Bipolar disorder is a diagnosis reflecting certain patterns of mood that significantly impact the individual’s everyday life. Not to be confused with your standard mood swings that many of us have experienced at some point, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme shifts in mood that last for days or weeks at a time, coinciding with abnormal or uncharacteristic behavior.
Although it’s a fairly common diagnosis, bipolar disorder can be complicated to treat for a couple of reasons. The fact that bipolar disorder shares symptomology with certain other disorders, including clinical depression, can result in misdiagnosis. However, with the right combination of support and treatment, individuals with bipolar disorder can live healthy, meaningful lives.
Bipolar disorder has been referred to in the past as manic depression or manic-depressive disorder. Although these terms are outdated, they appropriately convey the two emotional extremes that are characteristic of individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Individuals who have bipolar disorder tend to cycle between states of mania and depression. By definition, a manic episode is when the individual is “up.” During a manic episode, the individual experiences a rush of energy, excitement, joy, and even euphoria. The individual often becomes hyperactive with a seemingly infinite well of energy and motivation.
On the other end of the spectrum, bipolar individuals sometimes experience depressive episodes, which are the opposite of manic episodes in every conceivable way. These episodes involve a variety of feelings of sadness, indifference, and apathy, much like major depression. While in this depressive state, the individual will often find it difficult to even get out of bed in the morning.
Bipolar disorder has been believed to affect men and women equally. However, because levels of focus and activity vary from one person and demographic to the next, there’s speculation about differences in the rate of bipolar disorder between men and women. More specifically, some are speculating that bipolar disorder actually occurs more often in women than in men (although more data is needed to confirm this).
There are currently two forms of bipolar disorder recognized: type I and type II.
Type I Bipolar Disorder
The first type, aptly called type I, is the more common and well-known type of bipolar disorder. Type I is what people usually think of when they think of bipolar disorder with the individual cycling between states of mania and depression.
Individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder end to experience manic episodes for approximately a week at a time. During a manic episode, the individual may feel as though he or she is on top of the world and can do anything. The individual has more energy and, as a result, has less need for sleep, which becomes elusive as his or her mind races from one disjointed thought to the next. Meanwhile, the individual may exhibit rapid speech and an inflated sense of self. In severe cases of bipolar disorder (or if the disorder is left untreated), the individual may manifest symptoms of psychosis.
Depressive episodes hit like a “crash” after manic episodes. During a depressive episode, the person experiences symptoms virtually identical to clinical depression. In this state, the individual feels sad, empty, hopeless, and miserable. He or she may experience irritability and frustration, lashing out in anger at themselves or loved ones. During depressive episodes, the individual loses interest in the normal activities and hobbies that he or she previously enjoyed and may struggle to find the motivation to engage with others, go to work or school, or even get out of bed in the morning. Additionally, many people experience suicidal thoughts during a depressive episode, potentially leading to suicidal ideation and even attempts.
Less frequently, people with bipolar disorder can experience mixed episodes. During a mixed episode, they experience both manic and depressive symptoms at the same time. This can include racing thoughts and elevated energy yet the thoughts center around feelings of misery, hopelessness, and self-hatred.
Type II Bipolar Disorder
Type II bipolar disorder is less common, likely due to it being much harder to recognize since type II bipolar has no “full-blown” mania. In fact, it is frequently mistaken for standard clinical depression and, as a result, is misdiagnosed, especially in women.
This form of bipolar disorder is characterized by a different type of mania called “hypomania.” Episodes of hypomania have less intense emotional impact and are shorter in duration, lasting just days instead of weeks. For this reason, it can be difficult to discern between type II bipolar disorder and emotional volatility from stress.
Additionally, type II bipolar disorder occurs more frequently in women than in men.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
For diagnosis, the individual must exhibit both mania (or hypomania) and depression for extended periods. Moreover, these changes in mood should last longer than a few hours or days.
With this in mind, let’s take a look at the many symptoms of bipolar disorder, sorted according to the two opposing states.
- Happiness, joy, or euphoria
- Talking fast
- Overabundance of energy
- Feelings of grandiosity and self-importance
- Great new ideas
- Making ambitious plans
- Easily irritated
- Easily distraction
- Delusions, hallucinations, and illogical thinking
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skipping meals or overindulging
- Increased risk-taking
- Reckless overspending
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Irritability and anger, especially self-directed
- Lack of energy
- Inability to concentrate
- Loss of interest
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Guilt and despair
- Binge eating or skipping meals
- Difficulty sleeping
- Suicidal thoughts and actions
Bipolar disorder doesn’t exist in a vacuum as other disorders and problems can arise at the same time. Many of these disorders originate from poor decision-making or increased risk-taking behavior during mania, such as drug abuse, vandalism, and shoplifting. Some of the most commonly co-occurring, or comorbid, conditions include:
- Substance abuse disorders like alcoholism or drug addiction
- Eating disorders
- Heart disease
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Although we can identify and treat bipolar disorder, we cannot say exactly what causes it. It’s a fairly common condition, but the underlying causes and risk factors are not fully understood. Currently, the consensus among experts is that the source of bipolar disorder is likely genetic, neurological, or a combination of both.
Genetic research suggests that bipolar disorder runs in families. In other words, if someone in your family is or was bipolar, then your likelihood of developing bipolar disorder is much higher.
The medical community knows that brain structure has a role in determining who develops bipolar disorder, but we don’t yet know what it is or how it works. Research is ongoing.
How is Bipolar Disorder Treated?
There are a variety of treatments for bipolar disorder, organized into two main categories: medicinal and therapeutic. According to research, these two types of treatment work best when used together.
This approach typically involves the participation of multiple healthcare professionals from different disciplines in the individual’s treatment. These providers work together to coordinate their efforts and tackle the patient’s problems from different directions to address the many symptoms and effects of bipolar disorder.
As with many disorders, there are a number of medications that can alleviate symptoms of bipolar disorder. But unlike many of those disorders, there are no medications designed explicitly for bipolar disorder.
Instead, treatment providers use medications originally designed to treat other disorders, including mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anxiolytics, and antipsychotics. However, since everyone reacts to psychotropic medications differently, patients receiving medicinal treatment for bipolar disorder must communicate with their doctor openly and regularly to ensure the best results with minimal side effects.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a mainstay of treatment for many different types of mental and emotional disorders, including bipolar disorder. Also commonly called “talk therapy,” CBT is valuable for the treatment of bipolar disorder because it gives patients ways to cope with the changes in their emotional state as well as the effects those changes have on their daily lives.
CBT helps patients manage and reframe the way they perceive themselves and their struggles, both with bipolar disorder (and the changes in self-image that emotional disequilibrium can bring) as well as other aspects of their lives. Therapists work with their bipolar patients to help them learn healthier outlets for their manic episodes to ensure they won’t hurt themselves, their loved ones, or their finances. CBT also provides strategies with which to cope with depressive thoughts and even to gather feedback on their treatments.
Moreover, participating in CBT provides a source of stability with opportunities to learn to mitigate the risks that people with bipolar disorder face during manic episodes; for example, a therapist might explain to a patient with bipolar disorder that limiting their finances by giving credit cards to a trusted friend is a great way to minimize the financial fallout of manic episodes.
Find the Mental Health Treatment You Need at Silicon Beach Behavioral Health
Silicon Beach Behavioral Health has a variety of resources for people suffering from mental illness and to answer questions about their mental health.
If you need more information about bipolar disorder, have any other mental health questions, or would like to start down a path of mental health treatment, contact Silicon Beach Behavioral Health today.