Bipolar disorder (BD), once referred to as “manic depression,” is a common mental health disorder that affects millions of people. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is also one of the most misunderstood mental health conditions. Also unfortunate, people with BD often refrain from getting the treatment they need due to the many myths about bipolar disorder. Misguided beliefs feed the stigma associated with bipolar disorder, which impedes managing the illness in many ways.
BD is characterized by shifts in mood from a low, depressed state to a manic, energetic state, but the condition goes far deeper than just mood changes. People with BD often face shifts in everything from energy levels and concentration to their ability to fully function in everyday settings. Take a look at the myths and facts about bipolar disorder below.
Common Myths About Bipolar Disorder
1. Myth: Bipolar disorder is the same thing as mood swings
This is one of the most harmful misconceptions about bipolar disorder, and a belief that helps stigma associated with BD thrive among the public. All people have mood swings to some degree. However, bipolar disorder goes much deeper than typical mood swings. The condition is complex, often emerging with more concerning symptoms than changes in mood. Energy levels, decision-making processes, and even executive functions can be affected.
2. Myth: Not many people have bipolar disorder
Bipolar disorder affects as much as 2.6% of the adult population in the United States. This means that BD affects roughly 5.7 million people. Further, BD diagnoses are relatively stable between both men and women. Even though bipolar disorder does not get as much attention as something like anxiety or depression, the condition is not rare at all.
3. Myth: Bipolar disorder symptoms are the same for everyone
Bipolar disorder is often assumed to be characterized by the same telltale traits. However, BD can manifest in different ways depending on the individual affected. Additionally, there are four types of BD, including:
- Bipolar disorder I
- Bipolar disorder II
- Rapid cycling bipolar disorder
- Cyclothymia bipolar disorder
Due to the varied subtypes of BD and varied symptoms, the condition is not always easy to diagnose without proper mental health evaluations by a qualified professional.
4. Myth: People with bipolar disorder rarely lead productive lives
Bipolar disorder can have detrimental effects on things such as the ability to remain employed or be successful in relationships. However, with the right treatment plan and support system in place, individuals with BD can be just as productive and successful as others. The profound amount of stigma surrounding BD can do just as much harm to an individual’s ability to maintain a stable life as the condition itself. Therefore, it is important for people who are struggling with bipolar symptoms to know that they are not alone and can find a sense of normalcy despite their condition.
5. Myth: Bipolar disorder is only characterized by mood swings
This particular myth about bipolar disorder often leads to people with a legitimate issue or the people around them believing nothing is wrong. Yes, mood swings featuring periods of mania and depression are the most notable symptoms of BD. Nevertheless, there can be many other symptoms associated with the condition. Unfortunately, these symptoms are often overlooked and BD may be dismissed as a probability if major mood swings are not recognized.
Other symptoms of BD can include:
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite and eating patterns
- Altered behaviors or relationships
- Heightened agitation, anxiety, or irritability
- Extreme high and extreme low energy levels
- Talking excessively or not talking at all
- Difficulty with concentration and forgetfulness
Symptoms of BD may look different depending on whether an individual is in a depressed or manic state, and some people may even experience depressive and manic symptoms concurrently. For instance, an individual may feel jittery and talkative but also have feelings of emptiness and despair.
6. Myth: Treatment for bipolar disorder is rarely effective
Treatment for bipolar disorder is highly effective, whether it is medicinal support, therapy, or a combination of the two. This myth usually stems from the fact that BD is considered a lifelong condition that requires an ongoing therapeutic strategy to manage. While some level of treatment may be needed for long-term symptom management, the treatment can make a considerable difference in the individual’s quality of life.
7. Myth: Bipolar disorder only affects adults
Bipolar disorder is more common in adults, but adolescents and even children can be affected by the condition. BD can be harder to diagnose in children and may even be grossly underdiagnosed due to that fact. Children frequently have more erratic moods and behaviors related to a lack of impulse and emotional control. However, bipolar disorder in children features more severe ups and downs than what would be considered normal.
8. Myth: Bipolar disorder is simple to diagnose
Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that is often thought to be one of the hardest to diagnose. The variation of symptoms and types makes it nearly impossible to use a straightforward, once-and-done assessment to make an accurate diagnosis. This is why it is vital to seek the advice of a qualified mental health professional if you suspect symptoms of BD.
Diagnosing BD can involve:
- A thorough analysis of the individual’s prior mental health conditions and symptoms
- An in-depth evaluation of proposed manic or depressed episodes and their frequency
- A broad-spectrum therapeutic consultation to determine the larger picture of an individual’s emotional health
9. Myth: Bipolar mood swings are always sudden and apparent
Mood swings associated with BD are not always drastic or intense. In fact, the shift can be a subtle transition that may not appear out of the ordinary at all. For instance, an individual may gradually settle into a low-energy, more depressive episode after experiencing an episode of mania. Without knowledge of BD, the shift can simply look like a normal mood transition. Oftentimes, people who experience these less drastic shifts have uncharacteristic BD that may not be classified as BD I or II.
10. Myth: All people with bipolar disorder have to be on medication
Medications for stabilizing mood are common with bipolar disorder. These medications may include antidepressants or antimanic prescription drugs. For some patients, medications can be effective. However, they are best used as part of a well-rounded treatment plan that also includes psychotherapy.
It is not at all uncommon for people with BD to decide they prefer to manage their condition without medicinal support but with therapy. This can be highly successful for many patients even without medication. During therapy for BD, people learn various things about their condition and how to cope, such as:
- How to identify triggers that lead to BD episodes
- How to develop coping strategies to combat certain BD symptoms
- How to adjust their lifestyles to deter symptoms of BD
Information learned in therapy can provide lifelong support for the individual that can be practically applied in the long term. These therapeutic strategies can make a major difference in symptoms moving forward. Medication alone cannot do the same.
Finding the Best Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can be a complicated mental health diagnosis to navigate, but the right treatment can truly make a difference. Vanguard Behavioral Health provides both inpatient and outpatient bipolar disorder treatment options in Albuquerque, NM, and Tucson, AZ. If you would like to know more about treatment, reach out to discuss our options.