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Bipolar disorder: Do you keep it secret?

Colleen E. Crane MSW, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker based in Bozeman, Montana. Colleen is currently in private practice and specializes in working with adolescent girls and women.

How to tell others about bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is classified by experiencing intense highs and lows with your moods. Receiving the news that you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder can be devastating. Who do you tell -- and when do you tell -- about your disorder? If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, please talk with a professional before disclosing your diagnosis to anyone. Here's why.

Woman talking to motherBipolar disorder and dating

Do not tell on the first date: The first date is not a time to discuss your physical or mental health issues.

Consider sharing in a committed relationship: If you have been in a relationship for a couple of months, it might be something you are considering telling your partner. There is no great time to tell someone that you are suffering from bipolar disorder; however, it may help your partner understand some shifts in your mood.

Take your partner to counseling with you: If you have been with your partner for years and have recently been diagnosed, consider having your partner come with you to one of your counseling sessions to get a better understanding on what you might be going through and what to expect.

There are also many books available that discuss living with bipolar disorder and managing it to the best of your ability with medication and therapy. If the person you are dating is not receptive to talking with you about your illness, you may not want to be in a relationship with that person anyway because long-term you need someone who is going to be there with you through the good and the bad times.

Bipolar disorder and close friends

Talking with close friends about your bipolar disorder is an individual choice.

Some people decide to share with friends so that they have support when they are feeling low, or when they may be feeling a little manic they have friends who can help them keep their moods in check. Consider giving your very close friends contact information to your therapist or health professional, so if they are really concerned they can call. Make sure you sign a release of information with your mental health provider.

Bipolar disorder and co-workers

Work is not really the place that you want to share intimate details about your life and health matters.

Although the boundaries of work discussions have changed over the years, you really have no idea how disclosing your matters to co-workers might affect your work situation. The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) does protect you from discrimination based on your mental illness; however, many people with mental illness are still fired or let go for a variety or reasons based on disclosure of their mental illness.

Wise work tip: Keep your sick or vacation days for times when you may suffer from a bought of depression or mania and take a couple of days off. If you need to be hospitalized keep discussions to HR personnel who can work with you to get you back to work when you are ready.

Educate yourself

Bipolar disorder is a serious illness and should be monitored by a group of healthcare professionals often involving a physician, psychiatrist and mental health counselor. Please talk with someone if you need more information about any of the topics discussed here, or check out the National Institute of Mental Health at: www.nimh.nih.gov

More on bipolar disorder

What is the course of bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder: Spending sprees and gambling problems
Effective treatments for bipolar disorder
Alternative treatments for bipolar disorder

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