The Daymark Foundation is a philanthropic organization that champions brighter, bolder, more human solutions to improve mental health in Canada. One of their main focus areas is improving the health and quality of life of people with bipolar disorder. The CREST.BD research network has been fortunate to collaborate with, and work alongside, the Daymark Foundation on projects aimed at furthering knowledge, treatment, and care of people living with bipolar disorder. The following blog comes from the Daymark Foundation’s Executive Director Vani Jain.
Bipolar Disorder research: Where to start?
We came into this space knowing that bipolar disorder is a complex condition that is challenging to diagnose, treat and manage.
In October 2020, the Michael H. McCain family launched the Daymark Foundation with bipolar disorder as one of its two key priorities. We came into this space knowing that bipolar disorder is a complex condition that is challenging to diagnose, treat and manage. It soon became clear that advancing bipolar disorder at a systems level was an equally complex endeavour.
One of the challenges is the lack of agreement on priorities and strategies for advancing bipolar disorder. The evidence base for this condition is incomplete, and researchers are rightly pursuing a wide range of theories on everything from underlying mechanisms to pharmacological treatments to clinical interventions. Similarly, clinicians seem to be taking a variety of approaches, some that are mainly grounded in pharmacotherapy and others more holistic. To top it off, patients have wildly different experiences with the illness, depending on the timeliness of their diagnosis, the severity of their mood episodes, their response to treatment, and their social context. It’s hard to figure out what needs to be done when everyone has a different opinion.
Are we seeking to impact the Patient of Today or the Patient of Tomorrow?
One of the first frameworks the Daymark Foundation learned about as a sensemaking tool was “patient of today vs. patient of tomorrow”. Strategies like breakthrough research are critical for improving lives at scale, but they may not have an impact in the short term. Conversely, progressive improvements to treatment approaches and uptake of current evidence-based practices can have an immediate impact, but won’t have the same groundbreaking effect on future generations. Are we seeking to impact the Patient of Today or the Patient of Tomorrow?
As a modestly-sized foundation, we had to consider where we could add the most value and have the greatest impact in the bipolar disorder space. The need for better treatments is undeniable – indeed, in a survey of over 6400 people with lived experience, 89% of respondents agreed that there should be better ways to treat and provide care. However, within that same survey, less than 20% of participants cited the absence of symptoms as a measure of their wellness. Instead, the ability to function, to be independent or act according to one’s own will, having a purpose in life, and “getting through the day” were viewed as top wellness priorities (Altimus, 2019, p3).
Knowing this, the Daymark Foundation made a strategic decision to focus the bulk of its initial financial contributions on improving quality of life. We began 2020 with the strategic learning question:
“How might we help improve quality of life for Canadians with bipolar disorder at scale?”
By referring to the notion of scale in this learning question, we are committing to not only supporting downstream interventions, but also systemic approaches for improving quality of life. In order to work towards this goal we are proud to be funding two of the CREST.BD research network’s most recent projects: “Establishing a Canadian Roadmap for Bipolar Disorder Psychosocial Research and Care” and the PolarUs app project.
Establishing a Canadian Roadmap for Bipolar Disorder Psychosocial Research and Care
The Canadian “Roadmap” project will identify the unmet needs of Canadians with bipolar disorder and the existing gaps within psychosocial bipolar disorder research and treatment. In collaboration with people with lived experience, family members, researchers, and clinicians the CREST.BD network will develop a common agenda, or roadmap, based on these gaps, to guide future psychosocial research on bipolar disorder, inform best practices, and further bipolar disorder care.
The PolarUs App Project
The PolarUs app project represents the culmination of a decade of work by CREST.BD, and was birthed out of a need for an integrated digital mental health space to support the health and quality of life of individuals living with bipolar disorder. The PolarUs app provides users with self-management strategies and digital resources and highlights the interaction between their personal self-management behaviors and their quality of life. The Daymark Foundation is playing a pivotal role in supporting the rapid development of an advanced version of the PolarUs app for full public release in 2023.
Through funding these projects we aim to improve the quality of life of people with bipolar disorder and support CREST.BD in their mission to advance science and society for people living with the condition and their supporters.