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05. Bipolar Disorder

"Do you have periods of time when you feel unusually “up” (happy and outgoing, or irritable), but other periods when you feel “down” (unusually sad or anxious)? During the “up” periods, do you have increased energy or activity and feel a decreased need for sleep, while during the “down” times you have low energy, hopelessness, and sometimes suicidal thoughts? Do these symptoms of fluctuating mood and energy levels cause you distress or affect your daily functioning? Some people with these symptoms have a lifelong but treatable mental illness called bipolar disorder." - NIMH


Note: The source for these myths is a list created by NAMI. As always, I have attempted to address each myth myself, however, along with borrowing some information from the original list.

1. Bipolar Disorder Is Rare

It's more common than most people think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, "An estimated 2.8% of U.S. adults had bipolar disorder in the past year."

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2. There Is Only One Type of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar is essentially a blanket term for one of 7 disorders according to the DSM-V. The list of these 7 types is as follows:

  • Bipolar I – features at least one manic episode

  • Bipolar II – features at least one hypomanic episode

  • Cyclothymic Disorder – features hypomanic and depressive symptoms in rapid cycles

  • Substance/Medication-Induced Bipolar and Related Disorder

  • Bipolar and Related Due to Another Medical Condition

  • Other Specified Bipolar and Related Disorder

  • Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorder

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3. People with Bipolar Disorder Are Just Moody

This is similar to how the general public will often label feeling temporarily sad as "I'm feeling depressed". They may seem similar, but they are most certainly not the same. The highs of bipolar disorder are extremely high (the person can seem like they have all the energy in the world, and can do anything they want), and the lows are extremely low (no energy, close to clinical depression), to the point where they may lose their job for not being able to go in to work.

According to NAMI, "While people with bipolar disorder do experience extreme highs and lows, these are very different from the mood fluctuations we all experience. Waking up happy, getting exhausted and irritable midday and having a good evening that leaves you feeling happy again doesn't mean you have bipolar disorder. It doesn't matter how often this happens to you. Even a diagnosis of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder requires several days in a row of manic/hypomanic symptoms, not just several hours."

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4. People Can Stop Taking Their Medication Once Their Bipolar Disorder Is Under Control

Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition. If someone with Type 1 (insulin dependent) diabetes were to ask you how long they have to take insulin, the answer would be: Forever. As long as they live, they will need to be able to inject insulin to survive.

Similarly, the focus should not be on trying to discard the medication, but rather what works best for the person suffering from the condition.

NAMI states that the "combination of therapy and medication is widely considered to be the most effective and enduring treatment. Experts also recommend self-help strategies, including education, sleep hygiene, symptom monitoring, meditation and maintaining good social support."

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5. Bipolar Disorder Is Mostly Mania

Let's start with defining what "mania" is first. According to the American Psychological Association, mania is "generally, a state of excitement, overactivity, and psychomotor agitation, often accompanied by overoptimism, grandiosity, or impaired judgment."

Now, while mania is certainly part of the Bipolar Disorder diagnosis, it isn't the entire story. Bipolar disorder also consists of hypomania, and outright depression (remember, really high highs, and really low lows).

Sometimes the manic/hypomanic and depressive episodes combine and hit the individual at the same time! Causing them to feel extremely energetic one moment and and extremely sad the next! It is most certainly not a pleasant thing to experience.

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