Guest Blogger Gabe Howard on the Diffficult Topic of Violence in Bipolar Disorder


A Response to Julie A. Fast’s Bp Magazine blog post that received over 1000 shares on Facebook.   If you have not read the post, click here to read Three Bipolar Disorder Symptoms No One Wants to Talk About. 

Violent Behavior and Bipolar Disorder Are Linked. Let’s Talk About it Openly and Deal with the Problem! 

 by Gabe Howard

Before we dive into this subject, let’s acknowledge some facts. First, I live with bipolar disorder and no, I have never been violent. Secondly, whether we want to admit it or not, violence can be associated with bipolar disorder – typically with bipolar psychosis, but can also manifest when inhibitions are lowered due to dysphoric mania.

When people living with bipolar disorder see in the media that others with bipolar disorder are violent, they have a very defensive reaction. It is triggering, because the typical person with bipolar disorder is not violent, has never been violent, and is unlikely to become violent. While the possibility does exist, it is very rare. The incidence of violence in bipolar disorder is rarer than suicide.


To put this in a little perspective, we do not become outraged or fearful when we hear “he committed suicide because he was bipolar.” But swap out suicide with crime or violence and our collective backs raise.

 Yes, Violent Behavior can be a Bipolar Symptom

 Rare though it is, we must accept that violence is associated with bipolar disorder. If we deny this, we remove the possibility of leniency in a criminal trial for someone who has a credible defense. We remove the possibility of treatment, because if it isn’t related to bipolar disorder, then it is just a flaw of character.

Advocating on behalf of mental illness is a difficult task and, at the end of the day, all we have is fact and honesty. Society is already skeptical of the media so when people discuss violence as it relates to mental illness, we have a golden opportunity to educate when people are listening. Next time someone brings up violence and mental illness, no matter how offensively, look them straight in the eyes and say:

“Sadly, violence is a potential symptom of mental illness. It is extremely rare and obviously occurs when something has gone terribly wrong. The overwhelming majority of people living with mental illness will not become violent and we must not give in to that fear. This is why I advocate to replace fear with facts and ensure that people who need treatment can receive it.”

That will go a long way toward reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness as well as educating the public.


Gabe Howard is a professional speaker, award-winning writer and advocate, as well a person living with severe bipolar and anxiety disorders. Since 2003, he has made it his mission to put a face on mental illness that isn’t stereotypical. Society often sees people living with mental illness at their worst and he works to add a more balanced view to the conversation. Gabe is frequently irreverent, often too loud, and always unpredictable, but anyone who knows him will tell you that life would be so boring without him. Click here to read more about Gabe Howard and his work. 



1 comment to Guest Blogger Gabe Howard on the Diffficult Topic of Violence in Bipolar Disorder

  • Cello Velasquez

    I have been arrested before as a result of a mental meltdown that was the result of not taking my meds regularly. The police just chalked it up to road rage. They had little sympathy when I told them I was a mental health patient and I was rationing my meds. To this day I’m traumatized and scared of police interaction.