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My Concerns About Bipolar Disorder Becoming 'Cool'

I recently saw a quote on Facebook that said something like, “I had bipolar before it was cool.” That really made me think. Is it cool now to have bipolar disorder? Is it fashionable or glamorous in some way?

Recently, there appears to have been an increased awareness of bipolar disorder, at least as a diagnoses and as a mental health condition. An increase in the number of celebrities revealing their illness, along with the dramatization of bipolar disorder on television and the increased use (or misuse) of the word “bipolar,” has undoubtedly brought the illness into the public eye. I’m not necessarily suggesting this does or does not equal increased knowledge, understanding and support of bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions.  However, I do have some concerns.

1. When people make incorrect statements about bipolar disorder.

Statements such as “Oh, I’m so bipolar,” or “The weather is bipolar today.” I hear these things often and I hate it. Not only are statements like these inaccurate, they also have a way of devaluing or even dismissing what it is really like to have bipolar disorder.

2. When bipolar disorder becomes glamorized because of celebrities with the illness.

It’s great that celebrities like Britney Spears, Stephen Fry, Carrie Fisher, Lindsay Lohan, Demi Lovato and Catherine Zeta Jones have revealed their experiences with bipolar disorder. Hopefully, this helps to destigmatize the illness and raise awareness. My concern here is anything celebrities do or say is at risk of becoming glamorized and popular. Mental illness is not glamorous in any way and it’s not a good thing to have this in common with any celebrity.

Also, while this shows bipolar disorder can affect anyone, there is a danger in that everyone’s experiences are different. Being compared to famous people may not be helpful or realistic for most people. For example, ordinary people may not be able to afford treatment that stars have access to.

Also, while it may be becoming acceptable for an actor or singer to have bipolar, this does not necessarily mean that ordinary people and their illnesses are accepted. Many people feel the need to hide their bipolar disorder from family, friends, employers and the rest of society for fear of prejudice and discrimination (which is justified). Basically, what I’m saying is bipolar disorder affects different people in different ways. Don’t compare us all to celebrities we have nothing else in common with.

3. When television misrepresents bipolar disorder.

It’s a good thing that bipolar disorder is being addressed in soaps and other television series. Examples of bipolar characters include Carrie in “Homeland” and Stacey in “Eastenders.” When handled well, this can help raise awareness and get people talking about bipolar disorder. Again though, there is a risk of this glamorizing the illness and in some cases trivializing bipolar disorder and its impact. It could also go the other way, scaring both people who have bipolar and those who know someone with the illness. Most mentally ill people are no danger to others, though this may make for a more dramatic story line. Also, remember, not everyone with bipolar disorder is the young, attractive woman on television.

While it’s awesome that some people feel able to reveal their own struggles with bipolar disorder and other mental health issues, it’s also important to remember everyone with bipolar is completely different, even if some of the symptoms are the same. It’s also vital to look past what may appear to be glamorous, fun or misrepresentative to the reality of living with bipolar disorder or any other serious illness.

Bipolar disorder can ruin lives (or at least makes them more challenging). Everyone functions differently and the illness can impact people differently. One thing is for sure though: There is nothing cool about having bipolar disorder.