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Family donation supports Otago University research on World Bipolar Day

Wednesday 30 March 2022 4:30pm

Ian and Sue Bradford image
Ian and Sue Bradford.

The generosity of a Christchurch family, in memory of a much-loved wife and mother, aims to improve the lives of New Zealanders living with bipolar disorder.

A research project led by a team at the University of Otago, Christchurch, has been chosen as the recipient of the newly-established Sue Bradford Memorial Fund – a gift of $100,000 per year for the next five years.

Launched on World Bipolar Day, the $500,000 donation will allow a unit led by Professor Richard Porter at the campus’s Department of Psychological Medicine, in conjunction with the Canterbury DHB’s Specialist Mental Health Service, to advance research into practical therapies for the treatment of bipolar disorder – a life-long mental health illness marked by depressive and manic episodes. One in every 20 New Zealanders suffers from bipolar disorder in their lifetime; one in 100 with a severe form of the illness.

Richard Porter image
Professor Richard Porter.

“Families of people with bipolar disorder are incredibly vital in supporting their loved ones through this illness”, Professor Porter says. “That’s why the extraordinary generosity of Ian Bradford and his family in establishing the Sue Bradford Memorial Fund is so meaningful.

“This donation will give our research unit the financial security to continue our ongoing work into this extremely challenging and important area of research, work which has the potential to relieve suffering for so many battling this long-term and debilitating illness.”

The Bradford family approached Canterbury’s Māia Health Foundation late last year, seeking to establish a research fund in memory of their late wife and mother Sue.

Husband Ian Bradford says they were motivated to do so due to the positive treatment and support Sue received from the team at the CDHB’s Specialist Inpatient Mental Health Service at Hillmorton Hospital – especially in the last decade of her life.

“We had an incredibly happy 50-year marriage and life together, but Sue’s bipolar led to times of major ups and downs and we couldn’t anticipate when they’d happen next. Bipolar is such a complex and isolating illness for the sufferer and their family. This Fund is a means of remembering Sue in an authentic, enduring way, to positively impact the lives of others.”

The Māia Health Foundation, a charitable trust aimed at enhancing health services in Canterbury, says the ongoing bipolar research being carried out by the joint University of Otago, Christchurch, and CDHB Mental Health Service unit was a “good fit” with the Bradford family’s wishes.
“We are inspired by Ian’s generosity and his desire to honour Sue in a way which will improve the lives of others and make a difference for our community today and in the future,” Māia Health Foundation CEO Michael Flatman says.

Professor Porter says around 100 patients have been involved in each of the four bipolar disorder trials the research unit has been working on so far.

“This donation will allow us to complete the fourth study and launch a fifth. All have focused on developing new psychological therapies to be administered alongside medications to improve mood stability, cognitive and general functioning. We’ll also be able to further examine the long-term cognitive impairments which mood disorders often cause, such as difficulties in memory and planning.”

He says the unit can now also expand research in two areas. One involves trying to help patients with bipolar disorder regulate their circadian rhythms. Alterations in day-to-day rhythms, including sleep-wake cycles are really important in bipolar disorder and treatments which help this are really important.

The second is a form of “brain training”. The current study exposes participants to specific, computerised, brain-training exercises which can improve cognitive function and performance of activities in their everyday lives.

“This funding will allow us to develop this treatment further, to fit the individual difficulties each patient is facing,” Professor Porter says.

General Manager of Mental Health at the CDHB, Greg Hamilton, says the Sue Bradford Memorial Fund will deliver both immediate and future benefits.

“We work very closely together with University of Otago and enjoy one of those great, mutualistic relationships where the research ultimately benefits our consumers. Patients involved in the research today will be able to access additional care and treatment. The results can then be embedded in our treatments and services to provide the very best, modern, evidence-based care.”

Ian Bradford hopes his gift will inspire others.

“My vision is that our family’s $500,000 will act as a catalyst for others to donate to the Fund, to create an even bigger resource to enable continuing research and support for those living with bipolar disorder, their families, and our mental health workforce,” says Ian.

Professor Richard Porter says the launch of the Fund on World Bipolar Day is significant.

“There’s a clear link between people who develop bipolar disorder and creativity. World Bipolar Day takes place every year on Vincent van Gogh’s birthday. The artist, who was posthumously diagnosed with the disorder, embodies that link, and is representative of the creative talents of many people plagued with this debilitating and challenging illness.”

For more information, contact:

For more information about this news story:

Lorelei Mason
Communications Advisor
University of Otago, Christchurch
Mob +64 21 555 024
Email lorelei.mason@otago.ac.nz

For information about supporting the Sue Bradford Memorial Fund:

John Godfrey
Development Manager
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel +64 3 364 0237
Email john.godfrey@otago.ac.nz