4 Myths about bipolar disorder

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX – Catherine Zeta Jones made headlines last week when she came forward about seeking help for bipolar II disorder and checked into a treatment facility.

While the disorder is not often discussed, it affects more than 5 million people. That’s nearly 2 percent of all U.S. residents older than 18.

Like any disorder that’s not well understood, there is quite a bit of false information that’s often taken as fact.

Dr. Art Mollen ran down some of the most common myths.

Many people think that the mood changes – the ups and downs -- sparked by bipolar disorder happen quickly, even within the span of a conversation.

“It’s really much different than that,” Mollen explained. “It lasts much longer. The depression is usually much more significant, much more severe.”

Everybody has mood swings, but that’s not what bipolar disorder is. It’s far more complex and goes on over a long period of time.

The second myth is that people with bipolar disorder are very happy when they’re in a manic phase.

“They’re actually more depressed during this time than most people realize,” Mollen said. “That ‘happy’ stage causes them to do erratic things. … They’re spending an inordinate amount of money. … There’s euphoria. There are grandiose ideas. They start engaging in risky behaviors.”

The Internet is replete with tests for bipolar disorder. Mollen said most of those can be misleading.

“Those tests are not scientifically proven,” he said. “There’s no categorical evidence.”

Mollen said there are many factors to take into consideration, including family history, and only a doctor can properly diagnose bipolar disorder. That diagnosis can come at any age.

Bipolar disorder is treatable with medication and talk therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy). Exercise, following a specific healthful diet, and getting proper sleep can also help.

“Basically, talk to somebody,” Mollen said. “I think that’s really going to help, besides taking the medication. [Bipolar disorder] can be treated.”