Bipolar Disorder Myths and Facts

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on May 15, 2023
4 min read

Some people hear the term "bipolar disorder" and think it means sudden mood swings. They're partly right.

It's true that people with bipolar disorder go through periods of high energy, and also periods of fatigue and depression. But these aren't ordinary, simple mood swings. The highs and lows of bipolar disorder tend to last days or weeks at a time

If you have bipolar disorder, it's important to be clear-eyed about what the disease is and how it affects you. Learn how to separate fact from fiction for an illness that's often shrouded in myth.

Bipolar disorder, which used to be called manic depression, is a lot messier and unpredictable than that.

Some people have symptoms of both mania and depression at the same time. For example, they may feel sad and hopeless -- but also energized.

Also, these symptoms don't happen in any kind of regular pattern. For some people, symptoms only show up once or twice a year.

There are actually a few different types of the disease. These include:

Bipolar I disorder. You have manic episodes that last at least 7 days or that send you to the hospital for care. You may also go through periods of depression that last 2 weeks or more. You may have episodes that involve only mania or have mania and depression at the same time.

Bipolar II disorder. You go through stretches of depression and boosted mood, but your highs aren't as severe as in bipolar I.

Cyclothymic disorder. You get highs and lows, but they tend to be mild.

There is no single test that shows for sure that you have bipolar disorder. To figure out if you have it, your doctor may ask about your symptoms and medical history and do a physical exam. They may do a few lab tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

Before making a diagnosis, your doctor may check to see if your symptoms fit the same pattern as those listed in a special manual used by psychiatrists called "DSM-5" -- the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

The truth is you have more than one way to manage this illness. Medications can work very well. Your doctor may suggest medications such as:

Psychotherapy can also help you keep your symptoms in check. You'll learn how to:

  • Avoid triggers
  • Find support when you need it
  • Spot when your symptoms may get worse


The disorder doesn't just happen to adults. It turns up in children and teens, too.

If your youngster has bipolar disorder, it may show up alongside other mental health conditions like ADHD, which can make it hard to diagnose.

If your child or teen has bipolar disorder, your doctor will likely treat it in ways that are similar to adult treatment. Your youngster may get medications as well as psychotherapy.

The disorder can run in families. Research shows that people with certain genes may be more likely to get the illness than others. But genes aren't the full explanation behind bipolar disorder. Many people who get the illness don't have a family history of it.

Many people with bipolar disorder have other mental health conditions at the same time. Common ones include:


These substances don't cause bipolar disorder, but they can make symptoms worse. They can also cause symptoms to come back. And if you have alcohol addiction, it can make it harder to treat your bipolar disorder.

Stressful events can trigger bipolar episodes or symptoms. To keep tension down, you may want to try relaxation methods like yoga, meditation, or deep-breathing exercises.

There's more to it than that. Besides mood swings, bipolar disorder can have an impact on everything from your energy to your sleeping patterns.

For instance, when you have an episode of mania, you may be more likely to:

  • Talk excessively
  • Take risks
  • Be super-energetic or jumpy
  • Get less sleep

When you have an episode of depression, you might:

  • Lose weight when you're not trying to
  • Feel tired or lack energy
  • Have trouble concentrating


Many people with the disorder never need to stay in a hospital. Their symptoms can be mild and manageable, and sometimes can be prevented.