Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic-depressive illness, is a severe mental health condition. If you live with bipolar disorder, it is imperative to be aware of your specific symptoms and the various treatments available.
Support systems are also invaluable for helping you cope with bipolar disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
People with bipolar disorder experience dramatic mood changes, from periods of extremely “high” moods (known as mania) to low moods such as depressive states where they feel sad and lethargic. These significant mood shifts correlate with wide-ranging energy levels, activity, and mental clarity.
On average, a person notices symptoms of bipolar disorder around the age of 25. However, onset can also occur in the adolescent years despite being rare. According to the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 2.8% of the American population received a bipolar diagnosis, with 83% of those cases marked as severe.
Living with bipolar disorder can severely interfere with relationships, school, work, and daily routines. While there are specific treatments for this condition that may include medication or psychotherapy, no singular treatment works for everyone with a bipolar disorder diagnosis. It is essential to seek support if you suspect you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms.
If you are struggling with the symptoms of bipolar disorder, please know that you are not alone. Support is available. With a thorough treatment plan, many people can lead successful lives.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar I Disorder: This diagnosis applies to individuals experiencing one or more manic episodes that last at least seven days or be severe enough to require hospitalization. People living with bipolar I disorder typically experience manic and depressive episodes, although depression is not necessary for diagnosis.
- Bipolar II Disorder: This diagnosis refers to individuals shifting between hypomanic and depressive symptoms. Hypomania is less severe than a manic episode.
- Cyclothymic Disorder: Also called cyclothymia, this diagnosis entails unstable moods (hypomania and mild depression) that last for at least two years. While those with a cyclothymia diagnosis may experience “normal” moods, they do not last longer than eight weeks.
- Bipolar disorder, other specified and unspecified: This “other specified” or “unspecified” diagnosis applies to someone who experiences abnormal moods but does not fully meet the criteria for other bipolar disorder diagnoses.
Signs & Symptoms
The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary from person to person, depending on the severity of their condition.
Some individuals may experience distance periods where they’re in a manic or depressive state but then live several years without any symptoms. On the flip side, a person can experience mania and depression simultaneously, even switching rapidly back and forth between the two.
In severe cases, these manic or depressive episodes can present symptoms such as hallucinations or delusions, leading to improper diagnoses of schizophrenia.
- Mania: When manic, bipolar sufferers may experience unusually high levels of energy and creativity that would be considered socially peculiar by most people’s standards. Often, they are filled with intense feelings of self-importance or grandiosity.
- They may also engage in reckless behaviors such as spending sprees, heavy drug use, or sexual promiscuity without regard for the consequences. Manic episodes can often lead to hospitalization for medical treatment if there is a danger to the sufferer or others around them.
- Depression: Depressive episodes come with symptoms generally characterized by lethargy, fatigue, and feelings of guilt or worthlessness. These symptoms are often paralyzing, making it enormously challenging to engage in daily activity.
- Depression associated with bipolar disorder must be present almost every day for at least two weeks to receive a diagnosis.
Bipolar Disorder Treatment
The treatment of bipolar disorder can vary, and a few different interventions can be leveraged in managing care:
- Medication: Common medications to support bipolar disorder treatment are antipsychotics and mood stabilizers. Antidepressants can be prescribed, but it is not as expected.
- Psychotherapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, is a common approach in treating bipolar disorder. Family therapy and other talk therapies are beneficial too.
- Self-Awareness: Learning one’s triggers and better understanding symptoms of an oncoming episode can be critical in managing symptoms effectively.
- Lifestyle Changes: Exercise, meditation, and social support are critically helpful to those living with bipolar disorder. Surrounding yourself with friends and family members who care about your well-being and encourage successful care management can be powerful. However, these activities cannot replace evidence-based interventions.
Three Ways to Support a Friend With Bipolar Disorder
Expressing love, compassion, and patience can be significantly meaningful in their healing.
Here are a few ideas as to how you can best support them:
- Be Aware of Language: Many of us use diagnoses as adjectives to describe behaviors that are not symptoms of mental health conditions. For example, you tell a story where you experienced anger and sadness all at once. You say, “I was feeling so bipolar!” Being more conscious of our chosen language is essential. By misusing mental health diagnoses, we can cause more harm to people who suffer from them. We must ensure our words don’t further marginalize anyone living with any health condition. Remember, a person is not bipolar but rather living with bipolar disorder.
- Learn About Bipolar Disorder: By increasing knowledge on all aspects of bipolar disorder, you can position yourself to help your loved one successfully. By learning what the diagnosis means, you may find it easier to remain patient with them. It also signals your care and understanding to your loved one. They may not say it, but it will be evident in how you interact with them.
- Take Care of Yourself Too: The unexpected shifts present in the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be beyond difficult for the person experiencing them and for those around them. Caring for them can be exhausting if you are not tending to your personal needs. Finding a balance will benefit you and your loved one both. Maintaining open communication will help set boundaries when needed.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.