I’ve heard it said somewhere that bipolar disorder is not a “casserole” illness – meaning that when you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, don’t expect people to be lining up at your door bringing you casseroles, sending flowers or even cards. It just doesn’t happen – or at least it didn’t to me.

Wikipedia defines “stigma” as severe social disapproval. Stigma is the negative view of something with degrading attitudes. It is acted out as ignorance, fear, discrimination, avoidance, shunning, labelling and stereotyping. Stigma is often linked to bipolar disorder. Some of the things people say that are stigmatizing are “get over it,” “suck it up,” “snap out of it,” “just stop acting like that,” “you’re just overreacting,” “you’re just being moody,” and “she’s so bipolar.”

Oh if we could just “snap out of it,” who wouldn’t. “Overreacting” – yes we do, it’s actually a symptom of bipolar disorder. And there’s a big difference between being moody and having severe mood swings from depression to mania. That brings another misconception to mind – mania is not always fun. Rather than euphoric mania, people with bipolar can suffer from dysphoric mania. In that state, the person experiences considerable irritability, agitation, poor judgment and can become out of control. Our behaviour is not wilful, it is symptomatic of a chronic, serious illness. On the low end of the spectrum, depression is sometimes viewed as laziness, sadness or upset.

Other forms of stigma include thinking people with bipolar are violent, dangerous, even criminals. One of the saddest forms of stigma is self-stigma. Often the person with bipolar feels the need to hide it for fear people with think they’re crazy. This can include feeling weak, useless, or unwanted. It can be a constant, exhausting struggle to hide moods and symptoms. We get very good at that.

To reduce or eliminate stigma we have to be open and talk about bipolar disorder. Our families, friends and the public need to be educated. Google search “bipolar disorder” and you’ll find hundreds upon hundreds of pages full of information. Lastly, I am not bipolar … I have bipolar.

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