World Bipolar Day (30th March) is a day designed to raise awareness of a condition that affects around one in every 100 adults. As with many mental health conditions, bipolar disorder can often be misunderstood.
Stereotypes and myths can lead people to believe those with bipolar are completely erratic, wildly productive, or even have ‘split personality’.
The idea of having a ‘split personality’ largely comes from a condition that was once called ‘multiple personality disorder’ (now known as dissociative identity disorder) and Hollywood’s misinterpretations.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t affect a person’s identity, instead it causes them to have depressive and manic episodes. When the person is going through a depressive episode, they’re likely to feel very low and unable to cope. When they experience mania, they may feel euphoric, as if they can do anything. Both have their dangers for a person’s mental well-being.
Some people think the mania side of the condition is positive, but many people with the condition would disagree. When someone is experiencing mania, they may not feel like they need sleep, their thoughts can jump quickly from subject to subject and they may struggle to focus.
The episode can make people experience ‘grandiose’ ideas, which affects decision-making abilities. This can lead to risky behaviour (such as leaving their job or getting themselves in high-risk situations).
While bipolar disorder is less common than depression, the World Health Organisation says it’s the 6th leading cause of disability in the world. However, bipolar disorder affects everyone differently. Unlike a typical mood swing, the condition causes people to feel these changes much more deeply. Instead of happy to sad, they can go from euphoric to deeply depressed.
For some people, the swings will be rapid and intense (this is called rapid cycling), while others may feel one extreme, such as depression, much more often than mania (or vice versa).
Working with an experienced therapist can help people with bipolar disorder to better understand the nature of their illness and recognise the triggers of their manic or depressive episodes. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is a popular approach as it is designed to help individuals change negative thought patterns and learn new coping skills. Family therapy is another approach often used in bipolar treatment as it helps to improve communication between family members and the person living with the condition.