March 30 marks the first World Bipolar Day. UBC’s Erin Michalak discusses peoples’ misconceptions
More than half a million Canadians suffer from bipolar disorder and hospitalization rates are increasing. On the eve of the first-ever World Bipolar Day on March 30—the birthday of famed painter Vincent van Gogh, who many believe suffered from bipolar disorder–UBC Psychiatry Associate Professor Erin Michalak shares insights into an often-misunderstood mental illness.
What’s the most misunderstood aspect of bipolar disorder?
One of the biggest misconceptions about mental illness broadly – and bipolar disorder specifically – is that it is “best kept hidden.”
It’s often very obvious when people are struggling with their mental health. For example, they seem abnormally shy, look very down and depressed, or seem to be seeing or hearing things that the rest of us can’t.
But there are many people who are flourishing in their lives, despite the fact that they are living with bipolar disorder – it’s just not apparent. These successful individuals have often chosen not to disclose their condition as a consequence of mental illness stigma.
What can we do about the stigma over mental illness?
We have the power to create safe places for people to talk about their mental health challenges. Canada is a world leader in not just generating good science on bipolar disorder, but in getting these scientific findings into the hands of the people who need them–other scientists, healthcare providers–the people who face mental health problems on a day-to-day basis.
What’s the latest research telling us about bipolar disorder?
Research shows that people with mental health conditions who self-stigmatize are less likely to seek help and achieve wellness. To address this, the Collaborative RESearch Team to study psychosocial issues in Bipolar Disorder (CREST.BD) engages people with bipolar disorder who are doing well and seeks to understand their success.
We also involve healthcare professionals from a variety of disciplines, including psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and genetic counsellors, all of whom bring complementary expertise to the research.
Video: Q&A with actress and mental health educator, Victoria Maxwell, star of a one-woman play developed in collaboration with CREST.BD