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“People with bipolar disorder can thrive”: World Bipolar Day Q&A

Bipolar disorder, affecting approximately 60 million people worldwide, is a mental illness characterized by mood fluctuations. Those living with bipolar disorder experience episodes of depression and episodes of mania. An episode of depression in bipolar disorder shares similarities with other types of depression, whereas mania or hypomania is an unusually high mood for the person.

World Bipolar Day, recognized annually on March 30, aims to raise international awareness about bipolar disorder, eliminate social stigma and discrimination, and encourage understanding about what bipolar is and isn’t.

Q&A with Ailie and Alison, both living with bipolar disorder


Ailie is a lawyer, mother and friend. First diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 1 in the late 90s, Ailie has been involved in grassroots mental health lived experience organizations for over 20 years, and is currently the chair of CMHA’s National Council of Persons with Lived Experience (NCPLE).


Alison was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type 2 in 2018. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for the past six years, focusing on sexual and reproductive health as well as mental health. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, reading and baking.

Although stigma is pervasive within all mental illnesses, this is especially true for bipolar disorder. In the Q&A below, Ailie and Alison offer their unique insights on living with bipolar disorder, underlining the important role of education and open communication when it comes to debunking common misconceptions.

What are some of the positive aspects of living with bipolar disorder?

Ailie: Some of the positives of living with bipolar type I include the times when I have been toward the higher end of my mood and have experienced a lot of energy and creativity. In those times, I’m really productive. Another positive aspect would be the wonderful people I’ve met who I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered if not for my diagnosis.
Living with bipolar disorder has made me a much more empathetic person. I am far less likely to judge other people now, since I’ve realized that you never know what someone may be going through. I think it has also made me focus a lot more on maintaining my overall mental and physical health.

What would you say is the public’s understanding of bipolar disorder? Does it need to be changed, and if so, how?

Ailie: I think most of what the public understands about bipolar disorder is driven by the media, and as a result can be negative or sensationalist in tone. I would say that the public’s understanding is improving, but it’s challenging not to generalize when bipolar disorder is so unique to each individual. I do think most people understand the concept of wide mood swings and emotions, but don’t understand that the condition is so much more than that.
Unfortunately, I think the public has a fairly limited understanding of bipolar disorder. I believe it’s currently mostly seen in the context of celebrity “meltdowns.” While bipolar disorder is a serious condition, many people with it not only have stable, fulfilling lives, but thrive. I wish that there was a more nuanced understanding of how people experience bipolar disorder differently, as well as more positive representations of people with bipolar disorder in the media.

What are some misconceptions about bipolar disorder that you have personally dealt with?

Ailie: I have experienced times when acquaintances and even medical professionals have seemed afraid of the potential danger I might pose. Actually, people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators. The danger aspect can be real in a minority of situations, but it is incredibly frustrating when people focus on this alone.
I’ve experienced two different misconceptions about bipolar disorder. In the first instance, one person incorrectly assumed that being bipolar was the same thing as having “multiple personality disorder” (now known as dissociative identity disorder). In the second instance, a person mistakenly thought that I couldn’t live independently. I think these experiences demonstrate a lack of education about bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses in general.

What are some of the ways you’ve been supported by your community?

Ailie: The best support I’ve received is from people who simply accept my bipolar disorder as no big deal. I find a calm approach to be most supportive. I’m happy when people ask questions and are open to having a discussion with me about it.
I think the most helpful way that I’ve been supported by friends and family is by simply asking me how they can support me. I am open to loved ones telling me if they have noticed a difference in my behaviour, or checking in with me about my medication. I think the worst thing to do is to avoid talking about it or walk on eggshells around someone with bipolar disorder. I find doing so really reinforces the stigma that I sometimes feel about having bipolar disorder. It can be very isolating.

Does bipolar disorder affect your day-to-day life, and if so, how do you manage it?

Ailie: Bipolar disorder doesn’t really affect my day-to-day life for the most part. So long as I take my medication, I’m fine. Occasionally I will still experience “blips,” but I’ve become more proactive in taking action earlier than I used to. Work and family are what keep me on the right path. I have too much to lose by not paying attention to my mental health.
The main effect that bipolar disorder has on my day-to-date life is that I have to ensure that I’m dedicating time to my overall mental and physical health. This includes getting enough sleep, exercising, eating regular meals and spending time outside. Keeping to a regular schedule is important to me as well.

What are some services and supports you have found most helpful? Are there any you think are lacking?

Ailie: The most helpful support has been peer support. The ability to gain strength and encouragement from others who have been through tough times is invaluable. I have also had some wonderful healthcare professionals who have had open discussions with me, contributing to a more trusting relationship. Only when I really trust someone can I have a genuine dialogue with them, which I think contributes to optimum care and treatment.
I think better connections between clinical providers and community organizations would be helpful. After I received my diagnosis from a psychologist, I wasn’t really provided with many resources. I think it would have been beneficial for me to access peer support services and speak with other people with bipolar disorder to learn about the ways they manage their conditions.

While Ailie and Alison have both been able to access the care they’ve needed, this isn’t the case for everyone. Millions of people in Canada don’t have a family doctor they can turn to for support. In fact, only 1 in 3 Canadians will get the mental health care they need because the care is either unavailable or isn’t covered by public health insurance. CMHA works to ensure that all people in Canada get the health, social and economic supports they need to be well.

CMHA National is committed to ensuring the voice of lived experience drives our work. To learn more, visit: