According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.

Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a smaller proportion — about six percent who suffer from a serious mental illness. In addition, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and Canada for ages 15-44.  

Also, many people suffer from more than one mental disorder at a given time (called comorbidity). Nearly half (45 percent) of those with any mental disorder meet the criteria for two or more disorders, with severity strongly related to comorbidity.

The NIMH states that approximately  9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder.  Mood disorders include major depressive disorder, dysthymic disorder, and bipolar disorder. 

With that many people having a mental illness/mood disorder, shouldn’t the public be better educated about mental illness?  Yet, unfortunately, they are not; at least not as much as they should be. 

Organizations such as NIMH are helping, but still, more often than not, it falls to those of us who have a mental disorder to teach others (beginning with ourselves), thereby dispelling the ignorance, fear, misunderstandings, and myths surrounding mental illness as a whole.

Most of you have probably heard the expression, “You are the only Bible someone may ever read.”  Applied in this case, you may be the only person with a mental illness that will ever cross a person’s path—the only opportunity that person has to become educated about mental illness in general, and/or about bipolar disorder in specific. 

I would ask you first, how well-educated are you about your disorder?  Enough to be able to answer the general questions someone might ask you about it?

When first diagnosed, I actively sought out any and all information available to me on my disorders.  Although there were some books in the library, when I searched the Internet, I was amazed at the sheer amounts of information available to me! 

I read for weeks, soaking up the information like a sponge.  I may not be considered a college-educated expert now, not like a physician or psychiatrist, but I learned things I hadn’t known about myself and my disorders and got the most up-to-date information available. 

 

I was also able to research medications, so I was less afraid to take them—I knew what each one was and what it was supposed to do, as well as what side effects I could expect.

Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness of any kind.  People fear what they do not understand.

Each of us cannot teach the world; but we can teach our small part of it.  The more that people around us, especially those we love, learn about our disorder, the less we will feel abnormal or different, and it is our responsibility to teach them.