When people hear "bipolar disorder," they might picture someone ecstatic one moment, and depressed another. Because mental health is so stigmatized and often poorly misunderstood, people tend to believe plenty of misconceptions, and there a number of myths about bipolar disorder floating around that just continue to get perpetuated. Because many people don't take the time to actually talk to someone with bipolar disorder or get clarifications from a mental health professional, we continue to get our information from pop culture or the internet, which doesn't always tend to be so accurate.
"Mental illness is often misunderstood and inaccurately characterized, particularly a diagnosis such as Bipolar Disorder," Dr. Madeline William, PsyD., a psychologist who treats patients via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online, tells Bustle. "In the same manner that ADHD and OCD are often normalized or misinterpreted, it is probable that you’ve overheard someone saying, 'I am feeling so bipolar today.' However, Bipolar Disorder is not a single action or feeling. It is a chronic disorder characterized by one of two specific patterns of emotional, behavioral, physiological, and interpersonal dysfunction."
Part of understanding mental health issues is putting aside all your preconceptions and separating fact from fiction. Here are seven myths about bipolar disorder and the actual reality behind them.
1Bipolar Disorder Is Just Mood Swings
It's a common misconception that having bipolar disorder means you're upset in one moment and happy in the next. "In order to meet criteria for the diagnosis of Bipolar 1 or Bipolar II Disorder, one must have distinct major depressive episodes and manic/hypomanic episodes," says Dr. William. "However, each of these episodes must last for many days or even multiple weeks in order for them to be in line with this diagnosis. It is quite uncommon and atypical for a person to experience both of these episodes in the same week, let alone the same day."
2When Experiencing A Manic Episode, Individuals With Bipolar Disorder Are Euphoric
Manic episodes may also not be what you think. "It is true that one can experience an elevated mood during a manic or hypomanic episode, which can feel pleasant," says Dr. William. "However, they may instead experience irritability, inflated self-importance, excessive extroversion, and exaggerated behaviors, none of which are necessarily enjoyed or desired emotions or behaviors."
3If Someone With Bipolar Disorder Is Expressing An Emotion, It’s Only Due To Their Disorder
Not every emotion that occurs in a person with Bipolar Disorder is irrational or unwarranted. "In the same way that a diabetic person may have an ear ache that has nothing to do with their disorder, a person with Bipolar Disorder does not always experience moods due to their disorder," says Dr. William. "Everyone has their good and bad moments or days. If a person in your life has Bipolar Disorder and they seem down, angry, or upset, start by asking questions and showing concern, rather than assuming what may be causing their upset."
4You Have To Be Manic To Be Bipolar
Not everyone with bipolar disorder will ever have had a manic episode. "Some people may simply experience cycles of low mood and even mood," psychiatrist Dr. Alex Dimitriu tells Bustle. "Others may experience periods of increased irritability and productivity — but never the happy high we all associate with bipolar."
5The Highs & Lows Are Equal
Unfortunately, it's common for bipolar patients to spend way more time being in a depressed than a high state. "Bipolar tends not to be a fair disease, and while the highs can be nice, the lows are awful, and often occur far longer and more often," says Dr. Dimitriu.
6Bipolar Disorder Is Untreatable
Bipolar Disorder can be treated. "A combination of psychotherapy, psychoeducation, and medication has been found to be highly effective in treating symptoms of Bipolar Disorder," says Dr. William. "Medication can include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and/or antipsychotics, and must be taken as-directed which usually means that they are not discontinued or rapidly altered in dosage or frequency. Psychotherapy can allow for time to process emotional episodes and devise effective coping strategies to help manage the symptoms."
7Bipolar Disorder Is Only Treated With Medication
"Although medications are essential during the most severe phases of an episode, cognitive-behavior therapy can help to regulate moods during other phases of the condition," Stephen P. Hinshaw, Ph.D., author of Another Kind of Madness: A Journey through the Stigma and Hope of Mental Illness, tells Bustle. "Family therapy is quite helpful for providing support to parents, children, and siblings, and for enhancing family stability. Group therapy can really help, through peer monitoring and support, with motivating people to remain on their medications."
Like many mental health issues, Bipolar Disorder tends to be misunderstood, but dispelling these myths can help us better understand the disorder. If you or someone you know may be suffering from Bipolar Disorder, speaking with a professional can be the first step in breaking stigma, and finding help.