THE BLOG
08/25/2014 11:21 am ET Updated Oct 25, 2014

Stop the Stigma: 'Bipolar' Is Not a New Word for Just Darn Unpleasant

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You hear it everywhere. "Oh, she's so bipolar."

It's the diagnosis of the decade. At least in the general public.

It didn't start with Catherine Zeta-Jones treatment and its publicity, but it has certainly picked up speed since then. Tiger Woods was treated for sexual addiction. You don't hear people pointing their fingers at others saying, "Oh, he's such a sex addict."

Just not popular.

Here are some statistics. The National Institute of Mental Health (2005) reports that the prevalence of bipolar disorder is 2.6 percent of the U.S. population. It is interesting and unhappy to note their report that only about half of those with bipolar disorder are getting good treatment. Another scholarly report (2007) breaks down the two major diagnostic categories of Bipolar, I and II, and reports their prevalence, respectively, as 1 percent and 1.1 percent, with what they term "sub threshold" bipolar II at 2.4 percent. A study in 2011 showed it to be higher, 4.4 percent. Probably depends if you are adding all of these up or not.

What do these stats mean? That probably around 4 percent of the people that you have met in your entire life have had bipolar disorder. It does run in families (meaning that it has a high genetic load) so some of you may have had more experience with people with the disorder than others. Some, none at all.

Your irritating mother-in-law? She may just be irritating.

The disorder is characterized by changes in mood, in energy level, that may appear to come out of nowhere. Perhaps triggered by stress, by events. Perhaps not. Irrational ups and downs. Sometimes mixed in with irritability and/or anxiety. Sleep problems are a big issue. A person with bipolar disorder has to learn to live with and manage the disease. The medications can have negative side effects. It can be difficult to find a medication/s that works.

There are many people with bipolar disorder who are highly creative, high-functioning people. They can have lives that are not governed by their illness and live happy, loving, productive lives.

But there's no cure. And there are some that are not so lucky.

It's tough.

To make matters worse, now the term "bipolar" is being used as slang to describe folks who wear their feelings on their sleeves, are overly reactive, quite moody, selfish or demanding (and then pout a lot).

That's not bipolar.

That's just unpleasant.

This gets under my skin. People with mental health issues have enough stigma to deal with just because they have a mental condition. Not that I think that is right.

It isn't. It's quite ignorant.

So let's not throw them under the bus further by calling everybody we don't like very much -- or who is hard to get along with -- "bipolar."

That's just not fair.

It's not right.

And it hurts the people who are fighting to cope with it.

So please. Just stop.

Please send this on if you enjoyed! Especially if you know of someone who has experienced mental health issues, whether it be bipolar disorder, anxiety or panic or depression. It's important that those trying to heal and live their lives know they have our support!

You can read more of Dr. Margaret at drmargaretrutherford.com.

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