Twitter Users’ Mental Health Stereotypes of Bipolar Disorder
by Emily Brooks
“I barely have a nose and my eyes are bipolar but pretty so here’s this selfie from the wild game tonight.” –tweet posted alongside photo of Twitter user
As confused about depression as Twitter users are, they seem to be at least twice as baffled over bipolar disorder. It’s not just that one Twitter user’s eyes that have the serious mental health condition—inanimate objects, concepts, and even the natural world are “bipolar” according to recent Tweets. “Is Mother Nature on her period? Because she is acting very bipolar,” joked one user. Besides “bipolar weather”, users commented that Malaysia, fandom, social media, and being single are “bipolar.”
Other “bipolar” tweets intertwine gender stereotypes and mental illness stereotypes in a truly troubling intersection: Lonely straight boys and men use bipolar disorder as a casual excuse for their own romantic problems. “Bi-polar females is the main reason why I’m still single,” decides one Twitter user. “All females got a hint of bipolar in them,” voices another. “Texas is more bipolar than every girl in the world combined,” rants a third. Female users also added to the stereotype. After posting a picture of a miscommunication in a text message conversation, one user writes, “Hahaha all girls do this. We are bipolar.”
When Twitter users without bipolar disorder label themselves as “bipolar”, our cultural conception of bipolar disorder forms based on negative stereotypes and insulting ignorance. The user who writes “I’m too bipolar for a relationship to be honest. One day I want one, the next day I’m like f— that” perpetuates myths that people with bipolar disorder are incapable of committing romantically. The user who identifies as “probably bipolar” because “I like being nice but I also like being really mean” solidifies misunderstandings that negative behaviors people with bipolar disorder do are within their control. The user who’s “so bipolar” since “one minute I’ll wanna talk to someone then next I don’t want anyone talking to me at all” strengthens stereotypes that bipolar disorder means mood-changes every few minutes.
Many of the users who misuse “bipolar” are really just talking about the human experience of experiencing multiple emotions and dealing with contradicting thoughts and experiences. “I bet my [Twitter] followers think I’m bipolar or something,” guesses another Tweeter, because “my tweets go from happy, to sad, to pissed off, to in the mood.”
Twitter users use “bipolar” as a synonym for “confusing” or “erratic”… but it’s not the same thing. According to NAMI, “Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness with recurring episodes of mania and depression that can last from one day to months. Cycles of high (manic) and low (depressive) moods may follow an irregular pattern that differs from the typical ups and downs experienced by most people.” Symptoms of mania include irritability, euphoria, excessive talking, reduced sleep, and increased risk-taking, while depression is the hopeless, fatigued sadness discussed earlier.
Bipolar disorder is complex and while it looks different for everybody, it’s definitely never about how “Why am I so bipolar. Like I will be in the best mood and ONE thing can completely piss me off,” rants one user.
This post is part two in a five part series. Visit us for the next three Mondays to continue the discussion. Also, please check out more content by Emily Brooks at her blog Changing Perspectives About Gender, Sexuality, and Disability Through Writing.