Demi Lovato: 'It Is Possible to Live Well' with Bipolar Disorder
Demi Lovato has a message for the public: It’s possible to have bipolar disorder and lead a happy life. The singer has been open about her bipolar disorder for more than a year, and in a new interview, she says she wants to help erase the stigma that surrounds the disorder.
"If you know someone or if you're dealing with it yourself, just know that it is possible to live well," the 24-year-old singer tells People. "I'm living proof of that."
Lovato says living with bipolar disorder is a "work in progress" that's happening with the support of her family and friends, along with a treatment team. "They're there for me at any moment of the day and will be there to support me throughout my recovery," she says. “That relationship is ongoing — it's not something where you see a therapist once or you see your psychiatrist once, it’s something you maintain...You have to take care of yourself."
Lovato has also teamed up with several mental health organizations for an initiative called Be Vocal: Speak Up For Mental Health that attempts to change the way people think about and react to these issues. "So many of my fans are dealing with mental illness, whether it’s depression or bipolar disorder or even schizophrenia," Lovato says. "This is very important to them."
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is a treatable illness marked by extreme changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. A person with bipolar disorder has moods that can alternate between highs (manias) and lows (depressions), and these changes can last for hours, days, weeks, or months, the organization says.
There are several different types of bipolar disorder, the most common being bipolar I and bipolar II. Someone with bipolar I may experience one type of mania over the course of a lifetime or a mixture of mania and depression, while someone with bipolar II will have one or more major depressive episodes and at least one episode of hypomania (which is not as high of a high as those of bipolar I).
Bipolar disorder affects nearly six million American adults, the DBSA says, and the disorder usually begins in late adolescence, although it can start when someone is a child or later in life, the organization says. Bipolar disorder tends to run in families and appears to have a genetic link.
Simon Rego, Psy.D., chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine, tells SELF that bipolar disorder is largely misunderstood. “If someone is simply moody, they may be mislabeled as having bipolar disorder,” he says. “Also, many people tend to think that patients with bipolar disorder are constantly in manic episodes, e.g., are more elevated in mood, more talkative, more energized, and need less sleep, when in fact, people with bipolar disorder usually spend much more of their time in depressive episodes.”
Nassir Ghaemi, M.D. author of "A First-Rate Madness" and a psychiatry professor at Tufts Medical Center, tells SELF that there is a host of things about bipolar disorder that people don't understand, including that bipolar disorder isn’t more severe of an illness than most kinds of depression, that manic symptoms aren’t always severe, but can be mild and even seemingly beneficial by making people more creative, and that depressive symptoms also can be mild and seemingly beneficial by making people more empathic and realistic. Some of our greatest leaders and creative thinkers may have had bipolar disorder or its varieties, Ghaemi says.
But people with bipolar disorder often have difficulty realizing they have an illness and may not seek treatment as a result, Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., President and CEO of the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation and host of the public television series Healthy Minds with Dr. Jeffrey Borenstein, tells SELF.
When people do end up seeking treatment, they sometimes find it difficult to find the right health care professional, Borenstein says, noting that people with bipolar disorder often go undiagnosed or may be misdiagnosed with depression.
It's not always easy to diagnose bipolar disorder, Eric Youngstrom, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience, and psychiatry, as well as acting director of the Center for Excellence in Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, agrees. "It's not just one condition, so there are lists of criteria" for bipolar disorder, he tells SELF, pointing to the differing components between illnesses like bipolar I and II. "Part of what makes bipolar disorder so confusing and complicated is that the rule for diagnosing it is complicated. That's why there really isn’t a good substitute for talking to a professional who understands bipolar disorder," he says.
Luckily, treatment is available. It typically involves mood stabilizers and antidepressants, as well as talk therapy, Borenstein says. Ghaemi says that bipolar disorder “improves with medications quite well” and that most the medications for it, including lithium, are safe.
Experts stress that it's possible to manage bipolar disorder. "People with bipolar disorder can absolutely lead happy, healthy lives and have successful careers and relationships," Borenstein says. "Demi Lovato is an excellent example. By coming forward about her condition, she is helping eliminate stigma, educating the public, and helping people see that is possible to lead a successful life with bipolar disorder."
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