What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly manicdepressive disorder, is characterized by periods of intense emotional highs and lows. It is classified as a mood disorder. Bipolar Disorder affects nearly eleven million Americans at some point in their lives. It usually begins in late adolescence, often appearing as depression during teen years, although it can start in early childhood or later in life. People often wait 7-10 years for an accurate diagnosis of Bipolar disorder. Approximately 5% of the world’s population suffers from bipolar disorder, which is about 350 million people worldwide. Bipolar disorder is frequently misdiagnosed because the symptoms are similar to other mental health disorders such as depression or ADHD.

Bipolar disorder is grouped in the following ways: Bipolar I and Bipolar II and Cyclothymic disorder which involves less severe symptoms of bipolar disorder. A person is diagnosed with Bipolar I when they experience a manic episode, followed by or preceded by a depressive episode. The mania is more severe than Bipolar II, which a person is diagnosed with when they experience episodes of hypomania and depression. However, Bipolar II depressive episodes can be severely disabling. Cyclothymic disorder involves hypomanic episodes and depressive episodes that are typically less severe than people with bipolar I or bipolar II.

Bipolar disorder requires professional treatment, it does not prevent anyone from living a full life if they are willing to accept treatment. There are many ways to manage bipolar disorder; being able to recognize individual triggers that lead to depressive or manic episodes can be preventative. 

What are the symptoms of Bipolar?   

It is inevitable that someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder will experience mania and hypomania. Mania and hypomania are both defined as elevated emotional states that may include grandiose ideas- such as the ability to fly- impulsiveness, and beliefs of invulnerability. In some cases, mania may result in psychosis (a break in reality). Hypomania is the less severe form of mania. A person with hypomania will experience many of the same symptoms as someone with mania, but with lesser intensity.  

As with any other psychiatric disorder, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are both mental and physical.  

DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS 

  • Loss of interest in almost all activities 
  • Restlessness or slowed movements 
  • Increased or decreased need for sleep  
  • Feeling worthless  
  • Increased or decreased appetite 
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Thoughts of/attempts at suicide 
  •  Feelings of shame/guilt 
  • Depressed mood, crying, hopelessness, or emptiness 

female depression

 

MANIC SYMPTOMS 

  • Decreased need for sleep 
  • An exaggerated sense of confidence and self  
  • Increased, unusual talkativeness  
  • Distractibility 
  • Irritability 
  • Impulsiveness and poor decision making (ex. Shopping sprees, risk-taking behaviors, poor investment decisions) 
  • Increased energy 
  • Psychosis 

 

HOW IS BIPOLAR DISORDER TREATED? 

Bipolar disorder is a chronic psychiatric diagnosis that requires consistent treatment. Medication, therapy, and a combination of the two are the most commonly prescribed treatments. It is important to seek help if you believe you have bipolar disorder. The symptoms will not go away on their own, and finding proper treatment will drastically improve your quality of life.  

Psychotherapy is an excellent way to manage bipolar disorder. Studies have shown people who manage their bipolar disorder with therapy prevent relapse. One form of psychotherapy, called interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), helps the person establish a consistent routine that will help with stabilizing moods. Having a consistent daily schedule has been shown to greatly benefit people with bipolar disorder.  

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) emphasizes replacing unhealthy thinking patterns with healthy ones. CBT teaches ways to manage stress and cope with situations that may trigger a bipolar episode. Replacing negative thinking with positive thinking helps reduce depressive symptoms. CBT can be used to stop negative rumination and help in developing a positive mindset.

Alongside professional treatment, having a self-care routine with ways to manage bipolar disorder will help prevent bipolar symptoms. Sleep hygiene is notably important in preventing bipolar symptoms. Going to sleep at the same time daily and avoiding the use of devices a few hours before bed is some of the steps you can take to develop good sleep hygiene. Regular exercise and good nutrition are important parts of a self-care routine. Walking just 20 minutes a day can boost your mood. Take a walk in nature and the mood benefits increase. Keeping a mood diary and tracking your emotions each day will help you identify mood patterns and emotional triggers, as well as help you maintain a consistent schedule. Avoiding drinking and drug use will also decrease bipolar symptoms. Recreational drugs and overuse of alcohol may lead to manic or depressive episodes. Additionally, many psychiatric medications prescribed for bipolar disorder react negatively to alcohol and drug use. Surrounding yourself with positive relationships will also help improve bipolar symptoms.

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