Experiencing Bipolar Stigma on a Daily Basis
Tuesday, October 3 2017 Hannah Blum
Bipolar stigma is something I deal with, directly or in my surroundings, on a daily basis. As someone who publicly shares their diagnosis of bipolar 2 disorder, I am aware that experiencing stigma more often than usual is something that comes with the job, but to what extent? How much bipolar stigma can a person take before it becomes too much to handle? Experiencing stigma on a daily basis is exhausting, making how to cope with it an important topic to discuss openly.
Stigma of Bipolar is in Your Face
It takes only a few minutes before a news reporter connects a mass shooter to a mental health condition unjustifiably. I go to a party, and the most ill-mannered person in the room is diagnosed with a mental health condition. The label I live with, bipolar disorder, is stamped on violent, deranged and ill-behaved individuals. It is treated as a scapegoat rather than a condition.
When I became a mental health advocate and public about my life as a young adult with bipolar 2 disorder, I started to experience stigma on a daily basis. If I lash back or reacted to every stigmatized comment that is said, I would be too exhausted to open my eyes in the morning. I would have no time to do actual work in advocacy because I would be too busy fighting with people.
I always wonder if people understand that some individuals in this world grew up in environments that caused them to be rude, violent, and hateful. However, when you live with bipolar disorder, as exhausting as it may be, you have to take these comments with a grain of salt.
How to Cope with Stigmatized Comments
When I hear someone talking about another person they dislike, a crazy ex or associate, sometimes it is followed up with, "They have a mental illness!" To which I respond in all seriousness with, "Oh man when were they diagnosed, and with what condition?" The individual with an imaginary psychology degree usually scrambles for words that allude to the idea that there has never been an official diagnosis of a mental health condition.
When people say stigmatized comments, especially those who are close to us, it is usually not done maliciously. Stigma is engrained in all of us. Before my diagnosis of bipolar 2 disorder, as open-minded as my family is (How My Bipolar 2 Diagnosis Brought My Family Closer), I carried the same kind of stigma with me. It was not until I was the one sitting in the chair receiving a diagnosis of bipolar 2 disorder that I realized how damaging stigma is. That's when I had to learn how to cope with stigmatized comments.
My advice to those who are wondering how to help reduce the stigma of bipolar disorder or any mental health condition is to talk about it in a casual fashion, not as someone diagnosed with a condition, but as an individual advocating for justice. This is not to say that I have not, or will not have moments where I am louder than I should be, but I do the best I can to send a clear message. Otherwise, it will only increase the stigma I fight against on a daily basis. As difficult as it can sometimes be, my struggle is my biggest strength, and I use bipolar stigma as my motivation to continue advocating for mental health and my community.