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The Art of Bipolar Disorder

When I say the name Vincent Van Gogh, we often think of beautiful paintings or perhaps his determination to express himself even if, during his time, he was seen as a “failure”. However, one thing we don’t often realize is that Van Gogh suffered from bipolar disorder. March 30th is Van Gogh’s birthday and has been designated as World Bipolar Day. A day to encourage understanding about bipolar disorder and reduce the myths and stigmas associated with it.

Not everything we hear on social media is true and there are a host of myths about bipolar disorder. A few of these include: if you are “moody” then you must have bipolar, a person can “grow out of” bipolar symptoms, you can test for bipolar, there is always a regular pattern to bipolar symptoms, and therapy alone improves bipolar symptoms. Not only are these untrue but they can lead to people misdiagnosing themselves.

There are several different “types” (diagnosis) associated with bipolar disorder. Bipolar 1 exhibits with a manic episode of at least 7 days followed and/or preceded by either a hypomanic episode of at least 4 days or depressive episode of 2 weeks. Bipolar 2 is diagnosed by exhibiting a hypomanic episode of at least 4 days with also a period of depressive episode of at least 2 weeks (e.g. no manic episodes). Cyclothymic Disorder features a rapid cycle of hypomanic and depressive symptoms for at least 2 years in adults or 1 year in children/teens. Beyond these more common diagnosis, there are also substance induced bipolar, bipolar related to another medical condition, and other specified and unspecified bipolar disorders.

Medication is a key treatment if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is thought the symptoms are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. This imbalance seems to be largely linked via genetics - which is why knowing a family history can be highly importance when discussing your mental health with a provider. Because of this imbalance, sometimes medication to treat depression or anxiety alone can have a negative effect and cause an increase of bipolar symptoms. Again, it's very important to share all your medicine/treatment history with a provider and be frank about side effects of all medications.

Therapy can be helpful in the treatment of bipolar disorder because it can remove associated stigma and negative self-thoughts, can increase a client’s knowledge of triggers, allows for more healthy connection with family members (since they can be genetically impacted), and can address/treat co-occurring mental conditions (such as anxiety, ADHD, and substance misuse/abuse).

To learn more about this topic please visit:

To learn more about the beauty of the manic/depressive art in Van Gogh’s Starry Night:

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