My name is Caterina del Mar and I’m Doctor in Psychology at the University of Barcelona, where I specialize in bipolar disorders research. Since 2008, I have worked in the Bipolar Disorders Program at the Hospital Clinic in Barcelona. This group, led by Professor Eduard Vieta, is considered a leading centre of expertise in Spain and internationally due to its contributions to the treatment and understanding of bipolar disorder. The most significant contribution of the Bipolar Disorder Program is the development of two different psychological interventions to support people with bipolar disorder: psychoeducation and functional remediation. Psychoeducation was developed and tested in the 2000s; it proved to be effective when used in addition to medication, helping to reduce the number of bipolar episodes (i.e., mania, hypomania, or depression). Psychoeducation stresses the importance of illness awareness, self-management, identifying early-warning signs, following a routine and treatment plan, and avoiding drug misuse.
Functional remediation, on the other hand, is a novel psychological intervention that targets the difficulties that some patients present in their daily lives. These troubles may vary among the patients but commonly referred problems are: difficulties in doing shopping, remembering appointments, maintaining conversations, and engaging in friendships. Even though not all the patients present these problems (the rates vary from 30% to 60%, depending on the study), we believe it is important to treat them and to provide our patients a variety of strategies to enhance their functional outcome and increase their quality of life. The functional remediation program consists of a specific training in different cognitive strategies which are mainly focused on attention, memory, organization, planning activities, time and stress management. Such strategies can be easily implemented in daily life and it has been tested that after this program patients enhance their functional outcome.
I feel proud and lucky to have had the opportunity to work with Dr. Anabel Martínez-Arán and Dr. Carla Torrent in the development, implementation, and testing of this novel therapy. In fact, it is in part because of this intervention that I’m currently visiting the University of British Columbia (UBC). Specifically, I’m located at the Bipolar Disorder Program, led by CREST.BD member Professor Lakshmi Yatham, with the objective to help their team implement the functional remediation program at UBC. We believe that my visit at UBC will further foster our longstanding international collaboration. Above all, it is great opportunity for knowledge exchange in the bipolar disorders arena.
Now that I’ve been exposed to both programs, I can see many similarities between them that make me feel we are on the right track to help people with bipolar disorder. Regardless of whether you’re a researcher in Barcelona, Vancouver, or in any other city in the world, I believe we’re all working toward the same objective: to help people with the condition to achieve the best quality of life possible. There is still some way to go, but I think with every new study we move one step closer. Also, I have realized how critically important knowledge translation and exchange is. Both groups I’ve mentioned do high-quality research and they invest a lot of time and effort into spreading their knowledge — not only for other scientists, but for everybody. Reaching all audiences is a challenging objective, but an attainable one. Getting this information and education out into the world is one of the best weapons to fight against misinformation – and ultimately the stigma towards mental illnesses.
I wish that this World Bipolar Day raises awareness of the impact that may cause the diagnosis of bipolar disorder on somebody’s life and on their family members. We need to continue to do research and enhance the visibility of the people with bipolar disorder so that governments can act in accordance with the needs of this population.