Craig Hamilton is an Australian radio sports broadcaster who suffers from Bipolar Disorder. He has published two books; Broken Open which was published in 2004 and A Better Life which was published in 2012. An extract from A Better Life appears in the Vol 3 Issue 40 (Sep/Nov 2012) edition of The Art of Healing which is entitled ‘Twenty Nine And A Half Kilometres’, and the interview below took place after publishing this extract.
1. TAOH: Do you think it is important for people to have role models? Does Beyond Blue have any system in place that encourages more people to speak out?
CH: I think role models are important. A role model in my view is someone who offers a good example to others by the way they conduct themselves , the way they treat people and their ability to inspire others to achieve and be the best person they can be. Beyond Blue have an Ambassador Program that have a number of high profile Australians who have spoken publicly about their experience with depression and other forms of mental illness. Jessica Rowe, John Konrads, Nathan Thompson and Garry McDonald are all part of the scheme.
2. TAOH: Do you think some of the street drugs being used today are responsible for people losing control of their mental states?
CH: I think any substance that alters the chemical balance within the brain has the potential to effect a person’s mental health. In my view, by taking drugs you are playing Russian Roulette with your mental health.
3. TAOH: A lot of current research about mental conditions still says that genetics has a lot to do with whether you are more likely to develop mental conditions such as bipolar or schizophrenia (for example). Do you agree with this, or do you think the greater influence is the environment and family influences?
CH: I think the evidence is very strong that genetics play a role with regards to having a predisposition to mental health issues. That knowledge should be empowering and not a burden. If you know there are health issues in your family then you can be more aware of the signs and symptoms if a problem arises. However lifestyle, environment and outside influences also play a role.
4. TAOH: Do you feel having bipolar has enhanced your right-brain and creative characteristics?
CH: Probably yes, but there is no proof of that. Many very creative people in history have had Bipolar disorder (Google Bipolar Famous ) and have also lacked that balance. My challenge is to balance out the right and left side’s of my brain and to do that I try and do a Suduko puzzle a day. This is very left brain stuff and I have always been hopeless at maths. It seems to help level out my mood.
5. TAOH: What do you think are the big issues today with regard to mental health?
CH: Continuing to raise awareness in the community, reduce stigma, educate at school, workplace awareness, work-life balance, diet, lifestyle.
6. Do you think the Australian government and initiatives such as those introduced by Patrick McGorry are a good thing e.g. early diagnosis and early treatment of mental problems
CH: I think screening children as young as 3 and 4 as we have seen recommended lately is overkill. Kids are kids. Certainly by teen years intervention can often be required. I think the work done by Professor Patrick McGorry has been outstanding. His passion for the issue has been an inspiration to me and many others.
7. At what age were you diagnosed with bipolar? Do you think you were actually showing tendencies for mental health issues before this diagnosis, or was there one incident that you feel was the catalyst eg. just prior to your Olympic broadcast.
CH: I was diagnosed at age 37 just prior to the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Looking back (20-20 vision) I’m sure that I experienced mood swings both high ( mania ) and lows ( depression ) but had never been diagnosed. Quite often people go undiagnosed until the symptoms are extreme.
8. TAOH: What do you think we can all do to get over the stigma that is attached to mental health. Why do you think we have such a big fear of it, and of helping others who present with mental disturbances?
CH: Increased education is still the key and it should be stressed that an illness like depression is very, very common. Over 1 in 4 Australians will experience a depressive episode at some stage of their lives. Our problem with it is stigma and stigma is born out of fear. We fear what we don’t understand. As more people share their experiences that stigma will be reduced.
9. TAOH: Do you think the laws should be changed so that the police are able to intervene earlier when people call them to report people who are having mental disturbances?
CH: The issue here in my opinion is that the whole area of dealing with a mental health crisis is severely under resourced and has been for decades. The police do a wonderful job but they lack the resources to deal with this problem on a day to day basis. A separate Police mental health response team (fully trained in mental health crisis situations) is a must.