Bringing it to Light: Destigmatizing Bipolar Disorder

Last month, Demi Lovato discussed her struggle with bipolar disorder, and spoke about her participation with the Be Vocal campaign, spreading awareness of mental health disorders. In speaking out about sharing her journey, she has said “I want to shine a light on the people out there who, like me, are learning to live well with mental illness by getting the right diagnosis and finding the right treatment plan–People living with mental illness often have low expectations because they’ve been hurt or disappointed in the past. I want to change that.”

Lovato is one of several celebrities who have come out about their bipolar diagnosis over the past few years. Stephen Fry, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Carrie Fisher have all spoken candidly about their own experiences with the disorder, becoming strong advocates for others suffering from the illness, and putting a public face on what has historically been among the most misunderstood and mystifying mental health conditions. By opening up about her diagnosis and working to raise awareness about options for mental health disorder treatment, Lovato is contributing to an important cultural discussion that can help increase understanding of bipolar disorder and break through the damage of stigma.

The Effects of Stigma

Bipolar disorder, moreso even than depression, has developed a kind of cultural mythology built on alarmist stereotypes and dehumanizing characterizations that can inform how you see yourself and how you relate to the world around you. Studies have found that stigma affects social functioning, decreases quality of life, acts as a barrier to treatment, and worsens outcomes for bipolar clients. When Virginia Werner set out to write an article about bipolar disorder on college campuses, she found that people were reluctant to speak with her for fear of being considered crazy by their peers. In a powerful piece for The Atlantic, CJ Laymon, writing under a pen name to preserve his anonymity, describes keeping his diagnosis hidden for fear of losing employment. Laymon details how the fear of revealing his illness runs so deep that he veered from doctor-recommended medication protocols and declined to take much-needed medical leave in the hope of avoiding disclosure, actions that only augmented his symptoms. The secrecy and shame surrounding bipolar disorder can isolate you from those around you, leave you fearful, and keep you from accessing the treatment you need.

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Undoing the Damage

Celebrities are not the only ones seeking to combat the myths surrounding mental illness and raise public awareness. People suffering from bipolar disorder are engaging in both traditional advocacy and harnessing the power of the internet to create a dialogue about their conditions, give voice to their experiences, and decrease marginalization. The “Mad Pride” movement seeks to help people with mental health disorders break free from stigma through public events, talks, YouTube videos, online forums, publications, and political advocacy. In doing so, you can find community, new ways of understanding yourself, and a sense of collective purpose. At the same time, people without bipolar disorder can learn from those who have firsthand knowledge and gain a more nuanced, accurate picture of the role of the disorder in people’s lives, ultimately increasing tolerance, compassion, and acceptance. Increased mainstream awareness of psychological illnesses helps us move away from a culture in which “bipolar” is shorthand for “crazy,” to have real, meaningful conversations about the needs and diverse lived realities of people with mental health disorders.

Compassionate Care for a Healthier Life

As the important work of destigmatization continues, it is important to not let negative cultural narratives about bipolar disorder stand in your way of treatment. You deserve to live the most fulfilling life possible and there is no shame in seeking treatment for a medical condition. At Bridges to Recovery, we provide compassionate, specialized treatment for bipolar disorder in an intimate environment without judgement or shame. We offer you the time, space, and therapies you need to relieve suffering and remove obstacles standing in the way of a healthy, joyful life. Our experienced clinicians work with you to understand your treatment goals and create a customized plan to address your symptoms using the most current research and treatment modalities, while helping you uncover your authentic self and free yourself from self-stigmatization. Fear should not keep you from accessing the care you need; bipolar disorder is real, manageable, and isn’t something to feel ashamed of.

Contact us to discuss how we can help you gain the skills and insight to manage your bipolar disorder in our comfortable residential setting.