Many people, upon hearing the term ‘bipolar disorder’ simply assume that it means sudden and severe mood swings. While they are partly right, but these are not just simple ordinary mood swings. The highs and lows that patients of bipolar disorder go through can last for days or weeks at a time. Even though we don’t know everything about bipolar disorder yet, there are still many misconceptions that remain. Here are some harmful myths associated with bipolar disorder that everybody should be aware of.
Myth 1: Mood Swings Happen in Regular Cycles
Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is not as easy as experiencing high and low mood cycles. It is an unpredictable illness.
Some people with bipolar experience symptoms of both mania and depression together at the same time. For example, they may be feeling hopeless and sad, but at the same time, they may also be energized.
Additionally, there is no regular pattern to their mood swings. At the same time, some people may just experience their symptoms once or twice a year.
Myth 2: Bipolar Disorder Is A Very Rare Condition
The fact is that in the United States alone, there are over 2 million adults who are affected by Bipolar disorder.(1) Nearly one percent of the population that is of ages 18 and above in any given year are known to have bipolar disorder. Furthermore, every one in five Americans are known to be diagnosed with a mental health disorder.(2)
According to data from the National Institute of Mental Health, the median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years, although this disorder can begin in early childhood or even as late as the 40s and 50s.(3)
Furthermore, an equal number of women and men can develop bipolar disease and it can be found across all ages, ethnic groups, races, and social classes.
With such statistics, it is thus a clear misconception that bipolar disease is a very rare health condition.
Myth 3: There Is Only One Type of Bipolar Disorder
There are, in fact, a couple of different types of bipolar diseases and the symptoms of the disease also vary according to which type of bipolar a person has. The three main types of bipolar disorder include:
- Bipolar I Disorder: This type of bipolar disease is characterized by having manic episodes that last for at least seven days or that may require you to be hospitalized. You may also experience periods of depression that last for two weeks or more. You may also have episodes of only mania, or mania and depression together at the same time.
- Bipolar II Disorder: A person with bipolar II disorder experience stretches of depression and elevated mood, but these highs are not as severe as the ones experienced in bipolar I.
- Cyclothymic Disorder: You will experience both highs and lows, but they are relatively mild in this type of bipolar disorder.
- Unspecified Bipolar Disorder: This type of bipolar disorder does not follow any defined pattern and instead, is defined by bipolar symptoms that do not meet the specifications of the other three categories listed above.
Myth 4: Bipolar Can Be Diagnosed With A Simple Test
There is no one test that can diagnose for sure that a person suffers from bipolar disorder. To figure out if you have bipolar disorder, your doctor will first enquire about all your symptoms and also take a complete medical history. They will also carry out a physical exam. Your doctor will also run a few lab tests in order to rule out any other conditions that can be responsible for such similar symptoms.(4)
Before reaching a diagnosis, your doctor is also going to check if your symptoms fit the same pattern as the ones listed in a special manual used by psychiatrists all around the world known as DSM-5, or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (5)
Myth 5: Bipolar Disorder Can Be Cured With Diet And Exercise
The fact is that bipolar disorder is a lifelong disease and there is no cure for this disease as of today. However, it is possible to properly manage this condition with medication and talk therapy. Avoiding stress and following a healthy lifestyle that includes regular patterns of eating, exercise, and sleeping, will help you keep your symptoms under control.
Myth 6: Kids Cannot Get Bipolar Disorder
The fact is that bipolar disorder does not just happen to adults. This disorder can also affect teenagers and children.
If your child gets diagnosed with bipolar disorder, then it may show up along with some other mental health conditions, the most common of which is ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). This often makes it difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder.
In the case of children or teenagers with bipolar, the doctor is going to treat the condition in ways that are the same as adult treatment. Children are also treated with medications and psychotherapy.
Myth 7: Mania Can Be A Productive Phase
Many people feel that when a person is experiencing a manic episode, they are bound to be more productive since they are in a good mood and more fun to be around.
However, in most instances, while a manic person may be fun to be around or they may be in a good mood, but without proper treatment, things are soon going to become harmful to their health, to the point that it may even become terrifying. Sometimes they may end up going on a big shopping spree and end up spending all their money.
Some people also tend to become highly irritable or overly anxious, getting upset over even the smallest of things and they may lash out at others, especially their loved ones.
A manic person is also more likely to lose control over their thoughts and actions, to the extent of losing touch with reality.
In such a time, it is important to provide them the support and help they need, instead of allowing them to have their way.
Myth 8: If You Already Have Bipolar, You Cannot Get Any Other Mental Health Conditions
This is a completely false belief that even people with bipolar disorder have. The fact is that many people with bipolar may also have other types of mental health conditions at the same time. Some of the common ones include:
- Eating disorders
- Drug or alcohol abuse
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
Myth 9: There Is No Treatment For Bipolar Disorder
There is more than one way to help manage this disorder. There are certain types of medications that can work very well for you. Your doctor may recommend medications such as:
Medications are usually also accompanied with psychotherapy, which helps you learn how to keep your symptoms under control.
At the same time, psychotherapy will teach you how to do the following:
- Avoid all known triggers for your episodes (both manic and depressive)
- Find support when you need it
- Help you spot your symptoms before they end up getting worse
Myth 10: Bipolar Is Not A Genetic Disease
It is possible for bipolar disorder to run in families. Research has shown that people who have certain genes are more likely to get bipolar than others. However, genes are not the complete explanation or cause behind the bipolar disease. There are many people who end up getting bipolar who do not have any family history of it.
Worldwide, one in five people gets diagnosed with mental disorders, including bipolar disorder. Many people respond very well to treatment and are able to manage their symptoms quite well. People with bipolar do not always just have mood swings. The disorder tends to affect everything from your energy to sleeping patterns.
It is not always necessary that people with bipolar disorder have to be hospitalized in order to be treated and come out of their mood swings. There are many types of medications and psychotherapy that help them deal with their symptoms. Additionally, if their symptoms are mild and manageable, then they can even prevent these episodes from happening altogether.
Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental disease that you will need to live and cope with for the rest of your life. However, it is still possible to live a happy and healthy life with proper treatment. So if you experience any of the symptoms of this disorder, then it is important that you reach an early diagnosis and begin treatment at the earliest to prevent your condition from getting worse.
- Lives, T. (2020). Bipolar disorder statistics. [online] Bipolar Lives. Available at: https://www.bipolar-lives.com/bipolar-disorder-statistics.html [Accessed 22 Jan. 2020].
- Nami.org. (2020). Mental Health By the Numbers | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness. [online] Available at: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers [Accessed 22 Jan. 2020].
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. (2020). Bipolar Disorder Statistics – Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. [online] Available at: https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-statistics/ [Accessed 22 Jan. 2020].
- Mitchell, P.B., Goodwin, G.M., Johnson, G.F. and Hirschfeld, R.M., 2008. Diagnostic guidelines for bipolar depression: a probabilistic approach. Bipolar disorders, 10(1p2), pp.144-152.
- DSM-5 American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. Arlington: American Psychiatric Publishing.
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