March 30 marks World Bipolar Day, a day where people all around the world do what they can to raise awareness of bipolar disorder, the impact it can have on people’s lives, and ensuring that the right support is available to people.
Now, some may be wondering, why March 30th? 365 days a year, why is this day to honour bipolar? I assure you it wasn’t randomly picked out of a hat.
March 30, 1853 saw the birth of one Vincent van Gogh, who as many people will be aware, was quite possibly the greatest artists of all time, demonstrating a vibrancy and imagination in his works that highly resonates with contemporary audiences to this day. However, Van Gogh also suffered from bipolar and schizophrenia, only being diagnosed posthumously. These conditions plagued him throughout his life, resulting in several bouts of depression and mental illness until, at the age of 37, he took his own life. Van Gogh’s life represents both triumph and tragedy. He created some inspirational painting, forever leaving his mark on the art field, and yet, in those days, bipolar wasn’t recognized with the same understanding and support we have today. Perhaps, if said support had been available, Van Gogh would have lived beyond 37 and could have achieved so much more in his lifetime.
Instead, we can only honour his legacy and his life. Not just Van Gogh’s life, but the lives of men and women around the world who have struggled with bipolar disorder, a goal World Bipolar Day is expected to achieve.
For those that in the dark somewhat, bipolar disorder – previously known as ‘manic depression’ – is a mental condition that causes rapid mood swings in an individual, causing them to range from hyperactive and elevated, to deflated and depressed within short periods of time. Now some people may see bipolar as a yin-yang approach, either manic and active or sad and… well, inactive, but that is not necessarily the case. Those mood swings are both are the far ends of the scale, with various other moods in between, as indicated in the picture provided here. (Apologies, should have given prior warning on the required squinting. Hope you have magnifying glasses at the ready).
In extreme cases, individuals with bipolar have reached such lows that they have taken their own lives. In 2011, a study was published out in Denmark over four decades focusing around the rate of bipolar and suicide. Suicide/bipolar rates can vary from country to country as the study showed, revealing that 8% of male bipolar patients and 5% of female bipolar patients died by suicide compared with 0.7% and 0.3% of the general population.
In the UK alone, 2.4 million people have bipolar disorder. As to when people are diagnosed with bipolar, it can very dramatically. Some may be diagnosed as early as mid-teens, others as late as early-30s. The average diagnosis age is typically 19, perhaps on account of the heightened emotional stresses young people are more receptive to. Many celebrities have openly discussed their struggles with bipolar and how it has effected them. One of the most high-profile celebrities with bipolar is Stephen Fry, formally diagnosed at 37 with the condition, which helped him explain “the massive highs and miserable lows I’ve lived with all my life.” Yet, despite his struggles, Fry has been able to lead a prosperous career in a variety of fields, becoming a staple of British media in the process.
There are some cases in which bipolar can be confused with schizophrenia, another mental condition that can among other traits, cause hallucinations and difficulty differentiating reality from delusions. However, there is a notable difference in that bipolar focuses on mood-related traits while schizophrenia is primarily a psychotic disorder. However, there have been cases in which people demonstrate traits present in both conditions. This is known as schizoaffective disorder.
Bipolar has also been depicted several times in the media. The two most notable depictions in recent memory that depict bipolar in its most varied form. The first is the 2012 drama Silver Linings Playbook, with Bradley Cooper giving the performance of a lifetime as an institutionalized teacher struggling with bipolar, impacting his relationships with his family. It is a heartwarming performance that doesn’t shy away from the difficulties that come with bipolar but takes the time to show that difficulties can be overcome, resulting in a positive, life-affirming message for audience to take away. Feel free to check out my full analysis of the film via this link: https://hiddentalent643.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/silver-linings-playbook-an-appreciation-for-the-greatest-mental-health-film-ever-made/.
The second is a more long-running performance, seeing in the long-running BBC medical drama Holby City. One of the main characters in the series, Dr Zosia March, played with raw emotional depth by Camilla Arfwedson. Now, the portrayal may be seen as a juggling act for some, considering that bipolar can result in some unpredictable behavior, which can be difficult when dealing with patients in life-or-death situations. And indeed, many of the storylines focused around Zosia up to this point have shown her struggling with her bipolar at the risk of impacting her duties as a doctor and putting the lives of patients at risk and difficulty in taking medication. But with the support of her friends and colleagues, Zosia has been able to make it through those difficult periods. Normally, I do not think much of soap operas, but seeing the portrayal gradually develop over several weeks allows you to see the various layers that come with Zosia’s character, helping viewers understand that the balancing act that comes with having bipolar and a high-profile career such as a doctor, but the show helps you understand that such a balance is feasible and Holby City should be applauded for its honest and positive portrayal of the condition.
There are several organizations that recognize the need to support those with bipolar and allow them to manage their conditions to ensure a minimal effect on their day-to-day lives. The most noted UK-based organization is Bipolar UK. For more information, please follow the link to Bipolar UK’s official website: https://www.bipolaruk.org/
Bipolar is a major struggle for many people. It directly impacts our emotions, which impact our most basic functions, essentially creating a chain reaction. But bipolar is controllable. With the right medication and the right structure to a person’s life, there is no reason why they should not be able to enjoy life.