Lily Chan

I am Lily

For 10 years after her diagnosis, Lily tried to ignore her disease. But the repeated highs and extreme lows of bipolar disorder took a tremendous toll. She learned to accept the treatment and support she needed and then focused on combating the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses. 

Lily Chan

Hong Kong

54 years old.


Bipolar disorder


Lily obtained a degree in chemical engineering then worked for a decade in global business development. She now is employed at Lundbeck as an office admin manager and HR officer.  




Cooking/ Baking 



Listening to music 

Lily Chan thought she had a superpower. She seemed to have endless energy and could go days – sometimes weeks – operating on only a few hours of sleep. She worked while others slept, collaborating across oceans and time zones in her job as a chemical engineer with a multinational corporation. She was a rising star, and she felt unbound – infinitely creative and productive. “At first I was very proud. I thought it was my asset,” she recalls. “Until I realized I actually couldn’t control or slow down at all. Soon, everything was going so fast and my brain just couldn’t stop. Then I got very fatigued, very sick.”


When those down cycles hit, Lily withdrew and sank into deep sadness. The transition was never gradual. When it came, it fell like heavy curtain, suddenly and intensely. “I would hide away, shut down, not want to get up even to brush my teeth,” she remembers. 


In her late-20s, Lily was hospitalized with exhaustion and then diagnosedwith bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder in which people can experience periods of elevated mood and depressed mood.¹ A period of elevated mood is known as a manic or hypomanic episode, and a period of depressed mood is known as a depressive episode.¹


Lily now had an explanation – and treatment plan – for her mood swings; but the diagnosis brought no relief. Instead, she rejected it. She feared stigma from her colleagues and friends if she revealed she had a mental illness, and she held her own self-stigma. She didn’t want people to attribute every brilliant idea or misstep to her disease. So, she denied and hid it. She took her medication sporadically, and not at all when she felt good. That led to a rollercoaster ride with 10 years with episodes of mania and severe depression and a series of hospitalizations. She fell from the highs of her early-career success to a reality of unemployment, divorce and struggles with daily living.


Eventually, with treatment, the support of her family and introduction to peer support, she gained control of her disease and found herself. “I realized that if I hide, it only makes my journey harder,” she says.


Now, when Lily looks in the mirror, she is comfortable with who she sees: Lily.  Not a person defined by bipolar disorder, nor someone running from the disease. Just Lily, 54 years old, successful in her career, loved by her family, committed to supporting people with mental health challenges and recovered from bipolar disorder. “Accepting myself makes it easier to ask people to accept me. Please accept me as the person I am. I am Lily.”

A messenger of hope


Lily says peer support, which she first encountered when hospitalized in Chicago, has been key to her recovery. Peer specialists are professionals who have lived experience with diseases. In sharing their personal stories, they can help others shed their shame and denial to see the possibility of recovery. Lily credits peer support for helping her regain her self-confidence and launch her recovery.  “I believe that medication was responsible for 70 percent of my recovery,” she says. “The other 30 percent was because I came to accept my disease.”

Lily eventually became a peer specialist herself and was hired by the Hong Kong Hospital Authority to be the first Peer Specialist working in the Community Psychiatric Service of Castle Peak Hospital. In sharing her bipolar journey, she hoped to be a “messenger of hope” and reassure people with other serious mental illnesses that they are not alone. They may have had dark, frightening and lonely times, but with support and treatment, recovery is possible.


Over time, Lily began sharing her story more broadly, speaking to the media and at educational events. In 2017, she was appointed to Hong Kong’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health, which was established to advise the Government on mental health policies. She became involved in anti-stigma campaigns and was introduced to Lundbeck, where she now works full time as an office administrator manager and HR officer. She hopes her transition back to corporate life, and her transparency about her bipolar disorder, will inspire
others to speak more openly about mental illness in the workplace.


“When a person with mental illness is given an equal opportunity, then they will find a way. But society has to give them that equal opportunity,” she says. “Living with bipolar is not the difficult part. Not being accepted because I have bipolar is the most difficult part.”


of patients have their first symptoms before the age of 21 years.³

46 million

people worldwide live with bipolar disorder.²


Recovery in sight

Lily speaks of her recovery from bipolar disorder, even though she relies on daily medication to help manage her symptoms and she understands hers is a lifelong condition. For Lily, recovery means acknowledging and managing her disease so she can live her best life. 


About 5 years ago, Lily had a relapse and required hospitalization to adjust her medication. She knew this was the course of the disease and she used her  hospital stay to help other patients understand that relapse is OK. “You may not always be in a perfect state and you may need some adjustments. But that doesn’t mean you failed,” she told them. “You just deal with it, adjust and accept it. You are still you.”

“When a person with mental illness is given an equal opportunity, then they will find a way. But society has to give them that equal opportunity” Lily Chan

Facts about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder in which patients can experience periods of elevated mood and depressed mood.¹

A period of elevated mood is known as a ‘manic episode’, and a period of depressed mood is known as a ‘depressive episode.

  1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.
  2. GBD 2017 Disease and Injury Incidence and Prevalence Collaborators. Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 354 diseases and injuries for 195 countries and territories, 1990–2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet. 2018;392(10159):1789–1858.
  3. Perlis RH, Dennehy EB, Miklowitz DJ, Delbello MP, Ostacher M, Calabrese JR, et al. Retrospective age at onset of bipolar disorder and outcome during two-year follow-up: results from the STEP-BD study. Bipolar Disord. 2009;11(4):391–400.
  4. Pompili M, Gonda X, Serafini G, Innamorati M, Sher L, Amore M, et al. Epidemiology of suicide in bipolar disorders: a systematic review of the literature. Bipolar Disord. 2013;15(5):457–490.
  5. Alonso J, Petukhova M, Vilagut G, Chatterji S, Heeringa S, Üstün TB, et al. Days out of role due to common physical and mental conditions: results from the WHO World Mental Health surveys. Mol Psychiatry. 2011;16(12):1234–1246.
  6. World Health Organization. World Report on Disability 2011. Available from: [accessed 17 September 2019].