Better Awareness of Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Awareness of depression and mania is key to getting Bipolar IN Order.

You can live in the same neighborhood for thirty years and still have little idea of what is going on there. You can shop in the stores, eat in the restaurants, talk with the neighbors, and feel that you know the community very well. But there are still more things going on than you know about. You simply never knew to look for them or were never taught how.

The police that work in the area know about crimes that go on right in front of you. The pest control people see things in the restaurants that might shock you if you knew they were there. Everyone from the woman in the plumbing shop to the guy selling pot (maybe even out of your own house) see things going on that you do not. The preacher knows about the spiritual goings on and the neighborhood doctor sees all of the injuries and illnesses.

When a thief sees a saint all he notices is his pockets. We all only see the things we have been trained to look for. As Paul Simon famously sang, "We all hear what we want to hear and disregard the rest."

The same thing is happening in the depression and bipolar worlds. Many doctors and therapists only see it as a disease or disorder, family members see behaviors, and people with depression only see pain and suffering. There is so much more going on that none of them have been taught how to see. I have been teaching all three groups for almost fifteen years and am amazed how little awareness there is about very important details until I show them were to look.


Increased awareness results in deeper understanding, better functionality, more comfort for all involved, and recognition of value in what was once seen only as a disorder. It can literally be the difference between a diminished life and a great one.

The first thing we all need to learn is to be able to see the differences between each level of intensity. It is not so hard to do once you are taught what to look for. Our graduates, from seasoned professionals in the field to the recently diagnosed, can see each increment of ten from zero intensity to their most intense depressions and manias. They can differentiate the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and career/financial elements of each level of intensity. They learn very quickly how to notice each element and how even small changes in intensities affect their understanding, functionality, comfort, and value both in past experiences and if they were to have another episode tomorrow.

But, that is not how it starts for beginners. When first asked, most people have high awareness of their deep depressions and low awareness of their high manias. Even worse, they have no awareness at all of mania or depression until they get to thirty or forty percent intensities. Unfortunately, by the time they are aware it is often too late to do anything about it. They are too close to it spiraling out of control, which contributes to the mistaken belief that lack of awareness is part of the condition.

One of the amazing things is that awareness seems to increase just from asking the right questions. It may be that asking about awareness the way we do tells them that it is possible. They start to pay attention to all of the aspects (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and career/financial) and begin to catch depression and mania at lower intensities when they still have time to get it under control.

What is most surprising is the similarity in answers we get. So far, most people have described each intensity level with remarkably common statements. With enough data, we might soon have clear definitions for mania and depression that include specific criteria for each intensity. Diagnosis will be much more accurate because we asked questions that yesterday's experts believed the person could not answer.

Awareness is not enough, of course. The rest of this series will cover understanding, functionality, comfort, value, and the effect of time. In the mean time, please share your questions and insights in the comments or contact me through our Facebook page if you prefer.

About the author 

Tom Wootton

Tom Wootton is a passionate agent of change. He is pioneering concepts and challenging our thinking about mental health more than anyone else in the field today. Tom designed and delivered the first Bipolar IN Order workshop in 2003 and after many revisions it remains his signature program. It is now a worldwide on-line program that offers multi-media learning and live internet group sessions.

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