Emotional Rollercoaster

When Evansville Living wrote about bipolar disorder in the September/October 2006 issue (“Bipolar Disorder,” p. 44), Edwina Kempf, whose son suffers from the condition, had granted money to the St. Mary’s Foundation for a bipolar wellness center. The facility offers several services including a support group and workshops for patients, families, and friends. Dr. Juan C. Cabrera Jr., an adult and geriatric psychiatrist at St. Mary’s Health System, helps patients who suffer from the condition, which the National Institute of Mental Health says affects 2.6 percent of the United States adult population. Here, Cabrera clears up myths about bipolar disorder.

Myth: Bipolar disorder is just a fancy name for mood swings.
Anyone can have a mood swing, but that doesn’t make them bipolar. Bipolar I is the occurrence of a manic episode, and Bipolar II is a hypomanic episode. In a manic episode, you get into trouble somehow — with work, relationships, financially, or legally. With a hypomanic episode, you have similar symptoms, but you don’t get into the trouble. A manic episode has to last a week, and you have to have had other symptoms, too — a decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, you’re distractible, or do potentially dangerous things like spending a lot of money or having sexual indiscretions. You have to have at least three of these manic symptoms, along with the mood problems, to receive a manic diagnosis.

Myth: Children can have bipolar disorder.
It’s not really until the mid-20s when one’s first manic episode occurs. That’s really when I can give the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. So, technically, unless the child has shown a manic episode, they can’t be diagnosed with bipolar disorder. A 5-year-old won’t spend a bank account or have sex. However, if there’s a strong history of bipolar disorder in the family and the child shows similar problems, then I can see where that diagnosis can be made or looked at strongly.

Myth: Bipolar disorder is a debilitating disease.
Like any other illness, there’s a spectrum of severity. My bipolar patients can be professionals in medicine, law, or are very successful entrepreneurs. If you look at people who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, many of them are very famous in the arts and sciences — Ernest Hemingway, Jane Pauley, Thomas Edison. They can use these manic states to fuel their creativity and productivity. Even though there are some very severe and sad cases, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

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