The ABC’s of Bipolar Disorder
By Hannah Smith
Most people know that mental illness is becoming more and more common in our world today.
And with that comes more knowledge and research on the topic.
Symptoms that would have been brushed off as merely personality quirks are now being seen for what they really are.
More than 10 million people in the US suffer from Bipolar Disorder.
Most of those are in their teens or early 20s.
And many of them were diagnosed as having other illnesses before the correct disorder was discovered.
More than 20% of the Bipolar community went looking for help because they thought they simply had depression.
Most didn’t realize the second half of the disorder, which can be just as debilitating.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder is defined as “a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
The illness used to be called Manic Depressive Disorder because the two moods are called mania and depression. It is now referred to as Bipolar Disorder because the two moods are polar opposites of each other.
There are three main types of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar 1 is often seen as the most severe of the four. It is characterized by intense periods of mania that can sometimes require immediate hospitalization.
Manic episodes generally last a week or more in most cases.
The depressive episodes of this type of this disorder usually last at least two weeks, with many of them lasting much longer.
These episodes are not as severe as the mania but are debilitating in their own right.
In many cases, there are periods of normal moods between the two episodes.
In other cases, hypomania can follow a manic episode.
Hypomania is a less severe form of mania that usually doesn’t require hospitalization.
Most patients don’t usually see this form of mania as a bad thing. They are often considered fun to be around and highly productive. During hypomania, signs and symptoms may include extreme elation, expansive mood, and delusions of grandeur that may occur.
This form of the disorder is characterized as episodes of hypomania and severe depression. While Bipolar 1 has severe manic episodes, bipolar 2 has severe depressive episodes.
Some people may see this form as less severe than the prior one, but that’s not true as the depressive episodes can often be worse than the mania of the first type.
They can often lead to thoughts of and attempted suicide and instances of self-harm.
Cyclothymia is defined as a form of Bipolar Disorder, where the diagnostic requirements for mania and depression aren’t truly met.
The mood reversals are not as severe, but the periods of the illness are generally longer.
An episode is classified as lasting 2 years or more in adults and 1 year in children and teens.
Sometimes a patient may suffer from symptoms that can’t be characterized as true Bipolar symptoms. When that happens, it is diagnosed as “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders.”
While in the middle of a particular kind of episode, the patient might have symptoms that are typical of the opposite polarity. When that happens, it is called having a mixed episode.
These are often marked as having high energy, sleeplessness, and racing thoughts, as well as hopelessness, despair, irritability, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Signs and Symptoms of bipolar disorder
There are many different kinds of signs and symptoms that come with a Bipolar diagnosis.
Mania and hypomania usually have several of these:
- feeling very “up”, “high”, “elated”, “irritable”, “touchy”
- feeling “jumpy” or “wired”
- decreased need for sleep
- loss of appetite/weight loss
- talking fast about lots of different things
- racing thoughts
- thinking they can do lots of things at once
- eat/drink a lot
- spending/giving away lots of money
- reckless sex
- feel unusually talented, important, powerful
A depressive episode is generally defined as having several of these:
- feeling very sad, down, empty, worried, hopeless
- feeling slowed down/restless
- having trouble sleeping, waking too early, sleeping too much
- increased appetite/weight gain
- talking very slowly, have nothing to say, forget a lot
- trouble concentrating/making decisions
- feel unable to do simple things
- having little interest in almost all activities
- decreased or absent sex drive
- inability to experience pleasure
- feel worthless/guilty
- think about death/suicide
Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
There is hope, though. While there is no cure for Bipolar Disorder and treatment is seen to be a lifelong thing. Many patients live stable and normal lives without much disruption.
The best forms of treatment for this disorder are medications and psychotherapy.
Most patients are put on a mix of medications that generally include a mood stabilizer, something that helps with sleep and anxiety, and an antidepressant.
There can be some risks with taking an antidepressant, however, because they can trigger mania, but usually, if combined with a mood stabilizer, that doesn’t happen.
The other form of treatment is psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy”.
This is kind of a catch-all term for various kinds of therapy, one of which is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or “CBT.”
It is known for helping people with Bipolar Disorder.
It helps to change poor thinking, decision making, and emotions by talking through the different causes of them and putting actions into place to counteract them in daily life.
Other Actions to Take
While bipolar is a difficult condition to manage, there are two important things that can help.
Two of the best things that can be done in everyday life are getting regular exercise and keeping a life chart.
Exercise is excellent for the physical body, but it can also help relieve stress and poor thinking by releasing endorphins and other feel-good chemicals.
A life chart is simply keeping track of different things throughout your days, such as moods, treatments, sleep patterns, and life events. If kept regularly, it can help track a patient’s illness and patterns over time and make treatment more effective.
If you know are showing signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, the best course of action you can do is to tell your doctor.
If a loved one has symptoms and of course you are concerned, this is tricky because it depends on their willingness to seek help. You can broach the subject gently asking them to seek care, but it is not easy and you have to be careful.
This mainly depends on your relationship with the family member. You may not be able to talk to the doctor to discuss the person’s health.
All you can do is encourage them to do it. But if you have permission from the affected family member then you can discuss all your concerns with the doctor about your loved one.
But if they are your child less than 18 years old then you have the legal right to discuss care with the doctor.
Seeing a doctor and a mental health professional -a specialist such as a psychiatrist is best.
They will help you be able to decide what is causing the symptoms and create an action plan. That is to get a diagnosis. This is not always easy and sometimes depending on the symptoms can take some time to reach a firm diagnosis.
Seeing moods specific doctors such as psychiatrists who can prescribe medication and psychologists, therapists, or social workers who specialize in psychotherapy are advised for anyone who has signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder ruins many lives, but with proper management, and knowing the ABCs of bipolar disorder, and taking action to carefully treat bipolar, one can live a relatively normal life.