Bipolar Epidemic?

April 16, 2007 at 2:44 pm 7 comments

I came across a post entitled Bipolar Epidemic (via Velvet Jones’ Diary), which I felt a need to respond to. Go read the entire thing – but here’s a representative quote:

I am catering here for those that choose to believe, that because their lives are a little hard, because they get upset, sad, “depressed” and have random mood swings, that they are definitely a victim of clinical depression. That these people find it their duty to relay this information on their blogs, with a long list of the medication they’ve been on and a play by play of each of their side effects due to such medications.

What the hell are you thinking? Depression is a state of mind, states of mind can be changed. You can’t lift yourself out of a hole if you don’t want to get out of it. I do believe that some individuals create their sickness and adore every second of it.

Since my response is quite long, I thought I’d post it here, too:

As someone with one of the whiny blogs, with details of medications and side effects and plenty of oh-poor-me posts, I may be a bit biased in responding to this. I haven’t been diagnosed as bipolar, but it’s one of the potential diagnoses floating around. However, my experience of mental health blogs is a bit different from yours.

While there are undoubtedly people who get some enjoyment from proclaiming themselves to be mentally ill, I haven’t actually run into very many of these. The bipolar/depression blogs I read are about people dealing with their problems, the impact that fairly serious medications can have on their lives, the lack of support from mental health services, and also function as an outlet for some of the everyday problems they face. While ruminating on problems can be a bad thing, thinking things through by writing them down and engaging in a community of people facing similar struggles can be very helpful.

One of the reasons for the number of self-diagnoses may be that bipolar disorder is frequently misdiagnosed. For many people it’s not about embracing a specific label, but gaining access to appropriate treatments.

You also mention that you believe depression is a state of mind and that people can “stand up and walk away from this”. While you’re entitled to your opinion, the idea that depression has no physical basis is one that tends to annoy a lot of people (myself included). Mental health services are generally very poorly funded in comparison to other kinds of health services. When someone has cancer, there’s scans of tumours showing the reality of their potentially fatal disease. Bipolar and depressed people lack obvious physical signs of their disease, but are much more likely to die by suicide than the general population (10 to 20 percent for bipolar). Bipolar disorder, like cancer is potentially fatal. The propogation of the myth that it’s not ‘real’ is one of the reasons why mental illness isn’t taken seriously and contributes to the stigma that the mentally ill face in society.

In any case, there is a growing pile of evidence for a physical basis to both major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. For example, see this page from the Society for Neuroscience:

“Research reveals that people with bipolar disorder can harbor abnormalities in brain areas that govern emotions, including the orbitofrontal cortex, which lies behind the eyes and aids complex emotional thinking. In one imaging study, researchers examined brain activity while people with bipolar disorder and healthy individuals conducted a task that tests thinking ability. In general, the activity in the area was abnormal in bipolar patients compared to the healthy participants.”

While it’s still not possible to diagnose bipolar disorder through these kinds of scans, the research is certainly leading towards the development of this kind of diagnostic tool. Personal and environmental factors play a role in the etiology of these disorders, but there is plenty of evidence for physiological causes. Does everyone who calls themselves or is diagnosed with bipolar disorder or depression have these neurological abnormalities? Of course not. Are you capable of telling the difference between those who do and those who don’t? I doubt it. And, of course, those who do can’t just stand up and walk away from it, any more than someone with cancer can cure themselves by pretending its not there.

It’s not cool to be bipolar, or clinically depressed or, indeed, to have any kind of mental illness. Talking about mental illness makes people uncomfortable, but the internet and blogs provide a relatively safe, anonymous and generally supportive environment for people to do so.

One of the best blogs dealing with bipolar disorder is Pole to Polar: The secret life of a manic depressive. Take a look at it, and I think you’ll find it’s much more about living with and coping with bipolar rather than the attention-seeking victims you seem to have been reading about.


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Every Day is like Sunday High

7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. patientanonymous  |  April 16, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    Left a comment on the “newer” post…but I knew where she was going. I could see how people would get bent out of shape by how she initially worded things but I knew what she was talking about. I’ve heard other people express something similar. I’ve never experienced or met anyone who has never been disordered, dx’d or whatever claim that they are suffering when they are not legitimately suffering but…well, I don’t know…maybe there are people out there that do?

  • 2. sisyphusledge  |  April 17, 2007 at 8:58 am

    I’m glad that you left a copy of your reply here on your blog, since the sort of blog posts that sneer at bipolar disorder or depression or any other serious mental illness lights my short fuse at the moment. I have been going through absolute hell recently and still am due to the after effects of the ECT that I was given for my catatonic depression. This was probably the 6th or 7th course of ECT I have had since diagnosed with manic depression nearly 20 years ago. To say that I might be able to just shrug it off and return to my work as a psychiatrist is anathema to me. (If you have read my posts then you will know the cognitive difficulties I now face as a result of the longstanding illness and ECT).

    If I could have one wish, it would be that I had never experienced the devastating effects that my illness can and has, had. Not just for me, but my family and the three other direct relatives who all suffer from the same bipolar illness. Two of those relatives are dead from suicide. I can no longer work as a doctor ( by my own volition and upsetting realisation that I cannot cope with the high standards required of memory, ability and functioning, not because I have been told or forced by authorities to relinquish my GMC registration). I notice a decline in my cognitive abilities that others don’t because they are subtle in the main, although there are some obvious ones such as the great gaps in my memory and my lessened ability to form new memories. I HATE this illness and I am jealous of anyone who does not have it.

    I know from my previous work that there are some pathetic individuals who do want some kind of psychiatric disease label, often unconsciously, but these people are not the type that find themselves on a section of the Mental Health Act, taking potentially very harmful medication ( for example, lithium can have deleterious effects on thyroid, kidney function; antipsychotics can cause type II diabetes, parkinsonian side-effects and a range of other serious effects) in high doses ( small doses do nothing to ameliorate the symptoms in the seriously unwell bipolar patient and yet the same small dose would knock a non-mentally ill patient out causing them very unpleasant side-effects even at that small dose, whereas side-effects are often not noticed by the seriously unwell patient until high doses are given). Try to argue that these seriously unwell patients can just shrug off their illness. Doesn’t work.

    I’m sorry that this is a long reply, but I get very upset and angry with the type of thoughts expressed by “Velvet Jones” whoever that person is. At a recent conference in London, there were some lectures providing some up to date research and hypotheses that depression of the kind seen in bipolar illness may be caused by an infectious agent, due to the evidence found in some studies of a very high degree of inflammatory response in the patient’s body/brain.

    I suspect that “velvet Jones” was deliberately posting a ‘troll’ like argument to draw people into protracted angry replies and thus boost her stats. maybe I am wrong, but at this point I have already said enough and because I do still get so very tearful when this sort of opinion is voiced, due to my frustration with my own illness and cognitive decline ( again evidence exists in research papers for the latter together with a suggestion that mood stabilisers help to reduce that cognitive decline), I am struggling to find any reason why i should keep my own blog and visit others. People like ‘Feartheseeds’ have been helpful to me in boosting my fragile self-esteem, but when there are people like him around who are so talented at dialectic and polemic which I used to participate in with enjoyment many years ago, I think I should leave the blogosphere. it is not doing me any good.

  • 3. Drivel « Sisyphus’Ledge  |  April 17, 2007 at 10:09 am

    […] or something else that does not constitute clinical depression. I have just read a post over at Experimental Chimp’s that caused me to wonder why the hell I bother with anything at all. It was not his post […]

  • 4. experimental chimp  |  April 17, 2007 at 11:49 am

    Thanks Sisyphus. Just to clarify, Velvet Jones is a fellow mentally interesting person who posted a similarly annoyed entry on her blog about the original post, which is over at Sorry for any confusion.

    The infectious agent theory seems interesting. I know there’s some evidence that the brain parasite toxoplasma can increase risk-taking behaviour (in both rats and humans it seems), so it wouldn’t surprise me if something similar was going on.

    If blogging isn’t doing you any good then I can understand wanting to stop blogging. From a purely selfish point of view, I hope you don’t. I enjoy reading your blog and your comments and this blog and others would be poorer without your commentary.


  • 5. patientanonymous  |  April 17, 2007 at 1:34 pm

    You know, another thing that pisses me off too is (and feartheseeds blogged about this a while ago) is the whole business about all the famous creative types that were “supposedly” Bipolar. Ah yes! Being Bipolar also makes you a “Genius!” No it doesn’t! What about non-Bipolar smarty-pants people??? I can tell you right now, I was a hell of a lot smarter before this goddamn disease (well and comorbid stuff) and meds etc… took over. And creative too. And more motivated.

    I think that just feeds this whole “jump on the Bipolar Bandwagon” crap. Which again, I don’t understand. And is what I *think* Velvet Jones was trying to get across. I’ve heard similar sentiment expressed by other (younger) people as well. It must be some sort of “new phenomenon” because really…? I’ve only seen it jumping around in twenty-something arenas. And I’m way past that.

    Perhaps it really is some sort of new socio-cultural malady. That somehow it really has become “fashionable” to be mentally ill. Good fucking god…I am the furthest thing from “fashionable”–and I very clearly stated that on her blog.

  • 6. E  |  April 17, 2007 at 1:40 pm

    Well said and well argued.

  • 7. Drivel « Rumbligs etc.  |  May 1, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    […] or something else that does not constitute clinical depression. I have just read a post over at Experimental Chimp’s that caused me to wonder why the hell I bother with anything at all. It was not his post that […]

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Hi, I'm James. I'm a 26 year old guy from England with bipolar disorder (currently well controlled). I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder (not so well controlled). This blog has charted my journey from mental illness, through diagnosis and, recently, into recovery. It's not always easy, but then, what is?


Self-righteous note about smoking

As of 12th September 2008 it has been forty five weeks since I quit smoking. So in another seven weeks it'll have been a whole year.

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