Dr Sharon Hastings was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder 14 years ago. This World Bipolar Day, she explores how we can all be more aware of how we’re feeling


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If you had to rate it on a scale - where zero is feeling like life is not worth living, and ten is feeling like you’re able to fly - where is your mood right now?

Our moods are important. They influence our thoughts, physical bodies and behaviour. No one knows more about this than those with bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression), an illness of extreme moods.

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was at a ten, twirling round my psychiatrist’s office in a party dress and wearing iridescent green eyeshadow right up to my eyebrows. But soon the high was replaced with a series of profound depressive episodes. (Ultimately, after I experienced psychotic symptoms while my mood was ‘normal’, my diagnosis was changed to schizoaffective disorderbipolar type) 

Fighting stigma

At first, I felt stigmatised by my ‘label’. When people spoke of having minor mood swings and feeling “so bipolar today”, it hurt; bipolar moods can last for months, the highs leave havoc in their wake and the lows are potentially fatal!

People with bipolar disorder have channelled extreme moods to astonishing creative effect

World Bipolar Day was started to raise awareness and to fight stigma and misconceptions. Actress Carrie Fisher, a famous sufferer, said: “Being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

I believe that Christians should take the lead in fostering acceptance and fighting stigma. Jesus always spent time with the stigmatised – lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes and so on – and had compassion on them.

I also believe that those with bipolar disorder have a lot to teach us! Here are three lessons I think we can learn:

1. It’s good to be aware of our moods

In order to manage bipolar illness, many sufferers use mood-tracking apps such as the Bipolar UK Mood Tracker or ‘Daylio’. An awareness of trends gives them more control: they can implement changes that heal before falling off a cliff into despair or racing into manic recklessness. Apps also allow them to share data with mental health professionals.

We all have moods and they affect us in different ways. Perhaps we are snappier when we are low or take unnecessary risks when more ebullient. Paying careful attention to our moods buys us time and helps us to proceed in a Christlike manner. We may also recognise when our moods are affecting us significantly and it might be appropriate to seek support.

2. It’s good to channel our moods

For hundreds of years, people with bipolar disorder (sometimes diagnosed posthumously) have channelled extreme high and low moods to astonishing creative effect. There is research supporting a link between bipolar and creativity – think Van Gogh and Munch, Hemingway and Plath, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff (though for some, excessive creative energy can be destructive – I once wrote an 80,000 word novel in two weeks and then destroyed the laptop).

Even those of us whose moods are not so intense know what it is to be deeply sad or brimming with joy. For Christians, these moods can become the beginnings of beautiful poems of lament, or of energising worship songs. We can also embrace our moods because they allow us to develop empathy, so that we can rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn – including those with bipolar disorder.

3. When we do struggle, it’s good to be in community with others 

Over the 14 years since my diagnosis, I have been impressed by how good people with bipolar are at supporting one another. The huge online community run by Bipolar UK and its network of in-person support groups exemplify this. Shared experience can be important, and testimonies suggest that peer support helps in a variety of ways.

Christians should take the lead in fostering acceptance and fighting stigma

Christians know that we are meant to exist in community. In the early Church, people were called to keep gathering together (Hebrews 10:25). We should also be open about our moods in our churches and get alongside those who are struggling – including those with bipolar. When we experience problems with mood, we may need to seek out other Christians with similar challenges – such as in a Kintsugi Hope Wellbeing Group.

Come together

This World Bipolar Day, take a moment to pray for sufferers, consider how you might help make your church a place free from stigma and think about how you might put the lessons above into practice in your life.

You might even use the hashtag #letstalkbipolar to share your response to this article!

World Bipolar Day takes place on 30 March. For more information see bipolaruk.org

Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness which needs to be managed by a team including a psychiatrist who can prescribe mood stabilising (and sometimes antipsychotic) medication. If you think you might have bipolar, please see your GP, because these treatments are often very effective and could help you regain a fulfilled life. If you are interested in learning more, Bipolar UK has a free e-course