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ON trivializing bipolar disorder

Posted Jan 20 2010 8:11am

The following quote is from an article in the current edition of BP Hope magazine.  It is from an article by a man named Bob Carolla in the “On my mind” column.  “Because of commercial marketing, some critics argue that bipolar is being over-diagnosed and is merely a “diagnosis du jour.”  Frankly, I hate that term.  It trivializes a life-threatening illness and represents one kind of stigma.  Is there a cancer du jour?”

I think he has a point.  One of the first things I learned about bipolar disorder was its relationship to suicide.  13 of 100,000 in the regular population commit suicide.  One of 5 with bipolar die.  I have a hard time getting past that.  I know a lot of people with bipolar disorder.  Off the top of my head, I cant think of one person– not one– who has not made at least one suicide attempt.  And most have made more than one.

Here is some of the things I have concluded:

  1. Bipolar is real. 
  2. Many people with bipolar go through years with another diagnosis, before they are diagnosed correctly.  My wife went through 2 years of hell being diagnosed with depression and given an antidepressant which left her almost continually manic.  I will never forget it till the day I die.
  3. On the other hand, some  people diagnosed with bipolar are diagnosed incorrectly.  The biggest problem I am convinced is one of diagnosis.  It depends, all too often, on the doctor you see and not on you.  Too many doctors have favorite diagnosis they try to fit everyone in and too many doctors have diagnosis they say dont fit anyone .
  4. Every person I know with bipolar disorder has suffered significant disruption and loss in multiple areas of their life.  Of the people I know it has not been a trivial experience for anyone.
  5. The social consequences of the diagnosis are almost universally traumatic.  It changes the way others treat you and the way they view you.  And if you are not careful it will change the way you view yourself.
  6. I am sure there are people with bipolar who make it without medication.  I just dont know any of them.  The few people I know who have tried normally end up in the hospital or jail.  One person, who hated medication, told me life without meds was like “a steep hill with no brakes….”
  7. Many times the people who try to provide treatment are naive about what it means to live with bipolar.  “Got a pain….take a pill….” is a hopelessly inadequate way to deal with things.  The impacts of bipolar for many are catastrophic and often treatment either ignores these impacts all together or offers little help.
  8. Who you are is more important than what you have.  Bipolar isolates people.  It kills friendships and destroys relationships.  It leaves people alone.  Many of the people I know with bipolar tell me as much as anything else they are tired of being lonely.  Connections with people are the most important part of life being better.
  9. With all of that being said, recovery is a realistic possibility for virtually everyone.  It is a matter of getting the tools to deal with what you have, the healing to deal with what has happened, and developing the hope and sense of purpose to move towards what you want.
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