By Shreeya Tuladhar
“I’ve got bi-polar, disorder, my shit’s not in order. I’m overweight, I’m always late. I’ve got too many things to say.” (Lambert, 2014) Sound familiar? This is from Mary Lambert’s famous song Secrets that, according to iTunes, “unfurls a list of foibles.” (iTunes, 2014) The song was released about a year ago, on July 15, 2014 and has over 14 million views on YouTube. (YouTube, 2015) It also ranked 1st on the Billboard chart for US Hot Dance Club songs, 26th in US Mainstream, and 66th in The Hot 100. Not only was it popular in the United States, it also ranked among the top 50 in Australia and New Zealand. (Billboard, 2014) This song clearly reached a vast audience, and so did Lambert’s portrayal of Bipolar Disorder.
According to her song, Lambert, while living with Bipolar Disorder, “can’t think straight,” tends to “extrapolate” her feelings, and sometimes cries “a whole day.” (Lambert, 2014) But she says she’s over hiding what she does not like about herself – including her mental disorder - and no longer cares if the world knows her secrets. This song was recognizably Lambert’s platform to speak up and empower people to embrace their flaws. But who said having Bipolar Disorder, or any other psychological disease, was a flaw? Though they are supposed to be unfolding “foibles” like mentioned earlier, lyrics like these are one of the many ways our society is feeding into the false narrative that mental illnesses are weaknesses.
The irony here is that the societal ignorance and negligence towards bipolar disorder, and other mental disorders, as actual diseases has made Lambert view hers as a shortcoming, thus producing this kind of music back into our society and fueling the unawareness even more - an innocent yet brutal cycle that must come to an end. Mental illnesses are brought up and spoken about with negative connotation more often than not, with mostly no bad intention. In common vernacular, Bipolar Disorder is used to describe anything that isn’t stable and due to this, we have forgotten what it really means. For example, according to Urban Dictionary – which is a well-known website used to describe common slang, “Bipolar” is defined as “when she says that she loves you one day and next she completely ignores you” or even “a polar bear that likes both girls and boys” – but we’ll ignore the latter. (Urban Dictionary, 2015, p.2 & p.3) Society has become immune to its unfamiliarity of the truth behind bipolar and other mental disorders.
"You’re so bipolar!" is said all the time by people who don’t mean it to people who don’t have it. It has become so normal to use that phrase that people have forgotten that being bipolar is not possible – because no one “is” bipolar, people just have bipolar disorder. In fact, no, Bipolar Disorder doesn’t mean someone whose “shit’s not in order,” nor are they all “overweight” or “always late.” (Lambert, 2014) No, Bipolar Disorder is not defined as a girl who cannot make up her mind. (Urban Dictionary, 2015, p.2) Lastly, no, Bipolar Disorder isn’t a ‘foible’ or shortcoming. Bipolar Disorder is a complex chronic condition, only to be diagnosed by doctors with the guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). It is typically broken down into two types: one with manic episode, and one without. Both have severe symptoms and cause unusual shifts in mood, energy, level of activity, and the capacity to carry out daily tasks. It is a severe disorder that can result in damaged relationships, poor academic performance, and even suicide. Though there is no cure, it is treatable and people with Bipolar Disorder can manage to lead full productive lives. (NIH, 2012) Thus, mental disorders such as this one come with actual diagnosis as well as severe conditions, and should not be used so freely and negatively in everyday slang or in media.
Many journals and articles have proven that stereotyping bipolar disorder actually makes it worse for the patients to cope with their disease. A study in “Stigma and functioning in patients with bipolar disorder” in the Journal of Affective Disorders aimed “to investigate the impact of self-rated stigma and functioning in patients with bipolar disorder in Latin America” concluded that that there was “an association between stigma and poor functioning” of bipolar disorder patients. (Vásquez, 2010) Another study called “Perceived stigma and depression among caregivers of patients with bipolar disorder” in the British Journal of Psychiatry investigated the “associates between perceived stigma, depressive symptoms, and coping among caregivers of people with bipolar disorder” and determined that “in addition to posing a barrier to the recovery of people with mental illness, stigma erodes the morale of the family members who care for them” which makes the disorder all the worse for the patients because as a result, “caregivers’ perception of stigma may negatively affect their (the patient’s) mental health by reducing their coping effectiveness.” (Perlick, 2007) Therefore, the stigma associating with bipolar disorder not only affects the patients directly, but also indirectly by affecting their caretakers, which makes it all the more important to stop treating this condition as a lunch line to a joke. As said by an individual in a study led by the University of British Columbia in Sage Journals: Chronic Illness, “It is something that I manage, but it is not who I am.” (Machalak, 2011)
Since mainstream music and slang has become a part of our daily lives with great influence in shaping our generation, it is important that we become more aware of and sensitive towards mental disorders. Songs like Lambert’s ‘Secrets’ and slangs like ‘you’re so bipolar’ have inadvertently reinforced the use of bipolar disorder as a term, more than a disease, thrown casually into conversation, without acknowledging that there are people suffering from it. Unawareness of the truth behind bipolar disorder or other mental disorders has contributed to a society that is accustomed to defining a person by his or her disease – which is unhealthy for the patients, the caretakers of the patients, and our society as a whole. It is time for a revolution and you can start this change! It’s simple, instead of saying, “you’re so bipolar,” why don’t you say, “you’re so indecisive” or “you’re so confused” instead? Let’s take a step forward and end the stigma.
Billboard, Mary Lambert - Chart History. (2015). Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.billboard.com/artist/5787281/mary-lambert/chart?f=359
iTunes, Mary Lambert on iTunes. (2014). Retrieved October 6, 2015, from https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/mary-lambert/id585476896
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Michalak, E., Livingston, J., Hole, R., Suto, M., Hale, S., & Haddock, C. (2011). 'It's something that I manage but it is not who I am': Reflections on internalized stigma in individuals with bipolar disorder. Chronic Illness, 209-224. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://chi.sagepub.com/content/7/3/209
NIMH, Bipolar Disorder in Adults. (2012). Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder-in-adults/index.shtml
Perlick, D., Miklowitz, D., Link, B., Struening, E., Kaczynski, R., Gonzalez, J., . . . Rosenheck, R. (2007). Perceived stigma and depression among caregivers of patients with bipolar disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 535-536. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://bjp.rcpsych.org/content/190/6/535.full-text.pdf html
Urban Dictionary, Bipolar. (2015) Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=bipolar&page=3
Vázquez, G., Kapczinski, F., Magalhaes, P., Córdoba, R., Jaramillo, C., Rosa, A., . . . Tohen, M. (2010). Stigma and functioning in patients with bipolar disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders, 323-327. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032710006269
YouTube, Mary Lambert - Secrets (Official). (2014) Retrieved October 6, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqqqV50zaAc