Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness that impacts nearly 6 million Americans every year. It causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood and energy. These highs and lows, known as mania and depression, impact the ability to think and function.
Misconceptions about bipolar disorder abound, and many aren’t harmless misunderstandings. Below are 10 common myths that hurt those dealing with bipolar disorder—and the facts.
Myth #1: Bipolar disorder is rare.
According to the International Bipolar Foundation, 2.6% of Americans deal with bipolar disorder in a given year. That’s more than one in every 40 people.
Myth #2: Bipolar disorder can’t be treated.
Bipolar disorder is treatable! The International Bipolar Foundation says, “People with bipolar disorder can lead healthy and productive lives when the illness is effectively treated … in most cases, proper treatment can help reduce the frequency and severity of episodes and can help people with bipolar disorder maintain good quality of life.”
Myth #3: Medication will fix it all.
Bipolar disorder is a long-term condition that can’t be “cured” or “fixed” by drugs. While medication can help stabilize moods and manage symptoms, it doesn’t take away all signs of the condition. A holistic treatment plan includes medication but also a strong personal support community, therapy and other mental health services.
Myth #4: People who deal with bipolar disorder are just “moody.”
Unlike the mood swings that many people experience when they’re hungry or tired, the highs and lows of bipolar disorder can last weeks or months. In addition, individuals managing bipolar disorder experience mood changes that are much more severe than those experienced by most people. For example, states of mania can include feelings of invincibility, impulsivity, rapid speech, racing thoughts and decreased need for sleep.
Myth #5: Everyone who deals with bipolar disorder is violent.
Those who struggle with bipolar disorder, like those with any serious mental health condition, are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. However, when the illness is untreated, aggressive behavior is possible. Treatment greatly reduces the likelihood of violence.
Myth #6: Those dealing with bipolar disorder can’t be good spouses, parents or friends.
Relationships can be difficult for those struggling with bipolar disorder and those who love them. But, all relationships have their challenges, and the hurdles faced by those dealing with bipolar can be overcome. With treatment and the patience of family members, many people with this disorder are loving spouses, caring and competent parents and loyal friends.
Myth #7: Mania is the “good” part of bipolar disorder.
Many people with bipolar disorder view mania as a desired state of high productivity or a happy break from depressive symptoms. While mania can involve positive feelings and enhanced creativity, prolonged episodes can be just as disruptive to a person’s life as depressive episodes. They can involve extreme anxiety, feeling out of control, anger and risky behavior.
Myth #8: Changes in mood happen for no reason.
In most cases, changes in mood are triggered—they’re not random. Stress, a change in seasons, holidays and family gatherings are common triggers. Learning to recognize the triggers and having a plan for dealing with them can lessen their impact.
Myth #9: Bipolar disorder always looks the same.
There are several types of bipolar disorder, and each person who lives with this condition experiences it differently. Some primarily deal with depression, while others have more frequent and severe manic episodes. While the behaviors associated with mania and with depression fall into general categories, each person is affected in individual ways.
Myth #10: People managing bipolar disorder can’t be successful.
A host of successful people have proven that it’s possible to do great things while dealing with bipolar disorder! Ted Turner, Mariah Carey and actresses Patty Duke, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Carrie Fisher are just a few examples of the many people with a bipolar diagnosis who’ve succeeded in their careers.
Many members of the Well Community struggle with bipolar disorder. Your donation to The Well gives them a place to belong and receive support services.
Read more about specific mental illnesses on our The Facts webpage.