Outside the bipolar community, most people think of "bipolar disorder" as Bipolar I, and most of those people think of the most severe symptoms mania first and foremost. It's a perception that hurts all of us.
Again and again television drama portray people in the throes of mania - fast talking, flamboyant, hallucinating, delusional, spending recklessly. Even more do we see bipolar people shown as criminals - Law & Order was particularly bad about this. And in the news, it's the celebrities and lawbreakers who get press, because ordinary, everyday people who have bipolar disorder just aren't newsworthy.
Understand I'm not knocking the celebrities - quite the opposite. Telling the world they have bipolar takes courage and does all of us a great service by bringing bipolar disorder into the limelight and, more often than not, leading their fans to learn more about our condition. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Demi Lovato, Carrie Fisher, Maurice Benard and many others have made powerful impacts on public perception of bipolar, and I thank all of them from my heart.
And yet - ask someone on the street their idea of bipolar disorder, and most likely you'll get a description of mania. Maybe it's a shame that the term "manic depression" was replaced by "bipolar disorder." The depressive side of BP isn't what people hear about. Characters in dramas who are depressed suffer from depression. Period. Characters who are bipolar are manic and/or homicidal. Period.
There's no hypomania. There's no stability. There's no wracking depression. Nobody's ever portrayed my flavor of bipolar disorder, at least not that I've ever seen. Have you ever seen yours?
I don't watch TV much these days, but I've heard it's getting a little better, that there are characters in shows who have bipolar disorder and are portrayed more accurately than in the past.
What's your take on this? Do you feel the perception of bipolar disorder is changing? Are media portrayals changing? Are celebrities who talk about their bipolar disorder making a difference? Leave a comment.
Published On: July 28, 2011
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