Editor's Note: This article was guest authored by Dan, a teen with bipolar disorder, but the advice can also apply to anyone who is the situation of deciding whether to talk to a friend about having bipolar disorder and choosing what to say. The following, of course, is Dan's perspective -- symptoms of instability and the nature of the illness can vary. Also, what someone might choose to share with friends will vary as well.
I've found that talking to your friends about bipolar disorder is often a difficult matter and is something that should be handled with great care. My advice: The first thing you need to do is assess your friendship with the person. How much do you trust the person? Can you trust the person with your emotions? Will this person spread your feelings around the school?
If you feel you can trust the person, your next step is to assess how much the person actually knows about bipolar disorder specifically and mental illness in general. You are best to assume they know nothing at all on this topic and you should tell them in simple terms.
- What I Do: Tell them you suffer from a lifelong disease called bipolar disorder that affects your moods. Express to them how your moods can change from depression to mania in a split second, and how your moods can move back and forth quite rapidly.
- Tell them what depression is like -- spending days in bed and having crying spells for no apparent reason. Then go on to describe how hours later you could be in a manic state -- talking a mile a minute or putting holes in walls.
- After you describe what it is like having this disorder, go on to describe the daily struggles of medication. Describe the battle of finding the right medications and the endless doctor appointments. Stress the importance of medication and therapy in your treatment and how this is a constant battle -- the disease will never leave you.
- You should make it clear to your friend that people with bipolar disorder can and do live successful lives. It is important they understand that you are still a normal teenager. You just have this disease that affects your brain. Stress that most of the time you will behave like every other normal teenager and blend in, but you will also have the mood episodes that come with having bipolar disorder.
Having friends who understand your disorder can be a great support system. They can be a terrific sounding board if they are capable of understanding what you go through and if you can trust them. Often, your friends can provide a level of support and point of view your parents, doctors and therapists are not able to provide.