Many people loosely use the term to describe the mood swings of hormonal teenagers, and some even use it to describe the weather. Bipolar, as seen in the aforementioned examples, remains one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions. Most confusion is the result of misinformation, but media sources such as movies, news, and television have also played a prominent role in mislabeling it.
Lack of understanding and awareness can lead to stigmatization of this serious condition, which may prevent people from getting the treatment they need to make their lives better and more manageable.
Let’s debunk some of the most common misconceptions by examining seven common myths about bipolar:
Myth: Bipolar isn’t a real condition. It’s just mood swings!
Fact: Bipolar is far more complex than the normal ups and downs of daily life. Bipolar can cause extreme changes in mood, sleep patterns, and energy levels. The mood swings associated with bipolar can be quite severe and can often interfere with a person’s ability to function. What sets these mood swings apart from typical mood changes are their frequency and intensity.
Individuals affected by bipolar usually experience extreme variance in mood ranging from major depression (extreme fatigue, sadness, and listlessness) to mania (euphoria, high energy, decreased need for sleep).
Bipolar is a very real and chronic condition, and a person who experiences it cannot just “snap out of it.” Similar to a lifelong medical condition such as diabetes, bipolar requires ongoing treatment and maintenance.
Myth: Bipolar is a rare mental health issue.
Fact: It’s not as rare as you might think. Four out of every 100 adults in the United States is said to have experienced bipolar. The condition affects about 5.7 million American adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Teens and children can be affected as well, although statistics paint an inaccurate picture considering that many children go undiagnosed.
Myth: There is a test that can determine if someone is bipolar.
Fact: Currently, there isn’t any physiological test that can provide a 100% accurate bipolar diagnosis. There is, however, a test that can determine if you have a genetic predisposition to the condition. This test evaluates saliva samples for mutations of the GRK3 gene that is associated with bipolar, but it provides no certainty that a person has or will develop the condition.
Bipolar is caused by a number of genetic and environmental factors. Genes play a role, but they are not the sole cause. Identical twins share the same genes, but if one is diagnosed as bipolar, 30% of the time the twin will not exhibit symptoms of the condition.
Psychological evaluation is currently the only method of diagnosing someone with bipolar.
Myth: The manic phase is better than the depressive phase.
Fact: While the manic phase is often characterized by euphoria or elevated mood, it is not necessarily a desired state. Mania is not always euphoric, either. Many manic individuals experience elevated mood in the form of irritability and edginess. Even when the mood is euphoric, it often brings with it side effects. A person experiencing mania may lose all sense of control, experience chronic insomnia, and have difficulty concentrating. The manic phase can quickly shift from euphoric to frightening, with the affected person having intense delusions and losing touch with reality.
Mania can be dangerous if left untreated. The trouble is that many people experiencing mania do not realize there is a problem. They simply attribute their symptoms to having a good mood and do not typically seek treatment until symptoms become severe.
Myth: Bipolar is experienced only by adults.
Fact: Bipolar occurs in children, adolescents, and teens, though it is often more difficult to diagnose in younger people. It can be challenging to diagnose children with bipolar, as all children are likely to have emotional outbursts and tantrums, especially at a young age.
The median age of onset of bipolar is 25. While it often takes this long to receive an actual diagnosis, many report having symptoms prior to the age of 18.
Myth: Bipolar is a single identifiable condition.
Fact: No two individuals with bipolar experience the exact same symptoms. There are several different ways the condition can manifest. Bipolar is an umbrella term used to label a wide range of subtypes of the condition. Four different types of bipolar are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
In order to be diagnosed as bipolar I, a person must have had at least one manic episode in their life. Bipolar II occurs when a person experiences major depression as well as bouts of hypomania, a form of elevated mood that is not as extreme as full-blown mania. Cyclothymia is characterized by at least two years of episodes of depressive and hypomanic symptoms. Lastly, bipolar not otherwise specified (BD-NOS) is the category for all other instances of the condition that do not fit into the other categories.
Myth: Individuals who have bipolar can’t live a typical life.
Fact: Although there is no cure for the condition, people who have bipolar are usually able to control their symptoms through treatment and live happy, fulfilling lives. Many people experiencing bipolar have families and raise children. They accomplish goals and contribute to society like anyone else. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Sinead O’Connor are names you might recognize. These successful entertainers have all sought treatment for bipolar.
Fact: Treatment can help manage the experience of bipolar.
Living with bipolar can be a challenge, but it is a challenge that many are able to overcome with proper management and active treatment.
In addition to psychotherapy and medication regimens, there are many lifestyle adjustments individuals experiencing bipolar can make to help alleviate and improve symptoms. These include eating a nutritious diet, getting restful sleep, exercising or being physically active, and paying attention to the warning signs of mania and depression.
If you are experiencing symptoms of bipolar, consider finding a therapist who can help you better understand the condition and work with you to create solutions to any challenges and difficulties you may experience in your personal and professional life as a result of it.
- Bledsoe, A. (2012, May 7). Common Misconceptions about bipolar disorder. Everyday Health. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/bipolar-depression/bipolar-misconceptions.aspx
- Doheny, Kathleen. (2008, August 1). 8 myths about bipolar disorder. Retrieved from: http://www.webmd.com/bipolar-/features/8-myths-about-bipolar-?page=4
- Sandhu, R. (2015). 4 misconceptions about bipolar that need to be smashed. International Bipolar Foundation. Retrieved from http://ibpf.org/blog/4-misconceptions-about-bipolar-need-be-smashed
- Youngstrom, E. (2012, October 23). Myths and realities about bipolar disorder. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/10/bipolar-.aspx
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