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Beyond bipolar disorder: Jehan shares her lived experience to inspire others and to help end mental health stigma

Written story

When a friend breaks an arm, we sign their cast. When a family member gets a cold, we bring soup. When someone tells you they live with diabetes, we make a sugar-free dessert.

What would you do for someone who told you they live with bipolar disorder?

Jehan Schaaf is a senior administrative assistant for IT. She loves to travel, walk and play games with friends. She also lives with bipolar disorder. It is a part of who she is, but not who she is. She shares her story often and openly to help others know they aren’t alone. During mental illness awareness week from October 1-7, she hopes to inspire her colleagues.

Lifelong struggle

Jehan has experienced mental health challenges for as long as she can remember.

“When I was a little girl, I started becoming anxious and overwhelmed with school,” she recalls. “As I got older, things got worse. I started suffering from severe insomnia along with depression and anxiety. I would stay awake for days at a time. Back then, mental health wasn’t really talked about, and I didn’t know what I was going through.”

After starting college, her symptoms worsened, and she was admitted to the hospital. Here, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 19 after struggling for years with an unknown illness. It took time to find the right treatment, but Jehan has not experienced bipolar disorder symptoms for four years.

Inspiring others

Jehan has not only accepted her condition, but embraced it. She uses her experience to inspire and help others who may be struggling.

“I know my vocation in life is to help others and I want to do just that,” she says. “I can’t stress enough how important mental health is to talk about. You never know who you could be helping just by opening up.”

She’s doing this now by talking with colleagues and sharing her experience in our Make It OK campaign.

“My colleagues have been very kind and I have the support of my leader as well, which means so much to me,” she shares. “Our organization has supported me on my journey because the benefits are incredible, and it shows how much they value mental health care. I love that our organization partners with Make it OK to help stop mental illness stigma and talk about mental health more. I feel so grateful to be a part of HealthPartners.”

Ending the stigma

Jehan hopes people have the courage to be open about their mental health. Showing compassion for your own and others’ struggles is necessary to end the stigma so people can get help.

“Try to always remember that what you are going through is temporary,” she says. “You won’t always feel this way. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. It will not only help yourself but could help someone else. Know that you are not alone, and there is always hope. I am living proof that things can get better.