Lynne’s story: managing my mental health

Lynne Woods says that she 'can't say enough' about how helpful the RFDS mental health team and GP has been in assisting her in managing her bipolar disorder.

Her first serious episode happened while she and her husband, Mick, were working hard on rebuilding the hotel at Ivanhoe, where they had moved when she was in her fifties.

"The old hotel had burned down and we were trying to trade out of the dining room, which had been rescued, while also rebuilding," recalls Lynne."It was terribly, terribly hot and I was dehydrated. I was quite stressed, for a number of reasons, and my husband Mick had told me to go and have a sleep. But instead I wandered about outside. I took a knife with me and walked around for a while. When I returned I needed to go to the Health Service to get stitched up, as I'd injured myself with the knife.

They organised for me to speak to a counsellor and take some medication but I couldn't settle, and ended up being flown by the RFDS into Broken Hill Base Hospital. "This was my first encounter with the RFDS. I spent a few days in hospital before my psychiatrist discharged me with some regular medication. I took this medication for a while, though deep down believed it didn't suit me right, but yet knew I still wasn't coping to the best of my ability."

"I always presented myself as being OK, when I really wasn't and was actually really struggling," says Lynne.

"Later when I was medication-free, we experienced a series of deaths in the family which was very tough. I recall driving around one day and then deciding to drive to Hillston but then realising I didn't have enough petrol. I spun the car, but it had been raining and I was on the dirt, so I spun a full 360 degrees.

"I managed to get myself home but later was asked by the police if I was driving around town wildly and if I'd left skid marks everywhere? I told him no, I didn't leave any skid marks! But yes, I had been speeding.

My husband and friend recall the mud reached the very top of the back window. Water was scarce at the time so we couldn't clean the car for a while!

"It became evident to them and Mick that I wasn't in my usual state of mind. Eventually I was flown into Broken Hill Base hospital by the RFDS to see a psychiatrist for further assessment and treatment. It was a bit of trial and error until we found the best medication to stabilise my mood but this is normal, as people respond differently."

The Flying Doctor saved my life, that's all there is to it. You can't fault them. Even my family love them for what they've done for me and they don't even live remote. I always presented myself as being OK, when I really wasn't and was actually really struggling."I still go back to see the mental health team and my GPs as I feel supported by them and their staff," says Lynne.

Lynne and her husband sold the hotel just over three years ago and they are now retired and living with their animals in a beautiful home they built by the river in Hillston.

She loves watching her grandkids play football on the weekends, building towards a beautiful garden on the property and spending quality time with family and friends.

Lynne takes a mood-stabilising medication and meets semi-regularly with the RFDS Mental Health Nurse, Vanessa Latham, in person and over the phone, and occasionally with the visiting psychiatrist who works in tandem with the RFDS team in Ivanhoe.



RFDS mental health nurse Vanessa Latham: about bipolar disorder

It's great there is much more awareness of depression and anxiety and the array of effective treatment options, but there are many other mental health conditions which also need effective treatment which are not as well known, including bipolar disorder.

Once known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is a psychological illness involving significant changes in mood and behaviour. When people are well, they live a healthy life, just like anyone else in society. When people are unwell, they may fluctuate between episodes of mania and depression. During mania, people's need for sleep lessens and they can experience excessive energy and irritability.

Manic episodes can involve high‑risk behaviours such as gambling or excessive spending which can leave people vulnerable and at risk of damage to themselves or their reputation. During the depressive phase, people can become further isolated and lose the energy to care about their physical health. Sleep cycles become disrupted and people may experience immense feelings of sadness and/or guilt, lose enjoyment in usually-pleasurable activities, and face serious risks to their wellbeing.

It can be very difficult to explain accurately what's happening when you're not quite 100 per cent as it's harder to recognise what you need and how to ask for it. Sometimes medication needs to be fine-tuned, which can be a slow process.

We try to build a strong therapeutic rapport, so our clients feel comfortable conveying their inner experience and receive the appropriate support for their particular needs.

Part of our role is to assist people gain insight into their illness and increase awareness of their potential triggers, such as cumulative stress or the loss of a loved one, and encourage the monitoring of potential warning signs.

Lynne has worked hard at managing her experience with bipolar and has received great support from her husband Mick and her loving family. It is a pleasure to know and work with Lynne and her family.

Often it is a family member who may notice a change in a person first, so it's important, with our clients' consent, that we provide education for them as well, ensuring the best support for our clients. With a good therapeutic rapport, clients and their family members can contact us with ease for counselling support or to discuss any new concerns.

Vanessa Latham

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