Advocating for Your Health When You Have Bipolar Disorder

October 7, 2021 Natasha Tracy

When you have bipolar disorder, advocating for your health is even harder. And honestly, doctors are often to blame for this difficulty. Not all doctors are the same, of course, but many treat people with serious mental illness in ways different from other patients. Learn why it's so hard to advocate for your health with bipolar disorder and what you can do about it.

Advocating for Your Health with Bipolar and Doctor's Who Don't Believe You

Many doctors don't believe patients of any stripe advocating for their health. I'm not sure why this is, but it's pretty common for a person to see a doctor about a complaint and the doctor to tell them it's "all in their head." For people with bipolar disorder, though, it gets so much worse.

People with bipolar disorder are often assumed to be lying or making things up. They are often assumed to be drug-seeking. They may also be assumed to be attention-seeking or hypochondriacal. In other words, the second you sit in front of a doctor as a person with bipolar disorder, they may be inclined not to believe a word coming out of your mouth. The doctor may treat you like you're "crazy," whether they know they are doing it or not.

Advocating for Your Health with Bipolar and Doctors Who Attribute Everything to Bipolar

But, let's say you get past that problem, and the doctor believes you when you advocate for your health, even when you have bipolar. That's great, right? Well, it might be. But then again, you might run into the second big problem: doctors who blame every ill on bipolar disorder.

One of the problems with bipolar disorder is that it can have many psychological and physical effects. I might suggest we can't even pinpoint every effect with our knowledge at this time. This being the case, doctors are prone to attributing seemingly all ills to bipolar disorder or to bipolar medication side effects. And while sometimes this makes sense, sometimes people genuinely have other problems that also need taking care of -- and unfortunately, doctors are often blind to this.

How to Advocate for Your Health with Bipolar Disorder

But none of this means you're actually "crazy." None of this means a health complaint is "all in your head." None of this means your health concern should be ignored.

If you have bipolar disorder and need to advocate for your health, remember:

  • You are not crazy. While it's possible that a health concern is in your head (it can happen), consider the evidence. What other conditions may account for your concern? Have they been ruled out?
  • You are the expert on you, not the doctor. If something doesn't feel right inside you, it very likely isn't. 
  • You deserve to be treated with the same respect, dignity, and trust as any other patient. 
  • You deserve an explanation for your concern. Maybe your concern is medication-related. Maybe your concern is aging-related. Who knows? But you deserve an explanation that fits the facts and fits for you.

So when you're sitting in front of a doctor, advocating for your health with bipolar disorder, try these things:

  • Do your research beforehand. This doesn't mean diagnosing yourself. This means finding out what might be causing your concern so you can have a conversation about it. 
  • Make a plan before you see a doctor. Write down all your concerns/symptoms/questions. Write down what you need to know. Write down what you want to have when you leave the appointment.
  • Stay calm and refer to your notes. You'll look organized and, indeed, not "crazy."
  • Give as much detail with as many examples as you can. For example, saying, "I feel arm pain all the time," is not very helpful. Saying, "My elbow hurts 90 percent of the time, and it's particularly sore after showers," is much better.
  • Suppose a doctor isn't taking you seriously; state openly what you feel is happening and what you need. For example, "I may not be speaking very clearly. The pain is intense and keeps me awake at night, so I need some sort of a treatment plan." (True, you might have been very clear, but falling on your sword a little can help the conversation move along.)
  • If you have to, demand a treatment plan. That plan might be tests or a referral to someone else or another appointment. Anything is okay. Nothing is not okay.
  • Bring a person with you to your appointment. Someone else who can back up your concerns and who doesn't have bipolar disorder may be someone the doctor will listen to. (Yes, this is unfair.)
  • If none of this works and the doctor still isn't giving you what you need, get a referral to someone else. 

In short, try to work within the system as best as you can, even if that means compensating for some doctor's prejudice. I know that's not fair but confronting a doctor's prejudice is likely to make your relationship worse and unlikely to get you what you need. If you don't have to continue the relationship with the doctor and you want to say something about your treatment, then, fine, but otherwise, I would keep charges of prejudice to yourself -- for your own sake.

And finally, remember that advocating for your health is good -- it's what you should be doing. Some awful doctors make it harder, but it's still one of the most important things you'll ever do. After all, if you haven't got your health, you haven't got anything.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2021, October 7). Advocating for Your Health When You Have Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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