Common Myths Associated With Bipolar Disorder

There are many myths and assumptions about what bipolar disorder is and what the people who have this condition are like, but few are actually true.  Listed below are some of the most common myths of bipolar disorder. It is time to set the facts straight and provide the truth.

Photo by Stuart Miles

Photo by Stuart Miles

1.  Bipolar disorder is a rare condition – This is false. According to WebMD and the National Institute of Mental Health, “research and statistics show that bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million Americans a year which is about 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 years and older. The Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation estimates that at least three quarters of a million American children and teens may suffer from bipolar disorder (WebMD).”

2. Those with bipolar disorder have split or two different personalities. –No. Those with bipolar disorder do not have double or split personalities. Bipolar is a condition that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, emotions, and energy levels. A person’s mood and emotions can be altered drastically due to bipolar disorder, but they do not have more than one personality. Split personalities is more commonly seen in those with personality/dissociative disorders. This can be confusing because many mental illnesses do present similar/overlapping symptoms, but it is important to know the differences.

3. Those who have bipolar disorder are violent or “crazy.” – This is one of the myths and assumptions regarding bipolar disorder that seems to agitate me the most. The media strongly influences how we view particular topics. Whenever bipolar disorder is mentioned, it is about some horrible crime such as a mass shooting, an assault, or murder. There is very rarely anything else said about bipolar that could aid in helping others to understand what bipolar disorder is really like. Did you know that those who live with a mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violence versus actually committing a crime? It is actually stated that other factors are more responsible for the actual violence, not the mental illness itself. According to Harvard Health Publications,

“Public opinion surveys suggest that many people think mental illness and violence go hand in hand. A 2006 national survey found, for example, that 60% of Americans thought that people with schizophrenia were likely to act violently toward someone else, while 32% thought that people with major depression were likely to do so. In fact, research suggests that this public perception does not reflect reality. Most individuals with psychiatric disorders are not violent. Although a subset of people with psychiatric disorders commit assaults and violent crimes, findings have been inconsistent about how much mental illness contributes to this behavior and how much substance abuse and other factors do.”

3. Those who live with bipolar disorder are untrustworthy and/or unfaithful.-  Not all who live with bipolar disorder lie or cheat. I am actually a good example and living proof of this. Everyone lies at certain points in their lives, but not all who have bipolar will lie compulsively. I probably lie as much as the average person, probably even less since I am quite open and even too blunt at times. When it comes to bipolar disorder and being unfaithful to a spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend, this isn’t always the case either. During times of mania, it is common for those with bipolar to become hypersexual and have an increase in their libido, but not all will stray from their other half or betray them. The overall factors that play into being unfaithful (for anyone) has much to do with the individual’s personal morals, decision-making skills, impulsivity, the intensity of the mania (extremely manic commonly seen in Bipolar Disorder type 1), and past history (sexual abuse, substance abuse, environmental factors, etc).

Photo by Stuart Miles

Photo by Stuart Miles

But again, not all who have bipolar will be untrustworthy or unfaithful no matter what type (1, 2, NOS, etc) they have. It really does depend on the person and severity of their condition and other factors as well.

4. Bipolar disorder only affects a person’s moods. – HelpGuide.org states, “Bipolar disorder also affects your energy level, judgment, memory, concentration, appetite, sleep patterns, sex drive, and self-esteem. Additionally, bipolar disorder has been linked to anxiety, substance abuse, and health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, migraines, and high blood pressure.”

5. People with bipolar disorder can’t ever get better or live life normally. – HelpGuide.org explains, “Many people with bipolar disorder have successful careers, happy family lives, and satisfying relationships. Living with bipolar disorder is challenging. But with treatment, healthy coping skills, and a solid support system, you can live fully while managing your symptoms.”

6. People with bipolar disorder swing back and forth between mania and depression. – HelpGuide.org continues, “Some people alternate between extreme episodes of mania and depression, but most are depressed more often than they are manic. Mania may also be so mild that it goes unrecognized. People with bipolar disorder can also go for long stretches without symptoms.” It also depends on the type and severity of bipolar such as the presence of rapid-cycling bipolar, which means that the mood swings shift from mania and depression quickly, even daily, possibly hourly. Rapid-cycling is more commonly seen in women.

7. Bipolar disorder is a result of bad or inadequate parenting. – This is one of the biggest myths regarding bipolar or any mental illness that I’ve seen. The nicest, most loving, and wonderful parents have children who live with bipolar disorder. No parent is perfect, but parenting is not typically to blame for any child’s mental illness. Environmental factors do play a role in a child’s mental health such as stress or abuse, but there are other factors that researchers have found as likely combinations in the development of bipolar disorder. MayoClinic provides this list of possible causes of bipolar,

  • “Biological differences. People with bipolar disorder appear to have physical changes in their brains. The significance of these changes is still uncertain but may eventually help pinpoint causes.
  • Neurotransmitters. An imbalance in naturally occurring brain chemicals called neurotransmitters seems to play a significant role in bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.
  • Hormones. Imbalanced hormones may be involved in causing or triggering bipolar disorder.
  • Inherited traits. Bipolar disorder is more common in people who have a blood relative (such as a sibling or parent) with the condition. Researchers are trying to find genes that may be involved in causing bipolar disorder.
  • Environment. Stress, abuse, significant loss or other traumatic experiences may play a role in bipolar disorder.”

 For more information on bipolar and it’s causes, please visit WebMD for an in-depth explanation.

 

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20 Comments

  1. Pingback: Common Myths About Bipolar Illness: False Beliefs About Bipolar Persist - black dog pie: a magazine on depression and bipolar

  2. Kait, I just found this blog today. Thank you SO much for this wonderful blog. I am following you now here and on Twitter. Great info. This is one of the most informative blogs on b/p I’ve read. Bless you for this!

  3. Thank you for stopping by my blog and deciding to follow it.

    Your mention of high blood pressure caught my attention. I have been wondering about this recently. Certainly, it must correlate with my moods. I think of doctors telling people with high blood pressure to rest, like when I am in depression. Likewise, people with high blood pressure might tend to run around with frantic energy, like I do when I am in hypomania. I would like to test this idea for accuracy.

    I am concerned about the quote from HelpGuide.org about living a normal life. I have great treatment, healthy coping skills, and a solid support system, but live an unusual life of disability. I spent years trying to figure out what I needed to do to live a normal life, and found that I will always have unusual limitations. I can be glad for what I have, and do what I can within my limitations. I am working on defining those limitations so I can better manage my triggers.

    Thank you for exposing these myths to help people recognize bipolar more accurately.

  4. Thank you Kait.

  5. Your blog is beautiful, and I especially like this post 😉 I wish everyone WITHOUT bipolar disorder would see this!

  6. Pingback: The lines of crazy and being bipolar |

  7. Pingback: The Common Myths of Bipolar Disorder | monkeypuzzletree22

  8. “It really does depend on the person and severity of their condition.”

    Well said, Kait. People aren’t categories.

  9. Well said! I am also a Bipolar NOS. The “swinging” back and forth has actually happened to me, but that’s what happens when you’re on the wrong medications. I was originally prescribed an antidepressant alone, which caused these very swift shifts into mania.

    Thanks for posting!

  10. This is a really helpful post with these myths the reasons for so many to keep their condition a secret. Well said and thanks.

  11. I’ve shared this on facebook so that the people I love will, hopefully, get over some of the misconceptions they hear then judge me on. I really appreciate your blog and really hope you’ll keep writing and I’ll keep sharing!

  12. now, if we can only get the rest of the people to read this!

  13. We’ll said! Thanks for posting!

  14. Kait – You’ve done a great job in clarifying so many misconseptions people have about bipolar disorder. Keep up the good work of educating every one. I’m with you when the media spends their time saying violence is related to mental illness. Sometimes that’s true but it’s not a foregone conclusion. We know that if anything, an individual in a deep depression (which is often the case with bipolar disorder) if a person buys a gun, said weapon is so they may commit suicide. Again – excellent work.

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