Write an Essay, Change the World

Close your eyes and picture the people you know–family, friends, coworkers, classmates, neighbors, and acquaintances. Who do you see? A football fan? A nature lover? A great cook? 

But there’s something else. About 60 million people worldwide have a brain disorder known as bipolar disorder or manic-depressive illness. Chances are someone you know has this mental illness or cares for someone who does. Learning about bipolar disorder can help you understand the impact this disease has on those affected by it so you can respond to them with care and sensitivity. Plus, in the process you’ll have the chance to win a cash prize from the International Bipolar Foundation.

What exactly is bipolar disorder? 

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that affects mood, energy level, and the ability to function. It is characterized by severe mood swings that are different from the normal ups and downs most of us experience in life. These acute mood swings can adversely affect personal relationships and school and job performance. In some cases, they can even lead to suicide. 

Bipolar disorder usually develops in late adolescence or early adulthood. In children and teens, it can be difficult to tell bipolar disorder from other problems that occur in this age group. The good news is that once diagnosed and effectively treated, a person with bipolar disorder can lead a healthy and productive life.  

What does bipolar disorder have to do with me?

Just as it’s likely that you know someone affected by bipolar disorder, it’s also likely that you’ve heard misinformation about this brain disorder. That inaccurate information can wind up stigmatizing those who have the disease. 

One way to stamp out the stigma is by learning the facts and sharing them with others. To help middle school and high school students do that, the International Bipolar Foundation sponsors an annual contest that encourages students from around the world to write essays that educate others about bipolar disorder. A student chooses a topic from the list of suggestions, researches it, and then writes a 500 word essay. Essays are judged by a panel of mental health authors. The winner earns a cash prize of $500, with smaller cash prizes for second and third places. 

Besides cash prizes, why should a student enter the contest? 

By entering, teens can hone their research and writing skills while building their confidence as authors. In addition, winners’ essays are featured on the International Bipolar Foundation website. Imagine putting “Winner of an international writing contest” on a college application. Very impressive!

If you’re a teacher, you can cover important writing standards for argumentative and informative writing by having your students research and write their contest essays. The International Bipolar Foundation has some new tools to help. Visit http://www.ibpf.org/annual-middle-school-and-high-school-essay-contest to find a downloadable Teacher’s Guide and a printable planning tool to help students research, organize, and write their essays. Students will find a wealth of online links and resources to help them learn the facts about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of bipolar disorder.  

How do students enter? 

Information about contest rules and guidelines is at http://www.ibpf.org/annual-middle-school-and-high-school-essay-contest. Essays must be submitted to the International Bipolar Foundation by May 1

Bipolar disorder is a serious disease, but one that doesn’t have to remain a mystery to so many. By learning more about bipolar disorder and sharing that knowledge with others, a student can become an agent of change who helps to erase the stigma associated with mental illness. Powerful, indeed! 

For more information on bipolar disorder, click here

Written by Ashley Jacobs. 

Ashley Jacobs is Director of Operations for the International Bipolar Foundation.

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