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True or False? The Top 10 Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Expert Patient John McManamy gives you the real story.

By John McManamy

Like many mental illnesses, the commentary surrounding bipolar disorder is saturated with myths--it's hard to tell what's true and what's not. Below you'll find the real story, from our Expert Patient John McManamy.

1. Everyone has their ups and downs, so mine aren’t that serious.

Yes, everyone has good days and bad days, but when these ups and downs seriously interfere with your ability to work, relate to others and function effectively, it is advisable to seek out a psychiatrist.

2. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder.

Half true. Bipolar disorder certainly affects mood, but it also affects cognition and the ability to perform mental tasks. Some days we can out-think Stephen Hawking. Other days we make Forrest Gump look like an intellectual.

3. Yes, but bipolar disorder is still a mood disorder.

Granted, but for most of us it is also part of a package deal that may include anxiety, substance and alcohol abuse and sleep disorders. Also, researchers are finding smoking guns linking the illness to heart disease, migraines and other physical ailments.

4. Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings ranging from severely depressed to wildly manic.

Not necessarily. Most people with bipolar disorder are depressed far more often than they are manic. Often, the manias are so subtle that they are overlooked by both patient and psychiatrist, resulting in misdiagnosis. People with bipolar disorder can also enter long periods of remission.

5. Mania is like being on top of the world—if you could only put it in a bottle and sell it.

You wouldn’t want to with most manias. True, some forms of mild mania are characterized by feelings of elation, but other types have road rage features built in. More severe mania turns up the heat, resulting in different kinds of out-of-control behavior that can ruin your career, relationships and reputation.

6. Bipolar disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain.

This is the simpler explanation—what you tell your family and friends. What you need to know is our genes, biology and life experience make us extremely sensitive to stress. Various stressors, such as personal relationships and financial worries, have the potential to trigger a mood episode if not effectively nipped in the bud.

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