March 30 is recognized as World Bipolar Disorder Day in an effort to disseminate accurate information about the disorder. Bipolar disorder is frequently misunderstood and unfortunately carries a stigma in society. It is estimated that about 2.6% of the American population, or 8.5 million individuals, carry a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In popular culture, individuals with bipolar disorder are increasingly represented in films and television to the public. However, these characters are sometimes portrayed as “crazy” or violent. While it is encouraging that individuals with bipolar disorder are more represented, it is important that we understand that someone who has bipolar disorder is not necessarily violent, unemployable, or frequently unstable.
Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that typically occur during distinct periods of several days to weeks. These mood episodes are categorized as manic/hypomanic (abnormally elevated or irritable mood) or depressive (sad mood). People with bipolar disorder generally have periods of neutral mood as well. Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood. With treatment, people with bipolar disorder can lead full and productive lives.
Use person-first language. The Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (2013) suggests using person-first language when discussing living with a condition like bipolar disease, meaning that it highlights that a person's diagnosis does not define him or her. For example, saying “an individual with bipolar disorder” rather than “s/he’s bipolar.”
Be understanding, patient, and supportive. Individuals with bipolar disorder have better outcomes when supported by family members and friends. Individuals tend to recover more quickly, experience fewer active phases of the disorder (manic/hypomanic and depressive episodes), and have milder symptoms. It is important to remember that getting better takes time, even when a person is committed to treatment.
Learn more about bipolar disorder. There are many myths and misinformation about bipolar disorder. Learning more about the disorder from a reputable source is a great first step in ending the stigma.