HOUSTON (KTRK) --Nearly six million people nationwide are coping with bipolar disorder, which is a mental illness that can take years to correctly diagnosis. March 30 is World Bipolar Day and the University of Texas Health system hosted a community forum at the UT Harris County Psychiatric Center to try to eliminate the stigma related to the disorder.
"Having bipolar disorder is a disorder of the brain. It's no different than someone who goes to an internal medicine doctor to say, 'I have diabetes and hypertension. Treat me for that,'" explained Dr. Iram Kazimi, the director of the pediatric bipolar unit at UTHealth.
"A lot of people feel very ashamed to talk about mental illness," she said.
Experts say the average age of diagnosis is 25, though some patients show signs of the disorder in their teens. Dr. Kazimi explained parents can look for "unusual shifts in mood. Unusual thoughts. Fast thoughts. Inability to sleep. Even grandiose thoughts."
Sharing her daily struggles with both bipolar and OCD empowers Elizabeth Smalling Shulak. It took ten years for her to be stabilized.
"A lot of relapses and setbacks and treatment I had to go through. Inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, residential living. I still have substance abuse disorder," she said.
Shulak was a patient at the UT Harris County Psychiatric Center in November 2013 and she wanted to share her story at the forum on Wednesday to give others hope.
"It is possible to recover, and that's the message I want to give to people out there," she said.
Experts at UTHealth say it can be difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder because the symptoms can present like other mental illnesses.
For more information on bipolar disorder, visit the UTHealth website or the National Institute of Mental Health website.