Understanding and Treating Bipolar: 7 Myths and Realities
Written By GoodTherapy.org Staff
Many people loosely use the term to describe the mood swings of hormonal teenagers, and some even use it to describe the weather. Bipolar, as seen in the aforementioned examples, remains one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions. Most confusion is the result of misinformation, but the media, through movies, news, and television, have also played a prominent role in mislabeling it. Lack of understanding and awareness can lead to stigmatization of the condition, which may prevent people from getting the treatment they need to make their lives better and more manageable.
Let’s debunk some of the most common misconceptions by examining seven common myths about bipolar:
Myth 1: Bipolar Isn’t a Real Condition; It’s Nothing More Than Mood Swings
Fact: Bipolar is far more complex than the normal ups and downs of daily life. Bipolar can cause extreme changes in mood, sleep patterns, and energy levels. The mood swings associated with bipolar can be quite severe and may interfere with one’s ability to function. What sets these mood swings apart from typical mood changes are their frequency and intensity.
Individuals affected by bipolar usually experience extreme variance in mood ranging from major depression (extreme fatigue,sadness, and listlessness) to mania (euphoria, high energy, decreased need for sleep).
Bipolar is a very real and chronic condition, and a person who experiences it cannot just “snap out of it.” Like diabetes, a bipolar diagnosis requires ongoing treatment and maintenance.
Myth 2: Bipolar Is a Rare Mental Health Issue
Fact: It’s not as rare as you might think. Four out of every 100 adults in the United States is said to have experienced bipolar. The condition affects about 5.7 million American adults each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Teens and children are affected as well, although statistics paint an inaccurate picture considering that many children go undiagnosed.
Myth 3: There Is a Test That Can Determine If Someone Is Bipolar
Fact: Currently, there isn’t any physiological test that can provide a 100% accurate bipolar diagnosis. There is, however, a test that can determine if you have a genetic predisposition to the condition. This test evaluates saliva samples for mutations of the GRK3 gene that is associated with bipolar, but it provides no certainty that a person has or will develop the condition.
Bipolar is caused by a number of genetic and environmental factors. Genes play a role, but are not the sole cause. Identical twins share the same genes, but if one is diagnosed as bipolar, 30% of the time the twin will not exhibit symptoms of the condition.
Psychological evaluation is currently the only method of diagnosing someone with bipolar.
Myth 4: The Manic Phase Is Better Than the Depressive Phase
Fact: While the manic phase is often characterized by euphoria or elevated mood, it is not necessarily a desired state. Mania is not always euphoric, either. Many manic individuals experience elevated mood in the form of irritability and edginess. Even when the mood is euphoric, it often brings with it side effects. A person experiencing mania may lose all sense of control, experience chronicinsomnia, and have difficulty concentrating. The manic phase can quickly shift from euphoric to frightening, with the affected person having intense delusions and losing touch with reality.
Mania can be dangerous if left untreated. The trouble is that many people experiencing mania do not realize there is a problem. They simply attribute their symptoms to having a good mood and do not typically seek treatment until symptoms become severe.
Myth 5: Bipolar Is Experienced Only by Adults
Fact: Bipolar occurs in children, adolescents, and teens, though it is often more difficult to diagnose in younger people. It can be challenging to diagnose children with bipolar, as kids are likely to have emotional outburst and tantrums, especially at a young age.
The median age of onset of bipolar is 25. While it often takes this long to receive an actual diagnosis, many report having symptoms prior to the age of 18.
Myth 6: Bipolar Is a Single Identifiable Condition
Fact: No two individuals with bipolar experience the exact same symptoms. There are several different ways the condition can manifest. Bipolar is an umbrella term used to label a wide range of subtypes of the condition. Four different types of bipolar are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
In order to be diagnosed as bipolar I, a person must have had at least one manic episode in his or her life. Bipolar II occurs when a person experiences major depression as well as bouts of hypomania, a form of elevated mood that is not as extreme as full-blown mania. Cyclothymia is characterized by at least two years of episodes of depressive and hypomanic symptoms. Lastly, bipolar not otherwise specified (BD-NOS) is the category for all other instances of the condition that do not fit into the other categories.
Myth 7: Individuals Affected by Bipolar Can’t Live a Normal Life
Fact: Although there is no cure for the condition, with treatment people experiencing bipolar are usually able to control their symptoms and live happy, fulfilling lives. Many people experiencing bipolar have families and raise children. They accomplish goals and contribute to society like anyone else. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Sinead O’Connor are names you might recognize. These successful entertainers have all sought treatment for bipolar.
Treatment Can Help Manage the Experience of Bipolar
Living with bipolar can be a challenge, but it is one that can be overcome with proper management and active treatment.
In addition to psychotherapy and medication regimens, there are many lifestyle adjustments individuals experiencing bipolar can make to help alleviate and improve symptoms. These include eating a healthy diet, getting restful sleep, daily exercise and physical activity, and paying attention to the warning signs of mania and depression.
If you are experiencing symptoms of bipolar, consider finding a therapist who can help you better understand it and work with you to create solutions to the problems you experience in your personal and professional life as a result of it.
Understanding and Treating Bipolar: 7 Myths and Realities
Related CE Courses on Bipolar
This introductory course, from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), describes the symptoms and treatments for bipolar disorder (BPD) in children and adolescents. All parents can relate to the many changes their children go through as they grow up. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if a child is just going through a “phase,” or showing signs of something more serious. In the last decade, the number of children receiving the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, sometimes, called manic-depressive illness, has grown substantially. But what does the diagnosis really mean for a child? This course discusses bipolar disorder in children and teens, including signs and symptoms, differences between child/adolescent and adult BPD, diagnostic types, medications for BPD (along with their individual cautions), and other therapies.Course #10-68 | 2012 | 24 pages | 10 posttest questions Click Here to Find Out More
This CE test is based on the book “Treating Bipolar Disorder” (2005, 212 pages). This innovative manual presents a powerful approach for helping people manage bipolar illness and protect against the recurrence of manic or depressive episodes. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy focuses on stabilizing moods by improving medication adherence, building coping skills and relationship satisfaction, and shoring up the regularity of daily rhythms or routines. Each phase of this flexible, evidence-based treatment is vividly detailed, from screening, assessment, and case conceptualization through acute therapy, maintenance treatment, and periodic booster sessions. Among the special features are reproducible assessment tools and a chapter on how to overcome specific treatment challenges. Closeout Course #60-69 | 36 posttest questions Click Here to Find Out More
Professional Development Resources is approved as a provider of continuing education by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC Provider #5590); by the American Psychological Association (APA); by the Florida Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage & Family Therapy, and Mental Health Counseling (Provider #50-1635) and is CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within 1 week of completion); by the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (Approval #PCE1625); by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (Provider #114); by the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors and Marriage & Family Therapists (Provider #193); and by the *Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage & Family Therapist Board (Provider #RCST100501).