Bipolar disorder is misunderstood by many. There are many helpful, reliable sources on the internet that explain it well and many books that provide both psychological expertise and personal stories of living with bipolar. Still, the general public believes many myths about the disorder. Here are a few of them and the real information that can counteract them.
Bipolar is bipolar is bipolar. There are many types of bipolar disorder. The best known are bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. But there are also bipolar 3 and 4 – less well-known but still troubling versions of the disorder. Bipolar 3 is also called cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar 4 is bipolar due to another medical or substance abuse disorder. Each of these types of bipolar has differing symptoms – mania and depression for different lengths of time, for example – but they are not identical.
Hourly mood swings are symptoms of bipolar disorder. It’s common for people to say that their friend’s moods change rapidly, so they must have bipolar disorder. This is a misconception. Bipolar disorder is characterized by alternating periods of mania and depression, but these last longer than hours or days. They can and do last for months or even years. There are types of bipolar disorder that are called rapid-cycling and ultra-rapid cycling, but these forms of the condition still feature episodes of mania and depression that occur up to four times in a year. There is (or may be) ultra-ultra-rapid cycling bipolar, which can manifest over a day or two, but this is extremely rare.
You can “fix” someone with bipolar. No, you can’t. My husband tried to fix me, with no success. Perhaps because he had some experience as an aide in a psychiatric facility or because he had once led a laughter therapy group, he thought he could. He loves me more than anyone ever has, but I was immune to his attempts. When he offered advice, I told him to “quit shrinking at me.” When he told the same joke over and over trying to get a laugh out of me, I just looked at him. Even a psychiatrist and medication can’t “fix” a person with bipolar disorder. They can help to alleviate the condition and even help a person go into remission, but there is just no fixing bipolar.
Bipolar people end up hospitalized. Although some people with bipolar disorder are hospitalized, this is far from the only outcome for them, and many are hospitalized only for short periods. In fact, it can be very difficult to find a hospital or psychiatric facility when one is needed. The closing of many care facilities and the low number of beds available, along with insurance requirements, have contributed to this. Hospitalization is considered in emergency situations, such as when bipolar persons are an immediate threat to themselves or others. Outpatient treatment is preferred for all but the most extreme cases.
Medication, particularly with lithium, is the only treatment for bipolar. Lithium was the first medication to be used with bipolar patients, but it is now far from the only one. Medication (with a wide array of choices) is certainly an important treatment for bipolar disorder, but there are others. “Talk therapy” can help people with bipolar develop coping mechanisms and deal with mood swings. If medication doesn’t work, there are more avenues that can be explored. ECT (electro-convulsive treatment) has come a long way from the bad old days and the horrors depicted in Cuckoo’s Nest. TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) is another kind of therapy that has shown progress in treatment-resistant bipolar disorder. Ketamine infusions are also being studied and tried as a treatment. There are people who find nutrition, mindfulness, exercise, and other techniques helpful, and these can be productive adjuncts to other kinds of treatment.
Bipolar people are violent. People with mental illnesses are more often the victims of violence than perpetrators, despite what you may have seen in the movies, television shows, and even news stories. People are quick to say that any violence is due to mental illness or a person who is “off their meds,” but this is quite often a knee-jerk reaction with a questionable basis in fact. The risk of violence is minimal for bipolar persons unless they are also substance abusers.
Bipolar people can’t have romantic relationships, friends, or families. Relationships may be more difficult with bipolar disorder, as they are for many people with mental illnesses, but they are not impossible. Many families care deeply and support their relatives who have bipolar, and many people who have bipolar have loving relationships, marriages, and families of their own. These relationships may be more difficult than those that non-bipolar people have, but they are not impossible. It is true that family members and friends may not understand mental illness and may reject anyone who has them, but there are also many who will stand by you, help you heal, and even advocate for you. Besides, relationships among the general population are not guaranteed to be long-lasting and trouble-free either!
You may share this post with anyone who believes these myths. Perhaps it will lead them to a more realistic view of bipolar disorder and help them better understand friends and family members who are affected by it.