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The 7 Biggest Misconceptions About Bipolar Disorder

Like, that it stops you from living a normal life.
PHOTO: Getty Images

Though we might have come a long way in recent years in reducing the stigma around mental health conditions, there's still a long way to goespecially when it comes to properly understanding certain conditions, like bipolar.

To help with this, we spoke to Rethink Mental Illness and Bupa about the remaining bipolar misconceptions which need to be eradicated:

  1. That all bipolar is the same.

    Firstly, there are two types of primary bipolar diagnoses: Bipolar I and Bipolar II and Rethink says "everyone with bipolar disorder will have different levels of symptoms." The National Health Service adds that some people might only have a couple of bipolar episodes in their lifetime, while others might have more.

    Bipolar is "traditionally signified by depressive lows and manic highs," Rethink says. "Type 1 is typified by higher levels of mania and the existence of psychosis so this is usually more severe than type 2."

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  2. That it's a personality disorder.

    It's not a personality disorder like Borderline Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder. It is instead a disorder that primarily affects moods.

  3. That it just means "bad mood swings."

    Though it may be a mood disorder, it is not a case of simply having mood swingswhich, let's be honest, we all get.

    "We all experience good and bad moods from time to time, but for someone with bipolar, mood changes are often more severe, varying from excitement and elation (known as mania) to depression and despair," Pablo Vandenabeele, Bupa's Clinical Director of Mental Health says. "Each mood may last several weeks or there might be long stable periods. As with all mental health issues, mood changes should be taken seriously and not oversimplified or stigmatized as just 'mood swings'."

    What is also damaging is when people use the word "bipolar" to describe a mood swing, similar to the way people have long used "OCD" to describe tidiness, when the condition is so much more complex than that.

    Eleanor Segall, a writer and blogger who has Bipolar I, explained why using the phrase "You're so bipolar!" is incredibly problematic: "Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, but we don't all have ups and downs with our moods constantly and we don't all rapid cycle between moods either. To use this phrase is ignorant and belittles the condition."

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  4. That being really happy is one of the symptoms.

    The "manic high" symptom of bipolar doesn't equate to being really, really happy, Rethink explains.

    "It involves feeling constantly restless and an inability to feel calm. It can lead to delusional thoughts (like feeling invulnerable) and reckless behavior that puts the person at risk of endangering themselves."

    Vandenabeele adds that the most widely-held misconceptions around the illness revolve around the manic stage of the condition.

    "Many people believe that all bipolar patients experience euphoric highs," he says. "But, in reality, the manic phase can often express itself as overconfidence, irritability, or confusion."

  5. That you're ill all the time.

    Eleanor only experienced psychosis, where her delusions made her lose touch with reality, for a few months before it passed. She's since had long periods of feeling fine, which means a diagnosis doesn't mean you're cast to a lifetime of illness.

    "Most people with bipolar I or bipolar II disorder can stay well for long periods on medication, with a good support network, and a therapeutic plan," she says. "Those who do not take medication and need to may get unwell. However, most of the time, and in my own case, you can go for long periods [of] severe mental illness."

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  6. That all medication comes with bad side effects.

    Some anti-depressant medication can come with side effects, yes. But this is not the case with all medication, and quite often it comes down to the individual or through a trial and error process to see which medicine works best for you.

    Eleanor says that her anti-psychotic medication came with some side effects but ultimately, it meant she could get better. Remember to talk to your doctor or psychiatrist to find the right medication for you.

  7. That it stops you from living a normal life.

    This, of course, is absolutely not true. Just like with any illness, if it's managed and you have the right medication and care, you can lead a great, normal, regular life.

    Eleanor is living proof that this isn't the case, as is Mariah Carey, of course.

    "I still got my A levels, went to university, traveled, and I work now as a freelance journalist," Eleanor says. "There is a misconception that having bipolar disorder means you cannot live a normal, fulfilled life. People think that you will not be able to work, achieve academically, have a family, or hold down a relationship. This misconception is false. The disorder affects everyone differently and many do go on to achieve and be successful in what they want to do."

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This article originally appeared on Minor edits have been made by the editors.