John Grohol wrote an essay the other day called Psychology Secrets: Most Psychology Studies Are College Student Biased. It is one of the many must-see articles that John has written, but my personal favorite.
John mentions that 67 percent of the people in the studies of mental illness are undergraduates studying psychology. This presents a picture of mental health that may be way off base from what actually exists.
When I started speaking and doing workshops, I went to support groups, organizations like NAMI, county mental health departments, clinics, colleges, and other groups focused on bipolar and depression. I thought that I was getting a picture of the “real” bipolar population. As it turns out, those groups are even more skewed than the studies John mentions.
A couple of years ago, I started to reach out to the general public instead of relying on existing groups. I found something very interesting. Eighty five percent of the people coming to my talks don’t go to any of the groups I had been speaking at. They are also a completely different population. I do attract my fair share of students, but I also get doctors, lawyers, and and other professionals who, with proper guidance, have learned to thrive with their condition.
This skewing of the audience contributes greatly to the current paradigm of mental illness. When we base our beliefs on a small segment of the population, we may see the world vastly different from reality.
The Hindus have a fable about this (as told by Paramahansa Yogananda):
“An elephant driver had six sons, all of them blind. One day he gave them the job of washing his elephant. When the brothers had completed the task, they began discussing what manner of animal was the elephant.
“‘Easy!’ said one. ‘The elephant is a couple of large bones.’ He’d been washing the tusks.
“‘How can you say such a thing?’ remonstrated another. ‘The elephant is like a thick rope.’ He’d been washing the trunk.
“The third son insisted that the elephant was like a couple of fans. He’d been washing the ears.
“To the fourth son, the elephant resembled four pillars. He’s been washing the legs.
“The fifth son had been washing the sides. He described the elephant as a wall that breathed.
“The sixth and last cried, ‘You boys can’t fool me! I know. My own experience has revealed to me that the elephant is a little piece of string hanging down from the sky.’ He’d been washing the tail.
“As each son expressed his own opinion more insistently, there developed a heated argument. After some time, the father walked in and heard them shouting at one another. Listening to this swelling tide of bigotry, he cried, laughing, ‘My sons, you are fighting over nothing!’
“‘Nothing?’ one of them shouted. ‘My brothers are all liars, and here they have the audacity to call me one!’
“‘My dear children,’ said the father placatingly, ‘each of you has washed only a part of the elephant, but I alone have seen it in its entirety. It is everything that each of you says it is, but,’ he added, ‘it is also much more than any of you suspect.’
“He went on to describe to them what the elephant really looked like. ‘So you see, my sons,’ he finished, ‘you are all right—but you are also all wrong!’
I am not immune to the issue. I attract people to my talks that find my perspective interesting. Some of the people who hear about Bipolar In Order come to the Bipolar Advantage website and decide that it is not for them. The group we attract is the opposite of what many of the others do. They are highly motivated and capable of doing the work necessary to achieve the results we describe. It reinforces my belief that we ARE capable of changing bipolar from a disorder to Bipolar In Order, just as those who focus on disorder have their own beliefs reinforced by those they attract.
But, I still speak and do workshops for the other groups. It helps me to see the other perspective. I am exposed to people who cannot (not yet) achieve Bipolar In Order. While I know that many of us can and have, I accept that for some, it is not possible.
I also have spoken with many doctors and researchers to try to understand their perspective. Some of them tell me that what I say is not possible. But, how can they know if they refuse to even look at it? If all you study are those who have Bipolar Disorder, you believe that they are the norm.
How many of those who have not achieved Bipolar In Order could have if they were given the chance? While I accept that a certain percent cannot, I wonder if it is the same percent as those who can. My guess is that 2 – 5 percent of the bipolar population have issues that will keep them from achieving Bipolar In Order. I also guess that 2 – 5 percent can just as easily achieve what I and others have. Since the other 90 percent have not been exposed to the possibility, I wonder what percent of them could achieve Bipolar In Order if taught how.
What do you think? What percent of the bipolar population cannot achieve Bipolar In Order? What percent can? When enough of those who have achieved it come forward, what affect on the rest of the bipolar population do you think it will have?