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8 Myths About Bipolar Disorder

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

Bipolar Myth No. 3: People with bipolar disorder shift back and forth from depression to mania very often.

The Jekyll-Hyde personality, the type that can turn on a dime from sad to euphoric, is a myth about bipolar, says Gary Sachs, MD, director of the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. ''The average bipolar patient will be depressed more often [than manic]," he says.

There are people with bipolar who will shift back and forth more quickly than others, Sachs says. But that's not the typical pattern, he says. "For the most part what is typical is to have an abnormal mood state colored by a predominance of high or low.''

What's an abnormal mood state? Something intense or unexpected in relation to a situation, such as giggling instead of crying when you find out your home will be foreclosed, Sachs says.

Bipolar Myth No. 4: When they're in the manic phase, people with bipolar disorder are often very happy.

True for some, experts tell WebMD, but not for others. And a person with bipolar disorder may enter the manic phase happy but not stay that way. "The hallmark of mania is a euphoric or elevated mood," Smith says.

But, he says, "a significant number of people become edgy and irritable as the mania progresses."

"Many people are actually frightened when they go into mania," says Sue Bergeson, CEO of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago, a patient-run mental health organization. "When you are moving into mania, you are losing control of your actions and thoughts," she says. Patients often complain they can't sleep, too.

A person in a manic phase may go on spending sprees, use poor judgment, abuse drugs or alcohol, and have difficulty concentrating. Sexual drive can be increased and behavior can be "off" or out of character for what is normal for them.

It's crucial, Smith says, to treat a manic phase (typically with mood-stabilizing drugs). If untreated, it can progress from an elevated mood to euphoria to extreme disorganization and other common signs of mania -- lack of sleep, increased energy, and disorganized behavior that interferes with relationships, he says.

"I don't think people look forward to manic episodes," Smith says. "When you are not manic, you can look back and see how disruptive your life became."

Smith advises bipolar disorder patients to know their early signs of a manic or depressive episode so they can get additional treatment promptly.

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