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This article was featured as a Mamalode Starter Series at The Mamalode Starter Series is an exciting opportunity for us to introduce you to some of the amazing people we get to meet. Starting something takes enormous amounts of work, faith, help and community. Every week we’ll share another story of starting. So, community of Mamalode, read up, get inspired and check out these wonder-folk. Today’s Starter Series features Muffy Walker, the chairman and co-founder of the International Bipolar Foundation.

Tell us a little bit about your business and how you started it.
Within the first year following my son’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder, I found very little support, both for myself and my family. I began talking with other moms at the playground, explaining why my son was different and what his aberrant behaviors meant. I did not want my son to grow up feeling ashamed that he had this disease. We talked openly and honestly about it and encouraged him to do so as well. 

As I continued to talk openly about his disorder, people I had known for years began secretly sharing with me that someone in their family was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Strangers called or emailed me, confiding that their son or daughter, mother or uncle also had bipolar disorder. 

They all shared their stories of sadness, grief over a future now robbed of its potential, loneliness for their excluded child, fear for their child’s safety and unanswered questions about medications, hospitalizations, conservatorship, doctors—the lists were endless.

Through a support group that I ran, I met so many parents going through the same maze. We all had health insurance, access to good doctors, computers and Internet, and each other. What about those who didn’t have any one of these resources?

Myself and three other moms in the group decided to start an organization to help others on the same perplexing journey, and hence, California Bipolar Foundation (later named International Bipolar Foundation) was founded.

What do your kids think about your job?
I have three boys; 26, 23 and 21. My youngest son, diagnosed at age seven, has bipolar disorder. His brothers grew up experiencing the highs and lows of the illness, the chaos, and the calm. They were educated at an early age and have embraced the work the organization and I do. They are highly supportive and participate in various volunteer activities when they can. 

Tell us about a total mom+biz fail.
After hearing about the highly successful Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS, I started racking my brain for something similar to launch for bipolar disorder. I asked my kids, friends, coworkers and professional marketing gurus for ideas. We wanted a campaign that was easy to do, wasn’t dangerous, didn’t further stigmatize the illness, and that everyone, young and old could do.

During the time we were brainstorming, actor Robin Williams sadly took his life.  Williams, who made everyone laugh, had ironically admitted to a history of depression. Building on the happiness theme of a clown, and the role Williams played as Patch Adams, the Make Someone Happy Red Nose Challenge was born.

Bipolar Awareness Day (October 9), we thought, would be the perfect day to launch the campaign, but who should be the spokesperson? After many, many attempts to find a well-known and perfect spokesperson, (we even got a hold of the real Patch Adams; Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams!) we ended up failing in this endeavor.

As you might have already gleaned, not much stops us in our goals, so we invited everyone to the stage to wear the nose and launch the campaign. In the days and weeks that followed, with the exception of a friend here and there, that was as far as it went. Our office cupboards are now filled with bags of red spongy noses.

Share with us a total win (brag away!).
Our organization has accomplished so much in such a short time; it’s hard to choose which program to brag about, but one of my favorites is our Girl Scout Mental Health Awareness patch.

When we first started and were looking into logo designs, I noticed that a wheelchair often depicted disabilities. 

Boy Scouts Disability Awareness Merit Badge pictured above.

At about the same time, I read an article about JoDee Jacobs, the CEO of the Girl Scouts of San Diego and Imperial Counties. The article extolled her virtues including how progressive she was. Having been a Girl Scout, I know the importance of the badges and patches and wondered if she’d be receptive to a Mental Health Awareness patch. To my great surprise and excitement, she was. Our patch, which started locally, has grown across the U.S. and is now in Canada and Europe. We were honored to have former Congressman Patrick Kennedy give out our first round of patches.

The Mental Health Awareness Patch objectives are to educate Girl Scouts about the brain and its influence on thoughts, feelings, and behavior, and through that knowledge, increase awareness and understanding of mental illness. Through education we can change perceptions and reduce the stigma of mental illness. 

Daisies, Brownies, Juniors, Cadettes, and Seniors/Ambassadors can earn the patch through activities appropriate for each age group. Once earned, the Patch is provided for free by IBPF. You can get yours here.

What’s your relationship with Mamalode?
I was introduced to Mamalode by a colleague who met Elke at The Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development Conference. Just like Mamalode, IBPF was founded by moms. We are excited to help spread awareness of bipolar disorder and end the stigma with the help of Mamalode.   

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