How to Tell People You Have Bipolar II Disorder: Part 1 – Friends and Family

friends hugging

Bipolar II Disorder is a complicated illness to have and experience, let alone to explain to others. The “should I or shouldn’t I tell them” dilemma can be a major source of anxiety. It comes up over and over again. Figuring out how to tell your family and friends can be difficult.

Sometimes you probably shouldn’t avoid telling people, and it’s a question of how – people like family, close friends.

Telling the People Closest to You

Whether you’ve just been diagnosed or not, the process is the same. If, however, your family, friends, cat, and girlfriend have all just witnessed a mixed episode meltdown complete with blasting music at 3am and punching holes in the walls, or a protracted depressive episode, or more seriously a hospitalization, it would be wise to address that right away.

Your words and time would probably be wasted on the cat, though.

The first thing you need to be prepared for is present a concise and accurate picture of bipolar disorder, and be prepared to answer questions about it. It’s good if you have resources to point people to as well.

Think about anecdotes from your life that you can use to get messages across about how bipolar disorder affects your. Sometimes you’ll want to underscore how difficult it can be, and sometimes you need to highlight ways it doesn’t affect your life.

How to Start

I recommend avoiding leading off with statements like “there’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you,” “I need to tell you something,” or “I have terrible news to share with you.” Not only will you make the people you’re talking to uncomfortable and apprehensive (are you moving to Antarctica? are you dying? did we declare war on Canada and I haven’t heard about it yet?), you will also sound nervous. It’s important to seem relaxed and comfortable with the subject – that will set the tone for the people you’re talking to, and they’ll probably follow your lead.

This is a good outline for immediate family, and people in established romantic relationships. The setting matters too – somewhere comfortable for the people you’re talking to, or a comfortable but (private) public setting like a restaurant.

How to Finish

You: “I have Bipolar II Disorder” (if there was a related incident, insert here). “It’s a mood disorder, and it can cause low or high mood disturbances unrelated to events in my life. It can also cause problems with focusing, sleep, attention, etc. This is the treatment plan I’m following. Do you have any questions?”

From here you might want to go into more detail, or do that on a one-on-one basis if you’re talking to multiple people. This entirely depends on family dynamics and your relationships.

Good Friends, But Not The Closest

Talking to friends is different. Each friend is different too, of course. That said, these conversations don’t need to be much different from ones with people you’re closer with. These friends don’t necessarily need all the details; aim for the same tone though – approach the subject calmly and casually, leave room for questions, and be prepared to be the strong one.

Some friends you can just… tell them. I went to lunch with one friend and told him “I’ve been going through something. I have bipolar II disorder, and I’ve been dealing with depression for two straight years now. Because of that, I am leaving the area to focus on treatment.” 

I can imagine a long list of reactions a person might have to this. All I can say is that I was really surprised about how often this simple statement prompted friends – sometimes the most tangential – to open up about their own experiences with depression or bipolar disorder, either from direct experience or from watching their family members suffer.

To another friend, I let loose a story spanning six years of my life. I must have talked for twenty minutes. This can happen when someone asks follow-up questions; to her credit she kept asking them during the story, and at the end said she never knew I had been going through all of that and was so sorry.

Getting a strongly negative reaction is going to hurt a lot – I’d stay away from talking about this with someone you expect might react this way. If it does happen, distance yourself from that person, and find someone you can vent and talk to about the experience.

What if Someone Has a Problem or Questions?

There are a lot of resources you can point someone to. You could even encourage them to see a therapist (though that wouldn’t be appropriate to say to everyone).

Here are a few good resources to point people to:


Photo by Helena Lopes from Pexels

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