Although bipolar disorder is a fairly common mental illness, it is not well represented. Many people believe that bipolar disorder is someone who is always very happy or very sad. Myths like these mean that people with bipolar can often feel misunderstood and unsupported.

Here are 10 Myths about bipolar disorder that Anna wants you to know:

1. Bipolar disorder is just mood swings – everybody gets them

Although it can appear that bipolar disorder is just feeling really happy or really sad, a lot of the time however this is not accurate. People who do not suffer from mental illness experience mood swings within a range of emotions, they can be happy or sad without slipping onto the spectrum of mania or depression. Part of bipolar disorder means that the extremes of mood sit outside the spectrum on normal emotions causing the extreme behaviours of someone with bipolar.

2. Mania is fun – you just feel really happy

Although I can only speak from personal experience about hypomania, it's not an experience that I particularly enjoy. You know the feeling when you've had one too many cups of coffee or cans of an energy drink and you are feeling buzzy, anxious and can't sit still? That's the best way that I can describe hypomania to those who have never experienced it. The uncomfortable inexpressible energy, thoughts racing and rapid speech can be stressful for both the person who is having the episode and also the people around them at the time. 

3. Artists with bipolar disorder will lose their creativity if they get treatment

The fear that people will lose their creativity or personality if they get treatment can often prevent people from getting the treatment that they really need. However, although living with bipolar can shape who you are it doesn't control your personality traits or skills. Although mania can cause you to feel inspired or creative it doesn't necessarily produce good art. Mania can massively distort your thinking which means that what may feel like pure genius when you're up is actually completely ridiculous. Getting treated may allow you to hone your skills and produce things that demonstrate your talent.

4. Only adults can get bipolar disorder

This myth is understandable, it's hard to determine whether a child is depressed or just sad, manic or just had too much sugar; however, children can also be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In children bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as ADHD as some of the symptoms of mania in children are similar to that of a child with ADHD. On average it takes 10.5 years to receive a correct diagnosis for bipolar in the UK and before bipolar is diagnosed there is a misdiagnosis an average of 3.5 times. 

5. Bipolar disorder can be cured

Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, although there are medications these are used to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Medications, diet, exercise and lifestyle can all be used to maintain stability throughout the life of bipolar disorder there is no cure and the management of these symptoms will have to be maintained for life. This also means that when medications work, it can be tempting for someone to stop taking medication however, this will result in a relapse of symptoms.

6. If you suffer from bipolar disorder, all your moods are symptoms

This is not true! Just because depression, mania, irritability etc. can all be symptoms of bipolar disorder, this does not mean that every time someone experiences a mood that it is as a result of bipolar disorder. All emotions are valid. Everyone experiences mood variation as a natural part of how the brain works and this is also true for someone living with the condition, particularly if there is a cause for the emotion. For example, if you were having an argument with someone it would be rational for you both to be feeling angry, annoyed, frustrated and maybe sad, just because someone has bipolar does not mean that they couldn't have these natural emotional reactions just like anybody else.

7. You're always either manic or depressed

Often the amount of time that a person spends manic or depressed depends on the the individual person. More than 4 episodes of mania or depression within a year is known as rapid cycling; this means that if someone is not rapid cycling they may only have a couple of episodes in a year, although these can be long extended periods of time it also means that they spend a significant amount of time with emotional stability.

8. People who live with bipolar disorder are violent, aggressive and dangerous

Although in recent years there has been a lot of campaigning for mental health awareness, the mental illnesses that are usually represented are the ones that most people can empathise with. Anxiety and depression in particular are getting a lot of representation which is great however representation of less common illnesses such as bipolar disorder, Schizophrenia, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Dissociative Identity Disorder and many other mental illnesses do not get much media representation and often the representation can be pretty damaging. Therefore this means that often people who suffer with these disorders can be labelled as dangerous because people get all their information from popular movies or television series. In actual fact a lot of these people have been hurt, and are much more likely to hurt themselves than other people. There is no evidence to suggest that people who suffer from these mental illnesses are any more dangerous than someone without mental health problems.

9. People with bipolar disorder cannot work or be successful

Similar to anyone suffering from any other illness, mental or physical, people with bipolar disorder are able to work and be successful. Particularly now when work places are starting to recognise mental health as a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed it is getting easier for people to work. When treated people with bipolar disorder are able to maintain pretty ordinary lives and this includes having a job. Structure, such as that in the workplace, can be very beneficial for someone with bipolar disorder, although a 9-5 office job may not be for everyone, there are also lots of jobs that may work well for people even if they are still symptomatic.

10. People with bipolar disorder are attention seeking

Just like cancer or diabetes, bipolar disorder is a real disorder that cannot be chosen by the person who suffers from it. Although it can feel frustrating to be around someone who is symptomatic, a lot of their behaviour is beyond their control, in the same way you wouldn't think someone with diabetes could chose to have low blood sugar to get attention, this is the same for mental illness. People don't chose, or enjoy being symptomatic and it can feel scary and overwhelming for that person. Often attention received from a bipolar episode can be unwanted and uncomfortable.

Watch a TED ED animation by Helen M. Farrell that explains bipolar disorder

These are just a few common misconceptions about bipolar disorder it is important to educate people in order that we can properly support people with bipolar disorder and also the people around them.

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Together, we can support the person behind the diagnosis of bipolar.