“If you’re bipolar, every mood is caused by the condition.”
It’s easy to write off a bad mood as just bipolar brain chemistry. This is an easy trap to fall into — one that can even help patients and family members cope from time to time. But for the most part, people with bipolar disorder react to daily events no differently than does everyone else — not everything is mania or depression. You have a right to your feelings. Don’t assume that every outburst or moment of sadness is just another “episode.”
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“Mania is a happy feeling.”
While mania can include some feelings of euphoria, that’s nowhere close to the whole story. Mania is often characterized by increased irritability, irrational anger, and an inability to sleep — which can exacerbate symptoms and lead to unnecessary risks. During this phase, patients report feeling out of control of their thoughts or actions, so even if the mania starts out happy, it can quickly take a turn for the worse.
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“Medication is the only treatment for bipolar disorder.”
While medication is an effective treatment for bipolar disorder, it’s far from the only one. Psychotherapy — a.k.a. talk therapy — and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are great for teaching you about triggers and helping you gain more emotional control. Diet, exercise, and proper sleep can also help keep negative symptoms at bay.
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“Bipolar people switch from dark depression to scary mania daily.”
Only a tiny percentage of people with bipolar disorder experience “rapid cycling” — a daily or hourly switch between mania and depression. In the vast majority of cases, this switch takes much longer — sometimes with several “normal” weeks in between. On top of that, not every episode of mania or depression is severe; many who are diagnosed with Bipolar II experience a milder form of mania called hypomania that can pass by virtually unnoticed.
“Once a manic or depressive episode is over, treatment can stop.”
This isn’t a good idea. Bipolar is a lifelong condition — you’re not just going to suddenly “snap out of it” after a particularly bad episode. The goal of bipolar treatment is to stabilize the patient over time, so doctors recommend continuing treatment (medication and/or therapy) even when you’re feeling good.
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“There's an easy test to check for bipolar disorder.”
Unfortunately, not yet. A home test for bipolar disorder made waves a few years ago, but it has since proven to be inconclusive — it can only test a few genes that are thought to be linked to the disorder. At best, it may be able to show if you might have a genetic predisposition for the disorder — not if you actually have it. Brain scans have also shown some promise in identifying irregular brain patterns in bipolar patients, but their results are far from definitive as of yet.
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“Bipolar disorder is just an inability to control your emotions.”
Bipolar disorder has nothing to do with control. Telling someone with the condition to “calm down” or “try harder” is counterproductive because bipolar disorder is a real mental illness that can’t be wished away or overcome without willpower or help. Mood swings aren’t a choice, and taking this "snap out of it" view will only cause harm in the long run.
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“Bipolar disorder can’t be diagnosed until adulthood.”
Until recently, bipolar was considered an adult disorder that started around age 18. Now, however, the medical community acknowledges a condition called “Early Onset Bipolar Disorder,” which can affect children as young as 6. The symptoms are a little different, but the overall pattern of mania and depression is the same.
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“Drug abuse causes bipolar disorder.”
Drug abuse can’t cause bipolar disorder, any more than sugar can cause ADHD. Drug use can exacerbate symptoms and make it more difficult for a doctor to get a proper diagnosis, but drugs cannot suddenly make someone bipolar. If bipolar disorder runs in your family, it is best to steer clear of drugs and alcohol — they may affect you more strongly than they do others.