My World Is Your World
I walk into class, my shield a thick blue binder filled with my countless ideas and thoughts; my nature in disorganized paper form. Inside hide the pictures of relief- Cobain, Poe, Whitman, Twain. Others. Success stories. Reminders of what is possible inside my world. Our world.
The bipolar world.
I sit, my own little planet, and watch the passionate pleas and anecdotes- “Ban the ‘R Word’”, “Words Hurt”, “If You Only Knew Me”- on the student television show. I recognize their causes and struggles with a mixture of great respect and weary indifference. I’ve heard it all before, I’ve seen the beauty of social progression towards acceptance.
But there’s something missing.
Enter May- Mental Health Awareness month. My mind has become increasingly preoccupied with the serious lack of education and consideration in the public school system for mental health awareness.
One could say that I have experienced the full and direct effect of such prevalent ignorance amongst today’s youth.
I received the diagnosis of Type II Bipolar Disorder at the young age of thirteen. For nearly four years I catapulted through the air; soaring up and up and up, only to plummet back down to Earth, back to avoiding friends and feeling listless and empty. Bipolar disorder has been described as “the worst hell imaginable”, and I could not agree more.
That is why I take offense to the erroneous vision of mental illness. The stigmatized, generalized, and absolutely searing use of ‘bipolar’ in everyday speech. Especially when the label is met with such horror and protest, such disgust at the very thought of being “crazy”, a daily experience I find to be incredibly upsetting and painful. I know that I am not alone in this.
Society has painted such a “comprehensive” portrait of this disorder; people can hardly tear their eyes from it. They refuse to listen or attempt to modify their reinforced views.
Some things need to change. By 2020, I want people to catch themselves when a bipolar label starts to slip off their tongues, and I want the label to be recognized as the derogatory and hateful term that it is. I want society recognize the physical nature of the disorder; to capitalize on the strengths of an individual with bipolar disorder instead of seeing the disorder as a weakness or a horrific flaw.
In order to do so, the public school system needs to implement awareness programs into their curriculum for young students. Reinforcement of a concept can have positive repercussions- we learn the social inappropriateness of the ‘N’ word and the archaic term “retarded” at a young age. Why not “bipolar”? Though progress of consciousness is slow moving, if we start now, we are that much closer to ending the stigma. I no longer want to feel ashamed and afraid of my identity, and I want the silent community of people like me to shed their fear and embrace their identity for our world to see.
Movements towards the Light for People with Bipolar
All of us have perceptions on seeing things. However, our perceptions are not always consistent with the reality. Finding characteristics distinguishing people from other member of society who we regard as ‘normal’, we often stigmatize them. Stigma is a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something. One of the stigmatized groups is the people with bipolar. The society considers that they are crazy, dangerous, psychos and they should be avoided. Stigma is highly unfair. It is similar with locking them in an invisible ‘dungeon’, instead of offering help. Many of them are discriminated. Stigma can affect lethally on the people who have bipolar as they become afraid to seek for help. They are concerned about being labeled and rejected if anyone finds out. This situation may trigger unnecessary suicides. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020 mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability. If we ignore this arising issue, the nightmare will come true.
We have to prevent this and change the future right now. The stigma deterring bipolar people to get help has to be erased. Stigma is incited by the lack of understanding about bipolar. Media is responsible for many of the misconceptions about people with mental illnesses. It often stresses a history of mental illness in the backgrounds of people who commit crimes of violence. Real facts are needed to dismiss the misconceptions. Categorized as mood disorder, bipolar disorder is typically defined by alternating episodes of mania and depression. Nothing says that people with bipolar will certainly be murderers. It simply says that their moods are unstable. With proper treatment, they can enjoy controlled life and do daily activities well.
We are able to support them by opening our minds and not offending them. Remember, they are humans too. Only, their brains are disturbed. The bipolar people should be courageous to speak out their struggle against the illness. Therefore, the hurtful judgment can be reduced then eventually vanished. We might also write a letter to fight stigma and inform numerous of newspaper readers, radio listeners, policy makers or a business we feel is discriminatory. Any time we see stigma, writing a letter can help to educate. There are numbers of groups carrying out mission to stop stigma, such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). Joining such groups will allow us to be more involved in the battle against stigma. Fight the stigma with whatever you’re able to do. For instance, if you are a writer, use your pen to promote the anti-stigma movement. If you’re a movie director, give people real picture of bipolar. Our actions, big or small, will make a change for them.
Let’s remove the mist of stigma and reveal the beauty of life. There is more than just gloominess, there is also light. We should bring back the light blocked by the stigma to their lives.
We have often heard about how advanced and superior the world will be in the future. Much has been talked, written and filmed on how better a place it would evolve to be then; advancements in technology, knowledge and everything in general would lead to better understanding and cohesion. But would it really be a better world for everyone? While it might hold true for many, not all might be able to benefit from it equally.
Societies tend to follow a stringent path at times, thus side-lining or castigating people who are different or who deviate from norms. This results in people stigmatising others and discriminating against them, who are then left to fend for themselves. A similar predicament is faced by those inflicted with mental ailments, such as the bi-polar disorder, as they are often the objects of hostility and ridicule, even from family or friends of the sufferer. The effects of this are to such a great magnitude that in 2001, the World Health Organization declared stigma to be “the single most important barrier to overcome in the community”. Generally looked upon as unstable persons who cannot be trusted to act rationally, this conduct by others worsens their confidence, leaving them in despair of themselves. Albeit this is obviously not the case as most people with the bi-polar disorder live relatively robust lives.
However, with the world becoming more accepting of diversity and the realization that everyone is equal, regardless of their disabilities things may be set to change for the better. As the world becomes more aware about diseases and anomalies, it also allows people a freer environment in which to discuss such issues in. This is imperative for people with bi-polar, since they need to express their emotions without being chastised for it. The public should be educated about such disorders, so they can grow to tolerate, and at a point in time, even come to appreciate them for what they are. Special programs for specific audiences, e.g. the more conservative ones may also help to open their hearts towards people with bi-polar. But most importantly, they should be empowered and given chances; by putting them in the limelight and showcasing them as viable people to the world, that they are able persons and can do what anyone can and do it as well as they can, any doubts about them being ‘cracked’ will cease to exist.
Nevertheless, it is mere speculation at this point. In order to change the public opinion about bi- polars, much needs to be done. Despite this, there may still remain some people who discriminate others, regardless of whatever they are told. But in all this, our aim should be to ensure a better future, especially for people with diseases like bi-polar. The road will be an arduous one, but I am sure that in the future, and hopefully by 2020, we may reach a level of understanding where bi-polar is a positive quality rather than a problematic disease.
President Bill Clinton once said, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” For the 5.7 million Americans living with bipolar disorder, for the millions of undiagnosed people living in third-world countries, and for us as a society at large, this statement unfortunately rings true. To attach stigma, to perceive bipolar disorder as a disgrace and a stain upon society, is to close our minds. To end this process, we must work to educate the public in order to change perceptions and inspire action. I believe that bipolar disorder should be seen not as a restraint, but as a testament to the human capacity to transcend adversity.
It is critical that as a society, we reach out to raise awareness and dispel stereotypes. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by periods of euphoria followed by periods of depression, which can affect the patients as well as their loved ones. However, with consistent use of medication, patients with bipolar disorder can manage their condition effectively. The notion that such patients are “insane” and “unreliable” is one common but unwarranted stereotype that causes bias and prejudice. This is especially true in developing countries where recognition of the condition is still uncommon. Global campaigns with the cooperation of businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations can raise awareness about the symptoms of and treatments for bipolar disorder. Such efforts will help us empathize with bipolar disorder patients, allowing us to refrain from judging them. Instead, we will see them as fellow humans who have full right to be treated without bias.
Above all, it is important that we act on our new understanding. By providing opportunities for bipolar disorder patients through employment and social support, we can create a safe, encouraging environment that allows patients to assimilate into society.
As individuals, we are also responsible for our own behavior toward the people in our community who struggle with bipolar disorder. Befriending and supporting these people will allow us to rise and strip away the stigma caused by stereotyping bipolar patients. With continuous effort, our understanding of bipolar disorder in 2020 will be very different from our perception of it today. Then, we will see the friend behind the name.