Finding Hope and Advocacy: A Writer’s Journey with Bipolar Disorder and Mental Health Advocacy

Finding Hope and Advocacy: My Journey with Bipolar Disorder

Julie Whitehead, a resident of Mississippi, shares her personal journey with bipolar disorder and how it has shaped her mission to educate and advocate for mental health. In 2006, Julie experienced a series of psychotic episodes that led her to contemplate running away from home and ending her life. Fortunately, she was committed to inpatient care and later diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her mid-thirties.

The diagnosis came as a shock to Julie, as she had never considered the possibility of having a severe mental illness. Her previous bouts of depression seemed to have identifiable triggers, and her hypomanic episodes were perceived as part of her normal personality. However, a particularly intense episode, which involved a long drive and prolonged wakefulness, prompted a deeper examination of her moods.

Despite the initial disbelief, Julie was determined to find something positive in her diagnosis. As an experienced writer, she believed that by sharing her experiences with bipolar disorder, she could educate others and dispel the misconception that it meant the end of the world. Julie immersed herself in research, building a library of resources that ranged from personal memoirs to scientific studies.

In 2014, Julie started blogging about her day-to-day life with bipolar disorder, aiming to provide a candid account of her experiences. In 2018, she discovered an opportunity to contribute to the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting (MCIR), a newsroom focused on investigations that matter to the people of Mississippi. Julie reached out to the founder and offered to write stories related to mental health, advocacy, and education.

Her first stories were published in late 2019, featuring profiles of individuals living with mental illness and a personal column detailing her own mental health journey. Additionally, Julie began writing for BPHope, a nationwide blog sponsored by BP Magazine, which focuses on bipolar disorder-related issues. While her contributions to BPHope centered on her personal experiences, her work for MCIR involved interviewing real people about their struggles with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and more.

Through her interactions with others, Julie realized how fortunate she had been to have access to resources such as medication, treatment, counseling, and family support. Many individuals she encountered lacked these essential options for managing their disorders. She also became acutely aware of the financial challenges associated with medication costs, having experienced a disruption in her own treatment due to changes in her husband’s health insurance plan.

In 2021, Julie’s attention turned to the plight of individuals with mental health conditions who were incarcerated instead of receiving proper treatment. Some remained in jail after committing violent acts while experiencing symptoms of their disorders, while others awaited placement in overcrowded psychiatric facilities. Law enforcement personnel she spoke with unanimously agreed that jails were not suitable environments for those struggling with mental illness.

Drawing from her own experience of being picked up by the police during a severe psychotic break, Julie empathized with the situation. She recognized that, despite having health insurance and receiving appropriate care, her circumstances could have easily taken a different turn. Motivated by this realization, she embarked on investigative reporting, shedding light on cases such as a man held in a county jail for five years without trial due to being deemed incompetent. Her coverage prompted his transfer to a state psychiatric hospital.

Julie’s dedication to raising awareness extended beyond individual cases. She exposed a city police officer who used abusive language in a Facebook post about a missing man with mental illness, resulting in the officer’s reprimand. Another tip she received led to an investigation into allegations of abuse and mistreatment of prisoners with mental illness under the jurisdiction of a former county sheriff.

Today, Julie writes not only for herself but also for those who cannot share their own stories. She tackles sensitive issues with honesty and openness, recognizing the importance of advocacy and accepting the challenge to make a difference.

Julie Whitehead, a passionate advocate for mental health, resides in Mississippi. As a reporter for the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, she focuses on mental health topics, advocacy, and education. Julie has been blogging at Day by Day since 2014, sharing her personal journey and insights.