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Two Moods Twice the Stigma

"Double standards and bipolar disorder"
By: Stef dela Cruz, MDTwo Moods Twice the Stigma

“He should have been grateful for all the blessings he was given. Someone with faith in God wouldn’t have committed suicide.”

I read the above Facebook comment in shock and outrage when the news came out November last year: Robin Williams, a beloved comedian and actor, passed away after taking his own life.

Williams was suffering from bipolar mood disorder, also known as manic-depressive disorder. Sources said he was dealing with early signs of Parkinson’s disease during the time he died. Overnight, his death was the stuff tweets and Facebook updates were made of, with netizens expressing their grief and farewell.

However, there were many others –just like the person who left the above comment –who frowned upon his suicide. The sentiment that people with mood disorders are to be blamed for their own sufferingis something that permeates not only the online world, but also the real one.

We fear what we do not understand. But with one out of every 25 people suffering from manic-depressive disorder as reported in practice guidelines published by Dr. Robert Hirschfeld, it’s time to put an end to the fear and intolerance.

6 neglected truths about bipolar mood disorders:

1. Stomach aches are to the stomach as mood swings are to the mind

The mind, just like the stomach, can suffer from diseases that manifest as aches and pains. With the brain, aches come in the form of – you guessed it –hurt feelings and mood swings. When areas in the brain responsible for emotions start to malfunction, what do you expect?

2. Playing the shame game keeps people who need our help from seeking it

We are partly to blame if people with manic-depressive disorder are reluctant to seek help; after all, we contributed to the culture of shame. If they don’t get help, it may lead to suicide.Anyone suffering from illness, mental or otherwise, should be encouraged to seek help instead of being shushed with criticism.

3. Bipolar disorder is not just a fancy medical term for mood swings

Bipolar affective disorder doesn’t last a few months or years. It is a lifetime condition, according to a 2014 article published by Stephen Soreff and his colleagues.The mood swings suffered by anyone with this disorder are also much more severe than the ones you get after finding out that the jeans you love no longer fit after indulging in the all-you-can-eat restaurant.

4. People with bipolar disorder do not “deserve” their pain

So many things contribute to the development of bipolar disorder: genes, neurotransmitters, hormones, changes in brain structure or activity, drugs, and stress. Notice how none of these are “sins” or “mistakes” that justify blame.Instead of pointing an accusing finger, we can extend a helping hand.

5. Suicidal people suffering from manic-depressive disorder are not cowards

In essence, suicide is the emergency in bipolar disorder, in the same way a heart attack is a typical emergency for a person with heart disease. It calls for treatment, not judgment.It takes a lot of courage for people with bipolar affective disorder to admit that their mood swings are unlike the ones you and I have. Any attempt to paint their courageous admission an ugly color should be considered the real manifestation of cowardice.

6. A person with bipolar disorder is not “crazy”

I can see how someone who seems flamboyant and über happy for weeks on end may be deemed “crazy” if he wants to be left alone, crying for no identifiable reason a month after. In terms of medical semantics, it is not accurate. In terms of behaving like decent human beings, it is never right.

We have advanced not only in terms of technology, but with how we treat each other. For instance, how we treat women today is a far cry from how females were undervalued in the past. But when it comes to psychology, some of us still live in the dark and think like cavemen. There are those who think of psychiatric conditions with shame and derision, blaming mental disorders on “weak minds” and “poor faith”.

It is hard for us to understand that the brain gets sick in the same way the liver, heart, stomach, and kidneys do. It is even harder for us to comprehend that mood disorders do not need to be put in a different box as, say, diabetes and stroke.There may be two poles in the spectrum of moods experienced by people with manic-depressive disorder. But there is no need to treat them with double standards.

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