Another Post about Bipolar Disorder and Media

I spend a lot of my time engulfed in media. I get paid to social media (and it’s awesome and I wouldn’t trade this job for anything.) It could be argued that I never leave it–considering I fall asleep with the radio tuned into my favorite station from back home.

One of the things that startles me the most is reading about or watching portrayals of mental illness; specifically bipolar disorder. I struggle with the illness myself each and every day. I’m medicated, I go to the psychiatrist every three weeks and I’m currently shopping for a therapist that I can become comfortable with and not feel like I have to hide things from. (I’ve had therapists like that–I’ve seen quite a few in the last three years.)

I watch a lot of crime shows–Law and Order, specifically–that tend to blame crimes (violent or unviolent–doesn’t matter) on mental illness, including but not limited to bipolar disorder. While away in Michigan for work (a post about the crazy things that happened there is forthcoming) I watched a particularly grating episode from 1997 (fun fact, I was in Kindergarten when this episode premiered) that included a young boy that set fire to his home and killed his sister because he was jealous–complete with a wealthy, also-afflicted-with-the-disease, political backer grandfather.

Some people are predisposed to these things, sometimes it’s the environment. It is not the disease. Bipolar Disorder does not cause anyone to commit arson or other violent crimes. Not being treated, being isolated, being stigmatized–that is what causes these outbursts of violence. 

Being “out” about mental illness is not easy–telling people you have a mental illness is not easy. I struggle with it every day. I have to get to know you, to see if I can trust you, before I go telling you. And I always get looks of “wait, really?” “No way, that’s not you…” because I’m treated. I treat my illness and I have very slowly come to embrace it. It is not all of who I am, though it is a big part. That was an issue in this episode that was addressed properly–many successful people are not open about disease. That’s what killed Robin Williams, who was also bipolar. There is shame in being bipolar, shame in needing help.

The reason I’m actually writing this is because I just read that Ms. Amanda Bynes, formerly of Nickelodeon fame, has had her involuntary psychiatric hold extended to two weeks. I understand the pain of only wanting to leave a place like that and not being able to and I hope that she gets the help and care she needs and deserves. Nobody deserves to be ridiculed for being ill. A psychiatric hold is unpleasant. It’s scary. But, sometimes it’s truly what you need in order to turn things around.

I hope that for people who struggle with bipolar and other mental illnesses that these portrayals of violent, mentally ill criminals in the media or mocking celebrities in the midst of public breakdowns can stop or be balanced out by promoting self-help services, hotlines, or de-stigmatizing getting medical help or going to therapy.

If you need help, dial the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or the Trevor Lifeline (866-488-7386).

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