Depression presents itself in different ways. Bipolar depression differs from unipolar depression in that one experiences very high highs and very low lows. Like many mental health issues, bipolar is on a spectrum with some being more severe than others. Bipolar is a lifelong disorder, however, when treated correctly with education about the illness, one can lead a productive, successful, healthy life. Bipolar is sometimes hard to detect as some highs are not total manic highs and some lows can present themselves as a unipolar depression would–-it is always best to consult a licensed mental health professional.
Living with someone who struggles with bipolar disorder can be equally challenging. When the illness goes undiagnosed, loved ones describe the person as difficult to get along with. It is extremely beneficial for family members and sufferers alike to educate themselves and have an understanding of the disorder. It is also vital to have a good support system. Support groups serve families and their loved ones well in this area. It is one thing to have a basic understanding of the illness, but another to grasp the practical understanding of living with a struggling family member. This complexity is why I encourage establishing a good support system in addition to education for family members and loved ones. Of the people who suffer with bipolar illness, the ones leading the most successful lives are compliant with their medication, have a good support system, and attend counseling and/or groups.
One key point to understanding bipolar is to understand the person themselves. First, remember they are people who struggle. Often, I tell my clients that they need not see themselves as a bipolar person, but a person who struggles with an illness. This allows people who struggle with the diagnosis to become aware that they are still human, and having human emotions aside from the bipolar falls within the healthy norm. People with bipolar disorder want to be treated as others would like to be treated.
People with mental illness need support not only from friends and family, but from society as well. Society needs to stop stigmatizing mental illness, or hold prejudice against those who suffer. Our mental health, like our physical health, needs to be taken care of--it is part of personal care. Support is vital to the success of dealing with any ailment--cancer, diabetes, brain damage, physical handicaps, including mental illness. The stigma that our society places on those who struggle with mental health issues can cause fear of judgement and delays in seeking treatment. Television, movies, and the media have portrayed mental illness as something to fear. We need to change this portrayal so that people do not continue to suffer in silence and are not afraid to seek help. As Christians we are called to care for the sick and suffering. People with bipolar disorder are simply ill and suffering and need to be treated like anyone else with a debilitating illness.
It is not uncommon for those who struggle to self-medicate and engage in maladaptive coping skills. It is estimated that about half of those who struggle with bipolar disorder also struggle with addiction, which always complicates the issue. It is more beneficial to reach for help from a mental health professional and a community support system. God has blessed mental health professionals with gifts for serving God's kingdom, and we should not hesitate to utilize those blessings. God has placed each of us in community and designed us for fellowship. It is a blessing to see the body of Christ step in and support one another through challenges. Our culture idolizes independence, but God designed us for interdependence on him and one another.
In therapy, I often reiterate that you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. As if it serves some sort of healthy purpose, many prefer to live in denial. Yet going untreated can ruin lives and relationships. Our mental health and physical health are both bodily afflictions. Like any other part of our physical body, our brain is part of our health. Just as someone with high blood pressure or diabetes needs medication to balance the chemistry in certain parts of the body, medication is needed to make sure the chemistry in our brain is in balance.
As a therapist, I encourage you not to put your mental health on the back burner. There is no need to be fearful of your mind, or mental health. Reach out for help, and remember the FEAR acronym (F- false, E-evidence, A-appearing, R-real.) Assess your fears to see if they are rooted in reality and choose to turn concerns over to God. Reach out for professional health for yourselves; reach out for your loved ones. You are NOT alone! In Psalm 34:4 David talks about being delivered from fear, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Seek help from the resources that God has placed before you.
Lean on God and find him faithful. As you read the psalms, you can hear the mental anguish that the psalmist experienced and see how God showed his love even through dark and discouraging seasons. Take time to pray through these psalms sharing in the lament of the psalmist and finding God's provision.
You are never truly alone!