Gender Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary Rachel Shebesh. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Today (March 30), countries across the globe mark the World Bipolar Day. The Standard takes a look at the story of Rachel Shebesh, a public figure in Kenya who has opened up about her battle with bipolar disorder.

The Gender Ministry Chief Administrative Secretary says her husband, Frank Shebesh, was the first person to identify bipolar disorder traits in her.

In an April 2021 video, which Rachel Shebesh has pinned to the top of her Facebook page, the CAS said Frank realised she exhibited bipolar disorder characteristics in 2006.

“When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 15 years ago, it wasn’t me who identified the problem. It was my husband [who spotted the traits in me]. He then asked me to go and see a [medical] doctor. I did not hesitate because his advice came from a place of love and concern,” she said in the Facebook video.

The former Nairobi Woman Representative said her political engagements made the managing of her bipolar condition a daunting task.

She said she hadn’t learnt how to separate constructive criticism from personal criticism, and that to her, the two meant one and the same thing.

She’d consequently get overwhelmed when her critics, including her political opponents, faulted her over specific weaknesses in her leadership.

Rachel Shebesh said her situation triggered suicidal ideation, and, at the same time, affected her family’s well-being.

The CAS said she’s been on medication, both for bipolar disorder and depression, and that the journey has been fruitful so far.

“When you manage bipolar disorder, it does not significantly affect your daily life’s interactions, relationships, decisions and money-management,” she said.

The mother of three said when she’d develop bipolar episodes, that require her to concentrate on treatment, including therapy, she’d alert her supervisors, President Uhuru Kenyatta and Gender Cabinet Secretary Margaret Kobia, in advance so that they give her time off.

She said, in the video uploaded on April 4, 2021, that she went public about her condition to raise awareness about bipolar disorder, and to encourage people living with the condition to seek treatment.

“Depression is treatable, and it has medication,” she said.

Rachel Shebesh, 50, served as Nairobi’s first Woman Representative between 2013 and 2017 after winning the seat on the now-defunct The National Alliance (TNA) Party. She lost the subsequent 2017 elections to the incumbent, Esther Passaris, of ODM Party.

After President Kenyatta secured a second term in 2017, he appointed her as the CAS in the Gender ministry.

About bipolar disorder

The National Institute of Mental Health, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines bipolar disorder as “a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks”.

There are three types of bipolar disorder – Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder and Cyclothymic Disorder.

Bipolar I Disorder is defined by manic episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care.

Bipolar II Disorder is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes that are typical of Bipolar I Disorder.

Cyclothymic Disorder is defined by periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least two years (one year in children and adolescents). However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for a depressive episode.

All the three types involve clear changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. These moods range from periods of extremely elated, irritable, or energised behaviour (known as manic episodes) to very sad, indifferent, or hopeless periods (known as depressive episodes). Less severe manic periods are known as hypomanic episodes.

Talking with a doctor is the first step to bipolar disorder diagnosis.

Research suggests that people with certain genes are more likely to develop bipolar disorder. Studies also indicate that people who have a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder have an increased chance of having the disorder themselves.

An effective treatment plan for bipolar disorder usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy, also called “talk therapy.”

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), which is a brain stimulation procedure, can also help people get relief from severe symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Regular exercise and keeping a life chart is also recommended for people living with bipolar disorder.

“Keeping a life chart that records daily mood symptoms, treatments, sleep patterns, and life events can help patients and health care providers track and treat bipolar disorder over time,” says the National Institute of Mental Health.

The 2022 bipolar disorder statistics show that about 46 million people around the world, including 2.8 per cent of the U.S. population, live with the condition.