Recently, you ran a letter encouraging mental health screening for those experiencing symptoms of depression, including a form of depression known as bipolar disorder. We also encourage this screening but would like to speak for the lesser-known victims of bipolar disorder, we who are the families, caretakers, or friends of its sufferers.
Bipolar disorder is very difficult to diagnose and treat. The person who suffers from it may deny having any problem, successfully mask the symptoms, change doctors or therapists every time the disorder is suspected, and/or refuse to take prescribed medication when bipolar disorder is finally diagnosed. A bipolar individual often believes his or her manic episodes to be periods of great clarity and creative energy rather than evidence of a biochemical imbalance, and when depression inevitably follows, the despondency may be so great that the bipolar individual would rather die than take any steps to improve the situation. Bipolar individuals may engage in risky behaviors including sexual promiscuity, financial irresponsibility, substance abuse (an attempt to self-medicate), and self-mutilation, all while rationalizing every action and blaming the people closest to them for driving them to behave as they do.
While a bipolar person is not at fault for having the disorder and certainly suffers greatly because of the illness, being involved in that person's life is often akin to being held hostage by the most unpredictable captor imaginable, a brilliant manipulator who expresses undying devotion one day and undying hatred the next. Family life becomes a cruel joke, and lives are ruined in every possible way. Even when a bipolar individual is cooperative and takes an active role, as many do, managing the illness involves incredible vigilance and ongoing professional attention because the disease itself can be highly treatment-resistant Bipolar disorder is not a death sentence, but the life sentence it passes on those who are close to the victims often seems more tragic.
Life in proximity to bipolar disorder is not hopeless, but it is extremely challenging. If you suspect that someone you love is bipolar, offer support but do not try to be a savior or a martyr. You didn't cause the problem, and you can't fix it. Learn all you can about the illness, and get support for yourself immediately. Counseling is available for all income levels, and online support groups are free. Check the library or Internet for more information.
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