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In this guest article by Rebecca Palmquist, you'll find 5 myths about Bipolar Disorder. These myths can be harmful not only to those suffering from a mental illness but to society as a whole. A lack of education on such a prominent issue can be dangerous, and it's always better to be well-informed than to assume (because you know what assuming does).
5 Myths About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar Myth No. 1: Bipolar is just mood swings.
You’ve heard people say it, the weather is so bipolar or everyone has "ups and downs", we all have peaks and valleys.
“The mood swings associated with bipolar disorder are very different than those of people without the condition,” says Matthew Rudorfer, MD, associate director of treatment research in the division of services and intervention research at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md. “The mood swings of bipolar [disorder] are more severe, longer-lasting, and maybe most significant of all, they interfere with some important aspect of functioning, such as the ability to work at one's job, or manage one's home, or be a successful student," he says.
The mood swings of a person with bipolar disorder, experts agree, are far more severe than, say, a person without bipolar disorder being bummed out because rain spoiled the weekend plans or weight loss efforts aren't showing the desired results.
Bipolar Myth No. 2: Manic Depression is not Bipolar Disorder.
Manic Depression is the old school name for Bipolar Disorder. Manic Depression is a label that didn’t really allow for the variety of qualifiers the disorder has. There are many facets to Bipolar Disorder: cyclothymia, depression, mania, hypomania, dysphoria, mixed states, rapid cycling, and others.
Bipolar Myth No. 3: When in the manic phase, people with Bipolar Disorder are often very happy.
There are dysphoric and mixed states. There is a happy mania but there is also irritable mania. And there is a state of both, mixed. A person with Bipolar Disorder may enter the manic phase happy but not stay that way.
"The hallmark of mania is a euphoric or elevated mood," says Thomas E. Smith, MD, a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York. But, he says, "a significant number of people become edgy and irritable as the mania progresses."
"Many people are actually frightened when they go into mania," says Sue Bergeson, CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago, a patient-run mental health organization. "When you are moving into mania, you are losing control of your actions and thoughts," she says.
Patients often complain they can't sleep. A person in a manic phase may go on spending sprees, use poor judgment, abuse drugs or alcohol, and have difficulty concentrating. Sexual drive can be increased and behavior can be "off" or out of character for what is normal for them.
Smith advises Bipolar Disorder patients to know their early signs of a manic or depressive episode so they can get additional treatment promptly. Just like when a storm blows in there are indicators as to when your moods will change. With a storm, there may be some wind, and dark clouds may approach; you may be able to sense clues that could be subtle or pronounced, but with some observation can be detected.
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Bipolar Myth No. 4: You only need to take your medication until you feel better.
Medications are the most standard way bipolar symptoms are managed. The medication works best at managing symptoms, and possibly diminishing or warding them off. Some people do great on certain medications, however, medication success varies by the type of medication, dosage, lifestyle choices, and people themselves. It is important to work closely with your doctor to find and maintain the medicines and dosages that work best for you. You need to work closely with your doctor to monitor any side effects and the efficacy of the medicines as sometimes several are needed to manage the symptoms.
The first phase of treatment is to eliminate any mania, hypomania, or depression that the patient is experiencing. This could take anywhere from six weeks to six months at a minimum. It could take longer to find the medications that work best to keep the symptoms away. It took about eighteen months for my doctor and me to find what worked for me so that I was stable.
The maintenance phase is much like diabetes or hypertension. It is most likely a lifetime of juggling medications to keep the symptoms away. Mania, hypomania, and depression are important to avoid for the patient to function best in his or her daily life. Preventing re-occurrence is best for your mental health as you avoid any risk of losing control of your choices or bringing on any serious consequences from poor decision-making. You also avoid the possibility of hospitalization.
Medications for Bipolar Disorder are different than medications like antibiotics. You need to take them on good days and bad to maintain the well-being they provide. The key is to understand they are for maintenance, and not a cure like penicillin. Medications for Bipolar Disorder are more like vitamins; you take them to give your body what it is missing for its welfare on a daily basis.
Bipolar Myth No. 5: Bipolar Disorder makes you really creative.
It is true some people experience a surge of ideas when manic or hypomanic but it is for a limited time and is often with limited success as there is often also difficulty in following through with all of these plans. There have been leaders and celebrities that have had Bipolar Disorder... but they are the few. There are about 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 and older, that have Bipolar Disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The majority of those people are everyday citizens who are trying to make a living day in and day out.
Matthew Rudorfer, MD, associate director of treatment research, division of services and intervention research, National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.
Thomas E. Smith, MD, research scientist, New York State Psychiatric Institute; associate professor of clinical psychiatry, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York.
Sue Bergeson, CEO, Depression and Bipolar support Alliance, Chicago.
National Alliance on Mental Illness: "True or False? The top 10 Myths About Bipolar Disorder."
National Institute of Mental Health: "Bipolar Disorder."
About the Author
Rebecca Palmquist is a mental health blogger and advocate. She has an upbeat approach to mental health issues that can be applied through practical inspiration and solutions. She believes mental health stigma must end through education and compassion. Rebecca is a mother of two and lives with Bipolar Disorder. She desires to encourage others to approach their emotional health with hope and realistic ideas about managing their challenges.
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