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World Bipolar Day: Black Women Uninterrupted?

What does spunky glam mother from ‘Black-ish’ actress Jennifer Lewis and songstress extraordinaire Mariah Carey have in common? They both have been candid about their bipolar disorder diagnosis. Although more Black celebrities are discussing prioritizing mental health, like Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson, along with athletes like Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles, tennis superstar Naomi Osaka, and even rapper and businesswoman Meg Thee Stallion is launching a website to help accessibility to mental health therapy. Bipolar disorder remains stigmatized by some of those in the Black community. Additionally, observances like World Bipolar Day bring awareness that people remain undiagnosed and untreated and address the stigmas associated with the disorder.

What is bipolar disorder?

According to the American Psychiatric Association, bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that alters a person's mood, energy, and ability to function. Those with bipolar disorder experience prolonged extreme highs (manic episodes) and lows (depressive episodes).

Why may diagnosing bipolar disorder in Black women be difficult?

Black women are faced with many challenges and responsibilities. This is because there are so many facets of the world that we show up. So many of us are daughters, sisters, nieces, cousins, mothers, romantic partners, mentors, teachers, heads of households, employees, business owners, community leaders, caregivers for elderly family members, and much more. Yet, with all these responsibilities, we are expected to show up in the world inauthentically.

A recent example, actress Angela Bassett received criticism after the 2023 Oscars because of her reaction to not winning "Best Actress" for her phenomenal performance in Marvel's Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Others expect Black women to wear the mask of happiness and positivity for fear of being labeled an "Angry Black Woman," "Mad Black Woman," or, in Bassett's case, "ungracious." Suppressing such feelings/behaviors can make mental health challenges like bipolar disorder more difficult to seek treatment for and accurately diagnose.

The "Strong Black Woman” trope can also be a hindrance. As Brooklyn-based psychiatrist Sabrina Gratia told reporter Gabrielle Nicole Pharms in a HuffPost piece last fall, "It's like you have to be strong and not talk about it---and that's not helpful," says Gratia. This leaves many Black women misdiagnosed, undiagnosed and untreated.

How can Black women ensure they are appropriately treated for their mental health challenges?

As Nadia Richardson, PhD, Founder and Executive Director of the Black Women's Mental Health Institute, recommended in a Teen Vogue article, one solution is to prioritize your mental well-being, identify the source of any distress, and seek mental health professionals to assist with managing stressors. Too often, imbalances in the brain can cause psychosomatic symptoms that are mistreated as physical ailments without addressing the underlying psychological factors.

Remember, a bipolar disorder diagnosis is not to be ashamed of. The real shame is going misdiagnosed or undiagnosed.



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