Top 5 Myths & Facts About Bipolar Disorder

An Overview of Bipolar Disease

Bipolar disorder is a type of mental illness that is characterized by extreme and sudden shifts in mood. Symptoms of bipolar disorder tend to include extremely hyper or elevated moods to episodes of depression. People with bipolar disorder often find it challenging to manage their daily lives and tasks at work or school, and even have difficulty maintaining social relationships. There is no cure for Bipolar disorder, but various treatment options help manage the symptoms. There are many myths about bipolar disorder, and the unfortunate stigma towards people having the illness often restricts the support and treatment they receive. It is essential to be aware of the facts, increase your knowledge about bipolar, and end the myths and stigma associated with bipolar disease.

Bipolar disorder is more common than you think. Over 2.8 percent of adults in the United States alone, or around five million people, have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.(1) The average age around which people with this disorder begin to experience symptoms is 25 years old.(2)

Bipolar disorder is marked by extreme fluctuations in mood. One week may find a person in an extremely happy mood, a phase known as mania, while the next week itself, they might be experiencing severe depression.(3,4) Due to this, bipolar disorder is sometimes also known as manic depression or bipolar disease.(5)

Most of the time, on hearing the term ‘bipolar disorder,’ people assume that it means the person has sudden mood swings.(6) While this is partly right, people with bipolar disorder also experience many other symptoms. It is not just limited to high and low mood swings. Here are some of the common myths associated with bipolar disease and what the fact actually is.

Top 5 Myths & Facts About Bipolar Disorder

Myth 1: Bipolar Disorder Means That A Person Is Always Happy

Facts: Many people assume that bipolar disorder is synonymous with mania, or a state of elevated mood. However, this is far from the truth. The fact is that people with bipolar disorder go through a wide range of mood disturbances, ranging from mania and hypomania to depression. Mania is the term used to refer to the phase of a significantly elevated mood. This does not indicate that the person is very happy during this phase. A period of mania can cause severe disruptions to their daily life, as this phase is often accompanied by a wide range of psychotic symptoms. Hypomania, on the other hand, is similar to mania, but it is not as disruptive or intense.(7) The other extreme is a state of depression, which is marked by persistent low mood and a decrease in activity and energy levels.(8)

When a person with bipolar disorder experiences any of these symptoms for a specific amount of time, it is known as having an episode of the illness. It is possible for people to experience one, or even a combination of these symptoms during their episode.

Having an episode of mania is not productive, and neither is the person in a happy place. In some cases, a person having a manic episode may feel good initially, but if left untreated, things can quickly spiral out of control and become detrimental to their health. For example, they may decide to go on a grand shopping spree on a whim, spending well beyond the money they have. In other cases, people tend to become highly anxious or irritable and tend to get upset over even the minutest of things.(9)

When undergoing a manic episode, a person may start losing control over their thoughts and actions, often even losing touch with reality.

Myth 2: It’s Not Easy To Diagnose Bipolar Disorder

The fact is that bipolar disorder can be diagnosed in a similar manner to how physical diseases are diagnosed. It is true that there are no physical diagnostic tests that catch the illness, but the diagnosis of the bipolar disease depends on conventionally defined criteria. An accurate diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made with the use of psychiatric laboratory tests, a complete psychiatric history, family history, self-reported symptoms, input from friends and family, observable behavior, and the use of certain psychiatric rating scales.(10,11)

Myth 3: Bipolar Disorder Is Just A Fancy Name For Regular Mood Swings

Fact: Hearing the term mood swings, people often confuse the mood swings experienced in bipolar disorder with regular mood swings that everyone has from time to time. The highs and lows of mood experienced in this illness are actually entirely different from your regular mood swings. People with bipolar not only experience extreme changes in their moods, but also their energy levels, activity, and even in their sleep patterns.

There are many other disruptive symptoms that accompany these mood swings, including unpredictable changes in behavior that can result in significant distress and challenges in life and relationships.(12)

Myth 4: All Bipolar Disease Is The Same

Fact: Most people are unaware that there are four different types of bipolar disorders, and the symptoms and experiences vary with each type. These include:

Bipolar I: This type of bipolar disorder is diagnosed when a person has experienced one or more depressive episodes as well as one or more manic episodes. These episodes might also have been accompanied by psychotic symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations.(13)

Bipolar II: This type of bipolar disorder focuses on depressive episodes as its major symptoms and also includes at least one hypomanic episode. As mentioned above, hypomania is a less severe and disruptive episode of mania. A person with this type of bipolar illness could experience psychotic symptoms that are either mood-congruent or mood-incongruent.(14)

Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia: The third type of bipolar disorder is characterized by several periods of hypomanic symptoms and several episodes of depression that lasts for at least two years. Cyclothymia symptoms do not necessarily meet the severity requirements for being diagnosed as a proper depressive or hypomanic episode, but they are nevertheless severe enough to disrupt a person’s life.(15)

Bipolar disorder otherwise not specified: The fourth type of bipolar disorder is not characterized by any particular pattern and is typically defined by symptoms that do not fall under the three categories mentioned above.(16)

Myth 5: The Episodes Of Mania And Depression Are Cyclical

Fact: People often believe that in bipolar disease, people undergo periods of mania followed by periods of depression. This is not true. In people with bipolar disorder, moods are often more chaotic and do not follow a cyclical pattern. It comes with a random combination of symptoms, which helps add to the turmoil that takes a toll on relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and others. This is why it is so important to get proper treatment for even mild cases of bipolar disorder.

Conclusion

Bipolar disorder is today even more common than before, and it is believed the one in five people is diagnosed with some form of mental illness such as bipolar. If there is a family history of mental illness, and you suspect that you might be experiencing the symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is extremely important to seek help at the earliest.

While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, with proper treatment, people are able to successfully manage their symptoms and control the episodes of mania and depression. Medication is usually the first line of treatment for bipolar disorder. Your doctor may also advise psychological therapies such as family-focused therapy, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to increase the efficiency of your treatment. A combination of medication and therapy is known to successfully minimize the symptoms and also reduce the risk of episodes in the future.

References:

  1. Bipolar Lives. 2020. Bipolar Disorder Statistics. [online] Available at: <http://www.bipolar-lives.com/bipolar-disorder-statistics.html> [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  2. Nami.org. 2020. Mental Health By The Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance On Mental Illness. [online] Available at: <https://www.nami.org/mhstats> [Accessed 25 July 2020].
  3. Miklowitz, D.J. and Johnson, S.L., 2008. Bipolar disorder. John Wiley & Sons Inc.
  4. Müller-Oerlinghausen, B., Berghöfer, A. and Bauer, M., 2002. Bipolar disorder. The Lancet, 359(9302), pp.241-247.
  5. Schweitzer, I., Maguire, K. and Ng, C.H., 2005. Should bipolar disorder be viewed as manic disorder? Implications for bipolar depression. Bipolar Disorders, 7(5), pp.418-423.
  6. Blacker, D. and Tsuang, M.T., 1992. Contested boundaries of bipolar disorder and the limits of categorical diagnosis in psychiatry. The American journal of psychiatry.
  7. Ghaemi, S.N., Stoll, A.L. and Pope Jr, H.G., 1995. Lack of insight in bipolar disorder the acute manic episode. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 183(7), pp.464-467.
  8. Altshuler, L.L., Gitlin, M.J., Mintz, J., Leight, K.L. and Frye, M.A., 2002. Subsyndromal depression is associated with functional impairment in patients with bipolar disorder. The Journal of clinical psychiatry, 63(9), p.807.
  9. Torres, I.J., DeFreitas, V.G., DeFreitas, C.M., Kauer-Sant’Anna, M., Bond, D.J., Honer, W.G., Lam, R.W. and Yatham, L.N., 2010.
  10. Neurocognitive functioning in patients with bipolar I disorder recently recovered from a first manic episode. The Journal of clinical psychiatry.
  11. Nierengarten, M.B., 2015. Bipolar disorder in children: Assessment and diagnosis. Contemporary Pediatrics, 32(5), pp.34-39.
  12. Giuseppe, T., 2010. The temperaments and their role in early diagnosis of bipolar spectrum disorders. Psychiatria Danubina, 22(1), pp.15-16.
  13. Dubovsky, S.L., 2001. Rapid cycling bipolar disease: new concepts and treatments. Current Psychiatry Reports, 3(6), pp.451-462.
  14. Morriss, R.K., van der Gucht, E., Lancaster, G. and Bentall, R.P., 2009. Adult attachment in bipolar 1 disorder. Psychology and Psychotherapy: theory, research and practice, 82(3), pp.267-277.
  15. Liu, Y., Blackwood, D.H., Caesar, S., de Geus, E.J., Farmer, A., Ferreira, M.A., Ferrier, I.N., Fraser, C., Gordon-Smith, K., Green, E.K. and Grozeva, D., 2011. Meta-analysis of genome-wide association data of bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Molecular psychiatry, 16(1), pp.2-4.
  16. Howland, R.H. and Thase, M.E., 1993. A comprehensive review of cyclothymic disorder. The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 181(8), pp.485-493.
  17. Axelson, D.A., Birmaher, B., Strober, M.A., Goldstein, B.I., Ha, W., Gill, M.K., Goldstein, T.R., Yen, S., Hower, H., Hunt, J.I. and Liao, F., 2011. Course of subthreshold bipolar disorder in youth: diagnostic progression from bipolar disorder not otherwise specified. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 50(10), pp.1001-1016.

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