Bipolar Disorder Churchill Fellowships

What is a Churchill Travelling Fellowship and what does it have to do with bipolar disorder?

The Churchill Trust is about enabling people who want to make things happen, all you need is a vision. At the first Churchill event following my interview, I was inspired and amused by a quote from the man himself:

“I like things to happen, and if they don’t happen, I like to make them happen.”

The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust was established when Sir Winston Churchill died in 1965. Each year, 100 Churchill Fellows travel overseas in pursuit of new and better ways of tackling current challenges facing the UK.  No qualifications are required, just a project and the desire and motivation to improve the community, profession or field. Each fellow produces a report which is widely shared, and you can access past reports here. You can follow the blog using the Follow button.

Julia Weston, Chief Executive of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, said:“Churchill Fellows travel globally and return with innovative ideas and a commitment to sharing their findings to help others in the UK. Mental health issues affect people in all areas of life and all professions, and this is reflected in the range of topics chosen by our 2017 Fellows in this field. Their research will contribute to better community-based treatment and support in the UK.”

Previous fellows in the Mental Health category have addressed a wide variety of practices and policies, from parental wellbeing, to the use of specially trained assistance dogs to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2014, Rita Long, a valued member and colleague of The Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research, travelled to the USA and Canada to study ways of involving people with bipolar disorder in research and service development.

Churchill’s Own Black Dog

Churchill famously lived with “the Black Dog,” his name for the depression he experienced. Churchill also exhibited atypically high levels of energy, drive and restlessness, and his physician, Lord Moran, diagnosed a middle-aged Churchill with bipolar disorder.

Despite difficulties associated with his overwhelming moods, Churchill fulfilled a life of purpose and achievement. A leader, husband, painter and prolific writer, Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His accomplishments are proof that, for some, bipolar disorder does not mean you cannot achieve and accomplish great things.

Yet, despite the many examples of people who both live with bipolar disorder and achieve success, the message on diagnosis is almost wholly negative.

At age 19, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The psychiatrist advised that I take medication and change my lifestyle. But, ultimately, he said to “forget your ambitions” and warned of a severe and enduring mental illness. While I have certainly experienced periods of elevated and low mood, this diagnosis – and, more, the associated treatment – wasn’t particularly helpful to me.

Churchill wrote “Painting as Pastime” (1948) and said:

“If it weren’t for painting, I would not live; I couldn’t bear the extra strain of things.”

While I am not a painter, or any other type of artist, I play and love music and have discovered the value of engaging in something absorbing and meaningful. Evidence shows such mindful activities can improve well-being and help keep mood within healthy limits. This was never explained to me when I was given this diagnosis. And there was certainly no mention of anything positive being associated with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. The prospect that the outcome might possibly be a good one is rarely acknowledged, and much less studied.

The links between bipolar disorder and creativity have long been studied, and in the first study exploring the first-hand perspectives of people who live with both, I collaborated with the Spectrum Centre and Lancaster University on, ‘Exploring the links between the phenomenology of creativity and bipolar disorder’ (Taylor, Lobban & Fletcher, 2015). This research will feature in the next blog.

I will be also examining the range of the bipolar spectrum in future posts, and demonstrating that we are routinely presented with an overly negative approach to a disorder that is much more common than you might think. Also, I’ll be sharing the evidence that it can have some surprising advantages.

My Fellowship is titled Arts and Healthcare: Informing and Supporting Greater Manchester Devolution. Next month my first trip to Finland will feature on the blog and I’ll explain a bit more about the aims of my project.


I'm a British clinical psychologist with a research background. I manage the Greater Manchester i-THRIVE Arts, Culture and Mental Health Programme, part of the national transformation of children's services. I also have an NHS clinical role in Lancaster and Morecambe working with children, young people and families (CAMHS). I began this blog in 2017 to record a WCMT Travelling Fellowship, from a research role at Arts for Health, Manchester Metropolitan University. I began clinical psychology training (DCLinPsy, Lancaster) in 2010, and studied the role of creativity in bipolar disorder, because of the known links, and partly due to my own experiences of creatively managing extremes of mood in adolescence and throughout my 20s. I have worked in several university psychology research departments including Manchester University in suicide prevention, the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research at Lancaster University (notable for service user expertise), and on the Dementia & Imagination research programme.

8 comments on “What is a Churchill Travelling Fellowship and what does it have to do with bipolar disorder?

  1. A fascinating post!

    When you closed with “I will be examining the range of the bipolar spectrum in future posts,” I couldn’t resist letting you know about the little-known form of bipolar disorder that I was diagnosed with:
    bipolar, peripartum onset or postpartum bipolar disorder.

    While postpartum bipolar disorder isn’t the same as postpartum psychosis, the two perinatal mood and anxiety disorders are often confused with one another. If you’d like to learn a little about my experience, I invite you to read my Huffington Post article at the link copied below.

    My memoir “Birth of a New Brain – Healing from Postpartum Bipolar Disorder” (with a foreword by the distinguished perinatal psychiatrist/author Dr. Carol Henshaw) will be published on October 10, 2017, by Post Hill Press.

    Best of luck in your trip to Finland!

    Dyane Harwood
    Founder, Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Santa Cruz County, CA
    Member: Postpartum Support International, International Society for Bipolar Disorders,

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks Dyane! I read your article – fantastic to see awareness being raised. I look forward to your book, and following your valuable work. After Finland, I am coming to California! In the fall. I will be sure to look you up.
    All the best for the release of your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks heaps for reading my article!
      Finland sounds like it’ll be absolutely amazing – I hope you’ll write about some of your experiences there. This fall would be a lovely time to visit California – it’s so beautiful here, and it’s my favorite time of year, although I love the spring too…

      Please keep in touch – I’d be very happy if you look me up. 🙂

      Take care,


      • Hi Dyanne, it’s my pleasure. It is an important article and written compellingly. I really do look forward to your book. Yes I’ll be writing about Finland here! That is the catalyst for the blog really.. though now I have started I have lots of ideas! Soon I will share my research on creativity and bipolar. I hope you’ll stay tuned! And yes, I will be in touch about my USA leg – I would love to visit Bipolar Alliance and see the work happening.
        Best wishes for now


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