As with many mental health disorders, there is a lot of bipolar disorder stigma that negatively affects individuals with this diagnosis. Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme fluctuations in mood, ranging from mania to depression. Manic episodes are marked by increased energy and mood, while depressive episodes are marked by low energy and extreme sadness. A lack of general understanding regarding this condition is harmful to those who have it, as many are harshly impacted by harmful stereotypes. To break the stigma of this condition, we’re sharing common misconceptions about bipolar disorder to watch out for.
Common Misconceptions About Bipolar Disorder
Myth #1: Bipolar Disorder Is Rare
Fact: Bipolar disorder affects 2.6% of adults in the U.S., which equates to approximately 5.7 million people ages 18 and older every year.1
While any statistic of 2.6% seems low, when it comes to population, this statistic refers to millions of people. The prevalence of bipolar disorder is relatively equal between men and women but is usually more common among people in Native American communities, people with lower education levels and socioeconomic statuses, people who were previously married, and young and middle-aged people.
Additionally, while bipolar disorder may not be as common as depression or anxiety, it is a chronic and long-lasting condition that can be difficult to manage without mental health treatment. Whether you know someone with this condition or not, remember that millions of people are dealing with bipolar disorder symptoms every day.
Myth #2: Bipolar Disorder Looks the Same for Everyone
Fact: There are four different types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar Disorder I, Bipolar Disorder II, Cyclothymia, and Rapid Cycling, each of which varies in symptoms.
Most if not all negative stereotypes about bipolar disorder are constructed on the belief that the disorder looks the same for everyone. Bipolar disorder stigma rarely leaves any room for varying symptoms, subtypes, and struggles. Each type of bipolar disorder varies in symptoms, including how long they last and their nature.
For example, while people with type one bipolar disorder do not need to experience depressive episodes to be diagnosed, people with type two bipolar disorder experience both manic and depressive episodes and require both for a diagnosis. Even without meeting the criteria for bipolar I or bipolar II, cycling between manic and depressive symptoms can be difficult, which is common for people with rapid cycling.
Despite the differences between these conditions, all classifications and symptoms of bipolar disorder require psychotherapy and treatment.
Myth #3: Bipolar Disorder Is Just Mood Swings
Fact: The highs and lows of bipolar disorder are extreme and often severe enough to impact a person’s day-to-day functioning, as well as their relationships and finances.
In addition to the extreme nature of manic and depressive episodes, which are common to people with bipolar disorder, the frequency at which they occur also determines the individual’s diagnosis. So, even if you’re happy in the morning, sad in the afternoon, and happy again at night, it doesn’t mean you have bipolar disorder.
Mood swings, which to an extent are common among people, are also extremely mild compared to those that people with bipolar disorder experience. Assuming that the symptoms that are most common in people with bipolar disorder are simply things that happen to everyone invalidates sufferers' feelings and their experiences with this condition.
Myth #4: Manic Episodes Are Fun and Productive
Fact: Manic episodes can be terrifying for the person and the people around them. While they might feel temporarily energized and happy, other symptoms of manic episodes include irritability, aggression, and risky behaviors like spending too much money online shopping.
It can be difficult for people with bipolar disorder to manage their symptoms during manic and depressive episodes. These aren’t symptoms that should be celebrated or invalidated by making them seem like they’re productive or “fun.” While treatment and therapy can help patients make the most out of their conditions and manage their symptoms in a healthy way, don’t underestimate the challenges of this disorder.
Myth #5: Artists With Bipolar Disorder Will Lose Their Creativity if They Get Treatment
Fact: Treatment for bipolar disorder is designed to mitigate symptoms that inhibit the individual from functioning at their full potential and allow them to think more clearly and function more efficiently.
If we take examples like Marya Hornbacher, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author with bipolar disorder, she found that she was able to write more efficiently after receiving treatment for her disorder. While she’s shared that she would write thousands of pages for a book before treatment, she considered them to be the worst books you’d ever read in your life.
Instead, she found that she was able to write better books after receiving the support she needed. She discusses her experiences with bipolar disorder in her book, “Madness, A Bipolar Life.”
Myth #6: The Highs and Lows Happen Regularly
Fact: The mood episodes of bipolar disorder don’t occur regularly or in predictable patterns but rather are messier and much more difficult to predict than people think.
The pattern and frequency at which bipolar disorder mood swings occur varies depending on the type of bipolar disorder the person has. For instance, when cycling or shifting between manic and depressive symptoms occurs rapidly, it’s known as rapid cycling bipolar.
Fact: People with bipolar disorder are not inherently violent or aggressive.
One of the most common myths about bipolar disorder is that people with bipolar disorder are violent. Although manic symptoms like irritability and impulsivity can make people feel agitated or aggressive, having bipolar disorder does not automatically make a person violent or “dangerous.”
Additionally, while some research shows that the risk of violent crime is high among people with bipolar disorder, it’s believed that this correlation has more to do with the person’s upbringing and environment rather than their diagnosis.2 It’s also unclear whether the phase, mood swings, or speed of cycling between episodes impacts violent behavior in people with bipolar disorder.
Assuming that people with bipolar disorder are violent is a harmful generalization that can make one feel like an outcast and boxed in. Whether you’re close to someone with bipolar disorder or not, do your research on this disorder and ways of breaking the mental health stigma.
Help for Bipolar Disorder
Medication isn’t the only form of treatment for bipolar disorder. Our rehab in Boca Raton, Florida, offers inpatient mental health treatment for bipolar disorder that incorporates various forms of psychotherapy to assist patients in their recovery and teach them how to manage their symptoms in a healthy way. In addition to stability, we hope to instill independence, strength, confidence, and peace of mind into our clients to set them up for success.
Even so, our facility also offers family resources to ensure every client’s support system is strengthened and prepared to help their loved ones. No matter how rough you’ve had it, our Boca Raton Banyan rehab is here to help.
For more information about our mental health services in Florida, call Banyan Treatment Center today at 888-280-4763.
1. DBSA - Bipolar Disorder Statistics
2. NCBI - Bipolar disorder and violent crime: new evidence from population-based longitudinal studies and systematic review
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