Bipolar disorder, often known as manic-depressive disorder, is a very serious mental health condition that is characterized by tremendous changes in mood that range from the lows of depression to the highs of mania. During a manic cycle of bipolar disorder, people with bipolar disorder may feel indefatigable, requiring little sleep and often forgoing food for days on end. Symptoms of mania may make a person feel they can do anything and cause them to engage in risk-taking behaviors entirely unlike their normal behaviors. Conversely, people who are in a depressive cycle of bipolar disorder feel sadness, extreme hopelessness, worthlessness, and as though life is barely worth getting out of bed to live. Mixed bipolar episodes occur when the symptoms of depression and mania occur at exactly the same time and are particularly dangerous – the rapid increase of energy coupled with the feelings of worthlessness and suicidal thoughts working together can lead to serious complications. There are three types of bipolar disorder recognized, each with their own pattern of symptoms:
Bipolar I disorder: The mood swings associated with bipolar I disorder involve highly disorganized full-blown manic symptoms, involving erratic behaviors that can negatively impact daily life. Symptoms of depression can be severe enough that some people may contemplate ending their own life.
Bipolar II disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder. While people who have bipolar II will experience milder manic and depressive cycles, these symptoms are still severe enough to cause significant impairment in activities of daily living.
Cyclothymia or cyclothymic disorder is another even milder form of bipolar disorder. The cycles of mania and depression are disruptive to daily living; however, these cycles are not as severe in bipolar I and bipolar II disorder.
Rapid-cycling bipolar disorder is a very severe form of bipolar disorder and is diagnosed when a person experiences four or more episodes of depression, mania, hypomania, or mixed states within one year.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be severe and lead to lasting consequences if left untreated. These symptoms are not like normal changes in mood and energy – they’re far more extreme than what other people experience. Bipolar disorder can make it hard for people to carry out daily tasks, like going to work or engaging in lasting relationships. Many times, the symptoms of bipolar disorder can be so severe that a person may need treatment in the hospital.
Bipolar disorder statistics
Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adults (or 2.6% of the population) in the United States each year. While bipolar disorder affects men and women equally, about three times as many women experience rapid cycling bipolar disorder. The median age of onset for bipolar disorder is 30 years of age, however, the illness can develop in childhood or as late as in the 40s or 50s.
Causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder
There is not one single cause responsible for the development of bipolar disorder. It’s generally accepted that bipolar disorder is the result of genetic, physical, environmental, and risk factors working together. The most common causes and risk factors for bipolar disorder include:
Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to have a familial component. People who have a relative – notably a first-degree relative – who struggle with bipolar disorder are at greater risk for developing the disorder than others without a similar history.
Physical: Neuroimaging studies such as MRIs and CT scans have shown that there are changes in the structure and function in the brain of those who have bipolar disorder. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, used for solving problems and making decisions, has been noted to be smaller and function less well than in those who do not have a similar history. Additionally, an imbalance in naturally occurring neurotransmitters can play a large role in developing bipolar disorder and other mood disorders.
Environmental: It’s thought that many people who develop bipolar disorder are reacting to stress-related events and traumas in their lives.
- Substance use and abuse
- Major life changes
- Childhood trauma, abuse, neglect
- Being in your 20s
Signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder will appear in different ways so much so that they often vary from person to person. It’s important to note that every person, whether they suffer from bipolar disorder or not, will show some of these behaviors at certain times and should never be considered to be bipolar disorder unless diagnosed. Some of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder include:
Manic (or hypomanic) Symptoms:
- Behaving in an overly silly or joyful mood unlike normal personality
- Extremely short temper
- Unusual irritability
- Sleeping little
- Not feeling tired
- Talking a lot
- Racing thoughts
- Trouble concentrating
- Jumping from one thing to the next in an unusual way
- Talking or thinking about sex more than usual
- Risky behaviors
- Seeking pleasure, no matter the cost
- Engaging in more activities than normal
- Long-lasting sad mood
- Losing interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Feeling worthless
- Extreme guilt
- Complaints of pain
- Stomach aches
- Muscle pain
- Eating more or less than usual
- Unusual gaining or losing weight
- Sleeping or oversleeping in an uncharacteristic manner
- Loss of energy
- Thoughts of death and suicide
Effects of bipolar disorder
If left untreated or undiagnosed, bipolar disorder can cause a number of damaging consequences in a person’s life. The effects of bipolar disorder can include:
- Social isolation
- Addiction to drugs or alcohol
- Legal problems and/or incarceration
- Damaged interpersonal relationships
- Poor performance at school or work
- Frequent absences in work or school
- Suicidal ideation
Types of bipolar disorder treatment
Bipolar disorder requires ongoing care, even during periods in which you are feeling better. When you come to us for help, you’ll first undergo a series of evaluations and examinations to help us best determine the most appropriate treatment plan that meets all of your needs. During our psychiatric evaluation, we’ll determine the type of bipolar disorder, severity, and diagnose any co-occurring disorders. After we obtain the results of these evaluations, we’ll sit down with you to work out a plan of care for your stay with us.
Individual therapy allows you the one-on-one time to work with a therapist and address topics related to your diagnosis and recovery. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is the most common form of therapy used for people who have bipolar disorder. In CBT, you’ll learn to identify unhealthy, negative thoughts and behaviors and replace them with positive, healthy thoughts and behaviors. CBT can also help you to learn about triggers for bipolar disorder and tips for stress reduction.
Group therapy can be a valuable as it will allow you to interact with others who may be struggling with similar issues so that you all help each other grow, learn, and heal. You’ll learn more about bipolar disorder, the importance of medication management, as well as process some of the emotions you have surrounding the disorder.
Family therapy is crucial for your recovery as it will allow you to mend fences with those you may have grown estranged from. You’ll work together to identify family dynamics that may have contributed to the development of bipolar disorder and allow your family the chance to express ways in which your bipolar disorder has impacted their lives. Additionally, we’ll connect your family with community resources to assist in their continued recovery.
In addition to standard therapies we use to treat bipolar disorder, we also offer a variety of experiential methods designed to complement our traditional approaches.
Helping a loved one get treatment for bipolar disorder
If your loved one has bipolar disorder, you’re probably well-aware of how the cycles affect him or her. During the frantic manic phase, your loved one is so, so up, waking you up at 3 in the morning to tell you about his or her grand scheme. When your loved one is depressed, you feel helpless as you watch him or her struggle to perform even the simplest of tasks. You fear for your loved one’s safety during a “mixed state” in which he or she is manic and depressed at the same time, which can lead to extremely devastating consequences. You know that it’s time to help your loved one seek inpatient treatment to allow for their recovery, but you may not know how to guide them in that direction. Here are some tips for guiding your loved one into treatment for bipolar disorder:
Get help first: Before you are able to help your loved one, you need to seek support and help for yourself. Find an area support group for families of people with bipolar disorder, check in regularly with a therapist, and find appropriate outlets for your emotions.
Learn about bipolar disorder: Bipolar disorder is a complex disorder that can lead to a number of serious consequences if left untreated and unmanaged. Bring what you’ve learned to your loved one to explain why you’re concerned. Be persistent but gentle with your loved one, assure them that you will be alongside them every step of the way.