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Mara McWilliams

Bad Press on Bipolar Disorder

by Mara McWilliams

Lately it seems that the media is airing a lot of dirty laundry about bipolar disorder, without showing the public that many of us are kind, empathetic, in active recovery, and are responsible individuals. I have yet to see any journalists mention the long list of bipolar celebrities of the past or present: Sting, Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, Buzz Aldrin, Carrie Fischer, Francis Ford Coppolla…. Check the Internet. We hear little about how these influential people in our society also suffered from or were survivors of the brain disorder termed Bipolar Disorder, which affects approximately 1% of the general population.

It seems reckless and irresponsible for the media to continue to portray those with brain disorders, formerly labeled as being mentally ill, as raving psychotic lunatics incapable of making healthy decisions for themselves. As a woman with Bipolar Disorder, I am fed up with continually being misrepresented on television. If the media wants the drama and ratings associated with the psychotic and dissociative episodes that bipolars can experience, they need to air a show about bipolar recovery. Yes, recovery is possible for those with brain disorders and as a TV viewer; I would like to see shows that exemplify that.

One of my favorite TV series' is Law & Order. I love the story lines and learning about the judicial system. However, as much as I love this show, it has portrayed bipolar individuals as criminals committing horrendous violent crimes. Only one time did it recently air a show about an extremely intelligent bipolar woman who wanted to make a clear and valid point to society about reality-TV shows and the harm they are causing on society. Her means were extreme yet brilliant in the effect they had on the viewer. But like many others, she was arrested and carted off to jail to join the masses of misdiagnosed and untreated individuals who are jam packing our prison system.

It's time for our media to take a responsible approach when dealing with brain disorders. If a station decides to air a segment about the devastating effects of the illness or the high suicide rate of 20% then show a follow up segment about people who are properly diagnosed, medicated, and are in active recovery. Show the public both sides of the story. The best way to promote wellness in any society is through education.

Wake up people, it's 2004. In a time where we have made incredible medical and technological advances, we still have not found cures for many illnesses; AIDS, cancer, Downs Syndrome, SIDS, and many brain disorders, including bipolar disorder. In the eighties, AIDS patients were feared, ridiculed, and ostracized. Today in our more educated society most have realized that AIDS, though not curable, is treatable with the right medication regimen along with proper diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. Today, one would be viewed as an insensitive clod if they were to hold to the 80's stigma surrounding AIDS. The same holds true for individuals with Bipolar Disorder. Once properly diagnosed, bipolar disorder is treatable, and living a healthy balanced life becomes attainable. It is my hope and ultimate goal to see that the stigma associated with brain disorders fade as our society becomes educated about the illness. Fear is generally what motivates intolerance. If our media stood up and addressed brain disorders without any bias many people could be helped.

Mara McWilliams resides peacefully in Northern California with her daughter and her wife, Renee. She has dedicated her life to raising her daughter; volunteering, preserving her mental health, and helping others improve themselves whenever she can. She expresses herself through painting, drawing, and writing.

Mara is the author of Outta My Head and In Your Face. The poetry and artwork of Mara McWilliams reflects a journey that led her through the darkest depths of mental illness, to a place where she more often experiences a peace that is the result of tremendous hard work and dedication to a better, balanced, life. This book of selected poems and paintings by Mara McWilliams chronicles that journey. She hopes to give the reader a view into the tortured mind of the undiagnosed mentally ill, as well as to give hope to those whose lives have been touched by mental illness, that a full and beautiful life is possible.

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