Mental Illness Chic

Mental Illness Chic

I guess it can all be traced back to the Betty Ford Clinic, where seeking help for misgivings became fashionable.  A short time later, the antidepressant revolution attracted millions to seek help with personal troubles from psychiatrists.  And as fashions change, so does the mental illness "chic".  Alcoholism soon went out like last year's fashion and depression moved right in.  But as all things hip change, depression has also become passe.  The new flavor of the month in mental illness is Bipolar Disorder, known also by its not-so-chic previous name, manic depression.  While it is hard to believe that such a condition would become chic, it seems to be the most overly diagnosed condition today.  Maybe its due to several books have been published in recent years showing the connection of bipolar disorder with greatness.  Ernest Hemingway, Mozart, Vincent van Gogh, Margot Kidder of Superman Movie fame, Kurt Cobain of the rock band Nirvana and Ted Turner are but a few names that share a bipolar connection.  In any case, no matter the reason, the acceptance of bipolar disorder has enabled many to get the help they need.  Sometimes being "chic" can be lifesaving.  But what exactly are we talking about?    

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, called so for it represents the two poles or extremes in mood, is a mental illness that causes periods of Depression and Mania.  For a person with bipolar disorder, there is little control over mood shifts from the lows of depression to the highs of mania.  Each may last for weeks to months or even take place within a single day.  The highs and lows can be severe enough to be life threatening or mild enough to be almost unnoticed.  There is no exact known cause to the disease, however there are theories to why some people experience these mood swings including chemical imbalances to events that occurred in childhood.   While causes are not exactly known, it is known that Bipolar is a lifetime recurring illness that can have serious effects of a person's life.  Let's look a little closer at the moods themselves. 


We all experience some form of sadness at some point of our lives, whether by the loss of a loved one, the failure of a relationship or any kind of disappointment that takes over our thoughts.  The sadness or low moods of being bipolar can last for weeks or months and disrupts our normal every day living and no visible cause may be seen.  It can cause the loss of appetite, changes in sleeping, feelings of being worthless and at its worst, suicidal thoughts.  Severe depression can also lead to hallucinations or delusions.  Depression is not only destructive to the person experiencing it, but also to the family and friends who have to watch with relative inability to help.

Some symptoms of depression include:

·         Have been experiencing a feeling of being down, sad or losing interest in things you normally enjoy for a period longer than two weeks.

·         Plus at least four of the following symptoms:

·         changes in appetite or weight

·         changes in sleep

·         difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions

·         feeling slowed down

·         feeling worthless or guilty

·         thoughts of death or suicide 


While most people have experienced depression, as an emotion in some form, mania is slightly more difficult to describe.  Mania is a feeling of euphoria or irritability that takes over the life of the manic.  The person experiencing a manic episode can feel so good or so happy that reality becomes a blissful haze.   They feel that anything can be accomplished; even the most difficult of achievements are simple.  The need for sleep becomes unnecessary.  Thoughts race through their minds almost as fast as they race out of their mouths.  Shy, introverts become socially outgoing extroverts seemingly overnight.  People experiencing manic episodes can lose touch with reality to the point of risking their lives due to their feeling of being indestructible.  Because of the risks that are easily taken whether it is with money, sex or personal safety, mania can be highly destructive. People experiencing manic episodes often damage or even destroy their relationships with family, friends or work.

In a manic episode, the following symptoms are present for at least 1 week:

·         Feeling unusually "high," euphoric, or irritable

·         Plus at least 4 of the following symptoms:

·         needing little sleep yet having great amounts of energy

·         talking so fast that others cannot keep up with the thought pattern

·         having racing thoughts

·         being so easily distracted that their attention shifts between many topics in just a few minutes

·         having an inflated feeling of power, greatness, or importance

·         doing reckless things without concern about possible bad consequences (i.e. spending too much money, engaging in inappropriate sexual activity, or making foolish business investments) 

Living with Bipolar

Although bipolar can cause major disruptions in your life, it doesn't mean you can't lead a normal life.  The most important thing to remember is to get the medical help you need.  Living with bipolar is not a simple matter and medical assistance is essential.  Here are a few ways to help you deal with living with the disease:

·         Treat bipolar as an illness and not as a character flaw. 

·         Find a doctor who is familiar with bipolar.  Not all doctors are the same.  You must find a doctor who you feel comfortable with and one who is willing to give you the amount of care that you require.  People with bipolar very often require medication and the monitoring of the medication taken.  Some doctors may not be as committed as you need them to be.  It is not wrong to change doctors should you feel they are not giving you the time or concentration you need.

·         Do not self-medicate.  Although alcohol or other drugs may make you feel okay for a while they do not help in the long run with bipolar.  Although people with bipolar can lead a normal life, bipolar is a serious condition that should be taken as such.  Bipolar takes work to live with.

·         Make a mood chart.  This is very helpful in keeping track of your mood swings.  Simply find a calendar and list everyday how you feel.  This will help you and your doctor to monitor your moods.

·         Remember you are not alone.  Many people have been diagnosed with bipolar and there are many sources, especially online, to seek help with dealing with the illness. is a great resource for bipolar information.

·         Remember bipolar is not a weakness.  By recognizing bipolar as an illness and not your fault, you are one step towards successfully living with it.      

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