8 Things Not to Say to Someone Who Has Bipolar Disorder

Keep your mouth shut!
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If you have bipolar disorder, someone has said at least one of these things to you. If you know someone who has this illness, you may be guilty of saying one or more of them. You may have good intentions but not realize how these words can be received. Hearing them can be painful, infuriating, depressing—even destructive—to a bipolar family member, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance. Saying them is not going to be helpful.

"You're just overreacting again."

Overreacting is a symptom of bipolar disorder. Hearing harsh words that would be painful to anyone, you may well respond with extreme anger or dark depression. Even a sad movie can make a person with bipolar disorder overreact, and so can a lot of other things. But you're not "just" overreacting, and it's not as if you can always take a deep breath and stop it. Your illness can make that very difficult.

"Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Yes, it's true that some people go through difficult experiences, learn from them, and come out of it stronger. But this phrase is wrong—bipolar disorder can kill. At least 20 percent of people with bipolar disorder attempt suicide. Leave this cliche out of your repertoire. If you have a friend of family member with bipolar disorder, be alert for when they might go into a crisis and do not leave them alone.

"Everybody has mood swings sometimes."

That's true. For one thing, 8 percent of American adults and 4 percent of adolescents have Major Depressive Disorder, having periods of euthymia and depression. Even among those who do not have a diagnosable disorder that has mood swings, people have changes in mood.

But only people with bipolar disorder, cyclothymia, schizoaffective disorder, and related severe mental illnesses have repeated and severe mood swings between mania or hypomania and depression.

"Everyone is a little bipolar sometimes."

This similar phrase is insensitive for the same reasons. Having mood swings is not the same as having a diagnosable disorder.

"You are psycho."

Nuts, crazy, cuckoo, deranged, bonkers, or any one of a dozen negative words and phrases are insensitive to people with diagnosable disorders. You might be used to throwing such phrases around to brand your friends' behavior without realizing how they can be hurtful to someone who is coping with a disorder.

"You're acting like a maniac!"

This one is extremely offensive, as maniacs are portrayed as violent and deranged. Experiencing bipolar mania does not automatically mean that a person will be dangerous. It's also not the same thing as Antisocial Personality Disorder and/or be psychopathic.

"I wish I was manic so I could get things done!"

That's not all there is to mania.​ ​There are many symptoms of mania, and it would be helpful if you studied them and understood what the bipolar person may go through. While she may have a lot of energy, she can also have racing thoughts, trouble sleeping, and do risky things.

"But you seem so normal!"

Maybe the person with bipolar disorder is between cycles, or maybe she is good at hiding what she's feeling. She may be in a hypomanic episode and only the good things about it are visible at the moment. Consider how this would sound if you had a serious illness such as cancer and someone said, "You can't be sick, you look so normal!"

"It must be your time of the month."

While it's true that monthly hormonal changes may affect mood, passing off bipolar disorder as being nothing more than PMS is just wrong. Any woman is liable to take offense at this statement, let alone a woman with bipolar disorder.

A Word From Verywell

These phrases are insensitive when said to a person with bipolar disorder, but many of them would be offensive when said to anyone. Let your words be encouraging and supportive to everyone, without marginalizing people with psychiatric disorders.

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that you can help someone with bipolar disorder by being patient and encouraging them to talk and spend your time listening rather instead. Invite them to join in fun activities. Understand that they may have mood swings. Let them know that it's possible to feel better with the right treatment.

Sources:

Abreu LND, Lafer B, Baca-Garcia E, Oquendo MA. Suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in bipolar disorder type I: an update for the clinician. Revista Brasileira de Psiquiatria. 2009;31(3):271-280. doi:10.1590/s1516-44462009005000003.

Bipolar Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml.

Bipolar Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml.

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