Growing up, Joanne Doan watched her grandmother struggle with bipolar disorder, then more often referred to as manic depression. Watching her grandmother’s experience with the illness and its stigma inspired Doan to launch bp Magazine and its complementary website, bp Hope. Both focus on bipolar disorder and showcase stories about the people in this community. It wasn't long before Doan decided to create another magazine focused on depression and anxiety, and another website — called Hope to Cope — to go along with it.
On March 31, 2022, Everyday Health acquired the two mental health sites. We spoke with Doan about the beginnings of bp Magazine, its development into an online platform, and the impact it has had on the bipolar community.
Everyday Health: How did you come up with the idea to start bp Magazine and Hope to Cope?
Joanne Doan: I found myself in the mental health world at a trade show, actually. It was the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Minnesota way back in 2003. One of the exhibitors said, "Have you ever thought of doing a magazine for bipolar?" I was with a magazine for schizophrenia at the time, but I was curious. I thought, There's an opportunity or they wouldn't be asking. I found out what bipolar was — it was a relatively new term for manic depression, and I knew what manic depression was because my beloved grandmother had manic depression. So I was pretty much off to the races from that point on.
It was a natural next step to grow our business, to launch a magazine called esperanza, which means hope, and its companion website, Hope to Cope. That’s for major depressive disorder and anxiety, which we refer to as the fraternal twins because they, in many cases, go hand in hand. Hope is instrumental in getting to the point where you're creating a better, happier, healthier way of life.
EH: With bp Magazine being in print, why did you decide to create a digital platform, and what did that process look like?
JD: It was clear from the beginning that there was a huge need for dedicated online support for people living with these specific brain-based illnesses, and for the people who love and care for them.
bp Magazine’s digital edition is an exact replica of bp Magazine’s print publication, and it was created to allow immediate access to current and past issues. Because bp Magazine is the only consumer magazine that focuses on bipolar, we received countless requests from all over the world for print subscriptions, which was costly and limited to only those who could afford it. Offering the digital edition of bp Magazine enabled us to get it into the hands of the international bipolar community. We also receive requests for permission to translate articles and for the magazine to be available in Spanish.
EH: Can you explain how the two sites are different, and how they complement one another?
JD: We refer to them as sister sites. There's definitely a crossover, simply because bipolar is two pools: one is mania, one's depression. So naturally, people with bipolar depression would find value in Hope to Cope, which deals with unipolar depression. People with bipolar also deal with anxiety, so Hope to Cope would be helpful to them also. Having said that, with bp Hope, we cover everything — we cover anxiety, impulsivity, relationships, hyper sexuality, sleep, anger, faith, spending, treatment, etc. — and we focus on bipolar depression because people are in the depressive phase more than the manic phase.
EH: What would you say is your main goal with the magazine and with the community that you’ve been able to build through your sites?
JD: I go back to a woman who said, as we were creating the first issue of bp Magazine, "I want to be able to sit on a plane, and hold a magazine in my hand, and not look like I'm 'crazy.'" We're all about living your best life with bipolar. That's what it's all about. Our mission is to normalize the condition — by providing a vibrant, glossy magazine with mainstream features, columns, and interviews about bipolar disorder that are backed up by the latest research and healthcare professionals — and we seem to have gotten it right.
EH: How much of the content that shows up in the magazine and on the website comes from the patients themselves?
JD: We have a blog, and that's an eclectic group of writers who share their very personal journeys. You might have a mom, you might have a priest who has bipolar, a father, a business owner, somebody who's solely dedicated to advocacy work. They just put it out there — it's pretty raw. If you read the comments on both sites, people join in. They appreciate their openness, and many say, "I'm walking away knowing that I'm not the only one who has dealt with this."
EH: What has changed for people who have bipolar disorder since the magazine's first publication?
JD: Although there is still so much work to be done in educating people about mental health conditions, we have seen a shift in the public’s view, and the pandemic definitely has brought the importance of our mental health to the forefront. More people are talking openly about their mental health, and that dialogue is critical to getting well and to ongoing stability. The secret handshake and the whispers still exist, but we are moving in the right direction.
EH: What do you think is the most difficult thing that patients who have bipolar disorder face when trying to navigate the healthcare system?
JD: Getting a bipolar diagnosis still takes an average of eight years, with most people being misdiagnosed with unipolar depression. We are constantly told by the people we interview that these years are painful and that many times a person does not understand their behavior and/or mood swings.
EH: Looking forward into the future, what are you most optimistic about?
JD: The future couldn’t be brighter for our bp Hope and Hope to Cope communities! We have found the right home with Everyday Health, which will continue to uphold our mission of normalizing brain-based illnesses, expand our reach to the millions of people who are in search of hope, and help them live fulfilling lives with bipolar, depression, and anxiety. At the end of the day, we all have a brain, we’re all the same — the people in our magazines and websites are “people like me.”