Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects mood. People may experience episodes of mania and depression. A person with bipolar disorder may display certain behaviors, such as distorted thinking.
People with bipolar disorder and their loved ones sometimes report that they are accused of lying, exaggerating, or misleading.
The assumption is that the person is doing this deliberately, but do people with bipolar disorder really lie more often than other people? Are these proper lies? Where does this idea come from? In this article, we try to find out what the truth is behind bipolar disorder and lying..
While it is important to remember that people with bipolar disorder can lie maliciously, it’s also possible that the symptoms of the illness cause people with bipolar to perceive situations differently.
When they repeat the facts back as they see them and that doesn’t line up with reality, it’s easy for people to assume that the person is lying.
There is no clinical proof that bipolar disorder increases the frequency of lying, although people with the disorder, and their families, often report this tendency.
Such a tendency may stem from features of mania such as:
- memory disturbances
- rapid speech and thinking
- poor behavior choices
During a manic mood, says Madelyn Heslet — who blogs about her experience with bipolar disorder on a website called The Mighty — “any healthy or realistic thought goes out of the window.”
Heslet goes on to list 10 areas where she has learned to be aware. She calls these “the lies my mania tells to try and get me into trouble.”
Some people experience psychotic symptoms with bipolar disorder. These include hallucinations when the person may see, hear, or smell things that others do not. The perceptions can appear real to the person who is experiencing them.
With psychosis, the person may genuinely believe that they are someone of great importance, or that they have friends in high places.
In Heslet’s case, she says the mania convinces her that it is acceptable to overreact when upset, to be excessively angry, and to say hurtful and malicious things.
Heslet notes that someone in a manic mood may believe they are immune to injury or harm. This can lead to impulsive or hazardous behavior, such as ill-advised sexual experiences, or an uncontrolled shopping spree.
This kind of activity can lead the person into trouble. If a person is in trouble, whether or not they have bipolar disorder, they may lie to cover up their wrongdoing or to convince themselves or others that they did not do anything wrong. Bipolar disorder may increase the chance of a person being in this situation.
Addictive tendencies are also more common among people with bipolar disorder.
A national survey in the United States found that more than half of the people with bipolar disorder experienced addiction to drugs or alcohol at some point. Addiction may fuel a tendency to lie.
Self-preservation combined with a desire for excitement and a belief that one is impervious to harm could increase the risk of telling a lie.
Blogger Susan P, writing on the International Bipolar Foundation website, suggests that there may be “some excitement inside that our lie is believed.”
Susan P also notes that while she lied “to stay alive,” she also lost friends and family in the process.
A person with bipolar disorder can experience the world differently from other people.
Inside Bipolar podcast host Gabe Howard, writing on the online community BPHope website, notes that people with bipolar disorder may lie to “fit in,” because expressing their true emotions makes them seem strange to others.
Voicing their true feelings, says Howard, may invite criticism that people with bipolar disorder are faking, being overdramatic, or seeking attention.
Consider the example of answering “I’m fine” when someone asks you how you are doing. Even if you aren’t fine, the social construct demands we not burden strangers with our issues.
A person with bipolar disorder may lie, or appear to lie, about their condition. Doing so may be to avoid the stigma attached to mental illness, or someone may really believe there is nothing wrong with them.
This denial can make treatment a challenge. People with the condition are more likely to visit a doctor if they have a depressive phase than when they are in a manic phase.
This is because they do not perceive a problem during a manic phase. If the mania involves hallucinations or delusions, this too can seem like a lie to someone else.
Consider that with heightened senses, the person experiences life more sharply. What seems like lies may not be lies to the person telling them.
When a person with bipolar disorder regularly exaggerates their stories, it may be that this is how they remember them.
The tendency for rapid speech during a manic phase may also make a statement seem like a lie.
An example of this is when the person goes on talking without reflecting. As a result, they may not remember later what they said. By way of example, they may make a promise to someone while forgetting the promise in the next moment.
When a person with bipolar disorder makes statements that other people perceive as untrue, they are not necessarily trying to deceive.
However, such statements can cause family members, friends, and colleagues to see the person as intentionally deceitful.
Mistrust can damage relationships and hinder the impact of quality care. These effects can have a long-term impact on the quality of life for a person with the condition.
Counseling and awareness can help family members and friends to empathize as they come to understand the link between the symptoms and the lies or perceived lies.
Patient counseling, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and medications, such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, or mood stabilizers, can help to manage the disorder.
These treatments may also help with the issue of lies or perceived lies. Any treatment must be under the guidance of a doctor.
Bipolar disorder happens because a disrupted brain function causes abrupt changes in a person’s mood. Other symptoms can include sleep disturbances and some problems with thinking.
Unlike the usual shifts in mood that everyone experiences, the dramatic mood changes involved in bipolar disorder can range from severe mania with psychotic symptoms to suicidal thoughts.
The length, severity, and frequency of each cycle vary between individuals. Some people may spend weeks, months, or even years in various stages, depending on what symptoms they experience.
Symptoms tend to appear in the late teens or early adult life but can emerge during childhood or late adulthood.
A range of symptoms can occur with bipolar disorder.
When a person has a manic episode, they may:
- feel “high,” “jumpy” or “wired”
- have difficulty sleeping
- be excessively active
- believe they can do anything and many things at once
- do reckless things such as spending too much money, driving too fast, or being unfaithful to a partner
- be irritable, agitated, or restless
During a depressive episode, they may:
- feel down or sad
- sleep too much or too little
- feel unable to enjoy anything
- have trouble concentrating
- eat too much or too little
- believe that a disaster is looming, or that they have committed a crime
- have suicidal thoughts
The hallmark of any mental illness is distorted thinking so it should come as no surprise when the information that is given doesn’t line up with reality. Defining what constitutes a lie is very important in this context.
Perhaps the easiest way to look at this is to consider the behavior of a toddler. It would be unreasonable to tell a scared child that they are lying about the monsters under their bed.
However, it’s not unreasonable to consider it a lie when they feed broccoli to the dog and then deny it when caught. Understanding the motivation matters.
Living with bipolar disorder is difficult and often behaviors that should be considered using bipolar disorder as context is not. Without that context the misinformation you are hearing can easily appear to be a lie, but when the context is considered the landscape changes dramatically.