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Bipolar Disorder Health Center

8 Myths About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is on the rise, yet myths persist. Experts separate the facts from the fiction.
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WebMD Feature

Because of increased awareness and diagnosis, more people than ever before have a basic understanding of bipolar disorder, the condition formally known as manic depression.

Yet myths persist about this mental disorder that causes mood shifts from depression to mania and affects a person's energy and ability to function.

WebMD asked five bipolar disorder experts to help unravel what's myth and what's fact. Read on for the eight common myths about bipolar they often hear from patients and the public.

(What myths have you had to deal with while living with bipolar disorder? Talk with others on WebMD's Bipolar Disorder: Support Group board.)

Bipolar Myth No. 1: Bipolar disorder is a rare condition.

Not so, according to statistics and research. In a given year, bipolar disorder affects about 5.7 million American adults, or about 2.6% of the U.S. population 18 and older, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Estimates for children and teens vary widely, partly because there is debate about the criteria for diagnosis, say Thomas E. Smith, MD, a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

But the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation estimates that at least three quarters of a million American children and teens may suffer from bipolar disorder, although many are not diagnosed. A recent study by researchers from Columbia University and elsewhere showed the diagnosis of bipolar disorder is up dramatically in children and teens and is also on the rise in adults.

When the researchers looked at the number of office visits with a bipolar disorder diagnosis in 1994-1995 and 2002-2003 in the U.S., they found that the number of office-based visits increased 40-fold for children and nearly doubled for adults from the first time period to the second.

Bipolar Myth No. 2: Bipolar disorder is just another name for mood swings.

Not so. The mood swings associated with bipolar disorder are very different than those of people without the condition, says Matthew Rudorfer, MD, associate director of treatment research in the division of services and intervention research at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Md.

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