Bipolar disorder is popping up in everything these days. Books, films, television series, and even news reports have used or cited the condition with seemingly little understanding of what it really is.
Often times, it is either mixed up with another disorder, or the symptoms are fabricated entirely. Because the disease is unusually difficult to diagnose, both physicians and laymen are apt to confuse it with other, similar conditions.
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder, is a condition characterized by periods or episodes of extremely elevated energy, mood, and cognition, followed or preceded by episodes of extreme depression.
The high-energy and positive mood periods (known as manic episodes) are most closely associated with the public perception of the disorder, and as such the depressive periods often get overlooked.
In reality, however, the depressive episodes are generally far more common, lasting as much as a few years at a time with brief periods of mania interspersed. Most public descriptions or preconceptions portray a person suffering from Bipolar as an extremely manic individual, but the opposite is far more common.
The manic episodes in themselves can be of a milder nature than most people expect. Additionally, they may be almost as harmful to the individual as the depressive episodes. They can often provide a stark contrast in the life of the person and make the depressive episodes seem that much worse. If the confidence boost or feelings of invincibility generated by these manic episodes lead to increased promiscuity or over spending, even more negative consequences may manifest.
Another public misunderstanding is that Bipolar Disorder involves sharp mood swings, often times at the drop of a hat and wholly without warning. In reality, the depressive and manic states can overlap, making a person tense, despondent, and restless all at the same time. There are many names for this period or convergence including mixed state, mixed affective state, and dysphoric mania.
Perhaps one of the strangest misconceptions about Bipolar Disorder is that it inevitably leads to suicide or violent crimes. In reality, only one out of three individuals affected and diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder have claimed to, at some point, have attempted suicide. This is a far larger number than the normal population, but nowhere near 100%.
Yet another common misconception is that individuals affected by Bipolar Disorder are emotionally crippled, permanently dysfunctional, or affected for life. These days, those with Bipolar Disorder can lead incredibly productive and fully functional lives. Strides in both medication and psychiatric therapy have improved the condition of those suffering from Bipolar tremendously.
Ultimately, the quality of living of an individual diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder depends largely on them; their ability to cope, their decisions for treatment, and the severity of the condition. A proper and healthy support system, however, goes a long way. This can mean institutional such as psychiatric counseling, but more so it means the person’s family and friends.
Understanding this condition properly will help those closest to the individual assist them in functioning and avoid any unfounded speculation or misconceptions about the condition.