According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), over 4 million people in this country live with bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a serious and difficult illness that affects all facets of a person’s life, from work to relationships to health. While knowledge and media coverage of the disorder has improved dramatically over the years, some misconceptions still endure.
Here, we dispel five common myths about the disorder
Myth 1: Bipolar disorder is a single identifiable disorder
Bipolar disorder is a diagnostic category describing a class of mood disorders where a person experiences episodes of mania (elevated mood), and depression (state of sadness) or mixed states (when symptoms of mania and depression occur simultaneously). In between these episodes, a person will be free of symptoms.
Myth 2: Bipolar disorder is just another name for mood swings
The mood swings associated with bipolar disorder are very different from those of people without the condition. The mood swings of bipolar disorder are more severe, longer lasting and, maybe most significant of all, they interfere with some important aspect of functioning, such as the ability to work at one’s job, or manage one’s home, or be a successful student. The mood swings of a person with bipolar disorder, experts agree, are far more severe than, say, a person without bipolar disorder being upset because rain spoiled the weekend plans or weight-loss efforts aren’t showing the desired results.
Myth 3: Alcohol and drugs can cause bipolar disorder
Drugs and alcohol do not cause bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is caused by a combination of things, including your genes, and it can be brought on by stress, certain brain chemicals or your environment. However, significant use of alcohol and other drugs may trigger symptoms of the disorder or worsen existing symptoms. Also, research shows that people with bipolar disorder are more likely to engage in risky behaviours, like drinking heavily or taking drugs. It’s also been known for people with bipolar disorder to self-medicate and try to regulate their extreme moods using drugs or alcohol.
Myth 4: Mania is a happy feeling
While mania can include some feelings of euphoria, that’s nowhere close to the whole story. Mania is often characterised by increased irritability, irrational anger, and an inability to sleep – which can exacerbate symptoms and lead to unnecessary risks. During this phase, sufferers report feeling out of control of their thoughts or actions, so even if the mania starts out happy, it can quickly take a turn for the worse.
Myth 5: Medication is the only treatment for bipolar
Medication is often the first line treatment for bipolar disorder, however, psychological therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and family-focused therapy have been shown to help minimise symptoms and reduce the risk of future episodes. A combination of psychological treatments and medication has the most effective and enduring outcomes. Some experts recommend self-help strategies such as education, sleep hygiene, early warning signs, symptom monitoring, meditative and reflective practices, and maintaining good social support.
If you are interested in the workings of the human mind, why not consider studying psychology at SACAP? The South African College of Applied Psychology offers a range of qualifications in the field of psychology, including a fully accredited BPsych Degree. For more information, enquire now.