5 Myths About Bipolar Disorder

By Becca Owens

Living with a bipolar diagnosis can complicate your everyday life — as can watching a loved one struggle through their bipolar journey. For too long, stigma has been associated with mental health and is often the result of a lack of understanding.

In the bipolar community, educating yourself is a great way to gain a better understanding of what is going on with your mental health. Empowering yourself in this way can help you feel less lonely and confused by your diagnosis and give you confidence in showing others how to support and encourage you.

The Danger of Believing Myths About Mental Health

young womanSo many misconceptions exist regarding mental health and bipolar disorder, specifically. The truth about the diagnosis is often misrepresented by people flippantly using mental health terms inappropriately, or lumping multiple diagnoses together as if they are the same. Mindless mistakes like these can make people bearing these diagnoses, as well as their loved ones, feel misunderstood and ostracized by those around them.

By staying ignorant, we can unknowingly add to the stigma, perpetuating the idea that a mental health diagnosis should be scary or overwhelming or that people with such a diagnoses are different or unvalued. However, we can work together to change the perception by educating ourselves and others.

Common Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Although there is plenty of misinformation to be heard and found about bipolar disorder, the following are some of the most common and destructive myths regarding the diagnosis and patients.

1. Not many people have bipolar disorder. About 5.7 million adults — 2.6 percent of the adult US population — carry a bipolar diagnosis.1 People may very well be less likely to talk openly about a mental health struggle than they would a physical diagnosis, like diabetes or chronic pain. However, this does not mean that you don’t know family members, neighbors and coworkers who are dealing with bipolar disorder.

2. All people with bipolar disorder have the same experience. There are four different categories of bipolar disorder. Each person with the following bipolar disorder experiences their diagnosis in a unique way:

  • Bipolar I disorder – This form of bipolar disorder has alternating cycles of manic and depressive episodes and is characterized by severe cycles of mania. Patients with bipolar I experience manic episodes for a full week or so severely that they must be hospitalized. Some patients may also experience symptoms of mania and depression simultaneously.
  • Bipolar II disorder – Bipolar II is also marked by patterns of depression and mania. However, patients with this form of bipolar disorder generally have much less severe or prolonged manic episodes, called hypomania, and much more pronounced periods of depression.
  • Cyclothymic disorder – This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by extremely frequent symptoms of both hypomania and depression, but the symptoms aren’t strong enough to meet the requirements of a hypomanic or depressive episode.
  • Other specified or unspecified bipolar and related disorders – Patients in this category have ongoing symptoms of a bipolar disorder but don’t fit the specific requirements for one of the above categories of diagnoses.2

3. People with bipolar disorder are unpredictable and untrustworthy. A common misconception is that people with bipolar disorder could act out irrationally at any time. Also, there have been cases where prominent leaders blame national tragedies like mass shootings on the mental health of someone involved.3

People with bipolar disorder often experience periods of stable moods, and many people can anticipate when they are beginning an episode of mania or depression. With the right treatment and routines, people with bipolar disorder generally live normal, predictable lives and have healthy, valuable relationships.

4. Bipolar disorder is just another way to describe mood swings. All people have mood swings from time to time, but those with bipolar disorder experience something different. A bipolar diagnosis may be characterized as a mood disorder. However, people experiencing episodes of mania or depression have their whole lives affected, not just their mood. Sleep, energy, appetite and activity are all disturbed by bipolar disorder. Labeling normal mood swings as “bipolar” is inappropriate as well as hurtful to those dealing with a true diagnosis.

5. Medicine and therapy are the only ways to help bipolar disorder. There are several classes of medication to help people with bipolar disorder, and talk therapy has proven to be very helpful to many. However, lifestyle adaptations are significant in providing stability to people with bipolar disorder. Maintaining a predictable and reasonable routine — particularly a regular bedtime — helps many people feel balanced and grounded. Eating a well-balanced, healthy diet and getting regular exercise are other ways to stay in shape physically and mentally.

Help for Bipolar Disorder

If you or your loved one is struggling with bipolar disorder or symptoms, please call our 24 hour, toll-free helpline to talk with one of our admissions coordinators about the best treatment options for you. We want to help you regain control of your life and better understand your diagnosis, so we are happy to answer your questions.


1 “Bipolar Disorder Among Adults.” National Institute of Mental Health, Accessed December 14, 2017.

2 “Bipolar Disorder.” National Institute of Mental Health, April 2016.

3 Diamond, Jeremy, “Trump says Texas shooting result of ‘mental health problem’ not US gun laws.” CNN, November 6, 2017.


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