Having bipolar disorder can make life very difficult. It can disrupt home life, work, relationships, finances, and physical health. The statistics cited by the National Institutes of Health show the great burden that bipolar disorder brings to the patient, family, and community:
- People with bipolar disorder are 20 times more likely to commit suicide than the general population.
- There is a sevenfold increase in the likelihood of missed work in people with bipolar disorder.
- When a woman is diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 25, she might risk losing 9 years of life, 12 years of normal health, and 14 years of effective functioning.
Unfortunately, there is a powerful stigma attached to having bipolar disorder. This causes patients to feel isolated, ashamed, or discriminated against, all of which can hinder them from seeking help and recovering. It also prevents the patient’s family and community from providing helpful support.
To fight the stigma, it’s important to raise awareness about bipolar disorder. Doing so will make a positive difference in many ways.
Recognition of all symptoms
Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed because many patients and their families fail to paint the full picture of the condition to their healthcare provider. They tend to describe only symptoms of depression since signs of mania are usually disregarded as just daredevil, carefree, and non-conformist behavior (e.g., shopping sprees, impulsive decision-making, sexual promiscuity, substance abuse). But in reality, people experiencing mania wouldn’t have engaged in those activities had they been stable at the time.
“Most respondents (82.5%) recognized that they had experienced a depressive episode while 75% had consulted a health professional for a depressive episode. Only a minority (22.5%) recognized that they had experienced a (hypo)manic episode and only 17.5% had consulted a health professional for a (hypo)manic episode. Only 12.5% of the respondents reported having received a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.”
— Regeer, Kupka, Have, et al. Low self-recognition and awareness of past hypomanic and manic episodes in the general population. Int J Bipolar Disord 3, 22 (2015).
Since bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as major depressive disorder (MDD), patients are usually given just antidepressants, an inappropriate treatment. This often worsens the patient’s condition, triggering manic episodes and rapid cycling of high and low moods. This leads to higher treatment costs, lost workdays, and disrupted personal relationships.
By raising awareness of bipolar disorder, everyone will be able to better recognize all the warning signs. This increases the chances of a correct diagnosis and effective intervention.
Greater awareness of bipolar disorder will help patients better manage their condition. By knowing that their illness has no known cure and requires continuous treatment, they won’t make the mistake of stopping medication when they feel well. They’ll know that changes to their medication should only be done under the supervision of a qualified clinician since such changes may trigger a manic or depressive episode.
While medication is integral in bipolar disorder treatment, educated patients will know that it is not enough. They also need to consistently practice healthy habits, such as getting adequate and regular sleep, exercising regularly, managing stress, and eating healthily.
Supportive family and community
Due to the limited understanding and lack of awareness about bipolar disorder, patients are sometimes shunned by their families and communities. They are labeled as lazy, crazy, possessed by demons, violent, out of control, or unsafe to be around with. They are thought of as people who can’t hold down a job or start a family.
But by raising awareness, families and communities will see bipolar disorder as an illness that can be managed through treatment. They will learn to work with patients to manage expectations and create an environment in which the latter can be successful. Having social support will help patients get well and stay well.
You shouldn’t have to deal with your bipolar disorder on your own. Meridian Psychiatric Partners offers individual and family psychotherapy to educate both parties in working collaboratively toward the patient’s mental health recovery and wellness. Get in touch with us today!