Before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder. I am familiar and sometimes comfortable with depression because I have been struggling with it since I was a preteen. I am used to being suicidal, isolated, having no motivation or a loss of appetite, and feeling numb. On the other hand, when my diagnosis changed to bipolar disorder, I had a hard time accepting it because my mind went to the extreme. As a peer recovery specialist, an individual with lived experience with mental illness or substance use that uses their expertise to coach, mentor, advocate, provide resources and support others in their recovery, I have a general knowledge of the illness. However, I thought the doctor was making a mistake. As I continue to learn how the disorder shows up for me, it is vital to dismantle myths associated with this chronic illness.
Myth: People with bipolar disorder are moody.
Fact: Just because someone is moody, it does not mean they have bipolar disorder. This illness is more than mood swings (mania/hypomania) as the symptoms include racing thoughts, restlessness, a decreased need for sleep, talkativeness, and being jumpy when one experiences a manic state, to name a few. It also includes extreme behaviors such as binge eating, promiscuity, spending sprees, and poor judgment.
Myth: People with bipolar disorder are violent.
Fact: We are not more violent than anyone else. People with mental health conditions are more likely to be the victim of a crime. According to Reuters Health and an article by Reuters, having a mental health condition makes people more vulnerable to becoming the victims of a crime, a recent analysis suggests. Based on nationwide data, researchers found that in the ten years following a diagnosis with any psychiatric disorder, a man’s risk of being the victim of a crime that reported to police rose by 50 percent. For women, the risk went up by 64 percent compared to women without mental illnesses.
Myth: There is only one type of bipolar disorder.
Fact: There are several types of bipolar and related disorders, according to Mayo Clinic. It may include mania or hypomania and depression. Symptoms can cause unpredictable changes in mood and behavior, resulting in significant distress and difficulty in life.
Bipolar I disorder --- You’ve had at least one manic episode that may be preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. In some cases, mania may trigger a break from reality (psychosis).
Bipolar II disorder --- You’ve had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but you’ve never had a manic episode.
Cyclothymic disorder --- You’ve had at least two years — or one year in children and teenagers — of many periods of hypomania symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms (though less severe than major depression).
Other types --- These include, for example, bipolar and related disorders induced by certain drugs or alcohol or due to a medical condition, such as cushing’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke.
Bipolar II disorder is not a milder form of bipolar I disorder, but a separate diagnosis. While the manic episodes of bipolar I disorder can be severe and dangerous, individuals with bipolar II disorder can be depressed for more extended periods, which can cause significant impairment.
Myth: People with bipolar disorder are crazy.
Fact: Crazy is defined as full of cracks or flaws, insane, not mentally sound, or erratic, according to Webster’s dictionary. We are all full of flaws and have moments of thinking irrationally, whether you have bipolar disorder or not. Stating that someone with bipolar disorder is crazy because their condition is in their brain is insensitive and dismisses the severity of the disease. Since we do not refer to people with cancer, asthma, or diabetes as crazy, let’s stop referring to those with mental health conditions as crazy.
Myth: All people with bipolar disorder are psychotic.
Let’s stop calling people psychotic as an insult. Psychosis can occur with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, some types of dementia, and other conditions, according to Medical News Today. The person’s thinking becomes disconnected, or dissociated with reality. A psychotic episode can involve hallucinations, delusions, confusion and disturbed thoughts and a lack of insight and self-awareness. The pattern of symptoms will vary between individuals and according to the situation.
Myth: People with bipolar disorder can't be successful.
Fact: Mariah Carey, Jenifer Lewis, Mel Gibson, Demi Lovato, and Jimi Hendrix are a few of the many celebrities who have been open about their challenges with bipolar disorder. They are incredibly successful, not crazy.
If someone has bipolar disorder, it is best to see a psychiatrist. If they have a current diagnosis and are looking for a therapist but unsure about traditional therapy, consider online therapy at BetterHelp where you can text, video chat, send audio messages, and call a licensed counselor.