Symptoms of bipolar disorder first came to light for Robyn Yousef as a teenager. Determined to keep her personal struggles under wraps, she told classmates she had glandular fever.

“Physical ailments are so much easier to explain. I did everything within my power to conceal the fact that in my seventh form year I had two stays in a psychiatric unit.”

Down the track, Robyn enjoyed a number of years of “feeling great”, which included a newspaper cadetship she loved, life in England and newly wedded bliss in Egypt.

However her mental state deteriorated after the birth of her first child.

“When I had him, I had a massive breakdown,” she explains. “I had ECT [electroconvulsive therapy] and I was there [in hospital] for about six weeks. You come out and you feel like shit because you think everyone is looking at you like you’re a loony, but people are kind for the most part.”

Support networks and self-care

Having an “absolutely fantastic” husband, kids and friends are key ingredients in Robyn’s recipe to keeping well.

“The most important thing is to get really good support from your friends and family,” says Robyn.

“Talk about it and realise you’re not alone.”

Her other strategies are simple, though not always easy to follow.

“It’s important not to get over-tired. I also try to be as healthy as I can with my food. I’m not a great exerciser, but when I do, I notice the difference.”

Taking the right kind of medication and keeping stress at bay also works wonders, along with keeping up with one of her greatest loves – writing.

“It’s my sanity,” she says. “I love to write so much.”

Look for the light

Robyn’s advice to people experiencing a down period in their mental health is to take heart, because things will get better.

“If you’re in a lull and in a low period, you’ve got to know that chink of light will come. You will get through it.”