An Introduction To Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a lifelong complex mental illness that should be evaluated and treated by a licensed psychologist and/or psychiatrist. Bipolar can cause significant difficulty in daily life including relationship problems, employment instability, and poor school performance. However, those affected by it can lead a healthy satisfying life once an individual treatment plan has been initiated, implemented, and monitored routinely. Family members may seek mental health support to increase knowledge, understanding, and coping skills. In this article, we will discuss common mood and behavioral symptoms as well as four basic types of bipolar disorder.
What is bipolar disorder?
The American Psychiatric Association describes bipolar, also referred to as manic depression, as a mood disorder in which a person experiences extreme swings in mood, energy, and behavior. These cycles are called mood episodes. Because each person experiences bipolar disorder differently, the length, combination, and intensity of mood and behavior sequences may vary. Sometimes, a person with bipolar may have mixed episodes in which the moods alternate between manic and depressive states or occur simultaneously. Manic episodes are described as unusual and prolonged periods of heightened mood. Alternately, a depressive episode is an extended period of sadness and hopelessness. Bipolar depression is different than clinical depression and should be included in ongoing evaluation due to increased risk of suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors.
Common symptoms of Mania
- Either irritability and/or explosive anger or feelings of being “high”
- Increased risky behaviors such as drug use, sexual promiscuity, and unlimited spending
- Hurried speech
- Inflated self-esteem
- Grandiose beliefs of unlimited success
- Reduced need for sleep while feeling rested
- Loss of appetite
- Inability to focus; racing thoughts
- In extreme situations, psychosis including delusions and hallucinations may be present
Common symptoms of Bipolar Depression
- Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and/or unworthiness
- Indecisiveness; distracted
- Fluctuations in weight and/or appetite
- Inability to find pleasure in once satisfying activities
- Insomnia or excessive sleep
- Suicidal thoughts and thoughts of death
Bipolar is usually diagnosed in late adolescence before the age of 25. However, symptoms may
appear in early childhood, but can become problematic at any point. Heredity may be a
contributing factor to the presence of bipolar disorder, but family history does not necessarily
predict the illness in relatives. An individual who has bipolar may have less mood-regulating
neurotransmitters in the brain. Major life stressors or transitions may precipitate the onset of
bipolar disorder. Additional risk factors for bipolar disorder include substance abuse, family
history of psychological disorders and some physical illnesses. Therefore, it is important to have
a full medical examination to eliminate physiological causes for mood, energy, and behavior changes.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar I: Both manic or mixed episodes can be present but can vary in duration.
- Bipolar II: Both manic and depressive episodes are present. However, mania is less severe (hypomania) than in Bipolar I while depressive episodes may be similar. Does not include manic or mixed episodes.
- Cyclothymia: Less severe form of bipolar. Cyclothymia has long-lasting hypomanic and mildly depressive episodes for a minimum of 2 years.
What is rapid-cycling bipolar?
Rapid-cycling bipolar is a more severe form of the disorder. An individual with rapid-cycling bipolar will have four or more episodes over the course of one year. These episodes can include mania, hypomania, depressive (including major depression), and/or mixed episodes.
Usually, treatment for bipolar disorder will address mood and behavioral changes. A medical doctor and/or psychiatrist will monitor medications, potential side effects, and overall effectiveness. Psychotherapy will work to increase personal awareness, decrease high-risk behaviors, establish routine, and improve positive coping skills. Family members may also seek caregiving support services. Group therapy may reduce feelings of isolation by increasing social support and providing factual information about bipolar disorder.
In closing, any form of bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness that requires quality medical and psychological treatment. If you or someone you love is facing bipolar, don’t suffer in silence. Help is available. The National Alliance on Mental Illness at www.nami.org may be a helpful
resource for additional information and support.