NPR & Greg Myre, I am most assuredly disappointed that a normally enlightened media outlet & its employees would bandy about words with such disregard to the effects they cause. I am referring to today’s phrase, “Vladimir Putin’s Bipolar Year.” As one who lives with the condition everyday, I am both offended and further stigmatized by such usage of the word. I am surprised that anyone, writers and editors both, would be so glib about a mental illness so serious as this.
By using “bipolar” in this fashion, you serve to trivialize the illness that tortures so many and puts innumerable people at risk to premature death. For clarity’s sake, objects are not “bipolar.” Time periods are not “bipolar.” Even people are not “bipolar,” as they are not equivalent to the condition from which they suffer. It is the disorder and the disorder alone that is to be termed bipolar; flouting this fact deepens the rift between patients and the world around them, as it misinforms society at large.
Might I remind you that the manner in which you employ the word gives the impression to the public at large that moods are something to be switched on and off at will, something capricious and entirely under the control of s/he whose behavior is changing and/or reflecting opposites. That is far from the truth, and by propagating this misconception, you harm the general public by furthering their misunderstanding, and you stigmatize the patients, who must suffer the social consequences of such misinformation.
If the necessity of linguistic sensitivity is still unclear, please let me provide you with some numbers that will illuminate the seriousness of the disorder. Because I have bipolar disorder, I have a lifetime risk of 25-50% of attempting suicide. Further, I have a lifetime risk of 10-15% of completing suicide. I’m also 10-20% more likely than anyone in the general population to commit suicide. This is not even to speak of its comorbidity with my clinical depression.
Simply put, bipolar disorder is a condition that could kill me at any time. Now, please allow me to ask you; does “bipolar” seem like a word to use so casually now?
If you’re unaware as to the damage thoughtless language causes, please refer to the article “OCD, Bipolar, Schizophrenic and the Misuse of Mental Health Terms,” shared by your peers from the BBC News Magazine. Perhaps it will help clarify the problem for you.
I would thank you to think twice about the manner in which “bipolar” is being thrown around. I understand that not many are conscious of the effects of their diction regarding mental illness, and for that, I’ll give a one time pass. However, if you choose not to edit the post, I must conclude that there is a willful ignorance, and I will be sorely disappointed at a such cavalier attitude. Please change the wording to reflect a more accurate and compassionate mindset. Thank you.
* – numbers courtesy of a 2012 study conducted by Dr. Julie Anderson of Oregon Health and Science University