The 8 Myths of Bipolar Disorder

The 8 Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Myth No. 1: Bipolar disorder is a rare condition

In a given year, bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 and older, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. And like many mental health conditions, it  is likely under diagnosed.

Myth No. 2: Bipolar disorder is just another name for mood swings.

“The mood swings of bipolar [disorder] are more severe, longer lasting, and maybe most significant of all, they interfere with some important aspect of functioning, such as ability to work at one’s job, or manage one’s home, or be a successful student” 

Matthew Rudorfer, MD, associate director of treatment research in the division of services and intervention research at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md

Myth No. 3: People with bipolar disorder shift back and forth from depression to mania very often

The Jekyll-Hyde personality, the type that can turn on a dime from sad to euphoric, is a myth about bipolar. ”The average bipolar patient will be depressed more often [than manic],” Gary Sachs, MD, director of the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

Myth No. 4: When they’re in the manic phase, people with bipolar disorder are often very happy.

“Many people are actually frightened when they go into mania… When you are moving into mania, you are losing control of your actions and thoughts” Sue Bergeson, CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago

Myth No. 5: There is a bipolar test

A diagnosis of bipolar disorder depends on a doctor taking a careful patient history, asking about symptoms over time. A family history of the disorder increases a person’s chances of getting it.

Myth No. 6: Bipolar disorder can’t be diagnosed until age 18

The disorder may be present but not diagnosed until later. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years old (half are older, half are younger). But many adult patients report having symptoms before age 18, whether they were officially diagnosed or not.

Myth No. 7: People with bipolar disorder should not take antidepressants

The concern is that the mood will be elevated too much and mania will result when taking antidepressants. Although the concern has some validity, “that does not mean you should always avoid antidepressants.” Sometimes, Smith says, people need the drugs, especially if the depression persists.

Thomas E. Smith, MD, a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

Myth No. 8: Aside from taking medication and engaging in psychotherapy or “talk therapy,” a person with bipolar disorder has few options for controlling the condition.

Things like Medication and therapy are vital, but paying attention to lifestyle can help: “Active” strategies, such as getting regular aerobic exercise, keeping a regular bedtime, eating a healthful diet, and paying attention to personal warning signs that a shift to depression or mania is coming can all help a person manage bipolar disorder. Ken Duckworth, MD, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness

Keep it Real

Adapted from article, “8 Myths About Bipolar Myths” by  Kathleen Doheny of WebMD.


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