The Problem with how we Treat Bipolar Disorder


        Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes unusual changes in energy and activity levels, as well as changes in moods and the ability to perform day-to-day tasks (NIH). Mental illness is an abstract concept because it is not tangible and readily visible unlike a cold or a runny nose. Therefore, it can be difficult to medically diagnose, treat and sometimes accept what’s going on in our own bodies. New York Times author, Linda Logan, describes how her “hormonal chaos of having three children in five years, the pressure of working on a Ph.D. dissertation and a genetic predisposition for a mood disorder took [her] to a dark place” and with the disbelief of her family, friends and herself she could not receive the help she needed straightaway.

        Going from one doctor to another and testing her blood for anemia, low blood sugar and hypothyroidism (which were all negative), she began to lose her sense of competence as well as mask the joy derived from her children into grief from the idea that her children will grow old, leave the home and inevitably become deceased. From an outsider’s point of view, her life was full of accomplishments because during her mid-30s she had three children, completed her Ph.D. in geography and was a co-lecturer at M.I.T. However, her success was concealing her pain. She contemplated suicide several nights a week and with access to a gun shop, she knew the path she would take.

        After reaching out in order to restore her health, she was labeled as a patient, a room number and a diagnosis rather than a person with various identities in her community. Later she was introduced to the idea of taking many prescription drugs at once, polypharmacy, by her physician which has been shown to give people “entirely new personalities: happier, lighter, even buoyant” (Logan, 2013). But for her, the ultimate desire was not to turn into someone else, it was to become herself again. With certain medications, her ability to concentrate, remember and express herself were stolen from her as the medication, especially mood stabilizers “turned [her] formally agile mind into mush” (Logan, 2013). Doctors did not respond attentively when she expressed that she was losing herself. Instead, they focused on the tangible: her capability to make eye contact and facial expressions. They monitored her lithium and cortisol levels, took M.R.Is and EKGs and documented every observation. They failed to listen to what could not be observed: “The issue of self just isn’t there” (Logan, 2013) said her physician.

        After some time, the author reveals how unique and distinctive mental illness is to an individual. She was diagnosed with Bipolar II which unlike Bipolar I, usually swings between depression and hypomania, a less severe form of mania, like her father. Some people may assume – same diagnosis, same treatment – however like her physician implied, her father was a Ford and she was like a Ferrari, suggesting that although they might be similar and both starts with the letter “F” (meaning they have the same family line), father and daughter are not the same and treatment is case by case.

        With time and a steady environment, Linda began to feel small changes as she began to experience herself “filling in” (Logan, 2013). Some wise words from her father: “Don’t look at what your disorder has taken away from you, try to find what it has given you” (Logan, 2013) encouraged the author to speak about her experiences making it less traumatic, less painful and most of all less personal.    

        She has tried to battle issues with the medical and social treatment of Bipolar Disorder by talking to clinicians and questioning the idea that “psychiatry is moving away from a model in which the self could be discussed” (Logan, 2013). “For many people with mental disorders, the transformation of the self is one of the most disturbing things about being ill” (Logan, 2013) which is worsened by the disengaging culture when dealing with mental illness.   

        We should create an atmosphere in which we allow individuals dealing with mental illness to feel whole like a person rather than a patient. Over-identifying with a mental disorder or a diagnosis does not seem to help the healing process portrayed by the author as she felt herself slipping during her hospital stays. The author’s adolescent son once said that “there can’t be a shadow in the darkness” (Logan, 2013) showing the author, that her son understood her depression better than the doctors. The shadow is an individual’s identity; therefore we must take mental illness out of the darkness and allow room for discussion, similar to the author’s support group. Creating a social and medical attentiveness to the self, allowing individuals with mental illness to feel whole and improve towards the path to recovery.

 

References

Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

Logan, L. (2013, April 27). The Problem With How We Treat Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/28/magazine/the-problem-with-how-we-treat-bipolar-disorder.html?_r=1&%3Bpagewanted=all&%3B

National Institute of Health (NIH) – National Institute of Mental Health. (2016, April). Bipolar Disorder . Retrieved January 23, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

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