If you know what bipolar disorder is, consider yourself among the minority. Many people think they know, but often people are misinformed, or only partially informed. Since mental illnesses are often portrayed in television and feature films, it is important that the entertainment industry have a clear understanding of what sets one mental illness apart from another. Manic depression, more appropriately known as bipolar disorder, is probably the most commonly misunderstood and, therefore, misapplied mental illness.
Is it really depression?
Major depressive disorder–many of us refer to it as "depression"–and bipolar disorder have many symptoms in common. However, they are two different conditions that require different treatments.
Many people being treated for depression are actually dealing with bipolar disorder–but they don't know it yet, because they haven't recognized the symptoms. In fact, one study showed many patients with bipolar disorder initially received an incorrect diagnosis of depression.
Bipolar disorder, also called manic depression, involves periods of depression but also periods of mania. Manic episodes can include excessive energy, inappropriately elevated mood and/or risky behavior. (Learn more about bipolar symptoms.)
It's not surprising that misdiagnosis happens. After all, depression and bipolar disorder do have some symptoms (the depressive ones) in common. And because there's generally less awareness about bipolar disorder, people often don't recognize manic symptoms and report them to their doctors.
There is good news: there are highly effective treatments for bipolar disorder. The key is to get a correct diagnosis.
It's important to ask the right questions in order to find out whether someone has clinical depression, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness. A good place to start is with this Mood Questionnaire.
This section of EIC online contains most of the information you need to know to understand bipolar disorder better. If you would like to speak to a mental health expert or set up a free briefing for you, your production or studio, contact EIC's First Draft service