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By Steff Fenton*
When the late Ian Scott founded Australian Rotary Health in 1981 to help search for a cure for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, he could not have planned the project would, 25 years later, lead to an eventual treatment of his own daughter’s mental illness.
Ian’s daughter Melissa was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder early in life and experienced much turmoil and distress. In a letter to Australian Rotary Health, Joyce - Melissa’s mother and formerly Mrs Ian Scott - describes her daughter’s journey:
“The frenetic highs and the black pits of depression are a terrible way to live and there were suicide attempts in all of this,” she wrote. “Sometimes life was pretty normal but it didn’t last and eventually her marriage broke up.”
Over the years, Australian Rotary Health began funding other medical projects including in the area of mental health. In spring 2010 a story an Australian Rotary Health newsletter described a treatment for depression - a naturally occurring, safe and affordable drug named N-acetyl cysteine (NAC).
It was also being used to treat Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder with promising results.
Deakin University’s Professor Michael Berk, funded by Australian Rotary Health, was leading the study, one that continues today. Inspired by the article, Joyce contacted Professor Berk and it was not long before Melissa began the NAC treatment.
“It took quite a bit of persuasion to convince my lass that anything could make an improvement in her health as her doctor had given her every conceivable drug there was to try to help her over the last 26 years or so - all to no avail and sometimes suffering terrible side effects,” Joyce wrote.
“In the months before reading Professor Berk’s article, my daughter’s health was in a serious low and since following his findings and being guided on a dosage by her psychiatrist she has become a healthier happier person, has remarried very happily, and has a house full of trophies for her chosen sport, even as a state champion.”
It has been just over two years since Melissa began treatment with no weight gain or side effects. Her father’s dedication to improving the lives of many through research has been the unexpected foundation for Melissa’s good-health.
“Sadly Ian passed away in January 2001 and did not have the joy of seeing his daughter’s health improve greatly by the research of Professor Berk and his team, to whom our family is so greatly appreciative,” Joyce says.
“All power to Professor Berk and co. Keep up your good work and a huge thank you for your efforts.
A big thank you to Australian Rotary Health for all your hard work and fundraising which funds so many worthwhile projects."
CEO of Australian Rotary Health, Joy Gillett, views Melissa’s experience as a wonderful fulfilment of Ian Scott’s vision for Australian Rotary Health. She believes the Rotary Wheel has turned.
Professor Berk has recently started a large scale definitive follow-up study of N-acetyl cysteine for Bipolar Depression.
“I was absolutely delighted to hear from Joyce that her daughter, who has struggled with Bipolar Disorder for many years, is now well a couple of years after commencing N-acetyl cysteine,” Professor Berk said.
“We hope to have many more stories like Melissa’s.
“It’s great for those people involved and their families and it’s great for us at Deakin to know that our research is having a positive impact in the community.”
*Steff Fenton is the Media and Communications Officer for Australian Rotary Health.