What links bipolar disorder and lying?

A national survey in the US found that over half of the people with the condition had experienced addiction to drugs or alcohol at some time. Addiction may fuel a tendency to lie

Pic courtesy: empoweHER
Pic courtesy: empoweHER

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by cycles of mania and depression. Apart from mood swings, a person with this condition may display a range of other unusual behaviors.

People with bipolar disorder and their loved ones sometimes report that the condition entails a greater tendency to tell lies.

While lying is not a diagnostic symptom of bipolar disorder, anecdotal evidence suggests that the condition may make people more prone to lying.

What is bipolar disorder?

Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder happens because a faulty brain function causes abrupt changes in mood. Other symptoms include sleep disturbances and some problems with thinking.

Unlike the usual mood swings that everyone experiences, the dramatic changes involved in bipolar disorder can range from severe mania with psychotic symptoms to suicidal thoughts.

The length, severity, and frequency of each cycle depends on the individual. Some people may spend weeks, months, or even years at a low or a high. Others may experience several swings in a day.

Symptoms tend to appear in the late teens or early adult life but can emerge during childhood or late adulthood.

The cause remains unknown, but genetic factors appear to play a role.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

A range of symptoms is related to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

When a person has a manic episode, they may:

  • Feel very “high” or “up”
  • Feel “jumpy” or “wired”
  • Have trouble sleeping
  • Be excessively active
  • Believe they can do anything, and that they can do many things at once
  • Do reckless things, like spending money, driving fast, or being unfaithful to their partner
  • Be irritable or agitated

During a depressive episode, they may:

  • Feel “down” or sad
  • Sleep too much or too little
  • Feel they cannot 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

During a manic phase, the individual may feel that their thoughts are racing too fast. They may talk very quickly about many different things, jumping from one topic to the next in a disjointed manner.

They may also experience delusions, or believe that they are very important or powerful. They may have a sense of entitlement, of being “above the rules,” or believe that they have a special relationship with others in positions of authority. Impulsive and reckless behavior is common.

Bipolar and lying: Is there an association?

There is no clinical proof that bipolar disorder increases the frequency of lying. A tendency to do so is commonly reported by people with the disorder and their families, however.

If this tendency exists, it may be linked to features of mania such as memory disturbances, rapid speech and thinking, impulsiveness, and a tendency to make destructive behavior choices.

During a manic mood, says Madelyn Heslet, who shares her experience on a community website, The Mighty, “Any healthy or realistic thought goes out of the window.”

The effects of mania

Heslet goes on to list 10 areas that she has learned to be aware of. She calls these “the lies my mania tells to try and get me into trouble.”

They include hallucinations. The person may see, hear, or smell things that others do not. The perceptions can appear real to the person who is experiencing them.

A manic episode can involve delusions of grandeur. The person may really believe that they are someone important, or that they have friends in high places.

The mania convinces Heslet, she says, that it is acceptable to overreact when upset, to be excessively angry, and 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. Any person who is in trouble, whether they have bipolar disorder or not, can be tempted to lie in order to cover up their wrongdoing, or to convince themselves or others that they did not do anything wrong. Bipolar disorder may simply increase the chance of a person being in this situation.

Addictive tendencies are also more common among people with bipolar disorder. One national survey in the U.S. found that over half of the people with the condition had experienced addiction to drugs or alcohol at some time. Addiction may fuel a tendency to lie.

The need for self-preservation, combined with a desire for excitement and a belief that one cannot be harmed, could combine to 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 different perception

A person with bipolar disorder can experience the world differently from other people. Blogger, Gabe Howard, writing on the 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 they are faking, being overdramatic, or seeking attention. When the senses are heightened, life is experienced 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. As the person goes on “saying things” without thought, they may not remember later what they said.

A person with bipolar disorder may lie, or appear to lie about their condition, either to avoid the stigma attached to mental illness or because they really believe that there is nothing wrong with them. This can make treatment a challenge.

People with the condition are far more likely to visit a doctor when they are low. This is because during a manic phase, they do not perceive a problem. If the mania involves hallucinations or delusions, this too can seem like a lie to someone else.

Facts about bipolar disorder

Here are some key facts about bipolar disorder:

The lifetime prevalence of bipolar disorder in the United States is estimated at 3.9 percent of the population
It affects 5.9 percent of people aged 18 to 29 years
The average age of onset is 25 years

Source: Medical News Today