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Bipolar Disorder: Breaking the Stigma

April 5th, 2018


As a mental health provider, I have witnessed a wide variety of emotions as people become diagnosed with bipolar disorder. From my own observations the two emotions I tend to see most are fear and relief.

Some people instantly become fearful and scared of what this may mean for them. They think back on all of the things they have heard about the disorder and all of the stigma behind it. “How will my family and friends react to this? Will people treat me differently? Will I start to act differently?”

The second emotion I often see is one of relief. “Finally, there is an answer and an explanation to why I have been feeling the way that I have. Finally, we can create a plan and start making progress towards an overall healthier and more positive lifestyle.”

Regardless of your initial reaction, it is important to understand the facts of bipolar disorder. Our society has started treating the disorder as a dramatic and instant shift in mood from happy to sad, or happy to angry. Even though bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, the symptoms are often times not as extreme as people believe them to be. And with proper treatment, the majority of people that have this disorder are able to live fulfilling and productive lives.

Knowing the Facts

  • Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. (Other types of mood disorders include major depressive disorder, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and seasonal affective disorder)
  • Bipolar disorder can cause mood swings to change from high (mania) to low (depression).
  • Symptoms of mania can include increased energy, excitement, impulsive behavior, agitation, and believing you are “invincible,” for example.
  • Symptoms of a depressive episode can include lack of energy, feelings of worthlessness, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts.
  • In between episodes of mania and depression, there will usually be periods of stability.
  • Even though it is a lifelong disorder, it is considered to be very manageable with proper treatment.
  • The combination of medication management and talk therapy has been proven to be the most effective method in treating bipolar disorder.
Breaking the Stigma

Breaking the Stigma

One of the main things that can be done to help break the stigma of bipolar disorder is being mindful of how it is talked about.

People will often say things like, “Did you know that person is bipolar?” Referring to someone as being bipolar, as opposed to having bipolar disorder, can make that person feel like their identity has changed. Having bipolar disorder does not mean that person’s personality has changed and that they are an entirely different person. Being mindful of how someone is referring to a disorder can go a long way.

Another thing that can be done is to talk about it more. There still tends to be a negative stigma around mental health and disorders such as bipolar disorder. People sometimes act like it is a touchy subject or something that is taboo to talk about.

With an estimated 4.4% of adults in the U.S. experiencing bipolar disorder at some time in their lives, shouldn’t they be able to talk about their struggles just like anyone else with medical-related issues? Be supportive to those that you know who struggle with bipolar disorder or any other mental health disorder. It can make a big difference in their lives.

Lastly, educate yourself so you can share your knowledge with others who have false judgments of the disorder. If you are struggling with symptoms yourself, talk to a mental health professional. Even though living with bipolar disorder can become very manageable, it can definitely be scary at first. Mental health professionals can help you obtain the proper treatments and prescribe medication for bipolar disorder to learn coping skills and live a healthy, positive life.

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