Bipolar: Common misconceptions

World Bipolar Day (30th March) is a day designed to raise awareness and help us all learn more about a condition that affects around one in every 100 adults. As with many mental health conditions, sadly, bipolar disorder can often be misunderstood.

Stereotypes and myths can lead people to believe those with bipolar are completely erratic, wildly productive, or even have ‘split personality’.

It’s time to put these misconceptions to bed and educate ourselves on what it means to have bipolar disorder.

4 common misconceptions about bipolar

Doesn’t having bipolar mean you have a split personality?

The idea of having a ‘split personality’ largely comes from a condition that was once called ‘multiple personality disorder’ (now known as dissociative identity disorder) and Hollywood’s misinterpretations.  

Bipolar disorder doesn’t affect a person’s identity, instead it causes them to have depressive and manic episodes. When the person is going through a depressive episode, they’re likely to feel very low and unable to cope. When they experience mania, they may feel euphoric, as if they can do anything. Both have their dangers for a person’s mental well-being.

Doesn’t mania make you happy and more productive?

Some people think the mania side of the condition is positive, but many people with the condition would disagree. When someone is experiencing mania, they may not feel like they need sleep, their thoughts can jump quickly from subject to subject and they may struggle to focus.

The episode can make people experience ‘grandiose’ ideas, which affects decision-making abilities. This can lead to risky behaviour (such as leaving their job or getting themselves in high-risk situations).

I had racing thoughts and pressured speech, was very fearful of those around me and began to experience delusions (false beliefs about the world). I was incredibly vulnerable and unwell.

– Read more of Eleanor’s story

Bipolar is rare, isn’t it?

While bipolar disorder is less common than depression, the World Health Organisation says it’s the 6th leading cause of disability in the world. Many celebrities have revealed they have bipolar, including Stephen Fry, Demi Lovato, Russell Brand, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the late, great Carrie Fisher.

It’s all about mood swings though, right?

Bipolar disorder affects everyone differently. Unlike a typical mood swing, the condition causes people to feel these changes much more deeply. Instead of happy to sad, they can go from euphoric to deeply depressed.

For some people, the swings will be rapid and intense (this is called rapid cycling), while others may feel one extreme, such as depression, much more often than mania (or vice versa).    

What can we do to help reduce stigma?

One of the most powerful things we can do to reduce stigma, stereotypes and misconceptions about bipolar disorder is to educate ourselves and speak to those living with the condition. Instead of believing what a film or TV depiction tells us, let’s speak to the people behind the illness. Bipolar doesn’t define a person, it’s a condition that forms part of a person’s experience of the world.

Find out how it can affect people, and if someone tells you they have the condition and they need your support, read our guide to supporting someone with bipolar disorder.

Let’s lift the veil of mystery once and for all and keep the conversation going.

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Counselling Directory and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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