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How To Explain Bipolar Disorder to Others

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Updated February 21, 2008

How do you explain your, or a loved one's, condition to others? Here are a few sentences to help you organize your thoughts. Choose the most appropriate explanations and modify as needed.
Time Required: One hour estimated

Here's How:

  1. Stripped down to basics, people with bipolar disorder have mood swings, from elation to depression, that don't necessarily have anything to do with what's going on in their lives.

  2. Bipolar disorder is also called manic depression, and it appears to be caused by electrochemical abnormalities in the brain.

  3. TV shows like to show people with bipolar disorder as criminals, but don't worry -- only a small percentage are ever violent, and I'm not one of them!

  4. "Mania" and "manic" don't mean "crazy" -- they refer to extra high emotions, full of energy, fast talking, not needing much sleep, [add appropriate symptoms for yourself].

  5. I am a rapid cycler -- that means I can be ultra-excited one day and deeply depressed the next, for no obvious reason. [Modify this to fit the person's cycle pattern.]

  6. I get into what are called "mixed states" when I seem to have a lot of energy but at the same time am really down, angry or panicky.

  7. There are a lot of possible medications for bipolar disorder. My doctor has started me out on _____, but if that doesn't work, we'll just try something else.

  8. When I'm manic, I have particular problems with [choose symptoms like: spending too much money, talking too much, not making a lot of sense].

  9. Inappropriate anger can be a symptom of bipolar disorder. I might say or have said hurtful things that I really don't mean -- I'm sorry! Finding the right medication should help control that behavior.

  10. When I get depressed or into a mixed state, I sometimes feel suicidal. That's my illness talking -- but it's serious. You might have to get me to a hospital if I seem really bad.

  11. Bipolar disorder seems to be inherited but the exact cause is not known yet.

  12. Don't worry if I _________ [behavior you and your doctor agree is symptomatic but not dangerous by itself].

  13. If I start ________ [behavior you and your doctor agree is dangerous], tell me to call my doctor, or take me to the hospital.

Tips:

  1. All of the above can be modified to be about someone else, not yourself -- e.g., "He is a rapid cycler" or "she gets into mixed states."

  2. Educate yourself as much as possible about your condition by reading up on it, and urge close family members to do the same.

  3. Give careful consideration to whom and to what extent you share these very personal details about yourself. There are those who will simply never understand. If you lose a friend, it is their loss!

  4. For more help with telling others, read Telling Your Friends About Bipolar Disorder.

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Bipolar Disorder
  4. Impact on Life
  5. How To Explain Bipolar Disorder to Others - Explaining Bipolar Disorder

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