In October 2019, I started my Ph.D. at the University of Oxford never imagining that my research would take me all the way to British Columbia, almost 10000km away from my small hometown in rural Greece. But, on Monday the 5th of September 2022, I landed at the Vancouver International Airport and began a week-long journey of discovering Vancouver, the University of British Columbia, and meeting with the CREST.BD team.
Back in the UK, I conduct research on the role of sleep and daily rhythms in bipolar disorder. Sleep is a cornerstone of healthy living. Besides the fact that we spend a third of our lives asleep, our bodies have become so good at ensuring we get enough rest that it is almost impossible to even realize the consequences of a complete lack of sleep. Sleep also plays an important role in mental health. Its association with disorders like major depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder has long been acknowledged and explored. This has also been true, although to a lesser extent, for bipolar disorder. Historically, problems with sleep were among the first identified symptoms of bipolar disorder, and today, such problems constitute diagnostic criteria for both (hypo)mania and depression. Although research around sleep in bipolar disorder did not develop as fast as in other mental health disorders, it is now advancing quickly, with initiatives from several research groups and scientific societies.
This advancement could be attributed to research conducted with people with lived experience of bipolar disorder and their caregivers, which highlights that sleep, energy levels, and activity are extremely important elements in their daily lives. Results such as these encourage us to adopt new approaches in the way we monitor symptoms and assess the effectiveness of interventions in bipolar disorder. In addition to focusing on mood, it is now imperative to further research on elements important to our participants’/patients’ daily life like sleep and activity, quality of life, daily functioning, and interpersonal relationships.
Naturally, my interest in how community-based participatory methods are applied in bipolar disorder research led me to the University of British Columbia and the CREST.BD team. Dr. Emma Morton kindly helped me schedule meetings with several people in the Department of Psychiatry (Dr. Ray Lam, Dr. Kam Keramatian and Dr. Erin Michalak) and invited me to a community advisory meeting with CREST.BD. The experience was truly incredible! During my meetings, I witnessed first-hand how CREST.BD researchers collaborate with people with lived experience of bipolar disorder, and how together they shape the research agenda and future direction of their work. Back in Oxford, although I have worked with people with lived experience to inform my aims and study design, the research agenda is still guided primarily by my general research interests. The CREST.BD network is a pioneer in community-based participatory research and its infrastructure is unique and hard to parallel. This trip gave me a lot to think about, and I have since reflected on the way I do my own research and the goals of my practice. Being at the earliest stages of my career, I am aware that it might be hard to make rapid and concrete changes, but I will bring back to Oxford everything I have learned in Vancouver and try my hardest to bring the viewpoints of people with lived experiences to the forefront of our science.
Besides the valuable work-related experiences I gained during this trip, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get to explore Vancouver, with its hustling and bustling city center and serene natural reserves. During my six days visiting, I had amazing food all over the city, swam at the third beach, saw bears and whales, and climbed up Grouse Mountain (I have no idea how people casually do this hike, I am fairly active and thought my heart was beating out of my chest).
I will be forever grateful for this experience, and I want to extend my thanks to Dr. Emma Morton for facilitating all the visits and meetings in Vancouver, to my supervisors Dr. Simon Kyle, Dr. Kate Saunders, and Prof Colin Espie for -patiently- guiding me through my Ph.D. and to my funders in UK Research and Innovation and Mitacs for making this all happen.