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Myths and Misconceptions About Bipolar Disorder

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: August 2023

Mental health conditions are often misrepresented in the media. Some people also may hold on to old beliefs about mental health conditions that prevent understanding and compassion. These negative misconceptions are called stigma. Misinformation and stigma can lead to worse outcomes for people with mental health conditions and their loved ones.

The more you learn about bipolar disorder (BPD), the better you can help those around you. People living with this condition may need support and encouragement to seek and stick with treatment. Below, find the truth behind some common myths about BPD.1

Myth: Bipolar disorder is rare

BPD is a common mental health condition in the United States and around the world. About 3 percent of people in the United States have BPD. In fact, it is one of the top 10 causes for disability worldwide.1,2

BPD is more common in people who have a blood relative with the condition. It is also more common in those who have experienced childhood abuse or trauma.1

Myth: People with bipolar disorder are just trying to get attention

This is perhaps one of the most damaging misconceptions about BPD. People with this condition cannot control their moods. In fact, the inability to rest their body or their mind, or to get out of bed and interact with others, are medical symptoms. The extreme highs and lows of BPD can last for days, weeks, or months and are often upsetting.1

Myth: Mania is the only symptom of bipolar disorder

Mania may be the most famous and easiest to spot among bipolar symptoms. But depression and hypomania (a less extreme form of mania) are also common symptoms. A person may experience one extreme mood at a time or cycle quickly among mania, depression, and hypomania.1

Myth: Herbs, diet, fresh air, meditation, and/or exercise can control bipolar symptoms

A healthy lifestyle and a regular schedule are important parts of managing life with any illness. But bipolar symptoms require medical management, too. That means combining therapy with taking mood-stabilizing, antipsychotic, and possibly antidepressant drugs, usually for life.1,2

Myth: People with bipolar disorder can stop taking their medicines in between episodes

Some people feel great in between their bipolar cycles and want to stop taking their prescribed medicines. Others want to stop taking their medicines because some of the drugs have unwanted side effects. But taking medicines consistently, along with attending therapy, is an important part of keeping moods stable.1

Myth: Mania is fun for the person with bipolar disorder

It is common for the early stages of mania to feel good. A person may feel more powerful, smart, energetic, and joyful. However, left untreated, mania can become unpleasant and dangerous.1,2

The person may endanger themselves or harm others with more and more extreme behavior. They may engage in unsafe and risky behaviors, such as gambling or overspending. They may be more vulnerable to people up to no good.1

They also may begin to have delusions or hallucinations. These symptoms can be scary, confusing, and upsetting. The damage caused during a manic phase can take months or years to recover from if not treated.1

Myth: Stress has nothing to do with bipolar moods

Actually, stress is a proven trigger for bipolar cycles. People who have lived through the stress of mistreatment in childhood have a higher risk of developing BPD. For those diagnosed with the condition, 6 out of 10 report that a stressful life event occurred before an episode of mania or depression.2

Examples of stressful events include:2

  • Death of a loved one
  • Childbirth
  • Divorce
  • Job loss
  • Disability

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