How About Using Another Disease Sometimes?

Every now and then, a well-meaning giver of feedback in a support group tells a distressed and uncertain newcomer that her illness is “just like diabetes”. You don’t think twice if you have to take Metformin or insulin to treat your condition goes the argument. So why balk at psych meds?

Just today I saw a writer in The Guardian put a slightly different twist on the analogy:

We wouldn’t accept misinformation about diabetes being widely circulated without correction so why should we allow it for bipolar and other mental health conditions?

I live with both bipolar disorder and Type 2 diabetes. Let me start out by saying that the treatment for the two diseases is alike in some ways and very different in others. It is true that I have to take medication for both. Exercise helps both conditions. But as a diabetic, I have to keep checking my blood sugar, test my toes for loss of sensation, and examine my feet for lesions that could lead to amputation. An optometrist checks my eyes every year for retinopathy. Eating right is critical. Diabetes is a chemical condition, but the story about bipolar disorder is more complicated than that despite what the pharmacy reps tell our doctors. So the analogy goes only so far.

If we want to concentrate on the medication angle and false information angle only, why use diabetes all the time? I have other comorbitities that require regular medications such as my heart condition which I treat with anti-cholesterol drugs and blood pressure pills. Thyroid conditions have more in common with bipolar disorder so why don’t we use these parallels? Vary the example. And be very aware of how diabetes and bipolar disorder aren’t alike and how our oversimplification of the root causes of bipolar disorder is wrong.

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Joel is the founder of DBSA South Orange County. He received a degree in Anthropology from Pomona College, one of Forbes Magazine’s ten top undergraduate schools. His manic adventures include traveling to former Yugoslavia during the 1992 war, believing he was the Creator of a messed up Universe, road rages, and running up $40,000 in credit card bills. He lives with his wife, dog, and cat in Trabuco Canyon, California.

2 thoughts on “How About Using Another Disease Sometimes?

  1. Quinn Identicon Quinn

    I agree that its an oversimplification but nothing is ever going to be exactly like bipolar disorder. It is just a simple concept people use to find comfort. It makes them feel better about taking meds every day. You mentioned thyroid conditions… ironically I just saw my endocrinologist and funnily enough, my hormone levels were off. Apparently my manic episode set them off. Anyway. I like the quote about misinformation being spread, that’d never be acceptable in non-mental health conditions.

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