Bipolar disorder is a pretty common mental health condition. About 1 in 40 American adults live with it. It’s common in children and adolescents, but it usually doesn’t get diagnosed until adulthood—it can take up to ten years from the time a person experiences symptoms to the time they actually get diagnosed!
So no, not everyone who has bipolar disorder knows they have it. There are lots of reasons why someone with bipolar disorder might not realize it—or why they might deny having it even if they do. If you think someone you know might have untreated bipolar disorder, there are a few things you can do to help.
It’s similar to other mental health conditions
People with bipolar disorder usually get diagnosed with something else first—depression and ADHD are some of the most common. Depression is a part of bipolar disorder, and most people are more familiar with what depression looks like than mania. ADHD can also look very similar to bipolar disorder, especially in children.
Once a person discovers they have bipolar disorder, that might replace any previous diagnosis—or they might have multiple mental health conditions at once. If you know someone who is being treated for a mental illness, but they still struggle with symptoms of bipolar disorder, it’s worth considering that there may be more going on.
It’s hard to come to terms with having a mental illness
Even after a person learns they have bipolar disorder, it can be hard to accept the reality of it. Living with any mental illness can be really difficult… and bipolar disorder has its own challenges. Sometimes people feel like if they reject the label of “bipolar disorder,” they can avoid some of those challenges. But bipolar disorder doesn’t just go away if you ignore it.
The reality is that labels can actually set you free. Being diagnosed with bipolar disorder helps you understand what you’re experiencing. It opens up treatment options that can help you feel better. And it puts you in good company with millions of other people around the world, many of whom have accomplished incredible things.
On the other hand, sometimes people who don’t know any better use the word “bipolar” to describe someone who is actually just moody. Be careful pushing labels on people when you’re not an expert yourself. If you think your friend has bipolar disorder, encourage them to see a mental health professional who can evaluate and diagnose them. You can also point them to our online bipolar test, which is an easier start than going straight to a professional.
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. (2019). Bipolar Disorder Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.dbsalliance.org/education/bipolar-disorder/bipolar-disorder-statistics/
- Singh, T., & Rajput, M. (2006). Misdiagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. Psychiatry (Edgmont), 3(10), pp. 57-63. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2945875/