HELP ME, HARLAN! – Bipolar student needs compassion — not judgment

By Harlan Cohen

Harlan Cohen

Dear Harlan,

I am on the executive board of my sorority, but they won’t let me live in the house because I am bipolar. The housing corporation (which is made up of sisters) decided I couldn’t live in the chapter house because I could have “an effect on the other women in the house.” This is extremely illegal, but I know that if I take action against my sorority, it won’t end well. What should I do?

Victim of Prejudice

Dear Victim,

This is unfair and ignorant, and I’m sorry this is happening to you. There are two ways to go: You can fight like mad to live in the house, or you can give these women permission to be ignorant and then educate them. The second option is much harder. Educating ignorant people takes a tremendous amount of patience and self-awareness. It means being so comfortable with yourself that you can give people permission to be wrong.  Your friends are wrong. They don’t realize that bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans, or about 2.6 percent of the U.S. population over age 18 (source: The National Institutes of Mental Health). This includes people they love, respect and admire. Find a way to address your entire chapter and explain what it means to have bipolar disorder. Take away the fear. Make this about understanding mental-health issues and being an accepting chapter where everyone is welcome and supported. Explain that people like Demi Lovato and Jane Pauley have bipolar disorder. Share how the illness causes manic episodes that can include extreme highs and extreme lows. List the symptoms. The median age of onset is 25 years old (which means some of your friends could be diagnosed later in life). Explain how bipolar disorder can be managed with medicine and professional care. Share how you manage your bipolar disorder. Then, surround yourself with people who support and love you. Find roommates who understand that bipolar disorder doesn’t define you. Give the rest of the women a chance to realize their mistakes. In addition to educating these women, reach out to your national chapter and campus leaders for support and guidance.  Explain the situation. Use this event to help create new rules and regulations to make sure this NEVER happens to anyone else again. Students managing mental-health issues need compassion – not judgment. For more information on bipolar disorder, visit:


Dear Harlan,

This weekend, I found out that my girlfriend cheated on me with my best friend. They said it was a one-time thing and that they were both drunk. They both feel awful. I only found out because I saw a text on my girlfriend’s phone. I can’t let it go. They seem to want me to act like I’m the problem because I can’t forgive them. How can someone do this to someone else? What should I do?


Dear Hurting,

People who do awful things to people they supposedly care about are not well-balanced people. They are unfulfilled, off-balance and not people you need in your life. You can hate them (and I understand why you would). You can get angry (and it’s totally justified). However, hate and anger will not fix this.  Give them permission to be incredibly flawed and imperfect. Find new people who are balanced, sober and have a history of being faithful. For now, lean on people you love and trust. Exercise.  Pray, if you lose hope. Talk to people who have been hurt and later found love. Find new friends. Take care of yourself.   


Harlan is author of “Getting Naked: Five Steps to Finding the Love of Your Life (While Fully Clothed and Totally Sober)” (St. Martin’s Press). Write Harlan at or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan!, 2720 Dundee Road, Suite 226, Northbrook, IL 60062.



© Harlan Cohen 2018 Distributed by King Features Syndicate Inc.


HELP ME, HARLAN! – Bipolar student needs compassion — not judgment–