Bipolar Disorder and Treatment Stigma

March 21, 2011 Natasha Tracy

I was recently having lunch with a woman who has a series of medical issues, including pain management. One of the medications she is on is oxycodone. She said she would like to get off of the oxycodone but when she has tried, the pain has been unbearable and no other pain medication would touch her pain. So I asked her, "if this medication is working for you and other medications don’t work, then why are you trying to get off of it?"

She said it was because of the stigma attached to that medication.

So I told her something important – you can’t let stigma make your treatment decisions.

Stigma and Mental Health

Anyone who has a mental illness knows the stigma against the disease. There are the people who tell you the disease isn’t real, that you’re doing it on purpose, that you enjoy the attention, that you could get better if you really wanted to, and so on. Mental illness isn’t thought of as an illness as much as it is like a bad hair day. OK, many bad hair days. (Although really, who want attention for bad hair?)

Stigma and Antidepressants

When Prozac became available in the mid-1980s it seemed everyone was taking it. And so there was a backlash against Prozac, antidepressants and the idea of depression in general. An overprescribed med is never good, but then an underprescribed one isn’t so great either.

two young girls laughing behind another girls back

Stigma and Antipsychotics

I fought against taking antipsychotics for a long time. “Psychotic?” I was not psychotic and I refused to take a medication that suggested I was. (The side effect profile wasn't terribly appealing either.)

And, in point of fact, I was not psychotic. But antipsychotics are used to treat many disorders, the primary of which is schizophrenia, but taking one doesn’t mean you’re psychotic in the least. It just means your brain chemicals need what those drugs have to offer. (And to be clear, psychosis isn't something to be ashamed of either.)

Stigma and Mental Health Treatment

And now there is a stigma against getting any pharmacological treatment at all, let alone something crazy like vagus nerve stimulation, repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation or electroconvulsive therapy.

This is ridiculous.

Some people don’t like certain treatments; no problem; I suggest they not have them. But judging someone else for getting them is like judging someone based on their haircut. Yeah, a mohawk isn’t my thing, but it’s hardly a reason for judgment.

A Haircut Isn’t a Treatment for Mental Illness

OK, granted, a hairstyle is not equivalent to medication – medication is more personal. Lots of people walk around with whatever Jennifer Aniston is wearing and think it’s nifty, but lots of people aren’t helped by the same psychotropic cocktail. Brains are different. Illnesses are different. And they’re a heck of a lot more different than face shapes and skin tone.

My Treatment is None of Your Business

So if I take 17 antipsychotics, stand on my head or spend six months in a cave to treat my mental illness it’s really none of your business. What works for me, works for me. Period. I don’t expect it to work for someone else. And I don’t judge someone else for making another choice. It’s personal. (After all, a dank cave plays havoc on your hair. Some people just aren't willing to pay that price.)

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, March 21). Bipolar Disorder and Treatment Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

July, 17 2014 at 1:17 pm

I think Kabbalah make people crazy specially women, for bipolar women it's a blast. since they have the sexual appetite the "bread of shame" thing must be fantastic

Natasha Tracy
March, 21 2012 at 3:21 pm

Hi Luana,
You're welcome :) I'm honoured to provide hope and inspiration to you.
Thank-you for your kind wishes.
- Natasha

Luana Cepeda
March, 21 2012 at 10:02 am

Hi Natasha,
You so helpful and educative your posts. Thank you so much for doing what you do for people like me who struggle with a mental illness every day. I have bipolar disorder mixed with psichosis thanks a lot for your support. Your words and information regarding stigma about mental illness not only educate me,but also help me face my days with hope and inspiration. God bless you and your family.

Albert Rodriguez
March, 12 2012 at 2:00 pm

The bigger the challenge - the bigger the reward!-Kabbalah

Albert Rodriguez
March, 12 2012 at 10:59 am

i was always a nervous guy. After my hitch in the Army i was ok biut I had a relationship with a paranoid Schizophrenic for 16 years; now I know that i was just as sick for staying so long. My doctor said :You shouldn't get involved with people with problems! I'm stubborn and thats my problem I was warned and now there are consequences to deal with, bad LSD trip, criminal acts, pts, anxiety, hooked on Klonipin, still in grieving moms passing, trying to connect with God now for help, my fault, can't blame anyone, hope is all I have, and the thing is that many nice ladies would have married me , but being so insecure and jealous, I couldn't quite deal with issues of life. sober now with 16 years sober, now studying Kabbalah, ancient Jewish dicipline, so far so good, hope in God and life, and i will not be aslave to my body , pain, emotions; Satan never sleeps --a word to the wise, 35 lost years which could be filled with sweetness, but the future looks good - thats all that matters-- fear is a bluff! the past is history! future is a mystery, the present is a gift thats why its called the present! Hope in the Lord! pray! Everything before God is insignificant! He is the answer to our prayers! Incapacitating fears are illusions! Never give up! Never despair! For there is nowhere else to go in any case and your Master will not let you leave until your work is done! Hate the ego! Uncomfortable? That is good! It is the process of God! Satan fears our focus and clarity; confusion is his power! We are made in Gods image and likeness- hence Satans hatred for us! Fear not! Healing is coming in Gods time! This is just a test! Like Job or Moses or Abraham.

Cathy Sikorski
March, 12 2012 at 8:54 am

I am very forward witht the fact that I have bipolar. It is amazing how many people have it or know of someone close that has it. Antipsychotics, namely Zyprexa, was my drug of choice. I didn't tell anyone that it was an antipsychotic - just something I needed to take for my "mood disorder". Most people I know listen when I explain to them how I'm not psychotic but need the medication to function with bipolar and most understand. What a difficult journey I'm on. I just take it day by day.

June Stevenson
March, 12 2012 at 5:25 am

When an airline hostes, who is bipolar, gets out of hand people are quick to judge all bipolar sufferers in the same light.I have 3 family members who are bipolar, not all the same blood lines, and they behave so differently.We are preaching to the choir here. I pray somehow people will become more understanding of this problem.

June, 17 2011 at 7:04 am

Um, NamiDearest, what do you mean?
Are you talking about people who do NOT have a mental illness yet blame bad behavior on one? If that is the case, I agree with you.
Psychiatric disorders are very real and can be life changing. Have you ever tried to sleep when someone in your home is manic and literally running around doing stuff 24/7 for 6 days in a row? With no sleep at all and no rest of any kind? No? It's really hard to sleep through that. Downright impossible.
Now, I would like to see you try DOING that. Run around. Do not stop. Do not sit down. Clean your house. Rearrange your furniture. Sort your books by color. Then sort them alphabetically by author. Then title. Spend money you don't have buying NEW furniture and then rearrange that several times. Paint the walls a different color. Pound nails into the wall to hang pictures in the bedroom where your family is sleeping at 3AM. These are just some ideas to get started. Once you get going, you will get so many ideas you can't finish anything you start. You won't run out of things to do. SIX DAYS don't stop. Oh and keep talking the entire time. Don't worry about running out of things to say... your thoughts will be racing so fast you will have more than you can spit out. In fact, most people will not be able to understand half of what you say because you have so much to say. Can you do it without being manic? Didn't think so.

Natasha Tracy
April, 13 2011 at 4:41 pm

Hi Amy,
Nice to see you over here.
Thanks for your positivity and your thoughts also.
- Natasha

Natasha Tracy
April, 13 2011 at 4:39 pm

Hi Vivien,
You're not alone.
Any time you put yourself out there, the nasties will find you, but rest assured, the rest of us are with you too.
And thank-you for fighting stigma too. Drop by any time.
- Natasha

Amy K
April, 13 2011 at 8:58 am

Hi Natasha,
It's Amy (@Abeeliever and Amy K from WEGO). Great post that really drives the point home of how ridiculous the stigma is regarding treatment. No one would be shaming a person for taking an antibiotic for an infection (at least not most people) why would anyone want to shame someone for taking care of their brain/emotional health? As we continue to share and speak out about the issues we can only hope that it will get better...
Thank you!

Vivien Brunning
April, 12 2011 at 3:05 pm

Hi, Natasha:
Right after someone left a nasty comment on my blog, I found this post. Thanks to you and to all of the brave people who responded. I'm a Bipolar II 'newbie' and it's great to see so many people out there actively fighting stigma!

April, 5 2011 at 3:27 pm

If there's any "stigma", the stigma should be in regards to lying about fake "brain illnesses".

Natasha Tracy
April, 5 2011 at 3:10 pm

Hi Kelly,
That "antipsychotic" word is so tough. It took me quite some time to digest it.
I'm glad the post is helping. The last thing any of us needs is being judged because of what a medication is _called_ for gosh sakes.
- Natasha

Kelly Ray
April, 5 2011 at 2:57 pm

thanks for this. some have asked "what's this for?" "it's an anti-psychotic" is the brief answer. then the looks. i just want to say it's a vitamin that keeps my brain functioning. it's not a drug that gives me MORE. it actually brings me to the chemical balance where i'm supposed to be at. i'm not "taking drugs" - i'm prescribed medication to balance something so i can function fully. i've tried so many ways to say it so it doesn't harm my dignity or that of others.
i'm just enlightened to see others who understand and can word it well. i've shared your post hoping family members can catch the drift.

Natasha Tracy
April, 1 2011 at 4:47 pm

Hi Steven,
"I have arrived at the point where I am willing to face the stigma and judging from others while being like you a voice for those who are scared to speak."
I know. :) And many people are grateful for that choice. It is my greatest hope that we help eliminate the fear and stigma for others.
- Natasha

steven schwartz
April, 1 2011 at 8:39 am

Great Post!
I am very "Out" in regards to my mental illness and have felt both sides of the coin. I face daily the stigma and prejudging based on my diagnosis, meds , choices of treatments and lifestyle if you could call it that. I have also seen the opposite. People who quietly say, "I take them too". I have arrived at the point where I am willing to face the stigma and judging from others while being like you a voice for those who are scared to speak.

Natasha Tracy
March, 24 2011 at 8:28 am

Hi Alistair,
Yes, actually that's where I got the phrase. Not from AA but from an addiction class I took when I was a child (my father's an addict). I think it's a good phrase. I try to remind myself of that from time to time.
"I know that I won’t be understood and that I’ll be judged, marginalized, laughed at, etc."
Holy sham-moly have I been seeing that the last couple of days (on my personal blog, not here). Some people are awfully nasty when they don't like mental illness or mental illness treatment.
But I like to think I can stand against that sometimes. And it looks like you do too. I think it's our responsibility, if we can, when we can, for those who can't.
- Natasha

Alistair McHarg
March, 24 2011 at 2:25 am

Hi Natasha: Another good post. There's an expression used in the halls of AA that goes - what others think of me is none of my business. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 25 years ago and have done the drill - meds, prison, mental hospitals, fired from jobs, etc. Stigma goes with the territory, even the few people who want to understand, can't. Increased self-confidence, comfort in one's own skin, and peace of mind are inevitable elements of real recovery and health. I wrote a bipolar memoir, I talk the talk every chance I get, I try to help bipolar bears who are newer to the party. I know that I won't be understood and that I'll be judged, marginalized, laughed at, etc. Like I say, it goes with the territory. I'm at peace with my bipolar bear, grateful for him in fact - that's what matters. Cheers, Alistair

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