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It’s Bigger than Kanye: 5 Bipolar Disorder Facts You Should Know

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Like reports of gun violence and the weather forecast, Kanye West is always in the news. 

If it’s not for the release of his Netflix documentary, “jeen-yuhs: A Kanye Trilogy,” it’s for the spate of troubling reports of him verbally threatening ex-wife Kim Kardashian and her boyfriend Pete Davidson. There have been other puzzling incidents, like this one, as well. 

Ye is a perpetual Twitter trending topic. 

Yet, these incidents have triggered furious debates about West and his diagnosed bipolar disorder, a mental illness where everyday emotions become intensely and often unpredictably magnified. 

Is West’s behavior solely attributable to his mental condition or are they more indicative of someone who is abusive? 

His recent actions against his ex-wife could certainly be deemed the latter. Yet, many, especially those who are also bipolar, are calling for people to show compassion toward the mercurial music star. 

Many Black Americans don’t get treated for bipolar disorder. Why? Many still mistrust health professionals…This skepticism toward the medical establishment has historical roots – and it is more than just the so-called “Tuskegee Experiment.” 

The debate around Mr. West is a great opportunity to shed light on one of the most misunderstood mental health disorders. Here are 5 facts you may not know about bipolar disorder

Bipolar Disorder Impacts Almost 3% of the U.S. Population

It is estimated that 5.7 million American adults have bipolar disorder. What’s more, the median age for the onset of this condition is 25, although it can start in early childhood or occur as late as the 40s and 50s. 

People with Bipolar disorder can experience extreme mood swings, from feeling happy and energetic to sad and fatigued, states the American Psychological Association. They are also prone to having manic episodes and can show abnormally elevated or irritable moods that can last a week or more and impair function. 

Many with Bipolar Disorder Have a Close Relative with the Same Condition

How many? Two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder have at least one close relative – think a parent or sibling – with that illness or major depression, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 

Genetics is one of the primary causes for the condition, but its role is not absolute. A child born into a family that has a history of bipolar disorder may never develop it, says the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

People with bipolar disorder may also come from families where other mental conditions are present like schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety. Family members may also share some risk factors with bipolar disorder, according to MedlinePlus.

There Is More Than One Kind of Bipolar Disorder

NAMI details four types, which include:

The Bipolar I condition is when people have experienced one or more episodes of mania, a condition characterized by displays of over-the-top levels of energy, activity, behavior or mood. Individuals in this category will have episodes of mania and depression. To be diagnosed with Bipolar I, someone has to have manic episodes that last at least seven days or be in such a severe state that it requires hospitalization.  

Bipolar II is diagnosed in people who have depressive episodes and shift back and forth with hypomania, which means they display “revved up energy or activity level, mood, or behavior,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Despite this, they never have an episode where they are “full manic.”  

Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia means to exhibit a chronically unstable mood state where people experience mild depression and hypomania that last for at least two years. There may be brief periods where a person in this state experiences a normal mood, but those last less than eight weeks.

Bipolar Disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified” is when someone experiences periods of abnormal mood elevation that is described as clinically significant, but they don’t meet the criteria for bipolar I, II, or cyclothymia.

Black People Are Less Likely to Get Treatment for their bipolar disorder

Black people face significant barriers to mental health treatment. Source/Pexels

In the U.S., bipolar disorder impacts people of different races at about the same rate. Black Americans, however, are less likely to be diagnosed and treated for the condition. Why? Many Black Americans still mistrust health professionals, which holds true for other conditions like prostate cancer and diabetes. This skepticism toward the medical establishment has historical roots – and it is more than just the so-called “Tuskegee Experiment.” 

Over the years African Americans were institutionalized at higher than average rates for mental illness and subject to medical mistreatment, states this report from Mental Health America (MHA). For example, members of the American medical community subjected Black Americans to grotesque and archaic procedures like psychosurgery from the 1930s-60s, where parts of their brains were removed to treat mental illness, writes Dr. Uchenna Umeh. 

“While never widely accepted and practiced, some lobotomies were performed on black children as young as five years old who exhibited aggressive or hyperactive behaviors,” Dr. Umeh wrote in this startling 2019 report

Other barriers that have prevented Black Americans from seeking help include a lack of access to treatment, a willingness to address the physical symptoms over the mental health effects of the disorder, and an overreliance on family members and religion over mental health treatment, says the MHA. There is also the issue of a lack of representation of Black Americans in the field of mental health treatment. 

Stress and Other Events can Trigger Symptoms

Stress from negative incidents like the death of a loved one, divorce, a bad relationship, or financial problems can cause a person to have a manic episode. Other contributing factors include substance abuse and traumatic head injuries. What’s more, brain structure and function may play a role. According to NAMI, “researchers have identified subtle differences in the average size or activation of some brain structures in people with bipolar disorder.”

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