The stigma of mental illness
In our society, mental illness has been so ill portrayed that it’s difficult to know how it really works. Those who are not sufferers of mental illness or don’t know anyone who has a mental illness have no idea about what having one entails and tend to adhere to the stereotypes and stigma surrounding them.
One of the most commonly misunderstood mental illnesses is bipolar disorder. Model and television personality Kylie Jenner posted on her Twitter account on Nov. 6, 2013, “I miss my black hair. I’m so bipolar.” It’s things like this that fuel this ignorance.
A stigma about mental illness is already a major part of the problem, but it gets worse when those who have not been diagnosed use the term the way Jenner does. It minimizes the actual symptoms and basically belittles those who suffer from bipolar disorder. Even if it’s unintentional, it is still bad and degenerative to those who actually have bipolar disorder.
As a sufferer of bipolar disorder, I do my best to break this bad rap about it, but of course I can’t do it alone. The first step is to fight self-stigma, which is the belief that one is weak due to their illness. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website, “Self-stigma may cause people to stop their treatment, isolate themselves from loved ones or give up on things they want to do.”
In order to get better, one must seek out and stick with treatment. Instead of focusing on your weaknesses, focus on your strengths. Also, try to connect with others who are going through similar problems. These are essential steps to defeating self-stigma.
The next step is to educate others and to stand up for yourself. “Even in casual conversation, people can be gently and quickly reminded that words like ‘psycho’ are hurtful stereotypes and that people with depression and bipolar disorder deserve understanding, not shame,” according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website.
It is ultimately your decision whether you want to tell other people of your illness, but giving your story may help others empathize with you. If one does not wish to divulge such personal information then one can always “state the facts about depression and bipolar disorder and disagree with any myths about the illnesses that others believe,” according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.
Even if you are not a sufferer of bipolar disorder or any other mental illness, you can still stand up for those who do suffer from these illnesses. People don’t have to have a mental illness to educate others about it. Yes, they may not understand, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get others to empathize with those who have these disorders.
Living with bipolar disorder is not easy. Sometimes it is just pure hell. Most people who view bipolar disorder so negatively are those who do not have it and those who have never had to deal directly with anyone with bipolar disorder. “On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness,” according to the ncbi.nlm.gov site.
In a nutshell, bipolar people have troubles due to the symptoms of the illness and others who do not understand associate the stigma and prejudice. That can only hurt those with bipolar disorder. It doesn’t help anyone. It only alienates those who have the disorder, and then, it just picks at them to their core.
Of course, not just those who suffer with bipolar disorder, but any “normal” person would lash out if they had to put up with this nonsense day in and day out. I have done it quite a bit myself out of frustration. I’m not saying that it’s all right to do that. But it does make sense. Basically, we can only take in so much. But with the help of medications and therapy, those who suffer from bipolar disorder can live a “normal” life. There is and should be no shame in being bipolar.
Opinion columnist Callie Parrish is a mathematics and art senior and may be reached at [email protected]