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Bipolar Disorder; What it is and How to be a Part of Ending the Stigma

Bipolar Disorder By The Numbers tip sheet

About 10 million Americans around the nation have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This disorder has historically had a very negative connotation and only recently has the stigma surrounding it begun to lessen. That is due largely to a number of things including but not limited to; an increase in research and overall knowledge on the disorder, and everyone from celebrities to everyday people being open about their experience with the disorder. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance agree that education and sharing personal stories are two very impactful ways to tear down those stigmas that have plagued mental health since the beginning of time. Throughout this article, we will take a look at some of the symptoms and treatments for bipolar disorder as well as gain insight into how it has impacted a number of people with bipolar disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic-depressive illness) is defined as; "a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks." To better understand bipolar disorder as a whole it is helpful to define a number of terms that are closely connected to the disorder. The prefix "bi" refers to the fact that a person who has bipolar disorders experiences two distinct "moods."

According to Medical News Today the symptoms for mania and depression are as follows;


-anger or irritability

-difficulty sleeping and less need for sleep

-high energy levels and periods of overactivity

-high self-esteem

-inability to make decisions

-intense enthusiasm and excitement

-loss of concentration

-racing thoughts

-pleasure-seeking behaviors, such as increases in sexual activity or alcohol or drug use

-reckless behavior, such as risky sexual activity


**Hypomania has similar symptoms but to a less severe extent***


-fatigue and low energy

-feeling sad or hopeless

-insomnia or sleeping too much

-a loss of appetite or overeating

-a loss of concentration

-a loss of interest in things once enjoyed, or anhedonia

-low self-esteem

-physical aches and pains with no obvious cause

-suicidal thoughts or behaviors

**must experience these symptoms for at least two weeks to be classified as bipolar disorder**

1. bipolar I disorder- Manic episodes that are 7 days or longer and may require hospitalization. It is possible that people with bipolar I can experience depressive episodes lasting a number of weeks, but does not have to be the case.

2. bipolar II disorder- Less severe than bipolar I. Manic and depressive episodes are still present but they do not require hospitalization.

3. cyclothymic disorder- Hypomania and depressive episodes that last for 2 or more years however they are less severe than bipolar I and II.

4. Other- All individuals that do not fit into any of the previously mentioned categories.

father holding child in his arms at the beach

Knowledge and a more intensive understanding of bipolar disorder is one way to rip down unfair stigma. The other, much more personal way, is for people to share their own stories with bipolar disorder. In one of our most popular blog posts; Dear Mom and Dad, Thank You we hear from a daughter whose father has bipolar disorder. She goes into detail about how she remembers some very dark days that her father has endured but she is eternally grateful that he has made his mental health a priority. The girl from the article; Abigail, wanted to ultimately thank her father for showing her that a diagnosis does not define the person you are. To her, her father is the man who took care of her, took her out to breakfast, and put on football games as Abigail pretended to understand what was happening in them.

We also have had the privilege of getting insight into what it is like to be that parent who has bipolar disorder. In our blog post, A Mother with Bipolar Disorder Shares Her Story we sat down with Marion McCourt who shared her story with us. She was not diagnosed with bipolar disorder until her fifties but has been impacted by it since she was 15. McCourt candidly shared with us that she was incredibly relieved to finally have a name for the symptoms that she had been experiencing for so long but also that the term bipolar disorder startled her at first. She had only ever heard it in a very negative context and remembers asking her psychiatrist if this means she was or had the potential to be a "bad person" or violent. Her psychiatrist thankfully reassured her that having bipolar disorder does not mean anything negative or dangerous, that is just the stigma.

You have either stumbled upon this article, or are a member of PA Parent and Family Alliances, but not everyone knows of or utilizes organizations like ours. While it is our mission to spread awareness and family support across the state of Pennsylvania, it is impossible to reach everybody. Those people who do not read up on mental health literature and blogs are hopefully being reached in other ways. One way that many children and some adults can learn about mental health is through celebrities being open about their experiences with mental health.

young woman holding her head looking distraught

Sharing one's story makes you a leader, an advocate, and an ally for any child or parent dealing with similar things. One celebrity that has been very open about her history with bipolar disorder is the singer Halsey. She has always been open about mental health but in January 2020 she released her album entitled Manic. It was after a suicide attempt at the age of 17 that Halsey was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She has remained open about her mental health and it has been truly inspiring to her fans. Her music is her creative outlet and described her creative process as; "If my brain is a bunch of broken glass, I get to make it into a mosaic." Demi Lovato and Mariah Carey are among other famous people that have shared with their fans that they are bipolar.

If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, equipping yourself with knowledge and sharing your story, as well as listening and learning from other's stories can help make you feel less alone. With 10 million Americans diagnosed with bipolar disorder it is unacceptable that any one of them are made to feel like they are alone. Continue to advocate for yourself and the ones around you and shed a light on mental health and making mental health a priority.

If you or someone you know experiences some or all of the symptoms listed above visit our friends at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance for more extensive information on bipolar disorder.

PA parent and family alliance learning tab

Check out the Diagnosis Specific Info tab in our Learning Lab to gain specific information on bipolar disorder and many other diagnoses.

As previously mentioned becoming a member gives you access to all of our blog posts, in fact a week earlier than everybody else. These blog posts range from informational topics like this one to incredibly touching and inspirational stories from families around the state. Membership is free and easy and can be done here.


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