Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes drastic changes in an individual’s mood, energy, and ability to think clearly. It differs from the normal emotional up and downs that most people run into on occasion. People that have bipolar disorders experience extreme mood swings that have emotional highs, called mania, and lows of depression. The instability of the mood swings affects sleep, activity, judgment, and behavior, with a profound hold on the individual as a whole.

The average onset age of bipolar disorder is 25, but it can occur in the teens as well as childhood. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 2.5% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder with nearly 83% of those cases classified as severe. If left untreated, bipolar disorder symptoms will usually worsen. However, recognizing the warning signs and being educated in the symptoms of bipolar disorder are the first steps in getting your life back on track.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

  • Bipolar I Disorder can cause dramatic mood swings involving periods of severe mood episodes of mania to depression. There are usually periods of normal moods between episodes. Individuals will experience a manic episode with Bipolar I disorder.
  • Bipolar II Disorder involves an individual having one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode. A hypomanic episode refers to the same manic symptoms but less severe and only last up to four days in a row.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder refers to chronically unstable mood swings with brief periods of hypomanic symptoms and depressive symptoms that are not as long-lasting as full episodes.
  • “Mixed Features” or “Unspecified” Bipolar Disorder is when an individual does not meet the criteria for Bipolar I, II, or cyclothymic disorder but still experience periods of abnormal mood changes.
  • “Mixed Features” or “Unspecified” Bipolar Disorder is when an individual does not meet the criteria for Bipolar I, II, or cyclothymic disorder but still experience periods of abnormal mood changes.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms of bipolar disorder will differ with each individual. Since there are different stages and forms of bipolar disorder, signs and symptoms vary from type to type as well. Some people may experience manic or depressed states in a rapid sequence while others may not show symptoms for extended periods of time.

Manic Symptoms

  • Restlessness
  • Unlimited energy
  • Overly elated
  • Easily distracted
  • Talking fast/loud
  • Impulsive and high-risk behavior
  • Racing thoughts
  • Not feeling tired
  • Increased agitation
  • Making grandiose plans
  • High sex drive
  • Unrealistic beliefs
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Detachment from reality

Depressive Symptoms

  • Intense sadness and despair
  • Loss of interest
  • Feeling restless
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Changes in appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • The feeling of guilt and worthlessness
  • Intense sadness
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Anxiety
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Fatigue
  • Physical and mental sluggishness
  • Memory problems

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

There is not a single cause of bipolar disorder, but research points to several factors contributing to bipolar disorder symptoms. This includes:

  • Stress. Stress is a major component of most mental health disorders. A stressful event such as an illness, difficult relationship, a big move, the death of a loved one, and financial troubles can trigger a manic or depressive episode. This is why it’s so important for a person to manage stress effectively.
  • Genetics. Research shows that when a person has a family member that has bipolar disorder, they are at an increased chance at developing the disorder. Although there is an increased chance, however, it is not guaranteed.
  • Brain structure. Although brain scans cannot diagnose bipolar disorder, subtle differences in brain structure could contribute to the presence of bipolar disorder. The brain structures communicate with one another through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. When the neurotransmitters aren’t communicating effectively, it results in abnormal brain function that contributes to mental illness such as bipolar disorder.
  • Environmental triggers. When a person experiences symptoms of bipolar disorder, certain environmental triggers can set off manic and depressive episodes. Environmental factors such as a new relationship, starting a creative project, going on vacation, or a late night party could set off a manic episode. For a depressive episode, environmental triggers could include sleep deprivation, physical injury, a poor test grade, reading a sad book, and lack of exercise.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

For those struggling with bipolar disorder, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Treatment is possible. Simply ignoring the problem and living with untreated bipolar disorder only causes the issue to grow more severe, eventually taking over a person’s entire being. This includes trouble in careers, relationships, and even physical health. Fortunately, bipolar is highly treatable. The key is to be educated and identify the symptoms as soon as possible. Treatment will be different for everyone, but bipolar disorder is typically treated with a combination of therapy, medication, lifestyle adjustments, and support.

  • Therapy. Both individual and group therapy methods are beneficial in treating bipolar disorder. Common therapy types including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and family therapy provide the skills and tools needed to treat the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Effective therapy treatment will teach clients coping mechanisms, problem-solving techniques, and communication strategies.
  • Medication. Common medications prescribed to treat bipolar disorder include antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and atypical antipsychotics. Medication alone is not the only way to treat bipolar disorder, but when used in combination with other treatment methods, is extremely effective in treating symptoms. A medical professional will evaluate the symptoms in order to prescribe the best medication for each individual.
  • Lifestyle Adjustments. Healthy changes to a person’s lifestyle largely contribute to their recovery. This includes exercising regularly, a balanced sleep schedule, reducing alcohol and caffeine use. Keeping up with prescribed medications and practicing self-care aids tremendously in treating bipolar disorder.
  • Strong Support System. Often times when someone is struggling with a complicated mental health disorder, they will feel isolated and alone. In order to prevent this, it’s crucial for the individual to have a strong support system. Along with a supportive family and friends, additional support can be gained from support and self-help groups. In-person and online support groups help people learn coping skills, gain acceptance, and avoid social isolation.

If you are living with bipolar disorder, help is out here. At Overland Intensive Outpatient, we would one on one with our clients to develop a treatment plan towards long-term recovery. It’s not uncommon for those with bipolar disorder to suffer from other co-occurring symptoms. Our treatment plans address all underlying issues to treat the entire mind, body, and soul. Don’t hesitate to reach out today. You are not alone in your struggle.