What is Bipolar?

ti-f asks: I have this friend who thinks she’s bipolar. She doesn’t really act like she is bipolar, though she does cut herself (but just to hurt herself, not like she wants to kill herself). I told her she isn’t bipolar, but I don’t know how to convince her of it. She is only 12, and is Christian. Can you help me?

Hi ti-f –

ti-f, we’re dealing with two really big issues here.  First, exactly what is meant by “bipolar.”  Lots of people use that term very casually, referring to someone who’s moody or goes to extremes in excitement.  Well that applies to me!  And I’m definitely not bipolar.  I’m just a very active and friendly dog.

The true meaning of Bipolar is someone who is usually depressed, but at times will slip into some form of a Manic Episode.  In milder cases, these episodes (called Hypomanic) are just a little bit wild or wacky.  In full on Manic Episodes, a calm rational person might gamble all their money away, become extremely sexually active, or even become quite violent.

What concerns me is that, if your friend is right, she’s spending most of her time in a state of Clinical Depression, which is a pretty awful way to live.  And her behavior sounds that way.

Now onto the cutting…  Cutting is one of the most dangerous and (to me) frightening things any person can do.  It usually stems from feeling numb, and craving some sort of feeling.  The idea that a person could need that so badly that they would actually cut their skin open is really horrific, and should be dealt with immediately.

But of course, I don’t know all the facts.  But the thing is… neither does she, and neither do you.

You have already proven that you’re a great friend to her, just by writing this letter to me.  Now there’s one more thing I need you to do.  ti-f, I want you to find her a therapist or a psychologist.  If there’s one at your school, that’s fine.  If not, you can ask a teacher or an administrator there to help you find someone, and they should be able to point you in the right direction.  If none of them can help you, you could try asking your parents, a religious leader you know, or, if none of those are any good either, write me back and I can see what I can find for you (don’t worry, I won’t post anything online about where you live or any other identifying information).

This could be just a phase your friend is going through.  Or it could be a matter of life and death for her.  The fact that she is a religious might help you convince her to go to therapy, as her church probably frowns on self-harm.

I’m asking you to do something pretty difficult, ti-f.  But most likely, you have the chance to do the best thing you’ve ever done for anyone in your life.

Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.


You’re a hero,


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