Starting Conversations About Bipolar (When You Have Bipolar)

January 10, 2013 Natasha Tracy

After reading my last post, Starting Conversations About Bipolar Disorder (When You Don’t Have Bipolar), a commenter requested a similar piece on how to start conversations on mental illness when you do have bipolar disorder. I thought this was a good question as it’s as hard for people with a mental illness to bring up this tough subject as it is for those around us. After all, we don’t want to frighten people or get into major emotional upset.

So are there things to consider when bringing up bipolar disorder with people who don’t have a mental illness?

Political Correctness Matters

I have a habit of saying, “I’m bipolar,” or even, “I’m crazy,” but others, even without a mental illness, may find this offensive. In fact, people without a mental illness may feel even more uncomfortable because they don’t understand treating an illness with levity – they don’t get the joke. Remember before you were ill? Hopefully you wanted to treat people with an illness with respect and it’s hard when you see someone you think isn’t doing that – even when they’re the one with the illness.

If you use humour to deal with your illness, I think that’s great, but maybe ease another person into that.

Things to Consider When Talking to the “Normals”

When bringing up the subject matter of mental illness with those who do not have a mental illness perhaps consider:

  • Treat this person with the same respect you would expect from them. Respect their opinion even if you really disagree with it. Model the behavior you would like them to have.
  • Consider that what they know about mental illness is likely sparse and probably inaccurate. Start at the beginning by saying, “I have bipolar disorder. Do you know what that is?” Be prepared to give a short, but accurate, definition.
  • Be prepared to answer a lot of questions. If you handle the conversation right, they should have many.
  • Be prepared to define the boundaries of what you want to talk about. Sometimes people will ask questions that are outside of your comfort zone. This is okay. Just be prepared to answer with something like, “I appreciate you asking but I’m not comfortable talking about that right now.”
  • Be prepared to tell your story. You probably don’t want to go into every detail, but if this person cares about you, they’re going to want to know a bit about your story.
  • Consider that the person may have more experience with mental illness than you think. You might be surprised at the experience others have had with mental illness. They just weren’t brave enough to bring it up with you.
  • Approach the easiest person first. If this is your first conversation, pick someone you think will be supportive.
  • If you need to talk to someone you think won’t be supportive, bring backup. Others who support you can help facilitate a conversation, if necessary.
  • Don’t expect to get it all out at once. It’s not going to be one conversation about bipolar disorder; it’s going to be many. It took you a long time to learn about and accept your illness and you need to grant that same time to another person.
  • Give the other person quality resources that they can use to learn more about your mental illness. This book is a great start or reading the bipolar section on HealthyPlace might help a lot.

If the Conversation about Mental Illness Doesn’t Go Well

And honestly, you can do everything right and things still can be a nightmare. You have to be prepared for this mentally. Have support in place for if things go wrong. Don’t let the ignorant reaction of someone else take you down. And remember, one bad reaction doesn’t indicate that everyone will react that way. In fact, it doesn’t even mean that individual won’t be supportive in the future. Remember, there are great people out there who will be supportive; you just need to find them.

And also remember that every time you choose to have a conversation about mental illness it will get easier. And you’re contributing to the breaking down of stigma and the increasing of awareness every time. Here's a pat on the back for you - thank-you.

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

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2013, January 10). Starting Conversations About Bipolar (When You Have Bipolar), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 22 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.

Cathryn A Paterson
August, 21 2022 at 11:24 pm

I was diagnosed with bipolar at 28 (44 years ago) and at that time my doctor suggested that I become an advocate for my illness but I found that to be a major mistake in a small community where gossip spreads like wildfire. Now I am more selective about who I share my illness with. I am mostly unipolar and I take my valproic acid pills daily although I must admit I resent having to do so. This society has very rigid ideas of appropriate behavior. Because famous people are "coming out", mental illness is becoming more accepted.

September, 4 2016 at 10:33 am

Wish it could be easier for people to admit it.

Charles Mistretta
July, 9 2013 at 5:39 am

In a professional environment, your credentials are everything. Telling a person you are capable of doing or saying almost anything, which is what individuals believe when you say 'bipolar', is hard to explain away especially if they have a vested interest in you. Mental deficiency is not well understood, and a five minute course on the consequences of a beautiful mind will not be edifying for most.
My opinion is to let your actions speak for you. Eventually you will find people and a place that fit your behaviors and attitudes.

Brad harmelink
January, 23 2013 at 2:32 pm

Well written article. This is a very important topic, especially those who are "new" at it. My wife and I try to educate, too. I have been married for 12 years and have had bipolar for over 15 years (now 40). I am channeling my experience to my new blog: I will be visiting Natasha's blog for more good ideas. What I have seen from her, is very timely.
We do need to share and spread the word about "biploar issues". There is so much more to the people who are challenged, than just the violent people that make the headlines.

January, 16 2013 at 11:50 am

thanks you are my voice and everyone else who cant talk about our mental illness public

January, 14 2013 at 1:29 pm

Bipolar scares people, they don't want to go any further. I feel like the stigma will be there for ever. I stopped trying to talk, trying to educated because people can't get beyond the visuals......of an unpredictable crazed person. Id like to see it improved for the better, not in my life time. Even Jesse Jackson Jr who was diagnosed at the prestigious hospital...Mayo of Rochester doesn't say a word. I can't even be treated there because y have to have bookoo bucks and I live in the state...what does that tell you. Money talks, the rest walk which is most with mental illness.

January, 11 2013 at 6:56 am

Coming out with Bipolar was initially terrifying. At first, the ratio of successful discussions vs. tailspins was unpleasant. Over time, the positive responses far outstripped the negative. I've had a lot of practice being casual but direct about it.
One comment I still don't know how to manage is "but you don't act Bipolar!" I generally explain that I'm a really good performer and generally bank my energy so I can make public appearances. People have a hard time reconciling the pleasant person before them and the pacing basketcase who talks to herself at home. I guess that's what being an informed and informative Bipolar is partially about--helping people bridge the distance between observation and the condition's reality.

January, 11 2013 at 6:23 am

3 problems in my conversations: some people think meds helps all types of bipolar (they usually think there's only 1 type of bipolar); other people in denial of using meds (think it won't help their kids who are obviously suffering and in need of something besides denial); people who act like we (people with mental illness) aren't capable of intelligent conversations/don't know what we're talking about. How I handle it: be calm and end conversation politely when the conversation seems pointless. BTW, all your articles are great! Keep up the good work!

January, 11 2013 at 3:45 am


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