What do you think of when you hear someone has bipolar disorder? Do you think crazy? Do you think rapid mood swings? These stigmas of bipolar disorder, often portrayed in movies and television have harmed the mental health community and those who struggle with the diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition known as a mood disorder primarily marked by periods of mania and depression. However, those periods can last days to months, not every hour as the stereotype that’s been perpetuated. The myths of bipolar disorder desperately need to be debunked in order for those with the disorder to feel a part of society and not outcast for their chemical imbalance.
Tackling the myths
One of the stigmas is that people with bipolar disorder are moody or lazy. This is simply not true. While it is a neurobiological disorder that can affect motivation and energy, it is not laziness that drives the diagnosis. Those with the illness experience uncontrollable periods of depression that may make them feel like they are lazy or unable to get out of bed. However, more often than not, this is not a choice.
Another stigma is that bipolar people are a danger to others. While this can be true, it is most likely not intentional. In episodes of mania, one can engage in reckless behaviour and often make choices that are impulsive. This includes but is not limited to hypersexual activity, impulsive spending, substance abuse, and flight of ideas. While some of these behaviours can be unsafe, someone with bipolar disorder is typically not maliciously intent on the harm of others. These stigmas can often be more harmful than the person themselves.
The impact of stigma
The harm done to the bipolar community has been severe and still continues to this day despite the advances in mental health understanding. A 2013 study out of Canada discussed that those with bipolar disorder believed that at least 50% of the population was afraid of those with mental illness. That statistic has significantly decreased self-esteem, interactions with those who don’t know they have the diagnosis, and overall quality of life.
The problem lies with the word “bipolar” and the surface-level bias that associates the diagnosis with negative views of a person’s personality or ability to cope and function. When people engage in the immediate bias of the illness, they often dismiss the person as a whole. There needs to be a solution to this issue, and it starts with more education for the general public. There needs to be more information about what bipolar is and what it is not. More people with bipolar disorder need to get out in front of the issue and talk about their health and normalize that this illness is not an anomaly. Fortunately, more and more celebrities have begun to normalize bipolar disorder. Stars like Selena Gomez, and Demi Lovato. The late actress Carrie Fisher said: “At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.” Statements like these can make it possible for the public to see bipolar as part of someone but not the sum of a person.
Bipolar is not scary. Although the myths and stigmas surrounding the illness can sound scary, it is important to ask someone who lives with the diagnosis daily. Ask them what they struggle with, and how they cope and thrive, and ask them about their quality of life. You’d be surprised by the answers you get, and you may realize that bipolar disorder is something to be proud of with no shame.
Tiffany Wicks, EdD received a doctorate in education from Johns Hopkins University. She conducts independent research about maternal morbidity in marginalised communities.
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