Today is World Bipolar Day. World Bipolar Day is March 30, every year, in honor of Vincent Van Gogh’s birthday. While I think that it is problematic to diagnose people in absentia or posthumously, the bipolar community strongly identifies with Van Gogh and as an artist so do I.
Van Gogh died by suicide at the age of 37. Suicidal ideation and attempted suicide are common among those of us who have bipolar. It is estimated that up to 50% of people with bipolar attempt suicide at some time in their lives. An estimated 10% of people with bipolar die by suicide. Having bipolar reduces your life expectancy by 9.2 years.
Stigma contributes to these statistics. Stigma is born out of ignorance. World Bipolar Day is a day for education and awareness.
I have been symptomatic with bipolar since I was a teenager. Of course I had no idea what bipolar was. I had heard the term before, but always in hushed tones. My mother’s friend’s ex had bipolar. He was delusional and experienced psychosis, at one point believing that he worked for the FBI. Dude was “crazy”.
That is what bipolar meant to me. Crazy.
I was not delusional. I was not “crazy”. I certainly couldn’t be bipolar. Those people were nuts. Instead I just believed myself to be ontologically wrong. I was a bad person. I hated myself and felt the need to suffer, leading to bouts of rage, self-harm, and nearly constant suicidal ideation.
Stigma and ignorance contributed to the 20 or so odd years between becoming symptomatic and having a diagnosis and treatment plan. I would not wish those years on anyone.
NAMI has a stigma free pledge that I strongly encourage you to take for World Bipolar Day. Essentially it is a promise to not contribute to the stigmatization of mental illness through three steps: Education, humanization, and action.