Bipolar Myth Busting - Part 2

Picking up from where we left off yesterday ...

Myth #6. Bipolar disorder can only be diagnosed in adults.

Children as young as 6 years have been shown to develop bipolar disorder. Children who develop it can experience many periods of depression before the first manic episode, making it harder to diagnose. Sometimes, these depressions are accompanied by psychotic thoughts and behaviours, and children are more likely to experience mixed states -- that is, having mania and depression at the same time.

Myth #7. People with bipolar disorder aren’t trying hard enough to control their behaviours.

Surely I’ve dispelled this myth about all mental illnesses enough already? Can you try harder to control your cancer? No. Ditto with bipolar.

Myth #8. Bipolar disorder can be cured.

No to cure. Yes to recovery and management!

Myth #9. Medication is the only management for bipolar disorder.

Modern medications are very important in the treatment of this condition, particularly with regard to controlling some of the symptoms. However it's now commonly accepted that long-term success is best attained when treatment doesn't rely on medications alone.

Instead, treatment and management should include psychological therapies from a trained mental health professional and a treatment support network consisting of family, friends, counselors or group-therapy sessions. It's also important to maintain a steady and healthy lifestyle -- that means proper sleep, diet, exercise and sobriety.

People will be most successful in dealing with bipolar disorder by developing a treatment plan that manages the issue through a variety of different means, and not just with medication alone.

Myth #10. Bipolar disorder means you’re creative.

This one is hard.

A number of studies have found some interesting results whereby individuals with bipolar disorder are more likely to be ‘creative types’.  Some studies have found strong correlations between creativity and bipolar disorder. In Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Kay Jamison summarises studies of mood-disorder rates in writers, poets and artists. A study looking at 300,000 persons with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or unipolar depression, and their relatives, found overrepresentation in creative professions for those with bipolar disorder as well as for undiagnosed siblings of those with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

A study involving more than one million people, conducted by Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute, reported a number of correlations between creative occupations and mental illnesses. Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse. Dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder.

However, we need to be clear on this - to argue for a link between bipolar disorder and creative achievement is not to argue that all, or even most, artists and writers automatically have a mental illness: indeed, most do not. To make such simplistic generalisations can reinforce the idea of the “mad genius” and trivialise a serious medical condition that can end in suicide.

Yet the evidence to date suggests that a high number of artists and writers, far more than could be expected by chance, meet the diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder.

What are the implications for treatment? First line medication for bipolar disorder, lithium, can cause cognitive dulling and slowing, and limit emotional and perceptual range for some individuals. This is especially significant for those working in creative fields such as artists and writers, who draw on their emotions for creating their work.

It is not surprising then that some artists and writers with bipolar disorder choose not to take medications. But unless an individual has a mild expression of bipolar disorder, the consequences of the condition (suicide, for example) nearly always argue for active treatment.

More research is need to understand not only how mood experiences interact with creative processes and artistic production, but to learn how mood episodes shape decisions about whether or not to accept treatment and if so, the treatment choices.

Is it all clear as mud now? Consider the myths of bipolar disorder busted!

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