Society has created a lot of stigma around having bipolar disorder, but the tide is starting to change.

In the past, people who experienced mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, faced severe stigma. Treatment for mental health was often dehumanizing, and stereotypes about people with mental conditions led to frequent mistreatment. The methods and therapies used by mental health facilities of the early to mid-20th century are seen as cruel today.

Although many things have changed, there are still lingering stigmas that negatively affect people with bipolar disorder.

Even today, stigma can lead to discrimination, unfair treatment, and increased difficulty in accessing healthcare, finding employment, and securing housing.

Stigma can also put a strain on the self-esteem and relationships of a person with bipolar disorder. Reducing this stigma can have a significant positive effect on people with bipolar disorder.

People living with bipolar disorder can encounter stigma in several ways. Sometimes, this comes from people who mean well, but simply don’t know very much about the condition. They might have gotten information from movies, television, or secondhand gossip.

For instance, a relative who claims their family member can’t have bipolar disorder because they’ve always been “nice” or “well behaved.” This claim could be the result of the belief that everyone with bipolar disorder displays violent or angry behavior.

Additional examples of stigma against people with bipolar disorder include:

  • people assuming someone with bipolar disorder is dangerous
  • people denying individuals with bipolar disorder work or educational opportunities based on perceived mental health difficulties
  • individuals bullying, harassing, or taunting people with bipolar disorder hoping to provoke a reaction
  • people unfairly dismissing the arguments and opinions of individuals with bipolar disorder during a conversation

The statistics of the bipolar stigma

Stigma takes a measurable toll. For instance, about 40% of people in the United States living with mental health conditions avoid seeking treatment because of stigmas.

When it comes to bipolar disorder, stigma often delays treatment for about a decade. Statistics show that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is often made after a person has been managing on their own for 8 to 10 years.

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Intersectionality in the stigma of bipolar disorder

The word intersectionality refers to how a person’s identities, including gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, class, and some physical and mental health conditions, intersect and contribute to how a person experiences the world.

People with any historically underrepresented identity can experience discrimination. People with multiple historically marginalized identities can experience multiple forms of discrimination, often at the same time.

People with bipolar disorder who have one or more historically marginalized identities can experience the stigma of bipolar disorder along with discrimination. This can make getting treatment even harder and can increase stigma.

For instance, it can already be difficult for men to seek mental healthcare due to societal stereotypes about how men should handle emotional problems.

Men from historically marginalized communities, such as Black men, Latino men, and LGBTQ men, often have experiences with discrimination from healthcare professionals that can increase reluctance to seek mental health treatment.

When people from these communities do seek treatment for bipolar disorder, they might face discrimination from health professionals.

Self-stigmatization in people with bipolar disorder

Self-stigmatization is common in people with bipolar disorder. People who self-stigmatize often have a very negative self-image. They might think that their bipolar disorder makes them worthless or difficult to be around.

This can cause them to isolate themselves from others and stop doing the things they enjoy. As negative self-thoughts increase, people often experience worse moods and can fall into more episodes of depression.

Internalizing stigma can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, a therapist or other mental health professional can help you dismantle the negative stereotypes about people with bipolar disorder.

How is bipolar disorder usually portrayed in the media?

Traditional portrayals of bipolar disorder in the media have been stereotypical and negative. They’ve emphasized the most dramatic sides of the condition and have contributed to the stigma of bipolar disorder.

However, this has improved in recent years. Some recent shows and movies are making an effort to portray characters with bipolar disorder in an authentic and honest way. Learn more about examples of television shows and movies that handled bipolar disorder well.

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Stigma can negatively affect people with bipolar disorder in multiple ways. These include:

  • delaying seeking care
  • not recognizing their own symptoms
  • not realizing when they need to reach out for help
  • stopping taking medication or not taking medication as directed
  • negative self-image
  • self-harm
  • self-isolation
  • decline in self-care
  • decline in health
  • suicidal ideation

You’re not alone

If you’re experiencing feelings of extreme stress or thoughts of self-harm because of symptoms of bipolar disorder or for any reason, you can reach out to the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for free, 24 hours a day. You can chat with them online or call 988 in the United States.

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Reducing the stigma of bipolar disorder can help improve the lives of people with this condition. One of the best ways to lessen the stigma is to educate others about bipolar disorder and help them understand the condition.

Additional things that can‌ help reduce the stigma of bipolar disorder include:

  • Consider the language you use: Respectful language can help reduce stigma. As a rule, this means it’s a good idea to use phrases like “mental health condition” instead of “mentally ill,” or avoid using “crazy” to describe someone acting offensively. However, if you know a person with bipolar disorder, it’s best to ask them how they’d prefer to be spoken about.
  • Talk about mental health in relationships: You don’t need to reveal everything about your mental health to every new friend or co-worker. As you get closer to someone new, however, it’s a good idea to find the right time to talk honestly about bipolar disorder and any other mental health conditions.
  • Ask for accommodations at work and school: Many people with bipolar disorder and similar conditions avoid asking for accommodations due to stigma, but they’re sometimes necessary. Talk with your treatment team about what you’ll need, and then go to the appropriate department at your school or workplace. You have the right under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to get the accommodations you need.

Living with bipolar disorder

You don’t have to manage bipolar disorder on your own. If you need help, you can reach out to:

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): You can reach NAMI 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by calling 800-950-NAMI (6264) to be connected with free therapy services.
  • MentalHealthNet Bipolar Forum: The MentalHealthNet Bipolar forum allows you to connect with other people living with bipolar disorder.
  • The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers educational materials, tips for living well, support groups, and more.
  • eMoods: eMoods is a free mood-tracking app for people with bipolar disorder and other mood conditions. You can find it for iOS or Android.
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People with bipolar disorder experience stigma from healthcare professionals, employers, friends, and family members. Although this stigma has improved in recent years, perceptions of people with bipolar disorder as violent, angry, and unpredictable are still around and still have a negative impact on the lives of people with this condition.

This can be very damaging to self-esteem and can make it difficult for people to find friendships, romantic relationships, employment, and housing. It can also make it difficult for people with bipolar disorder to recognize their own symptoms and reach out for help.

Education and honest conversation are some of the best ways to address and reduce stigma.