Young, Bipolar, and in College


        In many cases, we read and empathize with the experiences of adults living with Bipolar Disorder; but what about the teens and young adults just barely exposed to the working world? “Anyone can develop bipolar disorder, including children and teens,” although bipolar disorder usually manifests in late teen or early adulthood years. But do the stresses of college life, which those in their late teens and early adult years experience, initiate the illness for individuals at risk for the disorder and worsen the condition of students with bipolar disorder? Michele Hoos from Health.com believes so.

        The college environment involves a lifestyle of stress derived from academic pressures, social concerns, and irregular sleeping patterns. We can all agree it may be difficult to wake up for an eight or nine AM class after studying until two in the morning or find time to balance studies with a job or other responsibilities. At the same time, without support, treatment and knowledge of what one’s body is capable of doing, “bipolar college students face higher dropout rates, drug and alcohol abuse, and even suicide” (Hoo, 2010).

        Woo emphasizes that being able to thrive and avoid triggers to bipolar episodes require a plan. The importance of taking proper medications, scheduling counseling, and having access to medical care on campus, as well as avoiding recreational drugs and alcohol, are major parts of the plan. Maintaining a balanced sleep and study schedule and being able to reach out to peer support groups are also crucial aspects of success in the college environment. Having an available support system at school is one of the most important steps to take for students already diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In some cases, “students who have been stabilized on medication while at home may need to fine-tune their prescriptions while at school” (Hoo, 2010).

        In a reflection, Rebecca Lombardo, a published author, bipolar blogger and mental health advocate, recalls being nineteen years old diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She emphasizes the impact on being on the earth a short period of time, alluding to her youth, and foreshadows the many bad days to come. Rebecca, very truthful to her diagnoses, creates a comfortable space for the reader as she brings the reader into her perspective of life. She normalizes mental illnesses by comparing it to diabetes, an illness familiar to most and juxtaposing it to stress the intangible aspect of Bipolar disorder as an illness of the mind. In the reflection, Rebecca tells herself how to deal with social activities such as dating and encourages herself not to isolate from the outside world while indirectly giving the same advice to those who find themselves in the same shoes – young, Bipolar and in college.

        This letter is addressed to Rebecca’s younger self but in reality is a letter to those going through similar experiences as herself. Rebecca is helping those who are in their late teens or early adulthood cope with the changes they face by letting them know that they are not alone. She encourages honesty in order to create tight bonds with people who will be supportive and exposes the stigma surrounding mental illness in our greater society.

        Concluding her letter, Rebecca motivates the youth diagnosed with bipolar disorder or in a broader sense, mental illness, by making late teens and young adults feel like they are not alone. She states that “there will be a light around the corner. You just have to follow the path to get to it” and reminds them to be youthful just like she reminds herself to “just be 19-years-old first.” Rebecca acknowledges that everyone’s experiences with mental illness are unique by suggesting that individuals should not “compare [their] illness to someone else” because “[everyone’s] journey will be completely different” (Lombardo, 2016). She also shines light on the similarities the youth face by making the reader comfortable and confident to battle future struggles to come. Looking back from a later point of view Rebecca hints that the youth will make it through and that the future them is waiting.            

        With the four S’s of bipolar disorder: creating structure, managing stress, getting enough sleep and self-monitoring (but not limited to), young adults with bipolar disorder can adopt healthy strategies for success. Bipolar diagnosis is not a sentence, and with yet another “S” – support, and time college students can thrive in the campus environment.  

 

References

Forbes, E. (2010, April 1). College & Bipolar: Strategies for Success. Retrieved March 12, from http://www.bphope.com/kids-children-teens/bipolar-college-success/

Hoos, M. (2010, September 21). Back to school with bipolar? How college can unleash mania. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/21/health.bipolar.college/

Lombardo, R. (2016, December 9). To The 19-Year-Old Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder I. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/to-the-19-year-old-diagnosed-with-bipolar-disorder_us_584a9dd4e4b0151082221a2d

NIH. (2015). Bipolar Disorder in Children and Teens. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder-in-children-and-teens/index.shtml

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