After the initial outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in Wuhan, China, the ongoing pandemic has spread to the United States and continued its infectious outrage upon our country. For the past seven months Americans were ordered to lockdown, quarantine, and social distance. Being in lockdown and quarantine, most people did not have so much free time up until now. Daily routines and normal living standards seem to be out the window and people are dealing with social isolation, financial instability, and job loss because of the wrath of the pandemic. This never imaginable situation has opened the door to a new world for many individuals.
People who were used to a normal daily routine and a structured life may have fallen into the realm of struggling thoughts they have not experienced before. With no need to clock into work, people spend most days filled with unproductiveness and unfulfillment. COVID-19 had an unprecedented impact on everybody thus far. However, for the individuals who have dealt with mental illness, what does the pandemic mean to them? How have individuals with mental illness been surviving a time like this without access to self-help services? Specifically, the individuals living with bipolar disorder?
Most people living with bipolar disorder experience everyday struggles, which can simply consist of not being able to balance school or work, having a social life, or having a healthy relationship. Life may feel more difficult than usual due to the severity one may feel after a manic or depressive episode. Individuals with bipolar disorder could prioritize finding a treatment plan to stabilize their behavior. Many feel that as soon as they find a treatment plan that works for them, they are able to understand their mental state better and are able to have their quality of life back.
Being able to develop a routine allows an individual with bipolar disorder to maintain stability. The better individuals can plan out their time and daily activities, the higher the chance they can avoid future stressors from ruining their day or week. Elaina J. Martin, a blogger diagnosed with bipolar disorder, states, “Unexpected stressors can lead to episodes for me so the better I can plan things, the more stable I am.” (Tartakovsky, 2018). An essential aspect that must be implemented into a stable, daily routine is a consistent sleep schedule. Sleep deprivation is a known contributing factor to most manic episodes for those diagnosed with bipolar disorder (Tartakovsky, 2018). By having set times for when to sleep and wake up, it establishes structure and determines an idea of how each day will proceed.
By creating a nuance in everyday life, the virus could potentially have a severe long-lasting effect on the individuals living with bipolar disorder (Stefana & Youngstrom, 2020). Due to the current emergency in the United States, a great disadvantage for those who seek public and mental health services is the decrease in accessibility to proper outpatient care. In addition, it is common for social stigma flares to occur. People who have contracted coronavirus are likely to be ostracized and are prone to bullying by society because of the hostility created between others. Anyone who has contracted the virus is being looked at as infectious creatures that are deathly. Therefore, the stigma against the virus has allowed a pathway for individuals to no longer be looked at as normal human beings.
With society under stress, people living with bipolar disorder may pose as high-risk individuals and can become more ostracized. Bipolar disorder is already heavily prone to stigmatization among other mental illnesses and disorders. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder struggle with how society may view them, “people who can’t control their emotions” or “people who have crazy episodes out of nowhere.”
The possibility of contracting an infectious virus is becoming a well known hardship that many would not like to face. Emotions run high for anyone who is currently sick with the virus. But an individual with bipolar disorder not having proper access to treatment for their condition while having the virus poses a different type of threat to their well-being. The harsh reality of those two burdens would easily provoke a sense of self-isolation and high hostility instead of the support one needs (Stefana & Youngstrom, 2020).
As the pandemic continues to spread in the world, it poses a difficult set of additional challenges for the individual with bipolar disorder. The current challenges consist of disruption in regular routines, consistent treatment interfered by quarantine and lockdown, increased surges in manic episodes due to social isolation, increased agitation by the fear of illness, and loss of life leading to a depressive state. From these challenges, a person with bipolarity can feel a strong symptomatic response. The pandemic is the type of situation that would trigger the multitude for a destabilized mood, interpersonal conflicts, self-destructive behaviors, and possible suicide (Johnson & Brown, 2020). It is important that individuals with bipolar disorder are aware of what they can do to cope and manage stress during a pandemic.
People with bipolar disorder need to be reassured that this pandemic can also be seen as a time of opportunity, healing, and triumph. Individuals have the opportunity to experiment with different coping strategies. A few activities that would help the stress of the situation are eating healthy meals regularly, getting an adequate amount of sleep, spending time outside, staying active, and scheduling what times of the day to work, relax, and connect with friends and family. Another coping strategy is to be aware of when feelings start to manifest and manage them immediately rather than later (Dresden, 2020). Individuals can also find ways to have a supply for their medication directly delivered from their pharmacy and to telecommunicate with their mental health providers (Johnson & Brown, 2020).
We don’t know how much longer coronavirus will continue to sweep the nation, but the pandemic can be seen as a time to prioritize ourselves to a much greater degree than we have been used to. What is important is to be aware of what we can do for ourselves and those vulnerable to ensure healthy physical and mental well-being. Like many in this world, people with bipolar disorder are fully capable of taking control of their lives, even during a pandemic.
Dresden, D. (2020, May). Bipolar and COVID-19: Tips on management and how to cope. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/bipolar-and-covid-19
Johnson, S., & Brown, B. (2020, May 13). Bipolar Disorder and COVID-19: Crisis and Opportunity. Retrieved from https://www.crestbd.ca/2020/05/12/bipolar-covid-19-wikijournal/
Stefana, A., & Youngstrom, E. (2020, July 04). The COVID‐19 pandemic is a crisis and opportunity for bipolar disorder. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bdi.12949
Tartakovsky, M. (2018, October 08). Building a Routine When You Have Bipolar Disorder. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/building-a-routine-when-you-have-bipolar-disorder/