Depression, Isolation and Stigma
Less than 4% of the population has bipolar disorder. It’s not exactly a rare disease, but finding someone else who truly understands the struggle of the disease can be difficult when many people do not disclose their mental illness. Bipolar disorder can feel like a truly lonely experience. Social isolation is common in bipolar disorder and often contributes to worsening symptoms.
There are two ways social isolation occurs in bipolar disorder. In the first, a person isolates themselves from others. In the second, society inflicts isolation on the person with mental illness.
Depression often causes people to isolate themselves.
When a person with bipolar disorder is in a depressive state, everything takes more effort to accomplish. Fatigue is a common symptom, and it takes energy to socialize. In this state, being with people often means putting on a mask. It’s easier to pretend that nothing is wrong than to burden others with the realities of mental illness or be accused of attention seeking. So, instead of using the little energy they have on social situations, being alone seems like the better option.
Loss of interest is another symptom of depression that can lead to isolation. If a patient is usually a part of a social group or activity, depression can steal that interest so the person no longer has a desire to engage. Again, it takes less energy to stay home and avoid interaction.
Stigma encourages isolation.
Anxiety disorders and major depressive disorder have become widely recognized and generally more accepted than other mental illnesses. Bipolar disorder is still largely misunderstood by the public and even by those who have loved ones with the disease. Misconceptions abound, feeding the myth that people with bipolar disorder are all violent and unpredictable.
Prejudice encourages people to ostracize and socially distance themselves from people with mental illness. The patients then internalize this stigma. They begin to believe that they are weak and crazy, that they deserve to be alone so no one goes down with them. It can discourage people from getting needed help in order to avoid the label of having bipolar disorder. Those that do seek help may not stick to treatments for the same reason. Stigma causes severe problems with self-worth and social anxiety. It can trigger depression, guilt and suicide.
The best way to combat isolation, both internal and external, is to have a support system in place that encourages people with bipolar disorder to continue socializing and educating others about what having bipolar disorder really means.
While some people dealing with depression and isolation can reach out for help, it may be up to loved ones to take the initiative. At minimum, create an environment in which the individual can say the reason they don’t want to socialize is because they don’t have the energy. Not having to make up another excuse can be healing in itself. Other options may be simply sitting in the same room without pressure to talk, grabbing a cup of coffee or taking a walk together.
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LaBouff, L. (2016). Depression, Isolation and Stigma. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 20, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-laid-bare/2016/08/depression-isolation-and-stigma/