5 Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults in the United States, including celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Stephen Fry. Yet, myths and misconceptions about bipolar disorder still abound.

In recognition of World Bipolar Day, March 30, we’re dispelling five of the biggest myths about bipolar disorder:

1. At any given time, you can only be manic OR depressed, not both.

False! Those with bipolar disorder can experience states of mania and depression at the same time, known as a “mixed state.” It may be hard to imagine a person experiencing these two extremes simultaneously, but it’s more common than most realize. A frequent presentation is having depression along with physical agitation and racing thoughts. During a mixed episode, a person is at a higher risk of suicide. While depression symptoms may include suicidal thoughts, during a depressive episode there is a lack of energy. Combining the manic symptom of high energy with the suicidal thoughts associated with a depressive state can give the person the energy to actually attempt suicide.   

2. Medication is the only way to tackle bipolar disorder.

False! Medication is a great way to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder; however, in many cases it works best when combined with other forms of treatment to ensure long-term success. Psychoeducation can be critical to provide insight into the nature of the illness and increased ability to recognize when one is becoming symptomatic. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the connection between actions, thoughts, and emotions, is often used in conjunction with medication to help manage bipolar disorder. CBT is action-oriented and teaches a person to catch and change “flawed” thoughts that can lead to a descent into depression or an upswing into mania.

3. A manic state means you’re happy.

False again! The manic state is the “high” of bipolar disorder, but this does not necessarily equate to feeling happy. While mania can cause joy and productivity, it can also cause people to act out of the ordinary and create situations and problems they later regret. During a manic phase, a person may feel invincible; they are often full of energy and overly excited. Other symptoms of mania can include intense irritability, poor judgment, trouble concentrating, and racing thoughts. People in a manic phase tend to act impulsively. For example, they might place a high-risk bet, or go on a huge shopping spree.

4. There is only one type of bipolar disorder.

You guessed it, false! The main symptom of bipolar disorder is severe mood changes. However, the severity of these moods varies from person to person. These variations can be categorized into different types of bipolar disorder, depending on the frequency and severity of the manic and depressive episodes a patient experiences.

5. You can’t lead a normal life if you have bipolar disorder.

This statement is completely false! With the right medication and treatment, a person with bipolar disorder can live a full and successful life. However, it is important to seek help if you or someone you know may be suffering from bipolar disorder.

Did you learn something new about this often misunderstood illness today? Let us know in the comments!