Atlanta Center for Medical Research

Busting Bipolar Disorder Stigmas

Atlanta Center for Medical Research Resource Blog

Despite the fact that 2.3 million people in America have bipolar disorder, there are countless stigmas and myths surrounding this mental disease that causes this community plenty of harm. These stigmas are often represented in our common culture in the form of TV shows, video games, and movies. When diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a common part of treatment and management is learning how to live with these harmful stigmas, making the mental disease even more stressful for those who have it.

What’s even worse is that suicide is the leading cause of premature death in those with bipolar disorder. In fact, about 15 to 17 percent of those with this mental illness end up taking their own lives. In order to prove these myths wrong and help better the discussion around this mental disease, we’re discussing the top stigmas that surround those with bipolar disorder and show how they are incorrect and harmful.

Myths about Bipolar Disorder that Boost Stigma

Before we dive into these, let’s properly explain what bipolar disorder is. Also called manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder is a neurobiological brain disorder that causes mood swings with alternate periods of extreme highs to extreme lows.

Here are the worst bipolar myths and how they are incorrect.

1: Those with bipolar disorder can control their disease if they put enough effort into it.

This myth not only applies to bipolar disorder but also to most mental diseases. Those who don’t deal with the day to day life of bipolar disorder think that if only that person were a little more positive, if they tried harder to overcome their issues, then their disease would just go away. Unfortunately, mental disease does not work like that.

As we mentioned above, bipolar disorder is a neurobiological brain disorder. This means that the chemical wiring in the brain causes this person to experience the emotions they do. No amount of hard work, positive thinking, or “snapping out of it” is going to change this.

If you have thought this of the stigma before, know that people with bipolar disorder can’t just get rid of their disease if they focus hard enough. It requires life-long management, therapy, and medicine.

2: People with bipolar disorder are just lying; they only want attention.

Many people believe that when those with bipolar disorder discuss what they are going through, that they are just being dramatic and lying about their situation. Worst of all, many people also believe that those with bipolar disorder just say they have this disease for the attention.

Never assume that a person with bipolar disorder is lying or going through what they experience for attention. In most cases, those with this mental disorder don’t enjoy having it.

3: People with bipolar disease can’t have loving relationships.

Because of the episodes that people with bipolar disorder have, many people assume they can never have meaningful and long-lasting relationships. However, a person with bipolar disorder can have the same meaningful, lasting relationships that those without mental illnesses have. It just takes a little more work.

4: People who are bipolar should not have children.

Many people assume that because of the range of emotions bipolar disorder causes those people with the disease would not make great parents. This is not true. As we said above, those with bipolar disorder can do anything they want to. All it takes is some more management, work, and help with medical professionals. Just because someone has a mental disease doesn’t make them incapable of living a normal, fulfilling life.

5: Those who have bipolar disorder can’t be successful.

In the same vein of thought, outsiders often think that this mental disorder doesn’t allow anyone to be successful. However, there are many successful individuals with this mental disease, such as Mariah Carey, Carrie Fisher, and Ernest Hemingway.

Just because a person is bipolar doesn’t mean that they can’t achieve their goals or work hard for success. Their journey might look different than yours, but the outcomes can certainly be the same.

6: People who have bipolar disorder are violent/crazy/can’t be trusted

There are many examples in the media that claim that people with bipolar disorder are violent and insane. One such example is the many cases of Halloween movies that feature vengeful antagonists with mental disorders. But you can’t always believe what you see on TV, and that is certainly true of this stigma.

Though people with bipolar disorder do have ranging emotions, it doesn’t mean they are violent or unstable. While there may be outlying cases in this, it’s not right to assume that just because a person has bipolar that they aren’t able to control themselves.

7: You’re being bipolar.

The above phrase is a commonly used insult people use in reference to someone who is being emotional. However, it’s extremely offensive to those in the bipolar disorder community. A person who is experiencing sadness or any other intense emotion doesn’t mean they are bipolar. And just because a person may be bipolar doesn’t mean that their disease name should be used as an insult.

If this is a phrase commonly used in your dialogue, then please consider not saying it. Those who do use it as an expression are spreading the impression that people who are bipolar are too emotional, which is a negative stigma that can harm members in that community.

The Atlanta Center for Medical Research was founded in 1982 by Dr. Robert A. Riesenberg and is now one of the largest and most respected medical research institutions in the country. If you’re interested in participating in a study or know someone who might be, click here to learn more about ACMR’s current bipolar study for adults or fill out the form to sign up today.

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