According to research published in The Sunday Age, those of us with bipolar disorder don’t get along with other people because we have difficulty interpreting facial emotions (“Living with missed emotions”, 11/1). This research should be interpreted with caution. Of the 50 people recruited to the experimental group, 33 were experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder. When someone is unwell, either hypomanic or depressed, they may not notice how anyone else feels. However, bipolar disorder is an episodic illness. Most of us, most of the time, are well.
When researchers describe people with bipolar disorder as having “problematic psychosocial functioning” and a “poor quality of life”, they reinforce negative stereotypes. By grouping together those who are well and unwell under the same label “people with bipolar disorder”, we are all tarnished with the same brush. This increases stigma towards all of us who have bipolar disorder.
Even though I’ve been well for 20 years, I still face this stigma. My everyday emotions can be misinterpreted because of people’s prejudices about the disorder. If I express myself passionately, some people raise their eyebrows. And believe me, I notice their dismissive facial expressions.
First published as a letter to The Age in 2015