May is National Mental Health Awareness month. As part of its mission to educate the public about mental illness, and particularly bipolar disorder, International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) launched an essay contest open to all high school students in San Diego and Imperial counties. The topic of the essay was Changing the Future of Stigma; Bipolar Disorder in 2020. The winner would win season tickets to Cricket Amphitheater and read his/her essay at a mental health event featuring Margaret Trudeau, the wife of the former Prime Minister to Canada.
Carmel Valley resident James Stafford, a senior at Canyon Crest Academy, wrote the winning essay and read it on stage to a crowd of over 350 people.
James has a 4.1 GPA, is an AP Scholar with Distinction and a four-year starting varsity soccer player and three-year starting baseball player. He will be attending Whittier College in the fall and majoring in chemistry. If being athletically and academically gifted isn’t enough, he also plays the trumpet, clarinet and guitar.
Prior to writing the essay, James says he thought he knew everything about the disease. He was surprised to learn that there was a lot he didn’t know. To read James’ winning essay
The mission of the International Bipolar Foundation is to eliminate bipolar disorder through the advancement of research; to promote care and support services; and to erase associated stigma through public education. If you would like more information, please visit our web site at www.InternationalBipolarFoundation.org or contact Program Manager Ashley Reitzin: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is James Stafford's winning essay:
“Stigma: a word of Latin origin that is defined as a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation. This word that reeks of negativity is commonly related by the public to common diseases and disabilities that occur in society today such as Schizophrenia, mental retardation, Bipolar Disorder, and many others. Though these diseases and disorders are labeled as stigmas now, this can change in the future. The process of releasing something such as Bipolar Disorder from the chains of stigma requires three important steps to take place in society: awareness, understanding, and acceptance.
“If one were to ask a random person on the street how many adults in the U.S. have Bipolar Disorder, they would most likely not have a clue. If they were then told that Bipolar Disorder affects around 2.6 percent of American adults, they would be doubtful, but statistics do not lie. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 5.7 million American adults have Bipolar Disorder. This staggering number makes the disorder seem much more apparent than previously imagined by the public. By spreading awareness with campaigns of advertisements and essay competitions such as this one, hopefully the average American could realize the impact of Bipolar Disorder and help destroy the stigma that attaches itself because of pre-conceived societal misunderstandings.
“Charlie Sheen recently stated in an interview with ABC News that “Wow, what does [Bipolar Disorder] mean?... I’m Bi-Winning, I win here and I win there.” Though many laugh at this, it leads us to the more serious reality that very little of society truly understands what Bipolar Disorder is. Bipolar Disorder is a mental health problem characterized by moods switching between extreme euphoria and deep depression with intermediary periods of normal mood. Society often associates people who suffer from Bipolar Disorder with being “crazy.” This assumption is incredibly inaccurate and a gross misunderstanding of the disorder. People that are bipolar are normal people that just have extreme mood shifts. The key point is that while they may have a disorder, but they are still human beings. They should not be treated any differently than the rest of society and should definitely not be judged differently as well.
“Understanding leads to acceptance. As the public learns more about Bipolar Disorder, the stigma will eventually fade away. It is hard to change public awareness and even harder to predict the future, but in 2020 the stigma that is attached to Bipolar Disorder should, if not completely, begin to fade away. This will happen because of the increased attempts of non-profit organizations and others to inform the public of the truth about Bipolar Disorder. Before I decided to enter this essay contest, I believed I knew everything about Bipolar Disorder. To my surprise I quickly learned that I did not. I have gained a new understanding of what Bipolar Disorder really is and I will spread my newfound knowledge to as many people as I can to help defeat the stigma.”