Swinging wildly between euphoria and depression. Psychotic breaks. That’s how many people view bipolar disorder.
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But the reality is quite different, says psychiatrist Amit Anand, MD. Here, he upends common misconceptions about the brain disorder:
“Many people believe that those with bipolar disorder are out of control and psychotic,” says Dr. Anand. “But we have learned over the last few decades that milder forms of bipolar disorder are much more common.”
The two main types of bipolar illness are bipolar I and bipolar II. Beyond that, bipolar illness takes many forms.
“Thus, most people with bipolar disorder live in the community and may never be admitted to a psychiatric hospital,” says Dr. Anand.
Moodiness can also occur with medical illnesses such as hormone disorders, autoimmune diseases and neurological problems.
What sets bipolar disorder apart? “The illness represents a change from the usual self,” explains Dr. Anand. “Also, depression lasts for several weeks at a time, and mania lasts for several days at a time. We look for a season of summer — not one hot day.”
People often assume that in bipolar disorder, periods of mania alternate regularly with periods of depression.
“In bipolar disorder, mood is more often chaotic, with random combinations of symptoms,” says Dr. Anand. “It is not cyclical.”
This helps fuel the turmoil that often unravels relationships with family, friends and coworkers — even in mild cases of bipolar disorder.
That is why treatment is so important.
“We have very, very effective treatments for bipolar illness,” says Dr. Anand. “Patients generally respond well to mood-stabilizing drugs, sometimes combined with antidepressants and/or drugs for mania.”
Psychotherapy is always recommended, he says, and offers many benefits by:
If you suspect that you or someone you love may have bipolar disorder, get a full evaluation from a psychiatrist.
“Too often, bipolar disorder is not diagnosed, or it is mistaken for another problem,” says Dr. Anand. “Get one good diagnostic evaluation. Then, know that some very effective treatments can help you lead a normal life, like anyone else.”