Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Sometimes called manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by severe shifts in moods, energy level, and clarity of thought. 

More than just the regular ups and downs of normal life, bipolar disorder’s extreme highs and lows, referred to as either mania or depression, can severely impact a person’s daily functioning.

What is Bipolar Disorder

Usually starting in a person’s mid-20s, although sometimes as early as the teens or even childhood, bipolar disorder affects nearly 3% of the US population. 

Most cases rank in the severe spectrum. The condition commonly grows worse over time, so early diagnosis and bipolar disorder treatment are essential for improved quality of life.

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that can leave patients with alternating periods of exaggerated happiness or sadness. 

They may have normal phases between these episodes before reverting to one of the two extremes of mood. 

In the low phases, referred to as “depressive,” people will feel lethargic, hopeless, and despondent to the point of clinical depression. At the high end, often referred to as “manic,” they will have periods of excitement and over-confidence, as well as instances of irritability and impulsive behavior. 

Some extremes may even include delusions and hallucinations, in which sufferers see things, or develop bizarre ideas which they may actually try to act upon. 

In most instances, the depressive phase of the disorder is dominant, with people existing in a generally low state of mind.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder symptoms range from two poles, or extremes in mood, from high to low. 

Types of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder has been classified into a number of subcategories based on the dominant behavior patterns within them:

Bipolar I Disorder:

Identified by extreme erratic behavior, with episodes of mania and depression that last at least a week or more. Manic episodes may require medical care, while major depressions can last over two weeks.

Bipolar II Disorder:

This variation of bipolar disorder appears to have less acute swings from manic to depressive phases. However, it is not any less intense. In some instances, the depressive states can be debilitating.

Cyclothymic Disorder:

 In this condition, a person may experience periods of manic and depressive behavior that last two years or more. Children and teens may also be affected, with episodes lasting a year. The symptoms may be mild enough that people don’t seek help, but the condition can affect daily life and may eventually worsen.

Other Types:

In some cases, bipolar or similar disorders are triggered by drugs or alcohol, or because of a medical condition.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

It has yet to be determined what causes bipolar disorder. However, specialists believe that the condition stems from a number of factors, with genetics being highlighted as a primary factor. 

This is specifically true if a close relative has been diagnosed with it too. 

It has also been connected to brain development, and research has discovered slight differences in the size or activation of certain brain structures in people with the disorder.

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

Although research has not yet identified the precise causes, there are influences that appear to put a person at risk of developing bipolar disorder. 

In some instances, the following factors may trigger the condition:

Having a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder

Dealing with stress or trauma

Substance abuse

Health conditions, such as Cushing's disease, multiple sclerosis, or stroke

Bipolar disorder is also believed to predispose a person to misuse substances, as well as develop different types of depression, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Although the disorder is not specific to gender, women are more inclined to develop rapid cycling which involves having four or more mood episodes in a year. Women are also more likely to spend longer periods in a depressive state.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Diagnosing bipolar disorder can be complicated, particularly since some people do not necessarily want to lose the highs associated with the manic state of the disorder. During this euphoric state, people may experience elevated moods and greater productivity. 

Unfortunately, the subsequent crash has lasting effects, not only in terms of exhaustion and depression, but also fall-out related to finances, relationships, career, and even legal trouble. 

If untreated, bipolar disorder can worsen to the point of suicidal thoughts. Additionally, many people with the disorder aren’t aware of the effect their condition may be having on those around them.

Once medical assistance is sought, a doctor will initially rule out any pre-existing conditions that may be causing the symptoms. Once these are ruled out, the person will be asked about any history of mental health issues for themselves or their family. 

Using criteria for identifying Bipolar Disorder specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, healthcare practitioners will ask about the symptoms being experienced, and how long they have lasted. 

Of particular note are issues related to high or low mood swings and abnormal sleep patterns, energy levels, thoughts, and behavior.

In some cases, a doctor may want to speak to family or close friends to gain additional insight into behavioral issues.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder treatment is a long-term process. For those with more complex forms of the disorder or with co-existing substance abuse issues, treatment for bipolar disorder may require a multi-layered approach.

Medication forms the foundation of the program, with different bipolar disorder medications addressing different aspects of the condition.

Medication commonly prescribed in the treatment of bipolar disorder include:

– Mood stabilizers
– Antipsychotics
– Antidepressants
– Antidepressant-antipsychotic combination drugs
– Anti-anxiety medications or sleep medications

Individual requirements may vary, and doctors may adjust combinations or dosages to find the best fit for the patient. This can take time, but it is necessary to ensure that the symptoms are addressed appropriately.

Bipolar disorder medications should be complemented by psychotherapy to help provide coping mechanisms and healthier ways of managing the condition.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT):

CBT is an established talk therapy that focuses on replacing negative behavior with positive alternatives. It also looks at managing stress and finding more effective ways to react to triggers.

Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (ISPRT):

This approach works on creating daily routines for activities such as eating, sleeping, and exercising in order to establish and maintain mood stability.

 Psychoeducation:

This involves educating family members about the disorder to provide a support structure, and to recognize the start of an episode before it becomes unmanageable.

In addition to these primary treatment protocols, other methodologies might include:

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)

ECT uses small electric shocks to ‘reboot’ the brain and change chemical imbalances. This is generally considered a last resort treatment if therapy and medication have been ineffective.

Acupuncture

This has been found to be effective, in some instances, in treating the depressive phases associated with the condition.

Vitamin supplements

Some people have reported improvements after using vitamin supplements to improve mood, such as fish oil, choline, and St. John’s Wort, among others. It should be emphasized that these may not necessarily replace prescribed medication and should be discussed with a health care provider.

Lifestyle changes

There are benefits to adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as regular exercise, a balanced diet, structured routines, stress management, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and creating a support network.

Get Help for Bipolar Disorder

With treatment, people with bipolar disorder can learn to manage the condition and lead a rewarding, functional life. 

However, if left unattended, the disorder can have numerous complications that may, in extreme cases, lead to suicide. 

Friends and family members, as well as those with the condition, should learn to identify the warning signs of suicide, such as increasing isolation, risky behavior, resorting to alcohol or drugs, morbid thoughts, and either weepiness or emotional withdrawal. 

Discussing death or dying, as well as giving away possessions, are significantly troubling.

By committing to ongoing treatments for bipolar disorder, such as those offered by the certified healthcare professionals at Psyclarity Health, it is possible to embrace a healthier approach to living with the condition. 

Psyclarity’s specialized programs, as well as ongoing support, provide a long-term prognosis for mental stability in the presence of a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis. 

Get in touch with us today to see how we can help you with treatment for bipolar disorder, and any other mental health condition you or a loved one may be struggling with.

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