Stigmatization of People with Mental Disorders

"Stigmatization of people with mental disorders is manifested by bias, distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger, and/or avoidance. Stigma leads the (public) to avoid people with mental disorders. It reduces access to resources and leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters
the public from seeking, and wanting to pay for care. Stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse. More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society."

--U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher (ret.)

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Misconceptions About Bipolar Disorder


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Please Stop Believing These 8 Harmful Bipolar Disorder Myths

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What do successful people like musician Demi Lovato, comedian Russell Brand, news anchor Jane Pauley, and actress Catherine Zeta-Jones have in common? They, like millions of others, are living with bipolar disorder. Although we are learning more about bipolar disorder, there remain many misconceptions. Here are a few myths and facts, so you can arm yourself with knowledge and help end the stigma.

1. Myth: Bipolar disorder is a rare condition.

Fact: Bipolar disorder affects 2 million adults in the United States alone. One in five Americans has a mental health condition.


2. Myth: Bipolar disorder is just mood swings, which everybody has.

Fact: The highs and lows of bipolar disorder are very different from common mood swings. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep that are not typical for them.

The psychiatry research manager at one U.S. university, who wishes to stay anonymous, writes, “Just because you wake up happy, get grumpy in the middle of the day, and then end up happy again, it doesn’t mean you have bipolar disorder — no matter how often it happens to you! Even a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder requires several days in a row of (hypo)manic symptoms, not just several hours. Clinicians look for groups of symptoms more than just emotions.”

3. Myth: There is only one type of bipolar disorder.

Fact: There are four basic types of bipolar disorder, and the experience is different per individual.

  • Bipolar I is diagnosed when a person has one or more depressive episodes and one or more manic episodes, sometimes with psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions.
  • Bipolar II has depressive episodes as its major feature and at least one
    hypomanic episode. Hypomania is a less severe type of mania. A person with
    bipolar II disorder may experience either mood-congruent or
    mood-incongruent psychotic symptoms.
  • Cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia) is defined by numerous periods of hypomanic symptoms as well numerous periods of depressive symptoms lasting for at least two years (1 year in children and adolescents) without meeting the severity requirements for a hypomanic episode and a depressive episode.
  • Bipolar disorder otherwise not specified does not follow a particular pattern and is defined by bipolar disorder symptoms that do not match the three categories listed above.

4. Myth: Bipolar disorder can be cured through diet and exercise.

Fact: Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness and there currently is no cure. However, it can be well-managed with medication and talk therapy, by avoiding stress, and maintaining regular patterns of sleeping, eating, and exercise.

5. Myth: Mania is productive. You’re in a good mood and fun to be around.

Fact: In some instances, a manic person may feel good at first, but without treatment things can become detrimental and even terrifying. They may go on a big shopping spree, spending beyond their means. Some people become overly anxious or highly irritable, getting upset over small things and snapping at loved ones. A manic person may lose control of their thoughts and actions and even lose touch with reality.

6. Myth: Artists with bipolar disorder will lose their creativity if they get treatment.

Fact: Treatment often allows you to think more clearly, which will likely improve your work. Pulitzer Prize-nominated author Marya Hornbacher discovered this firsthand.

“I was very persuaded I would never write again when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. But before, I wrote one book; and now I’m on my seventh.”

She has found that her work is even better with treatment.

“When I was working on my second book, I was not yet treated for bipolar disorder, and I wrote about 3,000 pages of the worst book that you have ever seen in your life. And then, in the middle of writing that book, which I just somehow couldn’t finish because I kept writing and writing and writing, I got diagnosed and I got treated. And the book itself, the book that was ultimately published, I wrote in 10 months or so. Once I got treated for my bipolar disorder, I was able to channel the creativity effectively and focus. Nowadays I deal with some symptoms, but by and large I just go about my day,” she said. “Once you get a handle on it, it’s certainly livable. It’s treatable. You can work with it. It doesn’t have to define your life.” She discusses her experience in her book “Madness: A Bipolar Life,” and she is currently working on a follow-up book about her road to recovery.

7. Myth: People with bipolar disorder are always either manic or depressed.

Fact: People with bipolar disorder can experience long periods of even, balanced mood called euthymia. Conversely, they may sometimes experience what’s referred to as a “mixed episode,” which has features of both mania and depression at the same time.

8. Myth: All medications for bipolar disorder are the same.

Fact: It might take some trial and error to find the medication that works for you. “There are several mood stabilizers/antipsychotic medications available to treat bipolar disorder. Something that works for one person might not work for another. If someone tries one and it doesn’t work or has side effects, it’s very important that they communicate this to their provider. The provider should be there to work as a team with the patient to find the right fit,” writes the psychiatry research manager.


One in five people is diagnosed with a mental illness, including bipolar disorder. I, like so many others, have responded extremely well to treatment. My daily life is normal, and my relationships are stronger than ever. I haven’t had an episode for several years. My career is strong, and my marriage to an extremely supportive husband is a solid as a rock.

I urge you to learn about the common signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, and talk to your doctor if you meet any of the criteria for diagnosis. If you or someone you know is in crisis, get help immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). It’s time to end the stigma that prevents people from getting the help that can improve or save their lives.


Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Tempered Soul ~Surviving Childhood Trauma, Grief, and Bipolar Disorder

 Tempered Soul

Surviving Childhood Trauma, Grief, and Bipolar Disorder  

Prologue~May 2023.

I grew up when mental illness was a social stigma. My memory emanates from a lifelong battle with my demons. It was a time when there was no applause, no public accolades for undergoing treatment. It was commitment, plain and simple. Mental illness or dependencies were defects of character and cause for social isolation and job discrimination. People did not talk about it, and if it touched their lives, it remained hidden away with shame. There were no chic or trendy clinics, just dark institutional wards tucked away in the recesses of hospitals.

I was 20 years old when I was ushered through those padlocked gates to find myself surrounded by madness. There was no Nurse Ratched, but the levels of mental illness I encountered covered the spectrum: psychosis and schizophrenia; lost souls haunted by delusions, and dementia. Many like me were buried under despair so deep we had pursued a death of our own design. Walking those halls of silence and screams, you learned quickly to avert your head for fear of recognizing your pain in the eyes of another. I still see those eyes as I watch the nameless and homeless who wander the streets of anonymous cities, trapped in a world where they are no longer sons or daughters, mothers or fathers, sisters or brothers.

I was luckier. I was young, and the doctors felt confident that my therapy had exorcized my madness. After six weeks, I returned to the world of the sane, hiding my illness, learning to overcompensate exponentially, determined to outrun that two-headed beast who would remain unidentified by every doctor I saw over the next 29 years. I took the reins and embarked on a successful career that would span more than two decades.

During those years, I saw the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act pass. Companies expanded benefits coverage to include a mental health component. Depression made its way into conversations in the break room and over a glass of wine. Management allowed time off for visits to mental health professionals. The pharmaceutical industry thrived, finding a lucrative demand for drugs that promised to ease depression and anxiety. Suddenly everyone was either on Prozac or knew someone who was, and even though people were talking about it, the stigma remained like a whisper hanging in the air.

So, I did my best to conceal my emotional disfigurement from the world around me. It was the only life I’d ever known, so I let myself believe I was quite normal, just like everyone else. I quit looking over my shoulder and drove myself harder. When I wasn’t paying attention, it caught up with me. I began to lose my ability to hide the demons I had suppressed for so many years. I found myself unable to function on a sustained basis and burned through sick leave like a spark on gasoline. Vicious rages contorted me like a willow in a Nor’easter. The tide surged in, and I watched the foundation of my life crumble in its wake.

At the age of 49, I learned that, like more than 8 million Americans, I suffer from bipolar disorder. For almost four decades of my life, this condition remained unnamed. I heard so many misdiagnoses: hyperactivity, alcoholism, panic disorder, ADHD, post-traumatic shock, and clinical depression. One doctor said I had aged into the extremes of my illness. Another said I had overcompensated for so long, I had nothing left.

Bipolar disorder, often referred to as manic-depressive illness, dissipates a person's ability to live a normal life. An addictive intensity and creative drive often accompany the initial phases of this illness, but the cycles of paralyzing depression and intrusive mania can drive an individual to self-destruction. The price of this illness is high. Close to fifty percent with the disorder attempt suicide at least once; of those, one in eight fails to survive; paradoxically, they succeed in their efforts to end life.

The injury to my own life has been immense. It cost me my career and many relationships along the way. On several occasions, it nearly cost me my life. The white scars tattooed on my arms and wrists remind me of the much deeper scarring of my spirit.

Five doctors confirmed my diagnosis (rapid-cycling bipolar 1), and at the time, it felt like a death sentence. Seven years passed as I became the subject of unsuccessful pharmaceutical experimentation that strove to tame my illness's rapid cycles. Some of the drugs made me sick. Some exacerbated my polar extremes. Two damn near killed me.

After so many failures, I told one of my doctors, this is not living. That was when I finally agreed to undergo electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), something that had always terrified me. After fourteen sessions, they stopped, deciding that immediate relief did not outweigh the damage to my cognitive function. ECT had left me with short-term memory loss, unable to focus and do things that brought me joy—reading, writing, listening to music, and participating in social activities. I developed severe agoraphobia and could not even walk to my mailbox. I became isolated from the world.

As I struggled to recover balance in my life, I learned despite legislation and health benefits, stigma and discrimination are ever prevalent. Many people chose to step away when I approach, awkward and unsure who I would be at that moment. I have encountered a staggering amount of ignorance and a complete lack of empathy from many people I considered friends. Just snap out of it, they would say to me. I wanted to scream: Do you think I want to be like this? I have forgiven those who dropped by the wayside during those years; Unmanaged bipolar disorder in its extremes is ugly.

The media continues to defame this disorder, using labels such as crazy, insane, and psychotic. I only have to surf the channels to see another derogatory stereotype of this illness played out for me. The worst commentary I heard defined bipolar disorder as the new fashionable diagnosis. Fashionable? Whoever said that should spend a few weeks in my skin. There is nothing fashionable about losing your career, your friends, or your life. I hide in my house, incapable of doing anything that requires focus. I go days without eating or sleeping, caught in a shutter-speed blur of thoughts. When the euphoria subsides, the agitation and rage set in. I do not know this person; Still, the manic monster pushes me to go faster, assuring me of a magnificent possibility. I am seduced beyond reason. I never see my wings melting in the sun. I know all too well the hell that will follow. I can only find peace in sleep, and my bed becomes a refuge and, paradoxically, a prison for days.

Despite it all, I am still here. I finally learned this disorder does not define me. I have a disorder that takes monumental vigilance and strict adherence to a daily regimen of medications. Every setback teaches me something--behaviors, triggers, responses–learning to reach out when I know I need support.

I no longer fear the social stigma and the silent prejudice many people still harbor about mental illness. It requires stamina and understanding to love me despite my erratic and irrational behavior; to seek me out when I disappear into that state of despair-induced paralysis; to listen when I speed through a digressive one-way discourse; to painfully watch my self-destructive rages. Today, I am more level, more grounded, and more able to control the demons determined to rip my life into two equally painful states of being.

“Bestowed” with this genetic disorder at birth, I am still grateful for the expanse of the feelings I have experienced. Ironically, the meter of my emotions has been carved into my soul, tempering it with sparks of brilliance. I am blessed by those who unconditionally love and celebrate me. Without this support, I have no doubt I would be dead. Today, I have learned there is joy in the middle ground.

With the fervent hope I might help another, I tell my story.









Friday, April 26, 2019

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

I have been pretty slack about keeping up with this blog for the past year or so...But, I am back.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and is intended to raise awareness about mental health and related issues. Although attitudes appear to be changing around the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, negative attitudes have existed since the late 1940’s, when the first National Mental Health Awareness Week was launched. In the 1960’s, the campaign was extended to an entire month in May. During this month, we are encouraged to take responsibility for preventing mental illness by making positive lifestyle choices in thought and action before problems manifest.

It's also an opportunity to be a vocal advocate about educating others about the aspects of mental health issues which affect one in three Americans. Things have changed somewhat, but the bias and stigma associated with mental health disorders still exists.

Despite that, I no longer hide my disorder from others, regardless of their reactions. If I can help one person truly understand how with proper treatment, people like me, living with bipolar 1, can live totally normal lives and be active and successful participant in society, I've done some good. Some research even shows that people with bipolar disorder tend to be highly creative.

Some of the things I intend to do during Mental Health Month are:
  • Write an op/ed and send it to local, regional, and national media outlets.
  • I hope to do another commentary on NPR.
  • I intend to pepper social media with facts about mental disorders.
What can you do?
  • Much of the same.
  • Educate yourself with facts and issues related to mental health issues.
  • Engage other in conversations about mental health.
  • Get involved with NAMI and other mental health advocacy organizations.
We're making progress, but we need to do more. Don't be afraid to start conversations about the issues. Find ways to get involved.

Here are some great organizations (Although, as for myself, I don't plan to get a tattoo).

7 Mental Health Advocacy Groups Making a Difference

By Kayt Sukel

A few years ago, the World Community Mental Health Movement released a provocative and effective awareness campaign to combat mental health stigma entitled, “You can do it…but you can’t do it alone.”

It’s a great line. Because you know what? You don’t have to fight mental illness alone. In fact, you shouldn’t. Studies show that individuals who have support from friends and family go on to have better health outcomes. It pays to have the right folks by your side while you are managing your care and needs.

While friends and family are important to recovery and stability, there are also a host of care and advocacy groups that can be of great support. So which groups are doing a great job of supporting people struggling with mental illness? Let’s take a look at some of the amazing organizations and campaigns that truly have made a difference.

The Trevor Project. The Academy Award winning short documentary, Trevor, brought to light the mental health issues associated with teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. The fanfare that followed the Oscar win allowed the film’s creators to found the Trevor Project, a national 24/7 crisis hotline that provides intervention and suicide prevention services to these at-risk groups.

Man Therapy. Let’s face it, it can be hard to talk about depression or other mental health problems when society tells you to be a strong, stoic man. And research shows men do have a tendency to suffer in silence rather than reach out for help when they are struggling. So Man Therapy uses a unique blend of humor and evidence to help men learn how to better talk about their issues—and get the help they need. Check out this episode about yoga to see what I mean.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). One of the oldest mental health advocacy groups in the United States, NAMI provides mental health support to millions and leads important awareness campaigns like the #StigmaFree pledge and advocacy and lobbying efforts to help promote mental well-being across the nation.

Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation funds important research projects across the globe to not only better understand the underlying causes of mental health issues and disorders, but also to develop newer, better prevention measures and treatments.

Big White Wall. While some say the Internet is only tearing us apart, some are using digital communication to help provide key support and services to those who may be suffering from mental health issues. Big White Wall is one such endeavor, offering a safe, online support environment guided by trained mental health professionals.

Active Minds. Many individuals have their first brush with mental health problems in late adolescence. And for some, that means navigating care in the college environment. Active Minds has chapters on college campuses across the nation and works to help students reduce stigma surrounding mental health in the university space.

Project Semicolon. A semicolon denotes a pause between two main clauses. What more apt symbol is there for someone who may be struggling with mental health concerns? Project Semicolon encouraged those who may have been diagnosed with a mental health condition to get a small semicolon tattoo (permanent tattoos not required) to raise awareness and reduce stigma as well as to remind those individuals that their diagnosis does not define them as human beings.

Wishing you hope and success on your road. We can do it!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Media Reinforces Stigma

Once again, I am infuriated with the media's role in the discrimination against people living with mental disorders. While watching an episode of Criminal Minds,  the captain of a police agency said, "I wouldn't put too much stock in what she says, she's on mental medication."

That is just one example of the many messages I hear all too often. I am not a serial killer. I am not weak-minded.  My "mental medications" have allowed me to fully function in today's world. One in three Americans are dealing with some kind of mental health issue. Because of the stigma associated with this, many people are unable or do not choose to seek the help necessary.

I want to start a campaign against the media's treatment of this matter,  and to advocate for making help more accessible, but I'm not sure where to begin. I'd appreciate any input on this matter.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Homeland-Claire Dane's portrayal of bipolar

I have been a big fan of Mandy Patinkin since I first saw him in Barbara Streisand’s picture “Yentle.”

I have followed him through Chicago Hope, Criminal Minds, and most recently in Showtimes series, “Homeland.”  I was intrigued that one of his elite CIA agents,Claire Danes (My So-called Life), suffers from severe bipolar one, as do I. I think the way her disorder is portrayed is so close to home, it hurts me to watch. Her manic episodes are so close to the ones I have suffered, it scrapes the scabs raggedly off the scars that my disorder has carved into me.

As with me, her disorder is well-managed with medications, but she, as with many bipolars, occasionally does not take her medications, feeling that they dumb her down…make her dull and unable to truly focus. In desperation, she even willingly undergoes electro-convulsive therapy. I swore I would never do that, but after years of suffering with no positive response to medications, I said, “Do it.” After 14 treatments, my doctor discontinued the therapy citing that I had suffered cognitive damage that outweighed the benefit.

Life just isn’t fair. Still, I manage my illness. Few would ever guess I am bipolar. I may not be quite as bright and shiny as I used to be. I have to work a little harder these days to keep the train on the track. Next stop is sanity.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How to Build a Watch...Take Your Meds!!!!

It's been more than 12 years since I was diagnosed as a rapid cycling bipolar 1. In retrospect, it was an illness that had been misdiagnosed for most of my life. As a young child, I lived in terror of man who was determined to snuff out my creative energy and joy. I survived, and no one ever knew about the horrors of my days spent in a dark basement, held captive by the man I thought was my daddy. " No good, worthless, sick!" He died when I was 13, and I can so clearly remember the first time depression paralyzed me. The bright and shiny child was gone...I only remembered his words, " No good, worthless.." Junior high and high school were hell for me...The pain was so intense that I began to hurt myself...I took over the abuse he had dealt out to me for all those years.

Although bipolar is a genetic disorder, it's impact can be accelerated by childhood trauma, and undiagnosed, it exacerbates as you age. When I was 22, I had tried to kill myself one too many times and I was hospitalized for two months with the diagnosis of clinical depression. I left that clinical prison determined to find a way to overcome the self-hatred that haunted me for so many years. I went back to school, graduated with honors, and got a job with a Fortune 500 company making very good money for a 26-year old. Taking antidepressants became as routine as brushing my teeth. For years, I somehow hid the abject sorrow that often pulled me down into a blackness that threatened my ability to function. I was later told by doctors that I had developed  the ability to overcompensate for the demons that threatened me. For more than two decades, I rose through the ranks of non-profit communications and marketing. Somewhere after the love of my life died in my arms, I began to lose the battle with that unnamed demon.

I had no idea what was wrong with me...I couldn't control the violent rages that contorted me. I began to drink heavily, grateful for the numbness it gave me. I began to lose my ability to function on a sustained basis, and my successful career slowly slipped out of my hands. I quit drinking and went to AA meetings two or three times a day. Despite my efforts, I wasn't getting any better, and I was referred to a new doctor. After talking with me for less than 10 minutes he asked me if I had ever been tested for bipolar, known by most at that time, as manic-depression. I thought it strange when he, almost gleefully, said, "You're not an alcoholic; you're bipolar."

I was suddenly at a new starting line, still it took another five years to find the right combination of drugs that would finally allow me to start living fully again. Those years were not very pretty, and the friends began to fall by the wayside. I do not blame them. My life hung by a tenuous thread...I almost didn't make it...but then I did. I learned the medications that became a part of my life, actually protected my life.

This is a long story that is finally meandering to the point. Many individuals with bipolar disorder quit taking their meds when they start feeling better. As I often was, in those early days, they are seduced by the incredible euphoria that initiates the first few days of mania. They succumb to the meteoric moments that will always end in sorrow and devastating pain. It's not worth it, I assure you.

I'm not crazy about being on an array of powerful drugs. They subdue me, dull me down, and slow my metabolism to a crawl, but they have also allowed me to rejoin the world of the living...Some days, I even forget I am bipolar. Sometimes, I still feel the pull of depression...Sometimes, I don't want to sleep, so tempted to fly across the skies...I have to resist, and I HAVE to take those meds.

I know you only asked what time it is, and I have belabored how to build a watch. Bottom line is, take your meds. If they aren't helping you, keep working with your doctor until you find the perfect "cocktail" for your disorder. Educate yourself about what you are taking and why. Be sure to know the side-effects. I almost died from the side-effects of one drug. Mostly, don't give up. It's not unusual for it to take years to find the right combination of meds. Hang TOUGH...It's worth it when you reach the other side!

(It's 10:49 p.m.)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Living with Bipolar Disorder: Brain Disorder Blame-True Crime

Living with Bipolar Disorder: Brain Disorder Blame-True Crime: Anyone that knows me, knows I am interested in true crime. I used to consider myself an ID addict, but not so much anymore. More and more, b...