Bipolar Disorder

-Bipolar disorder is a mental illness, also known as manic-depressive disorder that is characterized by extreme mood swings between depressive states and manic states.  It is a long-term condition that significantly affects one’s daily life. It can be managed by treatment with a psychologist and medication therapy.  This illness is also misunderstood and over-simplified by the culture, it is often seen as just moodiness or as someone who is just “unbalanced”, but the psychological effects are much more far reaching and complex. This cultural view can often isolate those who suffer from this disorder and make them feel as if their friends and family just do not understand their chronic condition. Biomedicine in the U.S. mainly focuses on drug interventions, often mixing and experimenting with different drug programs, to see which is most effective for that particular patient.  Some medications have proven effective, but their effectiveness can often dissipate over time, which leads to higher dosage or trying a new medication.

-The video blog from “YouTube” that we watch was of a young man who has been suffering from Bipolar disorder for thirteen years. He first starting experiencing his symptoms as a freshman in college and would self-medicate with alcohol and mask his emotions with partying. As he began to seek more treatment he tried a few various drugs and would experience benefits from them, but as they would wear off he would experience extreme symptoms. After this poor experience with drug therapy, he tried to use his own healthy lifestyle approach to treating his illness and that worked for him for a while. Then a couple of years ago, he had a great increase in symptoms and his issues with alcohol and embarrassment over his illness led him to hit a low point. He then started treatment with a psychiatrist again and with therapy and medication was able to better manage his illness.

-For the man in the video blog and others like him, the effects of bipolar disorder and the way it is perceived in the culture can have a widespread impact on every aspect of life. His denial and embarrassment of his illness led him to put of getting treatment at first and led him, as many others do, to self-medicate with alcohol. Also, he suffered from feelings of loneliness and the feeling that his family and friends truly didn’t understand his illness, which leads those suffering from this illness to not be open about their symptoms which impact how others perceive them and how they cope with their illness.

-I think belief and healing are interconnected in ways that we still don’t fully understand. The example in the “Placebo” documentary about the fake knee surgery was interesting, particularly because they said they saw no difference at all between the three test groups. I think the ritual of the medical care does have a big impact on the way we think about healing and it can have a real effect on our health.


Mayo Clinic staff. (2012, 01 18). Bipolar disorder. Retrieved from

5 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder

  1. I though that your post was very informative and also correlated with a number of my own previous beliefs about the disease and how it is being treated in today’s world. In terms of biomedicine, my perception was that treatment centralized around drug therapy. Often times, as you stated, healthcare providers essentially test a multitude of drugs in order to determine which will work best for that specific patient. This trial and error method seems rather inefficient and probably creates a great deal of stress for the patient. I believe that our culture accepts bipolar disorder as a realistic disease. Studies have shown different brain morphology and chemical imbalances in patients with biopolar disorder. Unlike a number of “disorders” mentioned this week, this scientific support allows its validity to be more readily accepted.
    My beliefs have stemmed from familial experience, education and general exposure to bipolar disorder. I have a relative that has the disorder and she has shared parts of her experience with me. Her treatment actually did follow the trial and error model. It took doctors over six months to achieve an acceptable prescription. I have also had a number of psychology courses as well throughout out my college career. Specifically, abnormal psychology was where I learned about bipolar disorder the most.

  2. After reading your post, I am forced to agree that this illness is often misunderstood and over-simplified in the United States. People often see this illness, and many other mental illnesses, as something that can just be overcome by force of will, even when they know that there are biomedical causes, effects and treatments. I also think that the doctors experimenting with different pharmaceutical treatments to see which one works best can actually have a negative effect on the patient. This might be just me but I feel that the doctor should know what type of medicine is ideal for each circumstance and that when they do not; it is just guess and check work. Overall I think that Bipolar disorder is a serious medical issue that should be treated with care, so as not to stigmatize the patient or to push them away from medical treatment. Even though our culture accepts Bipolar disorder as a medical condition, many patients are reluctant to admit they have it and seek treatment simply because of how mental disorders are seen in our society. I see this as any other medical condition, something to be treated and dealt with. I guess I would say that my views on this disorder and all mental disorders came from my family’s acceptance of it as a legitimate sickness.

  3. I agreed with your take on bipolar disorder and how it separates the sufferer from his or her closest friends and family. Mental disorders are viewed differently all over the world, and it’s a pity that our view here in the U.S. about such disorders is a negative one. A handful of mental disorders that we hear of frequently (such schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, etc.) seem to get thrown into one grouping, and we label them all as “crazy.” I appreciated the video we watched for another lesson titled, “The Horse Boy” because it showed how differently illnesses are viewed and reacted to across the world. The shamans in the film told the boy’s parents that they believed we was to become a shaman himself. They did not view his diagnosis as a sad or unfortunate thing but as a special case; he was simply unique and capable of things that normal people cannot do.
    It’s too bad that we can’t view certain sicknesses a little lighter than we do. You mentioned in your post that the guy suffering from bipolar disorder distanced himself from friends and family which, in my opinion, only furthers the illness and weakens the sufferer’s ability to live a get treatment and go on living a normal life. If we didn’t have so many social stigmas, people might be more relaxed and open about their situation and better help could be offered.
    I think that with our advancement in technology, views on disorders such as bipolar disorder, are changing in a good way. We can prove what things are caused by chemical imbalances, genetics, etc., and by pointing out that evidence, it takes the fault of the person with the illness so that they are approached less accusatory. Back a few decades, we were unaware of the causes of many illnesses, especially mental ones, which meant that we blamed those people for being “different,” and that view stuck for quite some time.

  4. My biomedical perception of bipolar disorder is derived from courses I’ve taken as part of my curriculum, such as Abnormal Psychology, Health Psychology, Culture, Health, and Illness, Cross-Cultural Psychology, and Brain and Behavior. Based on this academic foundation, I know bipolar disorder to be an affective disorder causing alteration between episodes of manic and depressive moods. Mania is characterized by euphoria, elevated energy, pressured speech, racing thoughts, decreased inhibitions, delusions of grandiosity, and borderline psychosis. In contrast, depression is characterized by dysphoria (apathy, amotivation, irritability), anhedonia, social withdrawal, sleep and appetite perturbations, and suicidal ideation.

    On the other hand, my cultural perceptions of illness are those perpetuated by popular culture portrayals, where those with bipolar disorder are depicted as unpredictable and dangerous individuals, commonly as homeless persons or perpetrators of crimes where offenders ‘plead insanity’ as a defense. This stereotype was portrayed in Wonderland, a television drama set in a psychiatric unit of a New York City hospital, where a mentally ill man “goes on a shooting spree in Times Square and later stabs a pregnant woman in the stomach” (Tartakovsky, 2012). In news coverage of mass murders, particular attention is paid when the accused suspect has a history of mental illness. For example, in addition to the recent Aurora cinema shooting, media coverage of random acts of murder oftentimes cites the killer’s deranged mental status as the causative agent, including in shootings such as “a McDonald’s in San Ysidro in 1982, the Staten Island Ferry in 1986, a Stockton schoolyard in 1989, the Long Island Railroad in 1993, and Virginia Tech in 2009” (Cramer, 2012). The disproportionate broadcast news reporting of crimes related to mental illness is substantiated by Wahl, who demonstrated that violent crimes committed by those afflicted by mental illness are more likely to get the front page than those committed by a person without psychological disturbance. In other words, “When a person with a mental illness is involved, it elicits a kneejerk reaction: The person’s disorder automatically becomes the lead of the story” (Tartakovsky, 2012).

    Because the media does not address any other facets of mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and fails to capture the subjective and semantic elements of the illness experience, it perpetuates notions of desperation and hopeless. With bipolar disorder in particular, television drama, film and literary fiction reinforce pejorative labels such as ‘split personality’. This provokes prejudice and social isolation, inhibiting mobilization of social support and preventing people from seeking medical attention to restore mental health. This is highlighted by a recent global AstraZeneca survey, which found that 88% of people with bipolar disorder felt stigmatized and socially alienated due to their condition. Although bipolar disorder is the sixth leading cause of disability, this social persecution impedes delivery of care because it stops sufferers from seeking it in the first place (Owen, 2008). As evidence, “In Spain, the US and the UK, over half of people with bipolar disorder…said they believe the media is a major propagator of discrimination against people with mental illnesses” (Owen, 2008).


    Cramer, C.E. (2012, July 29). Focus on helping the mentally ill. Denver Post. Retrieved from

    Owen, O.G. (2008, October 23). Patient Groups Tackle Sigma Attached to Bipolar Disorder and Other Mental Illnesses With New Tools. Medical News Today. Retrieved from

    Tartakovsky, M. (2012). Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved from

    Wahl, O.F., (2004). Stop the presses. Journalistic treatment of mental illness. In L.D. Friedman (Ed.) Cultural Sutures. Medicine and Media (pp. 55-69). Durkheim, NC: Duke University Press.

  5. I though that your post was very informative, and I very much agree that Bipolar disorder is often misunderstood and over-simplified in the United States. It is often viewed, as are many other mental illnesses, as something that can simply be overcome, even though there are known biomedical causes, and treatments. These biomedical treatments tend to be centralized around drug therapy, which is often prescribed in a trial & error way (for months, sometimes yrs) to determine a correct regime/treatment. This treatment of patients like guinea pigs can be stressful & have negative effects. Add to that the stigma of mental illnesses, or any illness for that matter, held by our society, and it doesn’t make things easy on the patient. Its no wonder they often times, are not up front about symptoms, hold off on treatment, and feel misunderstood by even the closest of relations. It really is quite sad that our society treats health conditions the way the way they do, even the ones that are seen as legitimate illnesses. Most of what I know about this stuff comes from a combination of higher education, personal & family experiences, and of course cultural impacts.

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