Bipolar disorder, commonly known as manic-depressive disorder, is a brain condition that affects approximately 5.7 million Americans. The condition is known for producing symptoms that include periods of depression interrupted by periods of mania. The median age of diagnosis is age 25, but symptoms can start during childhood, during middle age, or anywhere in between. Although there have been efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding the condition, there are still many prevalent myths. Check out these common myths along with their true explanations.
1. Bipolar Disorder Is the Same as Having Mood Swings
If you are a parent, you are probably familiar with typical childhood and adolescent mood swings. A small child might kick and scream over not getting an ice cream cone, then find joy in a balloon five minutes later. A teen might go from elation to anger over the course of an hour. While some people joke and say that someone “is bipolar” because they have mood swings, that is not what the bipolar disorder experience is like.
Most people with bipolar disorder spend more time being depressed than manic. Also, mania is not elation or happiness (more on that later!). Bipolar disorder is far more serious than the mood swings that are typical in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood.
2. There Is No Good Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
It is true that there’s no absolute cure for bipolar disorder. However, with the right combination of medication and psychotherapy, people with the illness can go on to live normal, productive lives. Because moods vacillate between depression and manic episodes, it’s vital to have strong oversight when it comes to choosing medications and knowing when to switch to a different medication. With excellent mental health care, however, it can be done.
3. Bipolar Disorder Is a Rare Condition
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 2.6 percent of the American population.
This means that if you know 100 people, it’s likely that you know at least two people with bipolar disorder. It’s very likely that in your neighborhood, at your workplace, and in your child’s school, there are people dealing with this mental health condition.
The reason you might think it’s rare is that there is a stigma that accompanies mental health conditions like bipolar disorder. People are often afraid to talk about it because those with mental illnesses tend to be stigmatized. They might find it harder to make friends and to fit in with others, so they learn to keep quiet about their condition. It’s important to understand that mental health issues should not come with a stigma.
4. Poor Parenting Can Cause Bipolar Disorder
Parents are often blamed for a host of issues in their teen and adult children, but poor parenting does not cause bipolar disorder. It’s not a behavioral disorder, but instead a problem with the brain.
Teenage hormones and conflicts with friends do not cause bipolar disorder either, although hormones can affect the timing of the condition. Difficulties with parents, peers, and other stressors can make it more difficult to treat the disorder.
Bipolar disorder can run in families. The majority of people with the condition have a family member with either bipolar disorder or some type of depressive disorder. If the illness runs in your family, it’s important to be aware of the symptoms so you can take your child or teen in to see a mental health specialist sooner rather than later.
5. Mania Is the Opposite of Depression
When many people think about depression, they envision a sad person who does not want to get out of bed. Maybe they cry often and isolate themselves. These can be accurate descriptors of a person in a depressive episode.
Mania, while it’s the “other side” of bipolar disorder, does not look like the opposite of depression in the moods and attitudes that it creates. Someone going through a manic episode will not simply glide through life with a smile on their face while being ultra-productive. Instead, the person might take great risks, such as driving too fast or have risky sex. They are likely to behave in ways that could come across as aggressive or dangerous. They might get fired from their jobs. They might erupt into fits of rage. Mania is not something that’s easy to live through; it can be just as destructive as depression.
6. Lifestyle Changes Won’t Help Those With Bipolar Disorder
Although medication and therapy are the main treatments for bipolar disorder and should not be stopped without direct medical advice to do so, there are some lifestyle changes that can help control the condition and reduce the symptoms. As with any mental health issue, reducing stress is a key to keeping the disorder under control.
Teens with bipolar disorder should be sure to do the following:
- get enough sleep
- eat healthy foods
- spend enough time outdoors
- get enough exercise.
All of these measures can reduce anxiety and improve depression. They should also avoid relying on substances such as alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes; these can exacerbate the problems and, in some cases, can be contraindicated with the medications that treat the manic and depressive episodes.
7. There Is Just One Type of Bipolar Disorder
Although all types of bipolar disorder have some features in common, there are actually several different types that can cause markedly different symptoms. The most severe type is bipolar I; other forms are:
- bipolar II
- cyclothymic disorder
- rapid-cycling bipolar disorder
- bipolar disorder with mixed features
It’s important to have the condition diagnosed by a professional who can determine which type you or your teen has so they can begin the right therapy and medications.
Living with bipolar disorder is a challenge, and sometimes it’s difficult to find the right combination of medications that will treat the condition. Having a supportive family and a group of friends and loved ones who you can depend on will help. If your teenager or young adult child has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, encourage them to stick to the protocol that their doctor has recommended and urge them to go back for further evaluation if the treatment does not seem to be working. With proper support and treatment, there’s no reason why your teen won’t go on to live a normal and productive life.