Bipolar insights: Most frequently asked questions

By April 22, 2011



After class at Bipolar Insights, many often come to me with questions.

On one particular evening, I noticed a women waiting by the door. She appeared somewhat nervous and a bit reluctant as she leaned from one leg to the other, looking up on occasion then quickly turning her head.

It’s common for those who attend group for the first time to be cautious. I walked over to her and said, “Hi, did you enjoy the meeting?” She nodded her head as she said, “Yes.”

I could tell she wanted to ask something, but wasn’t sure if she should or not.

“Do you have any questions?” I asked.

She turned her head away and said, “I was wondering,” then turned to look at me, “Can bipolar disorder be misdiagnosed and why does everybody seem to have it?”

I was not surprised by the question. In the last 12 years, these by far, are two of the most frequently asked questions. I always detect an attitude of indignation and mistrust in their voices.

The answer to the first question, “Can bipolar disorder be misdiagnosed?” Yes, it can. All diagnoses are subject to misinterpretation whether physical or mental. An accurate diagnosis is based on information by the individual, the family, patterns, and history.

The challenge with diagnosing bipolar disorder is that in many cases, the individual is symptomatic and unable to communicate how they are feeling at the present time or provide a history of how they have felt in the past. This is common because bipolar disorder is a moment-by-moment illness, which means, how the individual feels today is how they perceive they have always felt in the past.

Families in crisis have a difficult time expressing accurate information. Feeling helpless and confused, they are often unable to distinguish between bipolar disorder and dysfunctional behavior.

Mental illness, in many cases, is misdiagnosed. With bipolar disorder and accurate information, the percentage of misdiagnosis is minimal.

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans, ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. This figure translates to 57.7 million people with a mental illness. Of that, bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million Americans. This does not include those who have not been diagnosed or children.

The numbers are growing year to year. We cannot deny the existence of bipolar disorder or try to explain it away. Bipolar disorder has been around for centuries. The mind-set is that individuals with a mental illness must be hidden and separated from society.

What is lacking is the education. In the past 20 years, many advocacy groups, such as NAMI, National Alliance on Mental Illness, have taken incredible steps in removing stigma and educating the public.

In answer to the second question, not everyone has bipolar disorder. Many will use mental illness as an excuse for their behavior, but this determination is based on a lack of knowledge and misunderstanding.

With all the information available through the internet, books and other resources, you would think that most of the general population would have a better understanding of bipolar disorder.

They do not.

Recognizing symptoms and knowing facts is beneficial, yet that is only part of the equation. Emotions are high, assumptions are made, and there is a clear lack of knowledge of what bipolar disorder is and that the disorder is manageable.

There’s a personal side that has to be included that says, “I need to understand more about me” and “OK, so where do I start and what do I do today?”

We each need to feel important and know that we are unique, that we have value, worth and purpose, and acknowledge that there is hope. It’s time to reach out to those who understand what you are feeling. This empowers you to have growth and gives you the respect to achieve.

This is what we do at Bipolar Insights. Bipolar Insights is an education and support center for individuals, families, and the community who are all affected by the disorder.

We cannot wait to meet you and walk this journey together.

The co-founder and facilitator of Bipolar Insights, Marcia Rose, can be reached at [email protected] Meetings start at 7 p.m. on Monday nights in Room 303 at Green Valley Church, 3500 Missouri Flat Road in Placerville and Tuesday nights at the Marshall Medical Health Library, 681 Main St., Suite 103 in Placerville. Visit for details and further information.

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