Talking About It

Whether you were diagnosed yesterday or 20 years ago, there will be times when you will feel a need to disclose your condition. This doesn’t mean you have to tell the high school kid at the drive-thru every time, but family, romantic, and some professional relationships may dictate it.

The manner in which you tell a person about your condition is entirely up to you. Humor can be a helpful way to deal with the situation as many people do not fully understand mental disorders unless they have personally dealt with them.

You also control what you tell the person, including treatments, therapy, how you feel about it, or how it affects your life. Depending on the situation, the less you say the better it may be.

If someone’s questions are making you feel uncomfortable, calmly state how you’re feeling and end the conversation. You can tell them you’re not ready to talk about it right away, but you’ll share more when you feel it’s appropriate.

The important thing is to be direct and only share information you’re comfortable with sharing.

Practice Talking About It

Dr. David M. Reiss, a psychiatrist in private practice and interim medical director of Providence Behavioral Health Hospital in Holyoke, Mass., recommends preparing to discuss bipolar disorder using unemotional, plain language as if you were discussing a physical impairment.

He suggests role-playing a discussion, such as having a bad knee and explaining to someone that it may limit what activities you can share, such as not being able to go on the ski trip. Other topics may include that there may be times you have to hold back from involvement due to pain, that at times you may get frustrated by it, but you take responsibility for that, and that you need to take certain medications which prevent you from drinking.

“If you can do that unemotionally and in plain language about your knee (no need to go into specific MRI results), then use the same approach to talking about bipolar disorder,” Dr. Reiss said. 

The language you use, however, is entirely up to you. If you want to call yourself “crazy,” while discussing the subject, it’s okay as long as the relationship has reached the point of trust and closeness.

“It can be a good release, as long as both parties can use dark humor while maintaining respect,” Dr. Reiss said. “If the relationship is not at the point, best to stay away from slang, joking or dark humor.”

In a Romantic Relationship

The measure of a healthy relationship is trust. The more you can trust and confide in your partner, the more success you will have in your relationship, as well as managing your condition. Openness fosters a stronger, bonded relationship. 

Your partner should be just that: a partner. Having someone to confide in can dramatically help with your treatment and trials, as well as help the person understand what you’re going through. They will be better prepared for your periods of mania and depression, and can help you stay in control through both.

If you’re in a relationship and don’t feel you trust the person you’re with about your condition and what you’re going through, you’re most likely in the wrong relationship.

In a New Romantic Relationship

Your bipolar disorder doesn’t need to be the topic of conversation on your first date, but as you two progress through the dating process, you should disclose your condition. 

If the topic of mental health comes up (such as your potential partner talking about issues in his or her family), that would be a good time to mention your condition.

But the chances of getting such an easy way to slip it into a conversation are pretty slim, so you’ll have to choose the right time when to tell the person. There will come a point where it will be needed to tell the person. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is a condition that peeks its head out more often than you’d like. 

The easiest way to talk about it is in a private, quiet setting. Explain your condition, how it affects you, and what you’re doing to treat it. Some people may not react well, but a good partner will accept your condition and support your way through it.

If you are capable of successfully managing your condition, it will be less of an issue, but if you want a person to be part of your life, disclosing your bipolar disorder is an important step in trust.

To Family

Your family loves you and supports you in everything you do, even if they have a strange way of telling you sometimes. Your closest family members should be the first to know because they can help you in more ways than you know.

A simple get together or a phone call is the easiest way to tell them. Don’t make it a big announcement at a regular family thing, such as a holiday party. There’s no point in being the center of attention for something like bipolar disorder.  

As bipolar disorder has a genetic link, your diagnosis may help others in your family, should they experience similar symptoms. 

If you have a rocky relationship with some family members, you don’t have to tell them if you don’t want to.

To Your Boss

In the U.S., people with any kind of medical condition are covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Under this, you cannot be fired from your job because of your bipolar disorder unless it prevents you from doing your job, or you pose a threat to yourself or others on the job. 

Check over your employee handbook to see if there are any provisions that would necessitate telling your boss or human relations. Some high-risk jobs such as firefighters or police officers may have annual exams to screen for conditions that may make it unsafe for you to work.

The decision to inform you boss of your condition is entirely up to you. Unless you think it may adversely affect your work, not telling your employer about your bipolar disorder may be the better choice.

To Co-Workers

You don’t have to send around a mass email telling everyone about your condition, but there may be some colleagues that you work closely with who may benefit from knowing. Just as you have with other people, explain what you’d like about your condition, and reserve the right to stop talking about it whenever you want.

As it is a professional relationship—albeit a friendly one—you don’t need to air everything to your colleague. The benefit of telling others is that they will better understand what you are going through and how it may affect your work. 

In Any Relationship

“In friendships, professional relationships, in my opinion, it need only be discussed if there it is anticipated that the condition could impact the relationship,” Dr. Reiss said. “If it is not going to impact the relationship in any manner, there is no reason to discuss having bipolar disorder any more than there would be to discuss having hypertension. If it comes up as a topic casually and you want to discuss it, fine, but there is no need for that and your privacy is your decision.”