Dealing with stigma or discrimination

Below are some suggestions about dealing with stigma and deciding how to respond to discrimination:

Become informed

Most stigma is based on a lack of information and understanding about the illness. Being well informed about bipolar disorder can help to recognize some of the misconceptions involved in stigma. For example:

  • Bipolar disorder is a health condition like diabetes, and not a personality flaw.
  • While certain illness-related behaviors might be socially unacceptable, these behaviors are symptoms of a treatable illness.

Some people find that reading books on bipolar disorder helps them to gain a greater understanding of the illness (see the list of books about bipolar disorder in the resources section).

Recognize that there is more to the person than their illness

The person and their illness may seem to merge when they are ill. Don’t forget the person’s qualities, talents and strengths. Although it may be confusing at times, see if you can identify ways in which their personality differs from their illness. Someone who does not know the person might only see the illness, and be more likely to believe stigmatized stereotypes of mental illness.

Creativity

People with bipolar disorder are often creative. Many famous people had bipolar disorder (e.g. the writer Virginia Woolf, the artist Vincent van Goch and composer Robert Schumann).

Mix with people who accept the illness

Many caregivers find it rewarding to attend a support group where they and the person’s bipolar disorder are accepted.

Think carefully before deciding to speak out against stigma or discrimination

Some people believe that speaking out against stigma that results in discrimination is always essential. However, whether or not to speak out against stigma or discrimination is a personal choice. What you decide might differ depending on the circumstances. Asking yourself the following questions may help you to decide:

  • Is standing up to the stigma or discrimination likely to be very stressful for you or the person?
  • Are there likely to be negative consequences to speaking out about stigma or discrimination (e.g. will speaking out about stigma lead to others discriminating more against the person in the future)?
  • Are there likely to be negative consequences to not taking a stand against stigma or discrimination (e.g. in a group situation if stigma is not addressed it might escalate, or discrimination at work might result in the loss of a job)?
  • Will speaking out in this situation help to change attitudes? Educating people about mental illness can sometimes change their attitudes and behavior, and improve conditions for people affected by mental illness.
  • Can you keep your personal situation private when standing up to the stigma? If not, what will the implications be of revealing your situation (for you and the person)?

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