Understanding Bipolar Disorder
by Alix Greenblatt
What is bipolar disorder and why is it not as discomforting as people may think? Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that can be caused by genetic, environmental, and chemical factors. It can develop from an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine, environmental factors from childhood abuse, or traumatic events. It can be treated with medications or psychotherapy, but it cannot be cured. The disorder is characterized into two areas. Bipolar I is often defined as someone who experiences long episodes of both depression and mania, the mania needing to exceed a 7-day period. Bipolar II is more notable for hypomanic and depressive episodes where the mania lasts less than the 7-day period.
There is nothing wrong with being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or any mental health disorder/illness. It may seem like a scary concept at first, but it’s something that one can work toward living with. If you live with bipolar disorder, know that you are not alone. 46 million people around the world live with it (as of 2022). A difficult thing for people who live with bipolar disorder is how to deal with the stigma that comes with having it or any other mental health disorder/illness. The stigma of this disorder often leads people to avoid getting the treatment they need, having both short-term and long-term effects on a person. The 46 million people mentioned before are only documented cases and more of a very rough estimate. It’s likely that there is a large amount of people that have bipolar disorder who health data trackers are unaware of.
In 2023, people still hold the notion that individuals who suffer from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder are meant to be placed in psychiatric institutions, often making jokes about the topic. People, especially from the ages of 25 and up tend to look at bipolar disorder as a joke or as an amusing label. Growing up, you may have heard people define their shift in mood as being “so bipolar” or when they feel sad, they may say something like “I’m just feeling bipolar today.” Now, while that may be funny to some, it’s not funny to those who actually suffer from it. Whether it be Bipolar I or II, the symptoms can be debilitating and scary.
Pushing jokes aside, people with bipolar disorder are often vulnerable to discrimination. When applying for jobs, you may see the Self-Voluntary Disability disclosure at the end. Within that list lies mental illnesses that include severe depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorder, and bipolar disorder. Of course, no one is required to fill it out (i.e., saying no or do not wish to answer), but some may feel guilty about that. Believing that it will reveal itself one way or another. People have not been hired at jobs, accepted into living communities, or overall treated with dignity all because they live with bipolar I or II.
How to stop the stigma
The easiest way to end the stigma on mental health and bipolar disorder is by education and advocacy. Stigma is not something you can throw money at to make it go away. You cannot wish or pray for it to go away, for people need to be educated on the subject and eventually understand/implement what they’ve learned. While further education is highly encouraged, here are some key points to remember:
People with bipolar disorder are not much different than people who don’t have it.
Someone’s mental health disorder/illness is not your punchline for a joke.
Your words, no matter how “light-hearted” they may be, can really hurt someone.
It is okay to have bipolar disorder. And you’re doing great.
Alix Greenblatt is currently working for the CDC Foundation/NYSDOH as a facility surveyor in long-term care. She is also working on finishing her MPH program at the University at Albany with a certificate in Global Health. Her goals are to one day work toward improving health rights for women and to work toward ending the stigma behind mental illness. She enjoys baking and music.
February 2023 page 10