It has been bothering me for a few years now. The surge in young teens who seem absorbed in mental illness.
I first noticed it after I’d had my iphone for a while. Probably over a year after (I was 18 when I got it). I’d been diagnosed when i was 17, and was probably 19 when I noticed. I was on instagram when I got the random desire to see if there were posts about mental illness on there.
And what I saw horrified me.
Kids as young as 12 were posting horrible photos. Typically it was just the cliche depressed quotes over and over again. But there were also photos of other things… there was “thinspiration” where people would post skinny girls who were their “goal” look in terms of thinness. And then there was the pencil test to determine if you really are thin or not, so people posted pictures of those. And pictures of thigh gaps. But I can’t relate to eating disorders, never had one and don’t think I ever will. Then there were ones that flooded my search and were even triggering to me- self harm photos. They were everywhere. I was horrified.
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.
Alright so this is a big topic for me. A fellow author posted a link to a ridiculous quiz on Facebook that I feel the need to (and was asked to) write about.
I am going to take this quiz, step by step, and report exactly what I think about it. And after I will tell you why these quizzes aren’t just silly or stupid, but dangerous (with my anecdote evidence- reliable I know).
Alright, so when you click on the quiz, it starts off by saying, “Are you prone to dramatic and unpredictable mood-swings? What about anxiety and frustration? What’s your level of uniqueness? Find that all out right here.” Right off the bat I am annoyed. This perpetuates the stereotype that bipolar is sudden changes in mood. Going from happy to sad and back in a second. Unless you have extremely rapid-cycling bipolar, this is very unlikely. Bipolar is experienced in episodes. Generally meaning they have to last at least a few days. Although I do have little spikes of bipolar feelings, they aren’t full episodes and are mostly just annoying.
And for anxiety and frustration, yeah those can happen. I have anxiety that is sometimes correlated with my bipolar. But bipolar itself doesn’t specify that you need to have anxiety. Additionally, “frustration?” Really? Who doesn’t experience that? And lastly- “What’s your level of uniqueness?” That makes me want to hit my face on my keyboard. Being bipolar is unique in a sense, because a small amount of the population experiences it. But in this context it is taken in a positive way. In the United States we have a culture where individualism and self-expression is very important. If you’re unique, then it’s usually considered a good thing. But as far as I’m concerned, bipolar is not a good thing.
And then, of course, it adds that this should be used as a diagnostic test. And I’ll explain later why that really doesn’t matter.