-Chief Jeff Cagle, “I didn’t want to carry around the stigma of a lifelong disease that would define me and potentially end my career.” She went on to say, “Until recently, I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me.”
As the dozens of dedicated COPE Hotline volunteers who take calls from our friends in Ozaukee and neighboring counties will tell you, Carey’s feelings of isolation and loneliness are not unusual. In fact, it is the most common concern expressed by nearly 37 percent of people who regularly use the COPE Hotline, a 24/7 service giving callers supportive listening and an empathetic ear.
Like Carey, the COPE Hotline callers who share their experiences describe feelings of anxiety, restlessness, sadness and hope. One COPE caller, Jeremiah, calls the Hotline about once a week. Jeremiah is a 34-year-old man who lives in Milwaukee. In each call he openly identifies himself by name – even though COPE is anonymous – and that he has bipolar disorder. According to COPE’s compassionate volunteers, Jeremiah is characteristically in an upbeat mood and has an open nature.
24/7 Caring Connection
For people like Jeremiah, having someone to talk to who understands unreservedly what they are going through can lift the emotional burden they may carry because of negative stereotypes and perceptions that exist about people with a mental illness. Jeremiah says he really appreciates COPE and his ability to call anytime he feels the need. “Knowing it is out there is very helpful,” he says.
Through treatment and support services like COPE, Jeremiah’s stability has increased over the last three years. While he lives at home, he recently began working as a peer specialist in an outpatient clinic. It is there that he works with other staff, including case managers, doctors, nurses and therapists. He enjoys his job and says he has developed an “understanding of the multi-faceted aspects of recovery.”
During his work day, Jeremiah meets with clients and helps them with various aspects of managing their illnesses, including delivering medication and referring them to resources. His job not only helps him maintain independence, it has become a stabilizing influence as he lives every day with bipolar disorder. He often calls at the end of his work day to de-stress and talk through situations. “Having someone who’s impartial is really helpful,” he says of the COPE Hotline.
Paying it Forward
COPE is proud to serve callers like Jeremiah, who has turned his illness into an asset. He has turned his situation around and is using his experience with mental illness to help others with their battles on the road to recovery. Sometimes, as Jeremiah himself has learned, friendly encouragement or a kind word, knowing that someone is listening in a non-judgmental way, can make all the difference.
According to the Mayo Clinic, an estimated 3 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with bipolar disorder every year.
For every Jeremiah and Mariah Carey, there are many, many more people struggling with mental illness, addiction, a medical condition or disability, isolation or loneliness. Jeremiah has learned he can lead a full, productive life with treatment and the right support network.
Says Carey, “I’m hopeful we can get to a place where the stigma (of mental illness) is lifted from people going through anything alone. It can be incredibly isolating. It does not have to define you, and I refuse to allow it to define me or control me.”
Until then, services like the COPE Hotline offer a vital link to callers like Jeremiah who—on any given day, at any hour—simply feel the need to connect with an understanding listener who cares.