According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder (BPD) is “a manic-depressive illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activities that make it difficult to carry out day-to-day-tasks.”
Bipolar disorder affects millions of people worldwide, yet few people fully understand how it works or what the real symptoms of bipolar disorder are. In this article, we clear up common misconceptions about bipolar disorder by examining common myths and facts surrounding this multi-factored mental illness. Let’s get started by examining our first myth.
Myth – Bipolar Disorder Is a New Phenomenon
Some people like to believe that our mental disorders are a product of modern society. However, bipolar disorder has been observed throughout history. In the past, people called bipolar disorder extreme depression, “melancholy,” or eccentricity. Popular guitarist Jimi Hendrix wrote a song about the phenomenon called “Manic Depression,” which is an old term for bipolar disorder.
Fact – There Are Many Types of Bipolar Disorder
You may think there is only one type of bipolar disorder. However, there are four common types of bipolar disorder recognized by the mental health community. Every person experiences bipolar disorder in their own way. The following are four categories that help distinguish between bipolar types.
4 Categories of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar I. Present when someone exhibits both manic and depressive episodes within a 24-hour time frame. Someone with bipolar may feel delusional and even hallucinate while vacillating between high and low states of emotion.
Bipolar II. Occurs when someone has more depressive episodes than manic episodes within a specified time period. Bipolar II introduced features of hypomania. Hypomania is a manic episode that isn’t as intense.
Cyclothymic Disorder. Also known as cyclothymia. This disorder is present when a person exhibits rotational periods of depressive and hypomanic symptoms. Symptoms in this category are mild and aren’t severe enough to qualify as being manic.
Unspecified Bipolar Disorder. Finally, an unspecified bipolar disorder doesn’t follow any of the patterns of the previous categories listed above. Many bipolar patients suffer from this unspecified version of the disorder that doesn’t follow the patterns of the mild or severe versions of the disorder.
Myth – Women Outnumber Men in Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis
The myth that women outnumber men in a bipolar diagnosis isn’t true. Men can experience bipolar disorder just as often as women. While there are some differences in the way men and women experience bipolar symptoms, this doesn’t change the fact that both sexes are equally affected.
According to bipolar research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, women experience more depressive episodes while men exhibit more manic episodes. What this means is that women are more likely to develop bipolar II disorders than men. Both sexes are equally affected by bipolar disorder.
Fact – 2 Million Americans Have Bipolar Disorder
Mentalillnesspolicy.org reports that approximately 2.3 million Americans are suffering from bipolar disorder. We take this number as an estimate as we factor in the potentially high number of undiagnosed cases and complex cases not included in this number. This means that in reality, this number can be substantially higher.
Myth – If You Have Mood Swings, You’re Likely to Have Bipolar Disorder
Everyone has mood swings, but not mood swings related to bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder’s mood swings are severe and extreme. Mood swings that occur at different levels of severity are likely related to another mental health concern. If you think you have bipolar disorder because sometimes you’re happy and sometimes you’re sad, this is most likely not the case.
Fact – Bipolar Disorder isn’t “Good or Bad”
We often consider bipolar disorder as being good or bad. You may think mania means being happy and filled with energy, with depression being the opposite. However, mania can be a horrible experience.
Someone who is manic may ruin their finances by shopping too much, become filled with anxiety, have a hard time keeping their thoughts together, and finding it hard to keep in touch with reality. There are some manic episodes that may make you feel good, but this isn’t true all the time.
Myth – Bipolar People Have Two Extreme Moods
You may think of someone with bipolar disorder as either being manic or depressive, with no room for a mood that is a little in between. We understand this misconception, but it’s not the case. People with bipolar disorder can have balanced moods and periods with no bipolar mood swings. We know this as euthymia. Sometimes, a bipolar person may even have a bit of both mania and depression.
Fact – Eating Well and Exercising Are Good for Bipolar Disorder
While it won’t cure bipolar disorder, eating right and exercising regularly is good for your bipolar disorder. Sleeping regularly is good. While these won’t end your bipolar disorder, you may experience fewer episodes and less powerful mood swings, depending on who you are.
Myth – Bipolar People Are Creative
We romanticize mental illness in the creative world. Many people believe that a person who has bipolar disorder or a similar disorder is naturally more creative, and you may wonder if that person loses their creativity should they seek treatment.
However, many people who are bipolar find it hard to be creative. Depressive episodes mean that they aren’t motivated, and with mania, it’s hard to focus and collect your thoughts. If you’re a creative minded person, receiving treatment may help with your work.
Fact – There Is More Than One Type of Bipolar Medication
Many people with bipolar disorder take meds for their condition, but you may think there is only one med that works. This is not true. There are actually quite a few meds that can stabilize your mood and prevent episodes.
If you have bipolar disorder, it’s a bit of a trial-and-error process. Everyone responds differently. Someone with bipolar disorder may respond well to one med, while another person may not. If you have bipolar disorder, it is important to not give up if one medication does not work.
Myth – Seeking Therapy is Useless
The myth that seeking therapy is useless is just that. If you have bipolar disorder, a therapist can help you with questions, concerns, and treatment options. Using cognitive behavioral therapy, combined with other methods of treatment such as medications, can reduce your episodes and allow you to live a productive life.
Bipolar disorder isn’t easy to live with. However with a combination of mental health support and bipolar medications, living with bipolar is manageable. Follow the treatment plan established by your mental health provider and take all medications as prescribed to make living with bipolar disorder easier.