Today, March 30, 2017, is World Bipolar Day. For those who battle bipolar disorder, this is, of course, every day. But for those who do not, it’s a great day to be reminded of the importance of education and support. Mental health, to the general public, often flies under the radar – at least until the media decides to target it. But in everyday life, it tends not to be addressed frequently. It’s not openly visible, so it’s easy for those not close to it to ignore. And due to stigma, mental health tends to be a topic shied away from by many. It takes a lot of courage to stand up and be open about your mental health, and there’s still much concern about repercussion. So we need days like World Bipolar Day to bring legitimate (not media sensationalized) attention to mental health, both as a whole, and as individual conditions.
I do not personally battle Bipolar Disorder, and so it would be unfair of me to discuss the intrinsic details of this condition specifically. But as someone who battles mental health and mood cycling disorders, I can speak to those topics. And as someone who has to contend with these conditions every day, I’d like to try to keep this message positive, and to offer some suggestions. Suggestions of what you can do to help offer support, and to learn more about mental health.
- Reach out. This is, to me, the absolute most important step. Whether a friend or loved one, or someone you just know is struggling, let them know (or remind them) that you are there for them. Often times, I find support comes from the most unexpected places, and I’m always incredibly grateful.
- When you reach out, give it time. Mental health is intensely personal, and it’s possible we’ve been “burned” in the past by opening up to someone who stigmatized or judged us, or downright used what we told them in confidence against us. So don’t give up after the first reach out. You may just get a thank you or an “I’m OK” the first time (even if we aren’t). But keep trying, without being pushy. If and when we are ready to talk, and we know that you earnestly want to listen and help, we will probably come around.
- Educate yourself. Make sure that you are learning from respected, legitimate sources that aren’t biased against mental health. If you’re unsure, ask questions. Do what you need to in order to make sure that you’re getting accurate and up to date information.
- If you hear someone stigmatizing mental health, gently and nicely say something. You don’t need to preach, but there are ways to nicely say “Actually I have a friend that battles xyz and that’s not quite the case” or “That might be true sometimes, but we shouldn’t generalize”, or something of this nature. Try to educate instead of chastise, because education is key – people can’t know what they don’t know.
- Volunteer with/participate in organizations that support mental health and/or specific conditions. Whether you find a local chapter and offer ways to help, or participate in a benefit walk/run/event, this is a great way to not only support, but to meet others who also support the cause. Of course, we encourage you to participate in the Spread Hope Project’s efforts, and are happy to answer any questions about how you can do so!
- Be careful with language. Language may sound unobtrusive, but it can both hurt people directly and perpetuate stigma. A general rule that I offer people is this: “If you replace mental health/the name of the condition with that of a ‘physical’ condition (say heart disease, diabetes, asthma) and what you’re saying sounds inappropriate or insensitive, then the same is true when it’s said about mental health.” If you’re unsure of the best way to word something, ask – we’d love to help you!
To all of those people that battle Bipolar Disorder, we’d like to share with you this: You are courageous and strong, even when you do not feel so. Please, continue to fight each day, even when it seems impossible, because your life matters so much. Despite how you may often feel, you are not alone – there are so many others out there that understand and support you, and we are just a message or an email or a text or a call away.