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Sophia's story

Our client, we’ll call her Sophia, is a 32 year old professional, working full time in advertising. She completed university, was excelling at work and showing great promise. She was kicking goals and meeting big milestones.

But after a sustained period of business and stress at work, her mood and behaviour started to change. She thought she was managing, but her employer and colleagues started to notice some odd behaviours emerging, for instance, hyper focus on particular things, erratic deadlines, paranoia around other people, critical of her own work.

Eventually, she asked to leave. Sophia became very overwhelmed, and an ambulance was called as her employer was concerned about her manic state.

In hospital, she was diagnosed with bipolar and treated with mood stabilising medication.

Bipolar is a mood disorder with a combination of depressive episodes and manic episodes, that usually present in people’s late 20s or early 30s. Often, it is triggered by something like workplace stress.

On discharge, Sophia was referred to the Mental Health Integrated Complex Care program, at First Step, to monitor her medication, provide her with psycho-education and support her return to work.

Not being able to work, at least in the short term, meant that Sophia faced another major hurdle – how was she going to pay for rent? Or buy food? Or pay for medication?

At First Step, our care coordination and case management team worked with Sophia to address her short term immediate needs, like supporting her application for Centrelink, overcoming paranoia and managing anxiety around the paranoia; and also, her long term goals, like returning to work.

We also worked with her employer, helping them understand the effects of particular medications and planning her return to work.

Over 6 months, Sophia was able to maintain stability with her mental health and return to work, initially three days a week.

By doing the hard yards at the start to educate Sophia’s employer and to advocate for her return to work with increased supports, means that in the short term, Sophia had stable income and housing. But in the long term, we have reduced the chance of chronicity, dysfunction and disability.

This approach has protected her self-identity, proving that she is not defined by her illness.

Kym Coupe, Team Leader Mental Health Services