Living With Bipolar Disorder

Coping With Stigma, Daily Challenges, and More

woman talking in support group
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In This Article

Living with bipolar disorder may bring about emotional, practical, and social challenges. Know that there are strategies to help cope with whatever you or your loved one are facing on a daily basis. Once you seek help from your healthcare team, they can offer suggestions that have been proven to work, connect you with others facing the same situations, and even help you implement solutions into your daily life. The most important first step is to reach out to them.

Emotional Challenges

Many symptoms of bipolar disorder can leave you facing emotional challenges. Outside of treatments for managing symptoms, It's important to find people who understand what it's like to live with a mental illness to help you cope. Ask your doctor about local support groups where you can meet other people who have bipolar disorder. You also might join an online support group.

Meeting others who have undergone similar experiences can provide you with the emotional support you need to deal with issues like stigma. Other people may also be able to share valuable resources that you might find helpful.

Psychological Therapies

You may also want to consider talk therapy. Meeting with a therapist can help you cope with your illness in a variety of ways including helping you decide if you should tell your boss, family members, or friends about your illness. You may find it helpful to ask your doctor if psychotherapy sessions can be part of your regular treatment plan.

Bipolar Disorder Discussion Guide

Get our printable guide for your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Mind Doc Guide

Relationships

Outside of family, it's important to consider telling romantic partners. There are many ways bipolar disorder may affect your sex life and ensuring your partner understands this can be key to maintaining a healthy relationship. 

Overcoming Stigma

Although there is often a stigma associated with all mental illnesses, bipolar disorder can be especially stigmatizing. Individuals with bipolar are often portrayed as "crazy" in books and movies and quite often, these individuals commit crimes or aren't able to live independently.

A person who has been stigmatized on account of mental illness, real or even only perceived, often suffers discrimination at work, in school, or in other social situations such as churches or clubs.

They may be shunned by acquaintances, friends, and even family; they may be laughed at behind their backs or to their faces.

Stigma usually stems from ignorance, prejudice, or fear. For example, when a person tells a friend or coworker that he or she has bipolar disorder, the response might be:

  • "Oh, everybody's a little bipolar, why are you so special?" (ignorance)
  • "Oh, man, you're one of them? Gee, that's tough," followed by shunning. (prejudice)
  • "You mean you might flip out and start shooting people?" (both ignorance and fear)

Unfortunately, for some individuals with bipolar, stigma can cause them to hide their diagnosis or it may create a great deal of shame. Consequently, many individuals with bipolar don't get the treatment or the support they need to manage their symptoms.

Educate Others

To fight stigma, it can be helpful to educate and inform others. Once people understand more about your medical condition, they will begin to see you realistically, rather than through the lens of their fears.

You also need to combat negative feelings in yourself: believe that your mental illness doesn't define you, and the people around you will sense that self-confidence and learn from it.

Neither of these things is easy, and they may challenge you. But combating stigma isn't an instant process, anyway—it will take time. The more you feel you can do, the more it will help both you and everyone else with bipolar or another form of mental illness.

Language Tips

A paper published in the Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association in 2013 suggests using person-first language when discussing living with a condition like bipolar disease, meaning that it highlights that a person's diagnosis does not define him or her.

For example, say:

  • "He is living with bipolar disease" or "He has a diagnosis of bipolar disease" instead of "He is bipolar."
  • "She has a mental health problem or challenge" instead of "She is mentally ill/insane/a lunatic."

Avoiding Substance Abuse

Coping with bipolar disorder can be difficult, especially when an individual feels ashamed or embarrassed. Consequently, some people self-medicate with drugs or alcohol in an attempt to help themselves feel better. In fact, a study published in 2017 stated that about half of all people with bipolar disorder deal with substance abuse at some point in their lives.

People who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder are more likely to use cocaine, amphetamines, opiates, cannabinoids and hallucinogens than people with other psychological disorders.

Those with both bipolar disorder and a history of substance abuse tend to have the following in common:

  • Increased suicidality
  • Functional impairment
  • Slower recovery time 
  • Decreased adherence to medications
  • Poorer quality of life

If you think you're prone to substance abuse, discuss this with your doctor. He or she may be able to offer strategies for helping you avoid substances and manage your bipolar symptoms.

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Article Sources

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  3. Messer T, Lammers G, Müller-siecheneder F, Schmidt RF, Latifi S. Substance abuse in patients with bipolar disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. 2017;253:338-350. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2017.02.067