Bipolar: Debunking the Myths

One of the reasons I created the eMoods app is that I want to help people manage their Bipolar symptoms and try to take control of their illness! (Seems impossible some days, huh.) But I’ve found that once we have a handle on the illness, we can live more comfortable, healthy lives overall.

It’s often so hard to talk about mental illness–for most people: those who have suffer from it, those who don’t but may be close with someone who does, and those who haven’t a clue about it. I know it is for me. As a person living with Bipolar Disorder, I kept it a secret from nearly everybody after being diagnosed with it 16 years ago. I’ve slowly been sharing this personal information with those around me because I know the less we talk about it, the more challenging it is for people to understand. There are plenty of straight-up misperceptions, myths, and misinformation surrounding Bipolar. Together as a community we can help debunk them, reduce stigma, and bring the disease into a mainstream conversation. Let’s go ahead and throw some of these myths into the spotlight:

“Bipolar is a rare disease. I feel like I’m the only one suffering from it.”

Actually, you’re not. Approximately 5.7 million people 18+ in the US – about 2.6% of the population are diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. The average age for diagnosis is 25, though it can present in children as well as adults in their 40s/50s. So, chances are, you do know someone else who is dealing with this disease. And plenty more people are suffering from other mental illness. The more we talk about it, the less isolating it may feel. In many communities you might find support groups to help people talk freely and share their experience.

“Bipolar disorder is the same for everyone who is diagnosed, so anyone I know that has it feels the same.”

DSM-5 (2013 release) classifies three types of bipolar disorder – Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic Disorder. Additionally, the DSM-5 leaves room for additional discussion of “Bipolar related disorders” which may expand the circle of recognized Bipolar Disorder that may not be assigned to one of these categories.

“People with bipolar disorder are simply “moody” and should deal with it. We all get in bad moods.”

It’s not so simple. Mental illness is an actual illness, and telling someone with a Bipolar Disorder to “stop being moody” isn’t helpful or productive. Mental illness like Bipolar Disorder is a combination of complex mental and emotional needs that can’t just be “willed away.” Telling someone to “stop being moody” is like telling someone with Asthma or COPD to just “focus on breathing better” – ineffective and incorrect.

“Seeking treatment is a “cop-out” and people shouldn’t take medication to “change themselves.”

Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness due to biological and environmental factors, and is never the fault of the patient. Medications are prescribed to help correct those factors and improve quality of life. Bipolar Disorder changes people’s brains; therefore, taking steps to correct it through medications and other therapies can help patients find balance so they may live more productive, balanced, happy lives. However, treatment doesn’t need to just be medications prescribed by doctors; alternative therapies and natural remedies are sometimes successful for patients. Of course, you should always discuss treatments with a doctor.

“On the other hand, just take a pill, and you’ll be fine.”

Not so. Each and every patient has different treatment needs, and there is no “right way” to recovery. Medication may be able to help, but it may not be the only thing that helps patients feel their very best. First of all, a mix of several medications produces the optimal results for many people and it often takes a long time to figure out that correct “cocktail.” In addition, good nutrition, plentiful sleep, and regular exercise need to coexist to help a Bipolar patient feel as healthy as possible. Collaboration with a doctor, or team of doctors, as well as a support system is an appropriate road to feeling better.

“People in the mania phase are actually happy; it seems like they enjoy feeling this way!”

The beginning of a manic episode can be characterized by a happy or euphoric feeling, but manic episodes extend far past that initial feeling. Patients experiencing a manic episode may experience loss of sleep, disorganization, unusual/impulsive behaviors, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and other unusual behaviors that can be dangerous to themselves or others. It may seem happy, but it’s disguising serious underlying symptoms, and they’ll eventually delve into the depressive side of Bipolar Disorder.

These are just a handful of myths about Bipolar Disorder that exist in our society. It’s often not easy to talk about, but the more talk about the realities of Bipolar Disorder in medically factual and compassionate ways, it increases understanding of the disease and how we can help family, friends and ourselves when impacted by it.