Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that, left untreated, may worsen over time. People with one of the four types of bipolar disorder experience high and low moods, known as mania and depression. The conditions cause extreme changes in a person’s energy, mood, concentration, and ability to think clearly and carry out day-to-day tasks. With a treatment plan consisting of medication, psychotherapy, a routine schedule, and healthy lifestyle choices, many people live well with bipolar disorder.
However, bipolar disorder remains a stigmatized illness despite 2.8 percent of the U.S. population — millions of Americans — having a bipolar disorder diagnosis, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Among those who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder are Carrie Fisher, known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movie franchise, singer and actress Demi Lovati, and writer Virginia Woolf.
You can help to end the stigma surrounding mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, through education and awareness. The following are common myths about bipolar disorder.
Myth: Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness.
Many people think those with bipolar disorder are “out of control and psychotic,” says Cleveland Clinic psychiatrist Amit Anand, MD. In fact, milder forms of bipolar disorder are much more common. Many people with bipolar disorder do not experience psychosis.
The two main types — bipolar I and bipolar II — are marked by periods of mania and a milder form, called hypomania, respectively. The Cleveland Clinic says depression may be quite severe for those with bipolar II. Hypomania in bipolar II may not impair function but could make people even more productive.
Other types of bipolar disorder include cyclothymic disorder and bipolar disorder, other specified or unspecified. Learn more about the different types of bipolar disorder here.
Myth: Bipolar disorder is just mood swings, which everyone experiences.
The highs and lows of bipolar disorder are quite different than day-to-day changes in mood. People with bipolar disorder experience extreme changes in activity, energy, and sleep that are atypical for them. Additionally, mania and depression can last days, weeks, or even longer for people with bipolar disorder. It’s not simply feeling happy one minute and angry later in the day.
Myth: People with bipolar disorder cannot work or be successful.
With proper medical treatment and a strong support system, many people with bipolar disorder can and do work successfully. As mentioned, people with bipolar type II may not experience impaired function; rather, hypomanic episodes may be marked by increased productivity and energy. Learn more about research into bipolar disorder and work loss from the American Journal of Managed Care.
Myth: Bipolar disorder is caused by personal weaknesses or character flaws.
This myth is extremely harmful for those with mental health conditions. Bipolar disorder is a medical condition. Genetics, stress, and brain structure and function are all believed to be contributing factors to the illness, according to NAMI. Experts have not identified any single cause of bipolar disorder, which is a mood-regulating disorder. No mental illness is caused by personal weaknesses or character flaws.
Myth: Bipolar disorder can be cured through diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes alone.
There is currently no cure for bipolar disorder, but treatment should have a holistic approach. Lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, can help a person to cope with the symptoms of their illness. Paired with medication, destressing techniques, and psychotherapy, lifestyle changes may make a difference for some people. But people with bipolar disorder cannot just “get better” by way of personal choices.
What myths were you taught about bipolar disorder? Leave a comment to share your experiences and how you counter misinformation about mental health conditions.
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