Bipolar disorder (BD) is a lifelong mental health condition characterized by extreme shifts in mood, activity, and energy levels. Also known as manic depression, this mental disorder involves mood swings of emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and emotional lows (depression).
Over three million adults in the US (one out of 100 people) experience bipolar disorder. Furthermore, it is estimated that around 4.4 percent of people will experience bipolar disorder at some point in their lives. While bipolar disorder can develop at any age, the onset is typically teenage years or early adulthood.
Bipolar Disorder Signs and Symptoms
Mood changes in bipolar disorder typically range from periods of elated, euphoric behavior (manic episodes) to feeling extremely sad and hopeless (depressive episodes).
During a hypomanic or manic episode, a person may have excessive energy, feel overjoyed, and be unusually talkative. Also, they may struggle with making sound decisions and engage in risky behaviors.
In contrast, in the course of a depressive episode, a person may feel very sad, worthless, and hopeless, suffering from constant fatigue and sleeping troubles.
The extreme mood swings caused by bipolar disorder may affect a person’s mental and physical well-being, relationships, and ability to complete day-to-day tasks.
The Episode of Mania or Hypomania
While hypomania and mania present themselves through very similar symptoms, mania is more severe and causes greater problems in a person’s day-to-day life. Additionally, mania may lead to psychosis when a person’s hospitalization is necessary.
Some of the common symptoms of mania or hypomania are:
- Increased energy
- Feeling “high” (extremely elated)
- A decreased need for sleep
- Feeling agitated
- An exaggerated sense of self-confidence
- Unusual talkativeness and racing thoughts
- Poor decision making
- Engaging in risky behaviors
- Problems focusing and paying attention
A depressive episode of bipolar disorder successively follows hypomania or mania. It usually involves severe symptoms that cause a noticeable struggle in performing everyday activities (family, school, work) and maintaining interpersonal relationships.
A major depressive episode of BD includes five or more of the following symptoms:
- Feeling extremely sad, hopeless, and worthless
- Trouble concentrating
- Excessive worry
- Difficulty sleeping (either insomnia or sleeping too much)
- Lack of pleasure in almost all activities
- Appetite problems (eating too little or too much)
- Feeling guilty
- Think about planning or attempting suicide
Bipolar Disorder Causes and Risk Factors
The exact causes of bipolar disorder are still unknown. However, mental health experts agree various factors can increase the risk for BD. These factors include genetics and family history, brain structure, and environmental factors.
Genetics: People with specific genes seem to be more likely to develop bipolar disorder than others. The illness is more common in those who have a family member with the same condition. Nevertheless, many people with a family history of bipolar disorder never develop this mental health condition.
Brain Structure: A neurocognitive research proposes that brains in persons with BD show physical changes responsible for the symptoms.
Environment. Situation factors that may increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder include exposure to a highly stressful or traumatic event and drug or alcohol abuse.
Bipolar disorder is often linked to other mental health conditions such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Bipolar Disorder Treatment
The most effective treatment for bipolar disorder involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
The most common drug therapy for BD involves mood stabilizers that help balance the mood right away. Other medications for bipolar disorder include antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, sleeping pills, and antipsychotic medicines.
Psychotherapy and counseling provide support and education for people who suffer from BD and their families. Mental health counseling aims to help people with BD:
- Recognize changes in mood and thought patterns
- Develop effective coping skills
- Establish helpful changes in daily routine
Some of the common symptoms of a major depressive episode are:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Family-focused therapy
- Interpersonal and Social rhythm therapy
- Substance abuse treatment
If a person’s behavior becomes dangerous in the sense of self-harm or harm to others, psychotic (detached from reality), or suicidal, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize mood and keep a person safe.
Living with Bipolar Disorder
Self-care strategies such as keeping track of your symptoms, normal sleep, healthy diet, regular exercise, relaxation, meditation practice, and avoiding alcohol and substances have proven helpful in coping with bipolar disorder.
While there is no sure way to prevent BD, getting the appropriate treatment early on can stop symptoms from aggravating.
Help is available here. If you suffer from bipolar disorder, contact us at Shorelines to schedule a consultation with our team of medical professionals and access to mental health care from the privacy and comfort of your home.