I’m personally someone who will try to see the intention behind what someone is saying; knowing that they mean well is more important than the words they say. However, a lot of what people say can be stigmatizing without them realizing it or can be hurtful to those of us with Bipolar Disorder.
A few things not to say are included below:
1. ‘____ is so Bipolar’
Don’t say that the weather is so Bipolar, don’t say that your mood is so Bipolar, don’t say that someone else is so Bipolar: basically don’t use Bipolar as a descriptive word. It’s a mental illness, it’s not a word to be laughed about or used to describe something else in your day to day life.
2. ‘Everyone gets sad/ excited sometimes’
Bipolar Disorder is a severe mental illness. Don’t compare normal everyday feelings of someone without a mental illness to our experiences, because it really isn’t the same and it feels like you are belittling what we go through. Everyone’s experience is valid and if you’re going through a hard time, then that’s tough and we aren’t trying to take away from that, but try not to compare. Depression is not the same as sad days, anxiety is not the same as being a bit worried and hypomania or mania are not the same as feeling a bit hyper or excited.
3. ‘Other people have it worse’
Everyone’s pain, whether physical or emotional is valid, whether someone has it ‘better’ or ‘worse’, that doesn’t mean that what you are going through is any less valid or important. By saying that other people have it worse, it feels as though you’re telling us that we shouldn’t be complaining, or that we should feel lucky for ‘only’ having this mental illness, or that you aren’t taking our struggles seriously.
4. ‘Have you taken your meds today’
If we appear down or even very happy, please don’t ask us if we’ve taken our medication today. That’s really offensive and really personal. If you are worried about us and feel that we seem out of character, then that’s amazing that you care, but instead of mentioning our medication, just ask us if we’re feeling ok or if there’s anything you can do to help.
5. ‘Do you self harm/have you tried to commit suicide’
A lot of people when they hear Bipolar Disorder straight away jump to these two thoughts, and I think that’s natural that you might wonder but unless the person with the disorder is someone you feel extremely comfortable with and they have stated that you can ask them questions, please don’t ask us about self harm or suicide. It’s extremely personal and for some people might be really upsetting and triggering for you to just ask outright.
At the end of the day being there for someone and wanting to help them is wonderful and is what is most important, but if you can be mindful about how you phrase things and what you say to try and express that you care, then that’s even better.