Should You Go Public about Your Bipolar Online?

Should You Go Public about Your Bipolar Online?

People contact me and ask me to advise on many subjects and one of them is whether they should go public about their bipolar disorder online. People often want to know this because they want to start a blog or in some other way express the challenges of bipolar disorder. Usually, it is with the best of intentions that people ask. Usually, people want to go public with their bipolar disorder online in an effort to help others.

However, I tend to be the bearer of bad news: I do not generally think people should go public about their bipolar disorder online.

Going Public about Bipolar Disorder

As Dr. Kimberly Dennis MD of the Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center (and sponsor) says,

Most people lack education and understanding of mental illness as diseases like any other medical disease. With ignorance can come stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and other negative social effects. This can come from those in the medical community, lay people, the mental health community, and/or religious communities.

Now the bold there is added by me because I want to make a point – if even a doctor admits that other healthcare professionals can discriminate against people based on a mental illness diagnosis of bipolar disorder, it’s something to take very, very seriously.

Going Public about You Bipolar Disorder Online

Go Public about BipolarAnd while Dr. Dennis’s points are well taken, I think she’s failed to mention the implications of doing it online. And that is dramatically increased harassment, hate mail and becoming a target of antipsychiatry groups. I cannot overstate how incredibly nasty these people can be. I’ve received death threats.

And the one that people rarely think of: once you come out online, you can never take it back – ever. You will never erase what you have said and what you have done. It’s always there if someone really wants to look for it. And remember, future employers really do want to look for it and admitting to bipolar disorder can severely impact your ability to get hired in the future (not to mention possibly endanger your current job).

The Benefits of Going Public about Bipolar Disorder

All that being said, there are benefits to going public about your bipolar disorder, as Dr. Dennis says,

The benefits of going public include: freedom, letting go of shame, living with integrity, educating people, and raising awareness of the disorder.

These are things not to be taken lightly either. Not hiding what can be a very major part of yourself can be absolutely freeing.

So, Should You Go Public about Your Bipolar Online?

According to Dr. Dennis,

In my opinion, in stable recovery, the benefits outweigh the risks. If women with breast cancer were not available to be public about their illness, there would be far less awareness and money donated for research/treatment.

(Note she says “in stable recovery.” This is not advice for people not yet there.)

And I agree with her – sort of. I think that reasoning makes sense for going public in real life, but not online. In real life the fact that I have bipolar disorder isn’t a secret and I like it that way. I do believe it is healthy to be open about who you really are to the people you care about.

However, this is not the case online. Online, literally millions of people could know about your status and you won’t care about any of them. They, on the other hand, may very much care about making you regret being open online. There is very little for you to gain and a lot for you to lose. I think few people can withstand the scrutiny, prejudice and discrimination that take place to a public, online, bipolar figure.

Understanding that though, there is a tiny fraction of people who can withstand that pressure, do understand the risk and are prepared to face up to it. For these people, going public about bipolar disorder online might be okay. But it’s something that requires much thought before undertaking.

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