By Yael Spodek, Features Editor
It is easy to stigmatize bipolar disorder (BD). Our thoughts tend to associate BD with the violence of Ted Bundy, the depression of Kurt Cobain, and the addiction of Demi Lovato.
Although living with BD comes with its fair share of internal issues, it also affects relationships with others. Unfortunately, this is often solely due to a diagnosis. The stigma surrounding people who are diagnosed with BD takes over, drowning other people’s thoughts in a baseless fear of the unknown. Personally, I find it shocking to hear diagnosis stories that end with complete isolation and abandonment. Sadly, these stories are common because people are unwilling to learn about and understand BD. Just as someone who is battling cancer is not faulted for their health, someone who’s diagnosed with BD can and should not be faulted for their illness.
Recently, the mental health world has grabbed the attention of younger generations, leading to a de-stigmatization of mental health struggles, including BD. This shift has created an interesting dynamic in my life as I go through the diagnosis process. My friends, who are around the same age as me, are open to hearing about BD and its effects. In stark contrast, the older people in my life still find the topic taboo, often leading to feelings of shame and embarrassment when the subject is breached.
The social stigma surrounding BD is extremely harmful to those living with this diagnosis as it leads to internalized, personal stigma. Those who have internalized the stigma will rarely reach out for help and often completely isolate themselves from their world. Three ways that I have seen people counteract this problem and help those struggling with the stigma surrounding BD are: compassion, listening, and education
Compassion looks different for everyone, both in how we give it and receive it. While it is needed in every relationship, it goes a long way when it comes to BD. Personally, feeling compassion was very impactful in how I viewed myself and my mental health; it wasn’t until after I had received genuine compassion that I was able to begin and open up about the possibility of having BD. This segues to my next point: listening. When talking about mental health, it’s easy to feel a multitude of negative and self-deprecating emotions. The thought that’s always at the forefront of my mind when talking about my mental health is that no one cares, no one’s listening. Those struggling with BD feel misunderstood on a daily basis; people often take different fragments of what they hear and put them together. When talking to somebody with and about BD, pay attention and engage with what they are actually saying. This brings me to my final point: education. Make sure to educate yourself and the people around you. You do not need to do hours of research on BD in order to be educated. While you can go online and read articles on BD and get the gist of how it affects people, talking to somebody in your life who has BD is the best way to learn. How you educate yourself is up to you; any step is a step in the right direction.
These are just three suggestions out of millions on how you can contribute to the de-stigmatization of BD and help those struggling with it. What needs to be stressed the most is that we are all people, we all deal with hardships in life, and we can all use some help getting through them.