It was Bipolar Awareness Day on 3rd October (I’m late) and I thought it would be a good opportunity to attempt to separate fact from fiction when it comes to bipolar disorder.
- Bipolar disorder is rapid mood swings.
There’s a really common misconception that individuals who have bipolar disorder have very fast mood changes – bouncy, excitable and happy one minute; depressed, anxious and exhausted the next. Bipolar disorder causes extreme mood changes, but these changes aren’t rapid. Individuals must have sustained periods of high mood (hypo(mania)) and low mood (depression) in order to be diagnosed with the condition. Rapid-cycling, a subtype of bipolar disorder, is characterised by much faster changes in mood, but even those diagnosed with rapid-cycling have mood changes over a period of days, not hours.
- Mania is fun.
Those diagnosed with bipolar I subtype (like me) have experienced at least one manic episode in their lives. Yes, someone in a period of mania might experience elated mood, increased productivity, very high energy levels, much less need for sleep and boosted confidence. But someone in a period of mania might also experience racing thoughts, irritability, sensory overload, grandiose delusions, paranoia, engaging in risky or reckless behaviours, hypersexuality, intense anxiety, hallucinations and a whole heap of other things. Everyone is different. Bipolar isn’t a “one size fits all” and even those with bipolar disorder will have different experiences of hypomanic/manic episodes. After a hypomanic or manic episode, it’s also common to experience a “hangover” – a come down that leaves you feeling exhausted and sluggish with low mood, which is unsurprising when you’ve been sleeping for 3 hours each night and conquering the world during the daytime.
- It’s uncommon to have bipolar.
1% of the population will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder in their lifetime. You probably know at least one person with a diagnosis, even if you don’t realise it.
- Bipolar disorder makes people violent.
It’s well known that media portrayal of mental illness is, more often than not, linked to crime and violence. So it’s unsurprising that lots of people are scared of mental illnesses, and sometimes those affected by them. Most people with bipolar disorder are never violent.
- People with bipolar disorder can’t be stable.
Depression and (hypo)mania aren’t usually constant. Those with bipolar disorder often experience periods of stability between episodes. Medication, therapy, exercise, diet and sleep routines can all prevent relapse and allow someone to have a stable life. Bipolar disorder doesn’t have a cure and it is a chronic illness, but it can be managed.