5 Common Myths About Bipolar Disorder
This article gives an overview of bipolar disorder and highlights common misconceptions about this often misunderstood mental health condition.
All of us know what it feels like to be on the emotional rollercoaster. For people with bipolar disorder, a mental health condition characterized by cycles of unpredictable and extreme fluctuations in mood and emotion, their experience differs from typical ups and downs.
This article will give an overview of bipolar disorder, and address some of the common myths and misconceptions of this mental health condition.
Myths and facts about bipolar disorder
Myth #1: Bipolar disorder is just mood swings
The facts: While many people know what it is like to wake up in a good mood and be down and out by the afternoon, this is not what bipolar disorder is like. The mood episodes in bipolar disorder are much more intense and severe than everyday mood swings.
In bipolar disorder, manic symptoms can cause an individual to feel extremely energetic, restless, and euphoric, while episodes of depressive symptoms can cause feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and despair. For certain types of bipolar disorder, manic episodes can be so intense that they require hospitalization, and depressive episodes can be so intense they lead to suicidal ideation.
Additionally, the mood episodes in bipolar disorder come in cycles, or are episodic, lasting for a longer period of time when compared to everyday mood swings. One of the most important distinguishing factors is the fact that living with bipolar disorder can make activities of daily living extremely challenging. Without proper treatment for bipolar disorder, maintaining relationships, going to school, and taking care of oneself can feel like an insurmountable challenge.
Myth #2: Bipolar disorder only affects adults
The facts: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, it is a common misperception that children cannot present with bipolar disorder. Although most people are diagnosed with bipolar disorder in adolescence or adulthood, the symptoms can appear earlier in childhood.
The matter is made more complicated by the fact that the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder may overlap with symptoms of other disorders that are common in young people, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), conduct problems, major depression, and anxiety disorders. For this reason, if you suspect that a young child or adolescent in your life may be experiencing intense changes in mood and behavior that affect their ability to function, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional for support.
Myth #3: People with bipolar disorder are violent
The facts: While it is true that individuals with bipolar disorder can experience symptoms such as irritability or aggression during a manic or hypomanic episode, this does not mean that they are inherently violent or dangerous. It's important to understand that violence is a complex issue that can have multiple contributing factors, including substance abuse, trauma, and other social and environmental factors. Having a bipolar disorder diagnosis is just one potential factor that may contribute to violent behavior, and it's important to avoid making assumptions or stigmatizing individuals based on their mental health diagnosis.
Myth #4: Substance use causes bipolar disorder
The facts: While using drugs and alcohol can certainly exacerbate symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is not a direct cause. Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic, environmental, and biological factors. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the exact cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but a substantial amount of research suggests that bipolar disorder often runs in families, and people with specific genes are more likely to develop bipolar disorder than others.
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Myth #5: People with bipolar disorder can't hold a steady job or succeed in school
The facts: While it's true that bipolar disorder can make it more challenging to manage responsibilities, with the right treatment and support, individuals with bipolar disorder can learn effective coping strategies and thrive in whatever they choose to do. Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness – meaning there is no cure – which is why treatment must be ongoing.
With the proper treatment, the frequency and severity of mood episodes can become less daunting. A combination of medication management and psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) has been found to be effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder.
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a treatable mental health condition marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior that can last hours, days, or months. Bipolar disorder used to be referred to as “manic depression” because, with this condition, a person’s mood can move between highs (mania) and lows (depression) with varying frequency and severity. These highs and lows are referred to as “mood episodes”. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the condition affects men and women equally, with 2.8% of the United States population diagnosed. Bipolar disorder is commonly diagnosed during a person’s teen years or early adulthood, but can also occur in children.
Understanding the symptoms of bipolar disorder can help differentiate the disorder from the typical emotional and behavioral ups and downs that many of us experience.
Different types of bipolar disorder
While bipolar disorder is a broad term used to denote a particular mental health condition, there are actually different types of bipolar disorders that are classified based on the specific symptoms that the individual experiences. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the standard diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals, differentiates between three main types of bipolar disorder:
Bipolar I disorder involves manic episodes that last at least 7 days or manic symptoms so severe that hospitalization may be required. Depressive episodes are also common, which generally last at least two weeks.
Bipolar II disorder involves chronic mood instability with primary depressive episodes. Manic episodes are present, but instead of full-blown manic episodes, there are episodes of hypomania, a less severe form of mania that does not require hospitalization.
Cyclothymic disorder involves chronic mood instability, with numerous periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not severe enough to meet the criteria for a full manic or depressive episode.
The DSM-5 also highlights rapid cycling bipolar disorder, which involves the occurrence of four or more mood episodes (manic, hypomanic, or depressive) within twelve months. Rapid cycling can occur in any type of bipolar disorder, but it is most commonly seen in bipolar II disorder.
How Charlie Health can help
If you or someone you love exhibits any of the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder listed above, reach out today.
There is a great deal of confusion surrounding bipolar disorder, and the professionals at Charlie Health are here to help you better understand what a bipolar disorder diagnosis might mean for you or your loved one. Our virtual Intensive Outpatient Program provides personalized treatment plans for teens, young adults, and families dealing with mental health struggles such as bipolar disorder.
Know that with help, a better tomorrow is possible.
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