Beyond Blue

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Here’s a query I just read from ABC News:

If he were playing the part of an incensed, maniacal,foul-mouthed boyfriend on screen, Mel Gibson’s latest tirade may have won him an Oscar. Instead, it could prove to be crucial evidence in a domestic violence case brewing against him.

Gibson talked about being bipolar in a 2002 documentary – are his latest rants indicative of that? Would a bipolar diagnosis serve as a legitimate defense in court if he’s charged with domestic abuse? Does the fact that his phone calls with his ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, were leaked taint them as evidence?

Watch the video ….

This is just another example, in my mind, of the media calling crazy behavior bipolar because that’s the only term they know in the lexicon of mental illness. (Had they only read “Beyond Blue,” and they would have a generous vocabulary of terms for yelling, kicking, and screaming.) As I mentioned in my post, “The Informant! 7 Myths of Bipolar Disorder,” the first time Matt Damon’s character was called bipolar, I snickered along with the rest of the movie audience. By the third time, with allegations of compulsive lying attached to the diagnosis, I was miffed and left the theatre highly irritated.

Which is why I publish these myth buster pieces as often as I can.

Today’s list, “The Top 10 Myths About Bipolar Disorder” was compiled by HeathCentral’s John McManamy, who also writes the award-winning and hilarious blog, “Knowledge Is Necessity.”

I provide the first eight. Go to HealthCentral to get the others.

1. Everyone has their ups and downs, so mine aren’t that serious.

Yes, everyone has good days and bad days, but when these ups and downs seriously interfere with your ability to work, relate to others and function effectively, it is advisable to seek out a psychiatrist.

2. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder.

Half true. Bipolar disorder certainly affects mood, but it also affects cognition and the ability to perform mental tasks. Some days we can out-think Stephen Hawking. Other days we make Forrest Gump look like an intellectual.

3. Yes, but bipolar disorder is still a mood disorder.

Granted, but for most of us it is also part of a package deal that may include anxiety, substance and alcohol abuse and sleep disorders. Also, researchers are finding smoking guns linking the illness to heart disease, migraines and other physical ailments.

4. Bipolar disorder is characterized by mood swings ranging from severely depressed to wildly manic.

Not necessarily. Most people with bipolar disorder are depressed far more often than they are manic. Often, the manias are so subtle that they are overlooked by both patient and psychiatrist, resulting in misdiagnosis. People with bipolar disorder can also enter long periods of remission.

5. Mania is like being on top of the world–if you could only put it in a bottle and sell it.

You wouldn’t want to with most manias. True, some forms of mild mania are characterized by feelings of elation, but other types have road rage features built in. More severe mania turns up the heat, resulting in different kinds of out-of-control behavior that can ruin your career, relationships and reputation.

6. Bipolar disorder is caused by a chemical imbalance of the brain.

This is the simpler explanation–what you tell your family and friends. What you need to know is our genes, biology and life experience make us extremely sensitive to stress. Various stressors, such as personal relationships and financial worries, have the potential to trigger a mood episode if not effectively nipped in the bud.

7. Medications are all you need to combat bipolar disorder.

False. While medications are the foundation of treatment for bipolar disorder, recovery is problematic without a good lifestyle regimen (diet, exercise and sleep), effective coping skills and a support network. People with bipolar disorder also benefit from various forms of talking therapy and religious/spiritual practice.

8. Medications don’t work for me.

For some people this may be true, but we all need to give our meds a chance. Treatment guidelines anticipate initial failures, and while no two guidelines are in agreement they are all based on the premise that eventually you will find a medication or combination of medications that will help you.

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