In the past 48 hours the phrase “he was bipolar” has been thrown around by nearly every major news outlet in response to the ex-wife of Omar Mateen’s statement that he beat her, was “mentally unstable” and “was bipolar.” Instantly, I knew people would jump onto the “it must be mental illness” bandwagon as a means of understanding the horror that occurred at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
The national argument soon shifted from gun-control and religious extremism to “oh, he was bipolar” and the “mentally ill are why there needs to be gun control reform.” Perhaps everyone needs to understand what bipolar disorder is first BEFORE they classify the murder of 49 innocent individuals as the act of someone with one of the more than 450 types of mental illness, especially since we don’t know if this was a professional diagnosis or an assumption from his ex-wife.
As a mental health advocate, I can assure you that of all the individuals I have encountered with a Bipolar diagnosis, a whopping ZERO have committed murder, a hate crime or an act of terrorism. Their focus is on therapy, healing, exploring options for medication, and enjoying time with family and friends; not plotting to slaughter innocent people in the middle of the night. In fact, they are more likely to harm themselves during a depression phase than harm another.
Bipolar is a spectrum disorder ranging from hypermania to severe depression and includes hypomania (mild energy) and cyclothymia (mildest form). While depression symptoms are pretty well known, mania symptoms can include lack of sleep, loss of appetite, self-risk behavior such as drug-use, gambling, and hypersexuality. However, it can be successfully treated with medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and/or other treatments such as exercise, nutrition, and more.
Celebrities such as Demi Lovato and Catherine Zeta-Jones have been outstanding vocal advocates of Bipolar II and the late Oscar winner, Patty Duke, was one of the first celebrities to share her Bipolar I diagnosis and campaign for better legislation and awareness on its behalf.
I know the nation wants to make sense of why someone would murder innocent people in the middle of the night, especially in a city like Orlando which is home to great memories for so many, myself included. However, Bipolar Disorder shouldn’t be the scapegoat.
Please, don’t get me wrong. A person with Bipolar CAN certainly be capable of committing a crime. Nevertheless, they are just likely to do it as someone with cancer or diabetes. It’s not the illness that causes people to attack.
Bipolar individuals will continue to be stigmatized if this term continues to be thrown around without caution. Regardless of whether or not he did have an official diagnosis and didn’t follow his treatment plan, Omar Mateen’s act was fueled by hate and rage, not illness. Hate-crimes and terrorism are not a part of the symptomology of bipolar. We need to accept his actions for what they are, evil and heartless, not blame it on mental illness.