I have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for over a decade now. During that time I’ve heard from many family members and armchair psychiatrists on what to do to treat my disorder and whether or not I even have an actual mental illness.
Today I’m going to share with you things I feel were some of the biggest misconceptions and advice I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, I am guilty of having had some of these misconceptions when I was first diagnosed and tried following other people’s advice. Hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes and personal opinions.
- You can pray away your mental illness: I have a lot of religious family members who think my mental illness will go away if I have enough faith and ask God to remove it. Some have gone as far as suggesting my mental illness is a demonic possession and I need to have an exorcism. If you have people who suggest this please don’t listen to them because it will only make things worse. The fact that I have a mental illness in the first place and that these so-called “Christians” treat me like a burden on society is one reason I no longer will attend church services. If you want to go to church that’s fine just know you can’t pray this disorder away.
- You don’t need medication: This is a controversial subject with many people I follow on social media. Some people believe they can manage bipolar disorder with different types of therapies and the practice of mindfulness. While these may be great tools to have in your mental health toolbox I personally don’t believe it’s enough. Bipolar disorder is a lifetime illness. Medication such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and even antipsychotics can keep you stable to the point where you are able to avoid the extremes of either mania or depression. This is a personal choice however so I do support you either way as long as you never stop taking medication cold turkey. The withdrawal from doing that can cause you to break mentally and possibly even commit suicide.
- Just file for disability: There are many people with bipolar disorder who need to go on disability, however, some of us with the help of medication can many times find a job we can handle. I originally applied for disability but not long after I came across a job I could do which paid more than disability would anyway. I’ve been at my current job for almost 5 years now and haven’t had any extreme mental health issues yet. Granted, it’s a work from home position moderating and engaging on social media but as I said there are jobs out there most of us can do with our condition. A life on disability seems pretty boring to and possibly lead to a lot more depression.
- People with bipolar disorder can’t have relationships: I see this float around all the time and it’s total hogwash. Many times we love to blame our disorder on anything and everything going wrong in our life. Breakups are a normal part of attempting to have a relationship with someone. Things don’t always work out and very rarely is it your mental illnesses fault. My wife Keisa and I have been together for 16 years now and she’s very supportive and was even with me prior to my diagnosis. We rarely fight and many times we are almost able to read each other’s minds. Now it is a little more difficult to have a relationship especially if you are not effectively managing your bipolar disorder but it is doable. Don’t fall for the you can’t have a healthy relationship response floating around the Internet because it’s a complete lie.
- It’s all in your mind: I hate when people say this even though technically it is all in our mind because we have a mental illness. You cannot just snap your fingers and then be like wow I’m now bipolar free. That would be amazing and I know a lot of us wish life work that way. People who say these things need to realize bipolar disorder is a real illness and they should treat it as such. They would never go up to someone with cancer and tell them it’s all in their head. To combat this misinformed way of thinking we need to be proactive in getting information about bipolar disorder out there so people will stop making these ignorant comments.
- We are crazy: While some of us myself included have had moments of possible insanity due to mania a lot of people don’t. This is especially true with people who suffer from Bipolar II because their hypomania isn’t usually very extreme. Even though we may have our moments of mania usually they don’t last for very long and if we are on medication mania sometimes doesn’t even come at all. People seem to think if you have bipolar disorder you run around doing crazy things and trying to kill people 24 hours a day seven days a week. This is another misconception we as a community need to work on.
- Bipolar disorder is extremely rare: Recent statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health seem to show around 5.7 million American adults which represent about 2.6% of the US population over 18 suffer from this terrible illness.
Teenagers, however, are a lot harder to get a true number of cases for because there is no real set standard on the criteria of how to diagnose them. The Childhood and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation does estimate that at least 750,000 children in America currently suffer from bipolar disorder but unfortunately, many of them have yet to be diagnosed. Researchers at Columbia University have noted bipolar disorder cases are on the rise and in the last 10 years have increased by 40%. This definitely doesn’t sound like a rare disease to me.
- People with bipolar disorder are always happy: While most of the time, we do have a euphoric or elevated mood when we hit the manic phase we don’t always stay that way. It’s called bipolar for reason. You shift from happy to depressed with no real in between. Depression is common with people suffering from bipolar especially with those who suffer from BII because those with bipolar II depression is the primary state and they tend to have very little bouts of hypomania.
- There is a bipolar test: Unfortunately, there is no test that can tell you if you have bipolar disorder or not. A diagnosis of bipolar disorder requires a doctor to take the time to carefully examine your patient history and ask probing questions about your symptoms over your lifetime. A person with a family history of bipolar disorder does have an increased chance of having the disorder as well. Hopefully, scientists can come up with an actual test for us.
- I just need to take my medication and go to therapy: This part is my own personal opinion after reading many books about bipolar disorder, talking to others and what actually worked for me. While taking medication and going to therapy are extremely beneficial they’re not the only things you should consider doing. Most of the time treating bipolar disorder also requires a lifestyle change. We should do things like regular exercise, have a set bedtime and try her best to eat healthier.
I really hope you enjoyed reading this blog post. I have now made it my mission to help others suffering from mental illness and to educate others so we can get rid of the stigma. Hopefully, when the stigma is gone we can band together and find a way to eliminate this illness.