Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is not the type of illness that one can currently be cured of, and it is also not an illness that displays itself in someone’s outward appearance.  The American culture has come to the conclusion that someone with bipolar disorder could range from a person who does not have “normal” social mannerisms to someone who has unpredictable mood swings.  This poses a problem to people who actually have clinically diagnosable bipolar disorder.  The word “bipolar” is used in America in so many different contexts that the identity of a true bipolar person is defined away.  A person who is actually diagnosed is expected to see a psychiatrist, and possibly be prescribed medication to deal with any sort of hormonal imbalance.  As discussed in this week’s first lecture, post-partum depression is a psychological disorder which people have tried to define away as something a bad mother experiences.  This same sort of dismissive description is used on bipolar disorder when people say that the person was simply raised poorly or the person is “crazy”.  As with the post-partum depression, bipolar disorder is not an illness that can be tested for and proved.  These two illnesses are only based on the subjectivity of the patient.  With this information in mind, it is understandable that a biomedicine doctor is only able to prescribe either psychological help or medication that would attempt to balance hormone levels in the patient’s body.


Since the majority of the public already dismisses bipolar disorder as attributable to bad parenting, doctors who are trying to help bipolar people start off with a much harder task.  Someone who is constantly told that he is weird and that he does not behave in the same manner as the majority of other human beings, is not about to immediately believe the one person (psychiatrist/doctor) who says otherwise.  Bipolar disorder then becomes a much harder illness to treat because of the patient’s preconceived belief that he is simply a strange person and there is nothing that can be done for him.  Just as it was described in “Placebo: Cracking the Code,” a person can find himself having the nocebo effect which is more detrimental to his health than almost any drug.  The belief that he will not be able to overcome his disorder is what may ultimately prevent him from suppressing his disorder so that it no longer controls his life.


I do believe that a strong connection between belief and healing can exist, so in other words I think the placebo effect is sometimes a viable option.  I would never suggest prescribing a placebo to a cancer patient because I do not believe that a doctor should risk a patient’s life in that way, but for simpler diseases I think it is very possible that a placebo may do just as much good as an actual medication would.  I believe that the connection between belief and healing is only as strong as a patient makes it, meaning that no amount of outside reinforcement will make a patient believe he is feeling better, only the patient can make himself believe he is feeling better (whether it be from a placebo or not).  I know that I would never tell my doctor that I was feeling better unless I truly was, even if he explained to me that all of my blood work showed positive results.

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  1. Alisyn Korpela says:

    When I see the words bi-polar, I immediately picture a crazed individual who is a patient at a mental institution in the middle of nowhere, highly drugged on medication, ostracized from society. At the same time, I picture a less dramatic image of my best friend’s mother who we claim to be a victim of the disorder because of her unpredictable mood swings and tendencies to lash out at anyone in sight when she is experiencing stress or a high-anxiety situation. I think my dramatic perception of bi-polar disorder is partly a result of my culture, living in a society where mental disorders are looked down-upon, exaggerated, and hidden behind pills and prescribed drugs. In addition to society, the media has played a major role in my perception of the disease. Various movies and television shows have developed their own images of the disease and broadcasted those for high volume audiences to view, and as a result, the audience now has a skewed idea of the disease whether it be a legitimate depiction or not. I also think the seriousness of the disease has been reduced as a result of my friends and the casual banter back and forth calling loved one’s bi-polar when they actual are not. My best friends mother is not diagnosed with bi-polar disease, yet they claim that her vibrant personality reflects that of a very unfortunate illness.

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