The Stigma of Bipolar Disorder

It’s a disease like cancer or diabetes, but when someone is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it is often shrouded in secrecy. The people carrying this burden have to worry not just about getting well, but also about the sort of reaction they will get if they disclose their condition. Will it hurt their careers? Relationships? Friendships?

Despite all our advanced knowledge, there is still a stigma that exists around mental illness, with friends, family and employers often misinformed and unsure how to react. That’s why it’s important to understand the disease of bipolar disorder and what a diagnosis really means.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by up-and-down episodes of mania and depression or extreme highs and lows.

Hypomania, a high-energy state in which a person feels exuberant but hasn’t lost his or her grip on reality, may feel good, but it doesn’t last; and coming down off that high can be dangerous.

An inability to complete tasks can be another warning sign. While we all have the occasional project that we never get around to finishing, a house full of half-completed projects is a hallmark of bipolar disorder. Beware of those who plan grand, unrealistic projects that are never finished before moving on to something else.

Depression is another common sign, but it’s important to understand that typical antidepressants don’t work well in patients who are bipolar. They can even make people cycle more frequently, worsening their condition.

Experiencing symptoms of mania and depression at the same time – called “mixed mania” – can make someone with this condition extremely irritable, and rapid or “pressured” speech is one of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder. Look for someone who will talk rapidly and speak over you, jumping around to different topics. Those with bipolar often have difficulty at work, too, as their symptoms interfere with their ability to show up or interact productively with others. Be on the lookout for interpersonal problems in the workplace as a sign of bipolar. Sleep problems and erratic, grandiose behavior during manic phases are also signs. There is also a genetic component to bipolar disorder, meaning it can be hereditary.

Effective Treatment

While there is currently no cure for bipolar disorder, proper treatment helps individuals gain better control of their mood swings and related symptoms. Because bipolar disorder is a lifelong and recurrent illness, people with the disorder need long-term treatment to maintain control of bipolar symptoms. An effective maintenance treatment plan includes medication and psychotherapy for preventing relapse and reducing symptom severity, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.

This can be compounded when someone is in the public eye. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. recently announced that he was seeking treatment for bipolar disorder. During his treatment process, longtime friend and former congressman Patrick Kennedy, who himself received treatment for depression and addiction, visited him—a visit that was reported on by the national news media.

The good news is that Jackson speaking publically about his battle can be an inspiration to others and help combat the stigma that continues to surround mental illness. By letting his constituents know he has a disease and is getting treatment, Jackson can help educate the public by showing them it’s no different than if he had been diagnosed with cancer or some other solely physical ailment.

Bipolar Disorder Help at The Oaks at La Paloma

If you or someone you love needs treatment for bipolar disorder and/or addiction, call The Oaks at La Paloma at the toll-free number on our homepage. Someone is there to take your call 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about co-occurring disorders treatment, financing or insurance.

Articles posted here are primarily educational and may not directly reflect the offerings at The Oaks. For more specific information on programs at The Oaks, contact us today.