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Sheila Woodland obituary

·2 min read

My sister, Sheila Woodland, who has died aged 76, was co-founder of BiPolarUK, which sprang from an advert in the Guardian and a mention in the paper’s Memo column in 1982. In those days there was no organisation dealing with what was then called manic depression, from which she suffered most of her life. As a result of those mentions the first meeting was held in 1983 at Church House, Westminster. It consisted almost entirely of Guardian readers.

Meanwhile, Philomena Germing, whose husband Gerry was a sufferer, had had a similar idea and put adverts in other papers including the Times and Daily Telegraph. Tom Woodland, Sheila’s devoted husband, saw the advert and contacted Philomena. The two decided to join forces and together contacted the 180 respondents to their adverts to start a new society to combat the stigma attached to the illness and to make GPs more aware of it.

A meeting to form a committee for the merged group, then called the Manic-Depressive Fellowship, was initially chaired by Sue Proctor. Among the first committee members were the two Germings, myself and Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International.

The proceedings were reported in the first newsletter (which was later named Pendulum) in July 1983 edited by Sheila using a duplicator kindly provided by St James’s Church, Raynes Park. The newsletter, which was dispatched to over 200 sufferers and relatives, reported keen interest in the establishment of a self-help network enabling sufferers to help each other.

Since then Bi-PolarUK has steadily grown – helped by publicity from Stephen Fry and many others – to where it is today. There are around 100 support groups with strong representation on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and a flourishing e-community. Over 80,000 sufferers are helped each year. This is a huge achievement but a comparatively small proportion of the large numbers of sufferers in the community who still need to be reached.

Sheila was born in Raynes Park, London and went to school at the Sacred Heart primary school and afterwards the Holy Cross Convent, both in New Malden. Our mother, Sheila, was a dinner lady and our father, William Keegan, a general foreman with the rivers and streams section of Surrey County Council.

After leaving school, Sheila had a number of secretarial jobs including with Macmillan, the publisher. She met Tom in 1969 and they were married in 1974, shortly after her illness started, though the seriousness of it was not at first apparent. After that she had regular bipolar episodes punctuated with periods of normality. She was enormously helped by the dedication of Tom, who made life worth living for her.

Sheila was admirably looked after in her final years at the Grennell Lodge care home in Sutton. She had been very depressed for many years but died of health problems unrelated to her bi-polar condition.

She is survived by Tom and her three brothers, Brian, William and me.

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