Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Often misunderstood, bipolar disorder can carry a stigma like many other mental health disorders. People who do not understand bipolar disorder can make negative assumptions about it, and these misconceptions can do real damage. They undermine self-esteem. They can discourage someone from coming to terms with their mental health and asking for the help they need.
The stigma associated with bipolar disorder serves to alienate the people living with it. It can also lead to discrimination. Have you have ever been marginalized or treated unfairly because of something you could not change about yourself? Most of us have, and we know how awful it can feel. Treating others with respect begins with understanding.
Changing the Conversation
Changing how we talk about bipolar disorder begins with understanding and respect. No one wants their identity reduced to a condition they may be living with. We can start with the words we choose. Refer to a person as “someone with bipolar disorder,” never as “crazy” or “psycho” or any other such term that diminishes or makes light of their condition.
Another common practice is mislabeling. Talking about your “psychotic cat” or saying “I’m so bipolar today” when you don’t have a diagnosis. These words have meaning. When used flippantly, it shows a lack of respect for the people living with these conditions.
In thinking about reducing the stigma of bipolar disorder, changing the conversation means more than being thoughtful about your own language. It also means being proactive when it comes to changing the dialog around you. When you hear others use inappropriate terms or show prejudice towards someone with mental illness, utilize it as a teachable moment.
You might say something like, “Hey, there is a better way to talk about this. What do you know about bipolar disorder? Can we chat about it for a moment?” These may all seem like small acts in the grand scheme, but change begins within all of us. People have a sense of right and wrong, and when you show them a better way through example, that tends to be contagious.
Learning to Listen
If we are to change the way we talk about bipolar disorder, listening is an excellent place to begin. Understanding the experiences of people with bipolar disorder can go a long way toward changing the way we think and talk about it. Hearing the experiences of others allows their truth to take the place of assumptions and misconceptions. It fosters understanding.
Try to understand people who live with bipolar disorder and let them know you are listening. Understand that their behavior may sometimes be different than what you are used to—we’re all different, after all. Also, listen to how others speak about bipolar disorder and take advantage of opportunities to educate them with kindness; this is how we can all work to reduce the stigma of bipolar disorder. Apply these same principles to any other mental health stigma as well.
Together, We Can End Stigma
Working to change the language about mental health disorders is a responsibility we all share. It’s worth doing. It will change how people feel about themselves and encourage empathy and compassion. It will help people feel safe to talk about their experiences and seek help that could make all the difference for them.
If you or your loved one is seeking help with bipolar disorder or any other mental health condition, The Ranch Pennsylvania is here to support you. We can help you learn to cope with your bipolar symptoms in a healthy way so you can live the life you want and build the relationships you need. Our recovery specialists are here to answer your questions. Call us at 717.969.9126.
By Ryan Egan
Contributing Writer with Promises Behavioral Health