I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 30 years old. However, it was pretty clear that it had been affecting me for years prior to this and had made my reactions to negative life events severe enough to cause concern to others.   Nevertheless, the fear of being labelled, medicated and treated differently by those that loved me kept me from seeking psychiatric help and it took a great deal to push me to the point where I accepted that I could benefit from help. 

Bipolar and fear of stigma

This in part was due to the fact that my father had a label of bipolar disorder and because of it, according to him, he was treated with very little respect by both his parents and his wife.  I know that my Mum considered it reasonable to shout “Have you taken your Lithium?” up the stairs to him even when guests were visiting, and to undermine his version of events regularly saying “I’m sorry, but that’s just not true!” He had to take early retirement which I was told was due to him having bipolar disorder.  My Dad once wrote me a letter stating that if at all possible I should avoid a hospital admission like the one he had had, which lasted a month, as the result for him had been that all of his relationships, particularly with those closest to him, as well as his career had been negatively affected, and that even his wife saw him as an invalid as a result.  My Mum had signed this letter with no correction of this point!

With these things in mind, as well as an awareness that any sort of mental health problem has an underlying stigma in society, made it totally unacceptable in my mind that I should have bipolar disorder.

Looking at this in hindsight I now wonder how much better my life could have been without this fear?  How many relationships would not have been damaged or lost, and how much more contented I would have felt?

If I could advise my younger self I would want to say the following:

  • Do not let the fear of having a mental health diagnosis prevent you from seeking help
  • Acknowledging that you are struggling to cope is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of you taking your health seriously and being willing to seek help before your mental health causes any serious harm
  • Stigma is dangerous and harmful in that, quite literally, it can make someone even less well
  • If you don’t get over your own negative perception of having a mental health problem it will prevent you from seeking help and you stand to lose so much; opportunities, sustained relationships, stability and a peaceful life
  • Recognise that, just like a physical condition, mental health problems can be treated and life can be improved as a result
  • Overcoming fear of treatment can be made easier if you ask a friend or relative to offer moral support by attending appointments and helping to make rational choices
  • Asking a trusted friend to help monitor your illness with you can help you to have a sense of control over it, and to know when to take symptoms seriously as well as when to realise that you are having a normal reaction to day to day stress


Stay tuned for part two of Mary-Rose's series on stigma. If you would like to comment on any aspect of our blog, or for information about submitting your own piece, please email [email protected]

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