Bipolar in the Black Community

Bipolar in the Black Community

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As a professional in human services it is the most difficult thing in the world to watch people suffer when there is help out there.  This feeling is even worse when you have a personal relationship with this person.  For the last few years that is exactly what I have been dealing with in my own life.  I’ve watched this person have extreme mood swings, going from manic to depressive in what feels like the blink of an eye.  Over time, this person’s extreme ups and downs have pushed people away and literally damaged some very important relationships for them.  Like many African-Americans, this person is spending their life suffering (aware or unaware of diagnosis) and not seeking the help they need.  In the case of the person I’m talking about there is no official diagnoses; however they have been told by myself and others to seek help and displayed many of the symptoms of Bipolar Type II.

How does Bipolar Look: (information taken from

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Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:

Mood Changes
•    A long period of feeling “high,” or an overly happy or outgoing mood
•    Extremely irritable mood, agitation, feeling “jumpy” or “wired.”

Behavioral Changes
•    Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
•    Being easily distracted
•    Increasing goal-directed activities, such as taking on new projects
•    Being restless
•    Sleeping little
•    Having an unrealistic belief in one’s abilities
•    Behaving impulsively and taking part in a lot of pleasurable, high-risk behaviors, such as spending sprees, impulsive sex, and impulsive business investments.

Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:

Mood Changes
•    A long period of feeling worried or empty
•    Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex.

Behavioral Changes
•    Feeling tired or “slowed down”
•    Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
•    Being restless or irritable
•    Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
•    Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide.

Remember Bipolar disorder is far from easy to understand and in many cases the symptoms can look like separate issues.  This reality makes Bipolar difficult to diagnose in general and as a result has led to it being even worse in the Black community due to our lack of seeking treatment.  For this reason, many people and those who love them may suffer for years before ever being treated, making this a frustrating and debilitating illness.  If you or anyone you love is suffering please seek help.


  • An estimated 2.3 million Americans have bipolar disorder, also called manic-depressive illness.   While the rate of bipolar disorder is the same among African Americans as it is among other Americans, African Americans are less likely to receive a diagnosis and, therefore, treatment for this illness.
    • Several factors have contributed to African Americans not receiving help for bipolar disorder and other mental illnesses. Some of the reasons are:
      • A mistrust of health professionals, based in part on historically higher-than-average institutionalization of African Americans with mental illness; and on previous mistreatments, like such tragic events as the Tuskegee syphilis study.
      • Cultural barriers between many doctors and their patients.
      • Reliance on family and religious community, rather than mental health professionals, during times of emotional distress.
      • A tendency to talk about physical problems, rather than discuss mental symptoms, or to mask symptoms with substance abuse or other medical conditions.
      • Socioeconomic factors which can limit access to medical and mental health care. About 25 percent of African Americans do not have health insurance.
      • Continued misunderstanding and stigma about mental illness.

The above facts come from Black Doctors or Baltimore Times




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