A HEXHAM couple have spent the weekend raising awareness of the terrible suffering caused by bipolar disorder.

Rebecca Steel, who was diagnosed with the condition in 2014, husband Carl and her eldest brother, Matthew, were among a handful of members of Bipolar UK who spent the bank holiday weekend walking the Hadrian’s Wall trail.

The sponsorship raised from doing the 84-mile route, from Bowness-on-Solway to Wallsend, will go directly to the charity’s four support groups in the region, including the one in Hexham.

But what is of equal importance to Rebecca and her devoted family – Carl and her parents Vikki and Mark Coles are members of the Hexham support group too – is raising awareness of the toll the disorder can take.

On average each year, 32 sufferers in the North-East commit suicide. Nationwide, the figure is 800.

Hexham, Penrith and Newcastle support group members will walk a total of 800km this year, reflecting the lives consumed by this profound mental illness.

The Hadrian’s Wall walk was instigated by Bipolar UK’s chief executive Simon Kitchen, whose brother-in-law Kevin Boyle took his own life at the age of 26.

A chef, Kevin was one of Jamie Oliver’s original TV apprentices who worked at his Fifteen restaurant in London.

The extreme mood swings that characterise the condition make sufferers 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

The charity’s services can be life-savers, said Simon. “Bipolar disorder can be an unrelenting condition and both sufferers and carers need all the support they can get.”

Rebecca (34) certainly agrees with that. Her family has drawn as much support from the charity as she has – her diagnosis was but one point on a huge learning curve for all of them.

“They say it’s 10 years before diagnosis of bipolar disorder and after that, it’s another three or four years to find the right medication,” she said.

Really, there needs to be a significant pattern of mood swings and behaviour to look back on before a diagnosis can be made.

Rebecca had experienced quite serious highs and lows since her teenage years, but it was only during a particularly serious depressive episode at the end of 2013, when she began to hear voices, that she was finally referred for assessment and diagnosis.

Everybody’s experience of bipolar disorder is different, she stresses – it is as unique as the individual.

“When you go along to the support group though you realise you are not alone,” she said.

“You realise you are with people who understand. “Just having a coffee and a chat can be invaluable.”

Bipolar UK’s Tynedale support group meets on the third Saturday of every month, between 11am and 1pm, at Hexham Community Centre, on Gilesgate.

Sponsorship for the Hadrian’s Wall walk can be made via: www.justgiving.com/fundraising/rebeccasteel2019