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To Family and Friends: Don't Challenge My Bipolar Diagnosis

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Updated September 26, 2012

Your husband, wife or partner is diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Or maybe it's your son or daughter, or your best friend. For many people, that news comes as a relief. It explains the way your friend or loved one has been behaving. It means he or she is going to get treatment. You know it won't be easy, but at least the illness has a name now. The first step toward getting help has been taken.

Then, whether you know details about bipolar disorder or not, the wise person will seek more information. Bipolar for Beginners is an excellent place to start, and if you are looking for something specific, there's a search box at the top of every page of this site. You'll be compassionate and supportive. You'll take care of yourself, too, making sure the situation doesn't overwhelm you.

If you've done these things, I applaud you. This article isn't for you - it's for the rest of you who are hurting your loved one, friend, even a co-worker or employee who has confided in you. This is what you must not do when someone you know has bipolar disorder.

Don't Say "There's Nothing Wrong With You"

Of all the terrible things you could say to someone who needs help, this is probably the worst. It takes an average of 8-10 years to get a proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder. How much time are you adding to that if your child, for example, begs to get professional help and you refuse?

Reader "Unbelievable" says:
I find it very hard to discuss what goes on in my brain knowing that others will reject it and say it's a phase. I've wasted 10 years asking my parents for psychological help, as they told me, "Shrinks just want your money, they don't know you more than we do, and you're fine. You do well in school and sports. We have plenty of money. Nothing's wrong with you."

Alex shared:
Dad says: It's just hormones, just go exercise. You're just depressed because you don't work out anymore. You've always been emotionally immature. Just learn to deal with your problems like a big girl.
Friends say: I don't believe in "disorders," it's just part of your personality. Bipolar is a myth. Are you high? There's nothing wrong with you, you're probably just stressed because of finals.


From Katarack:
"You're not bipolar. You're just upset because your girlfriend left you. If you go into the hospital, you're just being lazy and selfish." Thanks, Dad. That really helped!

Don't Blame Me For Having This Illness

No one can "catch" bipolar disorder. No one "tries" to get it. They can inherit it, but that isn't always the case. Bipolar is not, ever, a decision to be "crazy." It's an illness that has its roots in the biology and chemistry of the brain. Research continues to find and refine information about the differences between the brains of people who have mental disorders and those who do not.

Listen to what people who have bipolar have said about being blamed:

Heather tells this story:
I actually had a so-called mental health professional say these things to me: "A lot of people have problems in life, and they don't end up in a mental hospital over it." And the worst: "It's your choice to be depressed, don't you know that?"

From Natalina:
My dad thought taking aspirin for a headache meant you were weak, so I heard a lot of "Stop feeling sorry for yourself" during my depressive episodes.

And Sage, who doesn't even have bipolar disorder, shared this:
My mother had the nerve to tell my daughter that the only reason I read the book An Unquiet Mind is because I WANT to be bipolar. I guess people don't think before they speak, then again maybe they do. I don't have bipolar - I just happen to be interested in the illness itself. Is that a crime?
Part 2: Don't Tell Me How to Get Over Bipolar Disorder

More About Stigma and Insensitivity:

  1. About.com
  2. Health
  3. Bipolar Disorder
  4. Impact on Life
  5. Stigma
  6. To Family and Friends: Don't Challenge My Bipolar Diagnosis

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