Stigma

This is a self-Portrait by Van Gogh who is thought to have had bipolar disorder.

Dealing with stigma or discrimination from others can be difficult and painful for both the person and the caregiver. Stigma involves stereotyped beliefs about the negative qualities of a particular group (e.g. people with mental illness). Discrimination occurs when others act on stigmatized beliefs and the person is unfairly treated.

Sometimes, when people experience others stigmatizing attitudes, they start to believe them. They may see themselves as being less capable or worthy than others.

Caregivers who are concerned about stigma sometimes isolate themselves from social contact and become depressed. Consequently, they may miss out on valuable sources of support and enjoyment.

Below are some suggestions for reducing the impact of stigma and discrimination on you and the person:

Disclosing the illness or your caregiving role

The issue of disclosure can be a sensitive one for people with bipolar disorder and their close family and friends. You and the person have a right to privacy. This means that you need to be cautious about who you tell about the person’s illness or your own situation. However, keeping the person’s bipolar disorder a secret from close family and friends, due to concerns about stigma, can eliminate potential sources of support and lead to isolation.

It can be difficult to decide who to tell and what to say about the person’s illness or your situation. When you do tell someone about the bipolar disorder, help them to understand that it is a treatable illness. If friends or relatives avoid you due to stigma, develop other more supportive relationships. Below are some things to consider when working out who to tell and what to say:

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