By Kristen Shim
President Bill Clinton once said, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” For the 5.7 million Americans living with bipolar disorder, for the millions of undiagnosed people living in third-world countries, and for us as a society at large, this statement unfortunately rings true. To attach stigma, to perceive bipolar disorder as a disgrace and a stain upon society, is to close our minds. To end this process, we must work to educate the public in order to change perceptions and inspire action. I believe that bipolar disorder should be seen not as a restraint, but as a testament to the human capacity to transcend adversity.
It is critical that as a society, we reach out to raise awareness and dispel stereotypes. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by periods of euphoria followed by periods of depression, which can affect the patients as well as their loved ones. However, with consistent use of medication, patients with bipolar disorder can manage their condition effectively. The notion that such patients are “insane” and “unreliable” is one common but unwarranted stereotype that causes bias and prejudice. This is especially true in developing countries where recognition of the condition is still uncommon. Global campaigns with the cooperation of businesses, governments, and nonprofit organizations can raise awareness about the symptoms of and treatments for bipolar disorder. Such efforts will help us empathize with bipolar disorder patients, allowing us to refrain from judging them. Instead, we will see them as fellow humans who have full right to be treated without bias.
Above all, it is important that we act on our new understanding. By providing opportunities for bipolar disorder patients through employment and social support, we can create a safe, encouraging environment that allows patients to assimilate into society.
As individuals, we are also responsible for our own behavior toward the people in our community who struggle with bipolar disorder. Befriending and supporting these people will allow us to rise and strip away the stigma caused by stereotyping bipolar patients. With continuous effort, our understanding of bipolar disorder in 2020 will be very different from our perception of it today. Then, we will see the friend behind the name.