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
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,
"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 ability to work at one's job, or manage one's home, or be
a successful student," he says.
The mood swings of a person with bipolar disorder, experts agree, are far
more severe than, say, a person without bipolar disorder being bummed out
because rain spoiled the weekend plans or weight loss efforts aren't
showing the desired results.