8 facts to know about bipolar illness

There are plenty of common myths and misconceptions about the mental illness bipolar disorder, says Katie Wright
8 facts to know about bipolar illness

Selena Gomez revealed her bipolar diagnosis in 2020

In recent years, more and more celebrities have opened up about their experience with bipolar disorder - the mental illness characterised by significant mood swings, from manic highs to deep depressions.

In 2020, Selena Gomez revealed her diagnosis, telling fellow pop star Miley Cyrus in an interview on Instagram Live she was “relieved that I finally had the knowledge of why I had suffered with various depressions and anxieties for so many years”.

In 2018, Mariah Carey told People magazine: “Until recently, I lived in denial and isolation and in constant fear someone would expose me,” after being diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder (which is associated with hypomania, or less severe manic episodes) following her hospitalisation in 2001. American singer Demi Lovato shared details of their diagnosis in 2012 documentary film, Stay Strong.

While it’s encouraging to see people in the public eye speaking out and helping to destigmatise the condition, there are still a lot of misconceptions around bipolar.

We asked some experts and people living with bipolar to explain what they want the world to understand about the disorder...

1. Mania doesn’t feel pleasurable

The stereotype of an artistic genius enjoying a period of intense creativity while in the manic stage isn’t entirely accurate.

“While hypomania (a less severe stage that can come before mania) can feel pleasurable, as I’m full of energy and productive, if my mood spirals up into mania it feels incredibly scary,” says actor Natasha Rea, author of Me, Myself And Bipolar Brenda. “At that point, I’ve literally lost my mind.”

2. Having bipolar 2 isn’t necessarily easier than bipolar 1

There are two main types of the disorder. Bipolar 1, characterised by periods of depression and mania, while bipolar 2 generally involves long periods of depression and hypomania - but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily easier.

“Episodes of mania experienced by people with bipolar 1 are deeply distressing for the individual and their loved ones,” says Simon Kitchen, CEO of Bipolar UK (bipolaruk.org). “But bipolar 2 can be equally challenging to manage, with people telling us they can have long periods where they’re so depressed they find it hard to get out of bed.”

3. Depression is much more than just a low mood

“Being depressed is not something you can just snap out of,” says actor Adam Deacon. “Imagine being trapped under tons of rubble and someone suggests you simply free yourself... It’s not that easy.”

4. It’s more common than you might think

“While it is impossible to calculate an exact number, it’s estimated about one in 50 adults in Ireland live with bipolar.

5. Bipolar can affect absolutely anyone

“It doesn’t discriminate,” says TV and radio presenter Leah Charles-King, who was diagnosed after suffering bouts of depression and anxiety for nearly a decade. “Bipolar affects people from all backgrounds regardless of gender, race or religion.”

6. Diagnosis can take far too long

On average, it takes nine years from when a person first contacts a healthcare professional about symptoms to getting a diagnosis.

“I first saw a psychiatrist when I was 19, and only got my diagnosis when I was 50,” says app developer Andrew Thompson. “I struggled for decades with a misdiagnosis of depression.”

7. People with bipolar can manage the condition

Although there isn’t currently a cure for bipolar, a variety of different mood stabilising drugs are often prescribed.

“People with bipolar can be well for weeks, month or years at a time,” says Kitchen. “With the right treatment and support in place, everyone with bipolar can lead a ‘normal’ life.”

8. Women with bipolar can have children

“Ideally, they should get preconception advice and be under the care of a specialist perinatal team,” says Dr Clare Dolman, patient and public involvement lead at the Section of Women’s Mental Health, King’s College London. “But there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be excellent mothers.”

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