Bipolar Disorder Myths – What You May Think You Know

Awareness about bipolar disorder has been increasing but, as with any medical condition that has gotten a lot of attention only recently, both the people with the disorder and the general public are still under some false impressions regarding the condition.

Bipolar disorder is also known as manic-depressive illness.  It is a mental disorder in which a person’s mood alternates between severe mania and depression.  These extreme mood shifts affect a person’s normal day to day activities.

The following are some of the myths about bipolar disorder that persist today.

Myth #1: Bipolar disorder is rare.

This condition is more common than most people think.  Statistics show that among Americans 18 years old and above, around 2.6 percent suffer from bipolar disorder.  There is no specific number among children and teens because definite criteria for diagnosis for these age groups have not yet been determined.

The closest estimate among children and adolescents is at least three quarters per million in the US alone, and most of these are undiagnosed.  However, as awareness about the disease is increasing, so are the diagnoses of the illness, 40 times more among children and twice among adults.

Myth #2: Bipolar disorder is just a medical term for mood swings.

To put it simply, there are people who have mood swings, and there are people with bipolar disorder who have mood swings.  The mood swings related with the illness are very different from those of people without the condition in that they are more severe, longer lasting, and hinders the person’s ability to function normally.

A person without the disorder may feel unhappy or dissatisfied with their weight loss efforts or their vacation plans.  Someone suffering from the condition, however, would feel intensely elated, energetic, and irritable at times and then experience painful sadness, negative thinking, and complete indifference at other times.  These severe shift in moods then affects that person’s ability to do his work, manage his home, or complete his school tasks.

Myth #3: The personality shifts are like that of Jekyll and Hyde’s.

The idea that people with bipolar disorder have a Jekyll and Hyde personality is a myth.  Some mood shifts occur more frequently and quickly in some people with the disorder than in others, but this is not the typical pattern.  The typical pattern among bipolar patients is an unusual, inappropriate, and/or severe mood state in response to a certain situation.  An average bipolar patient is depressed more often than he is manic.  There is always the predominance of either a high or a low mood state.

Myth #4: The manic phase of people with bipolar disorder means extreme happiness.

Mania is not only characterized by extreme happiness and elation.  People with the disorder do feel very happy but they don’t stay that way while in their manic phase.  The distinguishing symptom of mania is a euphoric or elevated mood, but most people also become severely edgy and irritable as the phase progresses.

The manic phase may be scary for some patients because they tend to lose control of their actions and thoughts.  They may go on uncontrolled spending sprees or drug or alcohol abuse.  They have difficulty concentrating and use poor judgment.  Their sexual drive is increased.

Manic symptoms should be treated right away, often with mood-stabilizing drugs, to prevent them from progressing into more extreme manic behaviors.  Elevated mood or euphoria may be harmless at first, but when it progresses into extreme disorganization, lack of sleep, increased energy, and disorganized behavior, the manic phase may become seriously disruptive.

Knowing the early signs of both manic and depressive episodes is very crucial for prompt treatment.

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Myth #5: Bipolar disorder can be determined by a test.

The bipolar test only determines if a person’s genetic makeup makes him predisposed to developing the disorder.  The test involved evaluating a person’s saliva for mutations in a specific gene (GRK3) which is associated with the condition, but the test is not definitive.

A more definitive diagnosis of bipolar disorder can only be made by a doctor.  In addition to the gene mutation, a patient’s family history and his symptoms taken over a long period of time are also very important considerations.

Myth #6: Bipolar disorder can only be diagnosed in adults.

The patterns that characterize the disorder vary from one person to the next, making it more difficult to diagnose in some people than in others.  Especially with children, another contributing factor to a difficult diagnosis is typical childhood behavior, like throwing tantrums.  Some children present classic patterns of the condition during their early childhood years and some do not.

This is why there are cases that remain undiagnosed for years.  But whether or not there was official diagnosis, most people present the symptoms before they were 18.  Diagnosis during childhood is difficult but not impossible.

Myth #7: Antidepressants are not recommended for people with the disorder.

The myth originated from the idea that the mood of a bipolar person who is depressed could suddenly shift into mania when he takes antidepressants.  The concern is valid but studies have shown that antidepressants do not flip the depression into mania.  Antidepressants should not always be avoided by people with the disorder especially if their depression persists.  Doctor consultation and recommendation are always important.

Myth #8: Bipolar disorder can only be controlled by medication and psychotherapy.

Treating the symptoms of bipolar disorder is not only limited to medication and therapy, although these are very important.  Self-awareness is very crucial and paying attention to one’s lifestyle is very helpful too.

Bipolar disorder can be managed by applying active strategies, like getting regular aerobic exercise, having a healthy diet, adhering to a regular bedtime, and being aware of their own symptoms and warning signs.  A person can avoid the more severe behaviors and seek medical help right away if he always pays attention to his normal or abnormal patterns.

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2 Responses

  1. ginko says:

    Bipolar disorder is a psychological condition defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated mood either extreme of happiness (mania) or extreme of disgust (depression). These emotional extremes (bipolar disorder symptoms) are usually beyond normal responses to events and often last for extended periods of time.

  2. scott g says:

    most people equate manic to being happy. i suffer from bipolar type one and people don’t seem to understand that being manic doesn’t = being happy.

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