Though it’s relatively uncommon, bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that can affect anyone. Formerly known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression it is a mental illness that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels, and as with all mental ill health has some negative stigmas attached to it; some of the most common are fact-checked below (obtained from Bipolar UK).
Mythbusting Bipolar Disorder
Myth 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 of normal emotions, causing the extreme behaviours of someone with bipolar.
Myth 2: Bipolar disorder can be cured
Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is a chronic illness and although there are medications, these are used to manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder not cure them. Medications, diet, exercise and lifestyle can all be used to maintain stability throughout the life of bipolar disorder however, 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 them however, this will result in a relapse of symptoms.
Myth 3: 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 choose to have low blood sugar to get attention, this is the same for mental illness. People don’t choose 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.
Myth 4: You’re always either manic or depressed
Often the amount of time that a person spends manic or depressed depends on 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.
Whilst bipolar disorder is not difficult to diagnose, there is usually a diagnostic delay because people who experience these extreme mood swings do not have the insight to recognize that they are a problem. Dr Aron Tendler, MD, chief medical officer of BrainsWay, explains “When the alternative is depressive episodes, most individuals enjoy when they are experiencing the emotional highs, they find it to be a very productive period; they write songs, start books and engage in many projects and activities. They do not tend to notice the destructive behaviours that often accompany their manic episodes, such as having affairs or being reckless with money and business ventures. If their mood during this time is happy or euphoric, they are not likely to seek treatment.”
Celebrities with Bipolar Disorder
Stephen Fry is probably the best known British celebrity to publicly state he has Bipolar, but did you know these celebrities do as well?
- Bill Oddie – OBE best known for his birdwatching
- James Wade – second most successful darts player in the history of the PDC
- Sinead O’Connor – Singer-Songwriter
- Kurt Cobain – Nirvana frontman
- Carrie Fisher – best known as Princess Leia
- Selena Gomez – Singer, actress and producer
Unfortunately, Bipolar Disorder cannot simply be treated to make it stop, and as such, any treatment aims to reduce the severity and number of episodes. Untreated, Mania can last between 3-6 months whilst episodes of depression can last between 6-12 months.
Most people with Bipolar are treated using a combination of different treatments which can include:
- Medication to prevent the episodes.
- Medication to treat the episodes.
- Talking therapies.
- Lifestyle choices.
What’s Your Role As An Employer?
If you have are an employer who has a member of staff with Bipolar Disorder, you might be unsure of what to do or say in this situation. What is important to remember is that Bipolar is a medically recognised and treatable condition. Therefore, no shame or blame should be placed on a worker with the diagnosis. Your role is to make an effort to develop your understanding of bipolar and make sure you put policies and practices in place to support the employee, in conversation with them.
For more advice and information on Bipolar, including advice for employers and employees please visit www.bipolaruk.org
If you would like more general advice on how to support your employee’s mental health, WA Management’s Mental Health Awareness online training course is a great introductory resource. For more in-depth knowledge, we offer a range of affordable Mental Health First Aid courses delivered by our expert trainer. To learn more, please get in touch!