Social media, news, and TV programmes are helping more accurately depict serious mental health disorders including bipolar disorder (eg. “Homeland” and “Shameless”). However, there are still many myths and misconceptions when it comes to truly understanding them. To mark Bipolar Awareness Day, we bring you some fact vs. fiction statements which can help you learn what the symptoms look like and help us help those who need our support.
We all have ups and downs in our moods, but with bipolar disorder these can be severe and debilitating due to the extreme highs of mania and the deep lows of depression. These cyclical episodes can last days, weeks, or even months.
Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose and can often get overlooked or confused with other mental illnesses such as Emotionally Unstable, Borderline Personality, or ADHD. Research shows that Bipolar disorder symptoms are likely to worsen without treatment.
FACT: Not all people have the same symptoms.
Not all bipolar people are the same. They experience different symptoms, at different severities, each with their own complexities.
There are three types of the disease: the most commonly diagnosed are bipolar I and II.
Bipolar I disorder involves periods of severe mania and depression. Bipolar II disorder involves less severe “hypomanic episodes” but can still have periods of severe depression. A smaller percentage of bipolar people will experience what is called rapid cycling, where they have numerous mood episodes a year.
FICTION: Bipolar people are always manic, and then depressed.
People with bipolar disorder experience mood changes that last several weeks. They can also have long or short periods of a balanced mood, called euthymia.
FACT: Bipolar people can have successful employment experiences.
Many well known professors, scientists and entertainers are bipolar. People with the disorder who have successful treatment are able to hold down a job, although some also have to work hard to monitor their thoughts and moods. Work can give any person a sense of structure in their lives, reduce depression and increase their confidence.
FICTION: Manic periods are productive.
Periods of hypomania or early periods of mania can feel productive because the person feels hyper confident, alert, and capable. However, without treatment a person can lose control of their thoughts and actions. At worst, people even lose touch with reality.
Mania is also associated with increased irritability, irrational anger and behaviours, and an inability to sleep. This can exacerbate negative symptoms and decrease productivity.
FACT: The exact cause of Bipolar is unknown.
The exact cause of bipolar disorder isn’t known, but research suggests a combination of genetics, environment, brain structure and diet may play a role.
FICTION: Medication is the only treatment option for Bipolar Disorder.
While antidepressant and mood stabilising medication is definitely helpful and an important tool in treating bipolar disorder, diet, exercise, proper sleep and psychotherapy can also help keep mild symptoms at bay.
With more severe conditions, medications are usually recommended as one of the tools to use amongst others.
FACT: Talking therapies can help.
Psychotherapies, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Interpersonal Therapy and Couples Therapy and sessions with a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist can help those with bipolar disorder work on relationship difficulties, learn how to process negative thinking, learn about personal triggers and how to avoid and navigate through them.
FICTION: Support groups won’t help.
It’s known that Bipolar people can struggle with friendships and other relationships when their condition is unstable. This can be due to lack of understanding of others about the condition. Therefore, speaking with others who have bipolar can help provide a place to share experiences, discuss coping skills and offer hope. Click here to find a local support group.
FACT: Bipolar disorder is linked to suicide.
The depressive phase of bipolar disorder is often very severe, and suicide is a major risk factor. In fact, those with a bipolar disorder and other psychiatric illnesses are at a greater risk for suicide if they are not getting proper treatment.
If you, or someone you know is suicidal, seek help immediately from a health care professional or find a list of crisis support and suicide prevention lines here.
If you are struggling with bi-polar disorder, or affected by someone with it, we have therapists at InsideOut with expertise in the training mentioned, who can support you via 1-2-1 sessions. Please know that you are never alone. If you already have a subscription, you can book these via the app, or get in touch if you would like any additional information: [email protected]
Author: Dr Becky Lunson Southall – Chief Therapist at InsideOut
- Lam, D. H., Jones, S. H., Hayward, P., & Bright, J. A. (1999). Cognitive therapy for bipolar disorder: A therapist’s guide to concepts, methods, and practice. Malden, MA: Wiley.
- Otto, M. W., Reilly-Harrington, N. A., Kogan, J. N., Henin, A., Knauz, R. O., & Sachs, G. S. (2009). Managing bipolar disorder: A cognitive-behavioral approach—therapist guide. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Swartz, H. A., & Swanson, J. (2014). Psychotherapy for bipolar disorder in adults: A review of the evidence. Focus, 12(3), 251–266