World Bipolar Day: Challenging Stigma, Promoting Treatment

This article was written by Guest Blogger: Tracy Ruff

Bipolar disorder is one of the most debilitating mental illnesses that can severely impact one’s life. In terms of causes of disability, bipolar disorder is ranked in the top 10 in developed countries. At any one time, up to 51 million people worldwide have the disorder and its prevalence rate is approximately 1.1% of the global population.

While this figure may not seem like much when compared to other chronic illnesses (40% of the world’s population has hypertension, for example); it is imperative for the general public to understand just how serious the condition is. This is why on the 30 March various global initiatives will be celebrating World Bipolar Day to increase awareness and challenge the terrible stigma associated with the disorder.

Sadly, many people living with bipolar disorder do not seek the treatment they urgently need because of the stigma. They live in fear that people will label them as crazy or psychotic and shame them, so they choose to suffer in silence, which has severe consequences.

It is therefore imperative that those living with the disorder begin to understand that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Bipolar is a sickness just like any other chronic condition affecting the body – the only difference lies in the fact that it affects the brain and not other organs. And just like other chronic conditions, bipolar can be treated with the correct medication and therapy.

While there are variations in the course of bipolar disorder (some people have bipolar type 2, for example), there are treatment options available for all of these variations in the form of mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and anti-psychotics. Most importantly, however, is to seek treatment immediately from a professional healthcare provider. In a recent American study, 55% of those suffering with severe mental illnesses are not receiving treatment and have no knowledge or awareness of their illness – and in the case of bipolar, the earlier the treatment, the better the outcome.

It is important for people living with bipolar to understand that the disorder is a chronic condition. There is no cure for it and in most cases, medication needs to be taken for life. When patients either stop their treatment or start skipping pills, relapses can occur, so it is therefore crucial that patients are given proper instructions on how and when to take their medication responsibly.

Taking medication is largely the patient’s responsibility, although healthcare professionals are on hand in more severe cases. However, those on treatment who have integrated well back into society need all the support they can get from family, friends, and practical medication reminder tools (such as an alarm clock). Medication adherence is critical when it comes to managing bipolar and preventing relapses, so using reminder tools are a necessity.

Smartphone health apps can be a reliable and useful way to track medication intake. There are many apps targeted at medication adherence specifically and because adherence is important, it is essential to find an app that has a good rating and good reviews. MyTherapy, developed by a committed team in Germany, is one such app. It has been designed for those living with chronic illnesses and comes with numerous features to help patients manage their conditions effectively.

The app has been statistically proven to increase adherence rates significantly because it generates reliable notifications (alarms and pop-ups) and simplifies medication regimens into uncomplicated to-do lists. All users have to do is enter their data (in terms of time, type of medication, and dosage) or scan the barcode of the medication and the app will continuously remind users to take their medication until they have done so. MyTherapy is also a health-tracker app, so those living with bipolar can monitor their symptoms, moods, and medication side-effects. Privacy is also of utmost importance to the MyTherapy team and users have the option to enter a passcode so that no one can use the app without their knowledge.

Lastly, the app has an option where users can invite family and friends, who can provide encouragement and support. Doctors can also get involved and users can get a monthly overview of their data and progress in the form of a graph report. Therefore, MyTherapy offers additional support for users so that they can always stay on top of their medication intake.

Those living with bipolar need all the encouragement, care, and compassion they can get. The general public needs to be made aware of this disorder and understand what it entails. The stigma attached to mental health disorders needs to be continuously challenged, because the more people discriminate against those with mental health issues, the more they refuse to seek treatment and get the help they so rightly deserve.

If you are interested in downloading MyTherapy, it is available for free on Android and iOS.

Click here for infographic on Bipolar Disorder in South Africa 

Click here for infographic on Bipolar Disorder Myths 

Click here if you would like to read Claire Newton's article on Bipolar Disorder: Understanding Bipolar Disorder