Common Myths about Bipolar Disorder

Healthcare concept of a patient with doctor

With millions of Americans suffering from bipolar disorder, it’s important that we truly understand it as a disease and prevent and misconceptions and depictions of it in our communities.

According to the Mayo Clinic, bipolar disorder is a mental disorder that causes unusual mood shifts, energy, activity levels, and concentration. These unusual shifts can often cause patients to have difficulty functioning daily.

We all have our ups and downs during the day, but with bipolar disorder, these highs and lows can be more severe—from the highs of mania on one end to the lows of depression at the other. Unlike typical mood swings that quickly pass, bipolar disorder has cycles or episodes that can last days, weeks, or even months.

Bipolar disorder is challenging to diagnose and can often get overlooked or confused with other mental illnesses. Since bipolar disorder tends to worsen without treatment, it’s essential to learn what the symptoms look like so more people don’t unnecessarily suffer.

Although we are learning more about bipolar disorder, there remain many myths and much false information regarding this disorder. Here are a few myths and facts to arm yourself with in helping to end the stigma.

Myth: Bipolar disorder is just mood swings, which everyone has.

Bipolar disorder is much more complicated than simple mood swings. The highs and lows that come with this diagnosis are very different. A person who has bipolar disorder will often experience extreme changes in energy, activity, and sleep patterns that are not typical for them. These changes don’t just happen over a few hours, but instead are over much longer periods of time.

An example we hear is the person who wakes up happy, gets upset or grumpy in the middle of the day, and then ends the day happy. Some people may say, “You must be bipolar.” Just because you experience this, no matter how often it happens, doesn’t mean you are bipolar. Providers and clinicians look at more than just changes in emotions to diagnose bipolar.

Myth: Mania is productive. You’re in a good mood and fun to be around.

It is true that at first a manic person may feel good and be productive. Without treatment, though, these feelings can plummet and become detrimental to a person’s health.

Mania is often characterized by increased irritability, increased anxiety, irrational anger, uncontrolled behaviors, and an inability to sleep. Mania at times can also lead to dangerous behaviors including reckless, extreme spending, aggression, and other reckless behaviors that can result in legal problems.

If untreated, a manic person may lose control of their thoughts and actions and even lose touch with reality.

Myth: All bipolar disorders are the same.

Not all bipolar disorders are the same. There are different types, and patients will experience various symptoms and severities of the disease. It can vary from patient to patient.

There are two main types of bipolar disorder, Bipolar 1 and Bipolar 2.

  • Bipolar 1 – Periods of severe mania and depression that impact a person’s daily functioning. It sometimes includes psychotic features such as hallucinations or delusions.
  • Bipolar 2 – Involves a hypomania and periods of severe depression. Severe depression is the more common mood state with Bipolar 2 and can cause significant life consequences.

Myth: Medication is the only treatment option for bipolar disorder.

Bipolar is a lifelong illness, and there is currently no cure. While medication is helpful and an essential tool for bipolar patients, it is not the only treatment option. Bipolar disorder is best treated with a comprehensive approach of medication, therapy, exercise, and a well-balanced diet. Make sure to discuss all treatment options with your provider.

Support groups can also help patients and their families share experiences, discuss coping skills, and provide support and hope to each other.

Myth: People who have bipolar disorder can’t hold steady jobs.

The misconception that bipolar people can’t live healthy, fulfilling lives is not true. There are thousands of professionals with bipolar disorder that can hold down a job for many years and build very successful careers.

People who have bipolar disorder must work with their mental health provider to monitor their thoughts and moods while working to maintain a stable mood.

Myth: Alcoholism and drug abuse are the cause of bipolar for some patients.

Although substance use can result in episodes with similar symptoms, more commonly, substance abuse is a co-occurring disorder which may worsen the course and outcome of the bipolar disorder.

The exact cause of bipolar disorder isn’t known. Psychiatrists and researchers say that genetics, environment, brain structure, and diet may all play a role in a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.



With millions of Americans suffering from a mental health disorder, we must learn about the common symptoms of bipolar disorder. If you or a loved one suffers from bipolar disorder, or meets the criteria for bipolar disorder, talk to your doctor immediately. Only when we are all educated can we truly break the stigma of mental health and help save millions of lives.

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