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Depression versus Bipolar Disorder August 24, 2010

Posted by Crazy Mermaid in Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Medication, mental illness, Mental Illness and Medication.
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The stigma of having a mental illness has hit in yet another tangible way.

For the second time in a row, a friend who has suffered for years from depression went to a psychiatrist because her medication was no longer working for her  Or at least it was no longer working well enough for her.  She had been on an anti-depressant for about 15 years, but had wearied of the side effects. So she had gradually weaned herself off all but a tiny amount of the medication.  When she recently encountered a tremendous amount of stress, she got very depressed and a severe panic disorder reared its ugly head.  In desperation, she went to see her General Practitioner, who referred her to a psychiatrist.  She made an appointment with that psychiatrist but the earliest she could see her was 2 weeks out.  So she waited it out, trying her best to work though her bouts of panic disorder and depression.

Two weeks later, arriving at her new psychiatrist’s office, she was given a battery of questions and interviewed at length by the psychiatrist. Finally, after much interrogation, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type 2.She wasn’t devastated at the news but she was definitely unpleasantly surprised as she relayed the turn of events to me. She had expected her new psychiatrist to simply regurgitate the previous diagnosis of depression, and it hadn’t occurred to her that her diagnosis might be something else.

In her mind, she had depression. End of subject.  She never considered the possibility that she might have anything else. In most people’s minds, depression doesn’t really qualify as a mental illness. It isn’t spoken of in the same breath as schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, which are both generally accepted by society as full-blown mental illnesses. With depression, it’s socially acceptable to admit you have it and that you’re taking medication for it because nobody considers you to have a mental illness. But with Bipolar Disorder you can’t hide from that label “mentally ill”.

With Bipolar Disorder, society in general puts that problem into the mental illness category.  There’s no getting around the fact that it’s a genuine mental illness.  And with having a mental illness comes all of the stigma associated with such a thing.

Furthermore, the use of an anti-depressant for treating depression is commonplace.  There’s even a book called “Prozac Nation” that intimates that many, many people are on Prozac. It isn’t viewed as a mental illness in part because too many people have it.  A mental illness is thought by the general public as being something that is uncommon.  Depression is not uncommon.

According to her new psychiatrist, the medication for Bipolar Disorder Type 2 is a mood stabilizer. The concept of being put on a mood stabilizer rather than an anti-depressant is bad, because of the stigma associated with a mood stabilizer.  By definition, it means that your mood needs to be stabilized.  That your mood is unstable. That your mind is unstable.  That you are unstable.  All of the negative ramifications of having an unstable mind come to the forefront.

It’s okay to suffer from depression, which doesn’t have the connotation of instability.  You might feel terrible- possibly like committing suicide- but at least you’re not considered to be unstable or out of your mind.  But Bipolar Disorder Type 2 is another story. With Bipolar Disorder, you’re unstable.  That’s why you need a mood stabilizer.  And, as the theory goes, people who are unstable have all kinds of problems. They’re not to be trusted.

No matter than with the mood stabilizers the thoughts of depression go away.  No matter that they feel better than they have for years.  The important thing, in their mind, is the stigma associated with having to take a medication that makes them stable. It means that they weren’t stable to begin with.

It will take my friend awhile to come to grips with this new reality.  In fact, she plans to visit another psychiatrist to get another opinion. In the meantime, although she can hope that her diagnosis is wrong, I hope that she will continue to take her mood stabilizer.

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Comments»

1. sharon - October 20, 2010

I have an extremely similar situation. I am diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features, but lately i feel I might have bipolar II, as my impulsive, and extremely up and down mood swings have become a big pattern. I’m not sure if I should talk to my doctor about it or probably i’m just thinking too hard.

Crazy Mermaid - October 21, 2010

Yes, you need to talk with your doctor about it. Preferably, you’re seeing a psychiatrist rather than a General Practitioner. If not, if there’s any way you can see a psychiatrist, I suggest you do it. There’s a world of difference between the two, and your psychiatrist will be able to help you far more than your G.P. Good luck!

2. Patty Hauer - June 30, 2011

The fact that a second opinion is sought doesn’t surprise me since bipolar is also called manic depression. With that lable and most videos used in inpatient treatment describes by polar as an addiction waiting to happen, too much sex, to much illegal substances, too much shopping…etc. But bipolar 2 does not present like that so we question the fact we’ve been called bipolar.


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