Bipolar disorder is a commonly misunderstood mental health condition. If your familiarity with the diagnosis comes from popular television shows or movies, you might have picked up some misinformation about the way this mental health disorder impacts the people who live with it. At Palms Behavioral Health in Harlingen, Texas, we successfully treat people with bipolar disorder every day, and we want to ensure that everyone involved has accurate information about the condition.
Myth 1: Mania is Fun.
While some people experience euphoria during the manic phase of a bipolar episode, others experience irritability, delusions, sleeplessness, hallucinations and psychosis.
Even when people can enjoy aspects of a manic episode, the mania is generally followed by an equally low crash into a depression (or the mania and depression can happen together). The person is then left to face the consequences of choices they made while experiencing mania, which frequently includes impulsive and potentially self-destructive behaviors. Careers, relationships, finances, and health can be destroyed during manic episodes.
Myth 2: People Are Never Suicidal During Mania.
People with bipolar disorder often experience suicidal thoughts, not only during depressive episodes but also during mania. Because people can be especially impulsive during manic episodes, suicidal thoughts during this time can be particularly dangerous.
Myth 3: Everyone with Bipolar Disorder has the Same Symptoms.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), which is the tool clinicians use to diagnose mental health conditions, actually lists 7 different types of bipolar disorder.
Some of the most common types of Bipolar Disorder include:
- Bipolar I – involves manic episodes that last at least seven days
- Bipolar II – involves hypomanic (less intense than manic) episodes that last at least four days
- Cyclothymic disorder – chronic mood instability, but without the extreme mood episodes
Each of these varieties manifests differently, and even people who experience the same type of bipolar disorder may not have identical symptoms. They may also experience symptoms at different intensities or frequencies.
Myth 4: Bipolar II is Just a Less Intense Version of Bipolar I.
People who have bipolar II do experience less intense versions of mania, but their depressive episodes can be particularly brutal, putting them at a potentially higher risk of suicide. Therefore, the symptoms of people with bipolar II should never be minimized or ignored.
Myth 5: People with Bipolar Disorder are Just Moody.
There is a lot more to this condition than just changes in mood. Their mood swings are rapid, last for extended periods, and are often out of context, frequently leaving the person and people around them confused and upset. People with bipolar disorder also have huge fluctuations in their energy and activity levels and sleep patterns. Getting these symptoms under control often requires hospitalization.
Myth 6: There is No Treatment for Bipolar Disorder.
There is a difference between treatment and cure. There is not currently a pill or surgery that will cure bipolar disorder, but there are very effective treatments that allow people with this diagnosis to live happy, healthy lives.
Because there are different types of bipolar disorder and each person can have a variety of symptoms, there are many different treatment options available:
- Mood stabilizers
- Antimanic drugs
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Family focused therapy
- Interpersonal therapy
- Self-help strategies
- Patient education
- Regular exercise
- Good sleep hygiene
- Meditation and other forms of stress management
- Avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs
- Good social supports
Myth 7: Once the Symptoms are Controlled, Treatment Can Stop.
Medications for bipolar are preventative in nature. They regulate the chemicals in the brain to prevent future mood episodes. Without medication, people with bipolar disorder are likely to have ongoing flare-ups.
It is also recommended that people with bipolar disorder participate in therapy, which provides them with additional tools to manage their condition. The combination of pills, therapy, and self-care is the most effective strategy for managing this disorder.
Myth 8: Bipolar Symptoms Happen on a Predictable Cycle.
While the term “cycle” is used to describe the transition between mood episodes, the symptoms do not appear on a consistent schedule. Some people have symptoms that only appear once or twice per year, some more often, and some less often. Some people even experience mania and depression symptoms simultaneously, in what is called a “mixed episode.” Episodes may last for a week or months on end.
Myth 9: Only Adults Can Have Bipolar Disorder.
The average age at onset is 25, but that does not mean that no one younger than 25 can have bipolar disorder. Diagnosis may be more difficult in children and adolescents because their symptoms do not always meet all of the diagnostic criteria or because it is typical for people their age to experience mood swings and changes in activity level. Children and teenagers with bipolar disorder are often initially misdiagnosed with depression.
Myth 10: People with Bipolar Disorder are Always Depressed or Manic.
Many people with bipolar disorder have long periods of stability between mood episodes. This is especially true if the person is taking medications that work for them (in the manner prescribed), attending therapy, and following recommended self-care practices. People with well-managed bipolar disorder have often built strong careers, raised children, and managed household responsibilities.
At Palms Behavioral Health, we believe in the ability of people who are struggling with bipolar disorder to recover and live full, meaningful lives. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.