Bipolar illness is a psychiatric condition that is frequently misunderstood.  Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder affects about 1 percent of the population in the United States, and the public must be educated to better understand the illness and to become more aware of the symptoms.  Bipolar illness affects the mind through periods of depression and mania.  Depending on the severity of the disorder, the levels of mania and depression can vary.

Diagnosed last year, I myself suffer with bipolar illness and have had a huge awakening in my life.  My experience of telling people that I have this illness varies. Some have accepted my situation while others have changed their perception of me and only viewed me as a weak, sick girl.  Due to a lack of understanding of the disorder, many people are overwhelmed with confusion and therefore decide to distance themselves from those suffering with the illness.

There are many online platforms, brochures, as well as other mediums that provide information about bipolar disorder that detail the symptoms and treatments. The National Institute of Mental Health estimated that in the year 2016, 73,517 people in Connecticut suffered with bipolar disorder. The Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services spends more per capita on mental health, as compared to many other states. About 72 percent of state funds go to community based outpatient mental health programs and 26 percent goes to inpatient psychiatric patients. In other words, Connecticut supports mental healthcare by spending a great deal of money on patient facilities, programs and care.

The causes of bipolar illness are still somewhat unknown.  Science, however, has found the illness to be genetic.  My maternal grandmother and great grandfather also suffered with bipolar illness.  I am fortunate that my mother happens to be a psychiatrist, who was able to identify my symptoms.  Taking medication along with regular visits to my psychiatrist allows me to lead a normal life.  Many misunderstand me and feel that I am incapable of leading a normal life because they are not familiar enough with the disorder.

A few months ago, I told one of my close friends about my condition.  Since that moment, his perception of me has changed, and he now feels uncomfortable around me.  This hurt me deeply and made me feel as though I am not normal; therefore, I would like to advocate for greater education about the disorder.  Those who suffer with bipolar illness along with other mental disorders should not feel abnormal and should be able to live normal lives.

An invisible illness, bipolar disorder, should be viewed just like any other physical illness.  Diabetics must use an insulin shot daily and visit the doctor regularly.  Those with bipolar illness must also take medication daily and have regular appointments with a psychiatrist.  Both diabetes and bipolar disorder require ongoing treatment and neither one should be subject to stigmatization.

The public views those with bipolar disorder as being weak because the illness is so poorly understood.  Many people with bipolar illness, such as artist Vincent Van Gogh, are in fact very talented in the arts.  Though people with bipolar illness suffer with from both manic and depressive episodes, once they receive proper treatment they may lead normal lives without the fluctuation of their mood.

Ever since I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder, I have felt different and hurt by the reactions of others.  Thankfully, I come from a loving family who support me.  There are many, however, who struggle with bipolar illness and feel abnormal because of the perception of others.  I strongly believe in the importance of the public being educated about this disorder as well as other mental health disorders.  Increased knowledge of metal health will bring us into the light and a better future.

Katarzyna Waberska lives in Hartford.

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