Kay Redfield Jamison, an American psychologist and leading authority on bipolar disorder, was born on June 22, 1946. She completed her Master’s from University of California, Los Angeles in 1971 and her Ph.D. in 1975. She is credited with founding the Mood Disorders Clinic at UCLA. After teaching for several years at UCLA, she went to the John Hopkins University School of Medicine where she was offered a post as Professor of Psychiatry, the first time such a post had been offered to a psychologist.
Unbeknownst to her colleagues, Jamison herself was suffering from manic-depressive illness or bipolar disorder. It was her disorder in part that motivated her to choose this occupation. She co-authored the standard medical text on bipolar disorder, titled Manic-Depressive Illness which the American Association of Publishers nominated in 1990 as “Most Outstanding Book in Biomedical Science”. In 1995, Kay Redfield Jamison published An Unquiet Mind: Memoirs of Moods and Madness detailing her own personal experiences with the illness. The book stayed on The New York Times Bestsellers List for five months and was translated into 15 languages. By revealing her condition, Jamison took a huge professional and personal risk. She was aware that it would raise questions about her competence and professional responsibility, but she wanted to inform and educate the people. The book’s success lay in part with the simple and straightforward narrative style that she used, describing in graphic detail what it was like to live with the illness, her initial denial, resistance to treatment and spells of mania and depression and sometimes, even psychosis.
What makes Jamison stand out is not her perseverance during the affliction but her effort to overcome and reach out to others who are undergoing similar disease and giving them hope. She also authored Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and Artistic Temperament in which she studies the relation between bipolar disorder and creativity. She speaks of various great minds who, by today’s standards, would be considered bipolar or mentally ill. She talks about the seductiveness of manic state: the energy and intensity it brought. Despite the negative consequences, she said that if given a choice, she would not live without it.
Although being a psychologist herself, she often talks about her experiences with the disorder and reluctance to take lithium sometimes. It is this frankness and self-disclosure, along with her work in the field, which has made Jamison well-loved in the bipolar community and respected all over the world. Kay Redfield Jamison penned more than 100 scientific papers on mood disorders, creativity and pharmacology. She is the recipient of various national and international scientific honors and awards, and has been visiting faculty at Harvard University and University of Oxford. She is a John P. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellow. She was selected by Times Magazine as “Hero of Medicine” and was one of the five people selected for the public television series “Great Minds of Medicine”. Even for an ordinary person, her accomplishments are amazing but for a person suffering from bipolar disorder, she is a living inspiration, a beacon of hope.