There is a societal stigma connected to BP. We have a cultural value that people who are different are to be kept at a distance or to be suspected. At times, this value might keep us safe (as when someone’s behavior is dangerous), but in most cases, this attitude toward BP is unwarranted. Thus, we have a long way to go in reducing that stigma.
This is one case where Big Pharma might turn out to have a positive effect. Already, they have worked to reduce the stigma associated with certain sexual and mood disorders so they can sell their medications more effectively. For example, having Bob Dole talk about Erectile Dysfunction made it more okay for other men to acknowledge the problem and thus seek treatment through the prescription of Viagra. There are also many print ads for depression medications, often featuring an attractive woman looking down and a questionnaire to determine if you might be suffering from depression. The message here is: these are problems that many people have, and it’s okay, and we have the pill that will solve it for you.
It’s reasonable to hope that popular thinking about BP will undergo a similar transformation, though I haven’t seen ads for bipolar medication yet. Why? It may be the population (at 4 to 6 million Americans) may be too small relative to other diseases. Or it may be that the manic symptoms of the disease still seem too scary or dangerous to people unfamiliar with them (much like the symptoms of schizophrenia). Only time will tell if this fear of BP will continue to decrease.