Many people have misconceptions about bipolar disorder and the people it affects. Common myths and misconceptions contribute to stigma and discrimination, which can make it harder for people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones to manage the condition.

Learning about bipolar disorder can help you understand the condition and support people who live with it.

Read on to get the facts behind nine common bipolar disorder myths.

Fact: Bipolar disorder affects different people in different ways. In general, it causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. But the frequency and intensity of symptoms can vary.

Some people with bipolar disorder shift between depressive episodes, when their mood and energy levels are unusually low, and manic episodes, when their mood and energy levels are unusually high or elevated.

Other people with bipolar disorder shift between depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, which cause less intense symptoms than manic episodes.

It’s also possible to experience mixed mood episodes, which involve a combination of depressive and manic symptoms.

Some people have periods of neutral moods — between depressive, manic, or hypomanic — or mixed mood episodes.

Some people cycle rapidly between mood episodes, whereas others have less frequent shifts.

Bipolar disorder can also cause hallucinations, delusions, or other symptoms of psychosis in some cases.

Fact: Bipolar disorder can cause similar symptoms as some other mental health conditions, which can make it challenging to diagnose.

Some people with bipolar disorder receive a misdiagnosis of another mental health condition, such as major depressive disorder (MDD) or schizophrenia. The risk of a misdiagnosis is higher in certain groups.

A 2021 review found that women with bipolar disorder are more likely than men with bipolar disorder to get a misdiagnosis of MDD.

A 2018 review found that African American people with bipolar disorder are more likely than other groups in the United States to get a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia or another mental health condition.

Let your doctor know if you have questions or concerns about your diagnosis or treatment plan. Consider getting a second opinion if you feel uncertain about your diagnosis or dissatisfied with the care you’ve received.

Fact: Bipolar disorder is more common in adults, but it may also affect children.

The average age of onset for bipolar disorder is 25 years old, according to the American Psychiatric Association. However, the condition can also affect teenagers or sometimes younger children.

Let your doctor know if you notice unusual lows or highs in your child’s mood, energy, or activity levels. They can help you learn whether bipolar disorder or another health condition may be causing these symptoms. They can also recommend treatment and support resources.

Fact: Combining medication with other treatments for bipolar disorder may be beneficial.

Medication is the first-line treatment for bipolar disorder. Multiple medications for this condition are available, including mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. Your doctor may prescribe one or more medications depending on your symptoms.

Your doctor may also recommend one or more of the following:

  • electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)
  • psychological therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • changes to your diet, substance use, sleep routine, or other lifestyle habits

It’s important to talk with your doctor before making changes to your treatment.

Fact: Substance use alone doesn’t cause bipolar disorder on its own, but it may increase symptoms.

Experts don’t know exactly what causes bipolar disorder, but a combination of genetics and environmental factors appears to play a role.

Some studies have found that using psychoactive substances may increase the risk of bipolar disorder. Examples of these substances include cannabis, nicotine, and alcohol. However, research findings on this topic have been mixed.

Using psychoactive substances may increase your symptoms if you have bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder also raises your risk of substance use disorder.

Avoiding cannabis, nicotine, and alcohol may help you manage bipolar disorder and support good overall health.

Let your doctor know if you’re finding it difficult to limit or avoid cannabis, nicotine, alcohol, or other substances. They may prescribe medication, refer you to a substance use counselor, or recommend other resources to reduce your substance use.

Fact: Untreated bipolar disorder may raise your risk of aggressive behavior, but most people with the condition aren’t violent or dangerous.

A 2021 study followed 151 people who were getting treatment for bipolar disorder in a hospital. The study authors observed aggressive behavior in about 12% of participants. In most cases, this behavior was verbal aggression. Roughly 1.3% of study participants demonstrated aggression against another person.

Alcohol and substance use were the main risk factors for aggressive behavior in this study.

The study focused on one specific group of people with bipolar disorder. The rate of aggressive behavior may be different in the total population of people with bipolar disorder.

Getting treatment for bipolar disorder can help limit symptoms of depression, mania, or psychosis that may raise your risk of aggressive behavior.

Avoiding alcohol, cannabis, and other psychoactive substances is also important for managing bipolar disorder and reducing your risk of aggression.

Fact: With treatment and support, people with bipolar disorder can succeed in all areas of life.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can negatively affect work, school, personal relationships, or other areas of life. But getting treatment can help limit symptoms and support success in goals that matter to you.

Talk with your doctor if you’re finding it difficult to manage bipolar disorder or balance your mental health needs with other goals. They might make changes to your treatment plan, recommend coping strategies, or share support resources.

You might also be eligible for accommodations at work or school to help you manage your mental health needs. Visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to learn more about legal protections and accommodations for people with mental health conditions in the United States.

Fact: Symptoms of mania may cause you to feel more productive, but they can negatively affect your work.

During a manic or hypomanic episode, you may have a lot of energy, feel little need for sleep, and feel very confident in your abilities. But mania can also cause irritability, restlessness, and difficulty focusing. When the manic episode has passed, you might find you were not as productive as you felt.

Manic or hypomanic episodes may also cause you to act impulsively or take unusual risks, which can have negative consequences for your career, schooling, or personal life.

Getting treatment for bipolar disorder can help limit these symptoms and support your ability to pursue goals.

Fact: There are many ways to support family, friends, and other community members with bipolar disorder.

Social support can make a positive difference in the lives of people with bipolar disorder.

Here are some steps you can take to support people with this condition:

  • Take time to educate yourself about bipolar disorder, and speak up when you hear people repeating myths or misconceptions about the condition.
  • Let the person with bipolar disorder know that you’re there to listen if they’d like to talk with you. Recognize and respect that they may not feel comfortable sharing all of their experiences, feelings, or thoughts.
  • Ask the person how you can support them in managing their condition and pursuing their goals. Encourage them to reach out to other sources of support as well.
  • Be prepared to contact emergency services if the person shows signs of a mental health crisis, such as self-harm or violence against others.

It’s also important to respect your own needs and limitations. It’s OK to step away from a situation if you feel uncomfortable. Wait for a time when your loved one is calm to talk about behaviors that you find challenging.

You might also find it helpful to connect with a counselor who has experience supporting people with bipolar disorder and their loved ones. You might attend counseling on your own or with your loved one.

Myths and misconceptions about bipolar disorder can make it harder for people to manage the condition or support loved ones who live with it.

The truth is that bipolar disorder can affect anyone in a variety of ways. It can be challenging to get an accurate diagnosis, but getting a diagnosis and treatment is essential for managing symptoms and supporting quality of life.

If you have bipolar disorder, a combination of medication, psychological therapy, and lifestyle changes can help limit symptoms. Avoiding alcohol, cannabis, and other substances is important. In some cases, your doctor may also recommend electroconvulsive therapy.

If you know someone with bipolar disorder, show your support by learning more about the condition, listening with an open mind, and asking how you can help. Contact emergency services if they show signs of crisis.

You can learn more about bipolar disorder by speaking with a doctor or mental health professional or visiting credible organizations such as the National Institute of Mental Health, American Psychological Association, or NAMI.