A Guide to Bipolar Disorder
People from all walks of life are affected by mental illness. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. The truth is, many more people struggle than most people realize. Mental illness is no different than a physical illness such as cancer or heart disease. It is a very real diagnosis and it isn't something that a person can simply “get over.” People don't choose to have mental illness. Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for many of these disorders. For example, more than three million people are affected by the disease called bipolar disorder (1).
more will be discussed about bipolar disorder in the coming paragraphs. Our goal is to help you better understand what it is, as well as the signs and symptoms of it. It's also important to know what causes it and what treatment options are available. All of this can help you or your loved one learn to live with the disease without allowing it to control your entire life
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is also known as manic depressive disorder. For years, it wasn't really well understood. Fortunately, there have been many advances in studies associated with mental health. This has helped scientists and medical professionals alike better understand bipolar disorder and what such a diagnosis entails for someone on a more personal level. This is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings and emotional extremes ranging from absolute euphoria to deep depression (1). The mood swings can last for a few days or a few months.
Someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder may only experience extreme mood swings once in a great while or it could happen with regularity. Each person is different. As such, the things that trigger an episode can also be different. More will be discussed about this later. For now, it's important to know that untreated bipolar disorder can wreak havoc on a person's life, not to mention the lives of those around them. That is precisely why it is so important to seek treatment. This is a treatable disease. In fact, proper treatment can allow an individual with bipolar disorder to live a relatively normal life.
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Major symptoms of bipolar disorder include extreme mania and extreme depression, as previously discussed. When a person is experiencing an episode of mania they have a tendency to sleep far less than normal. They may be very excitable, even irritable. By the same token, a person in the middle of a manic episode may talk much more than usual and have an almost endless abundance of energy. Individuals in this state might feel like they can take on the world and they often have a sense of euphoria, even when reality provides a stark contrast. It is possible for the manic episode to become so severe that the individual in question has a true psychotic episode that causes them to break from reality. It's also common for people in this state to engage in risky behavior. Manic individuals are also more likely to take drugs or make other decisions that could potentially cause harm (1).
On the flip side of the coin, people who are bipolar also tend to experience major depressive episodes. This is essentially the exact opposite of the manic episodes. Depressive episodes include sleeping more than usual, feeling exceptionally depressed and not caring about things that normally engage a person. In addition, someone who is exceptionally depressed may have intrusive thoughts and in some cases, it may be exceptionally difficult to control impulses associated with those thoughts (1).
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are essentially four different types of this disorder, although the fourth type is typically brought on by drug use as opposed to being inherently present. Therefore, the first three types will be discussed more in-depth.
Bipolar I is arguably the most difficult to live with and treat. That said, successful treatment is possible. A person with Bipolar I typically has manic episodes for at least a full week, accompanied by depressive episodes that can last for a minimum of two weeks. These cycles may continue with a great deal of regularity. In addition, Bipolar I Disorder usually involves a need to hospitalize the individual in question, as intrusive thoughts and impulsive episodes make it more likely that the person will harm themselves. Furthermore, certain depressive symptoms typically exist in the midst of a manic episode. Conversely, certain manic symptoms are also present during a major depressive episode (3).
Bipolar II Disorder doesn't involve manic episodes on the same level that Bipolar I does. In fact, it involves something called hypomania, a near-manic state that is milder than the mania experience during Bipolar I Disorder. In addition, the depressive episodes that are involved with bipolar disorder are far more pronounced with Bipolar II. A person is likely to experience depression more often and it may be far more severe with this particular type of the disease. As such, it isn't uncommon for a person who has it to lose interest in things that they normally love. They may also sleep too much or have trouble sleeping at all. Excessive crying and substantial fatigue are also typically involved (3).
Last but not least, Cyclothymic Disorder is a specific form of bipolar disorder that involves repeated cycles of highs and lows. These cycles are not quite as severe as the mania associated with Bipolar I Disorder or the major depressive episodes that are commonly associated with Bipolar II. Symptoms 0f Cyclothymic Disorder usually become evident when a person is a teenager (3).
The causes of bipolar disorder are not yet fully understood. However, it is known that anyone who has a parent or a sibling who has been diagnosed with the disease is also more likely to develop it themselves. Furthermore, individuals who experience certain traumatic events are more likely to develop bipolar disorder later in life. A person who has been abused or who has experienced the death of someone that they were especially close to may eventually begin to display the symptoms of this disease. Drug and alcohol use may also play a part. It's also important to note that scientists have determined that individuals who have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder have brains that function differently than those without the disease. It isn't yet understood why, but the brains of individuals affected by the disease are physically different than those of other individuals (1).
As previously mentioned, different people react to different triggers. Some of the things that can trigger a major manic or depressive episode include having a fight with a loved one, a change in the seasons or a major life change such as moving or changing jobs. It's also possible for a person to develop the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder when they get pregnant or go through menopause, as the hormones that regulate emotions and brain chemistry change. By the same token, certain antidepressants and other prescription medications can trigger an episode of bipolar disorder. As previously mentioned, drug and alcohol use can also cause the symptoms or exacerbate existing symptoms (2).
Fortunately, there are a number of treatment options available for anyone who is suffering with bipolar disorder. These options most frequently involve psychological therapy or counseling. Medication can also be used to help regulate certain hormones in the body and even to help manage symptoms such as mania and depression. This is typically accomplished by adjusting chemicals in the brain. For more severe cases, treatment centers can provide an important respite. These centers are well-versed in assisting individuals who are in extreme distress because of the disease. They can help by providing psychological counseling and medication while simultaneously monitoring an individual in order to ensure that they don't harm themselves or anyone else (1).
Living With the Disease
Unfortunately, bipolar disorder cannot yet be cured. It is a chronic mental health condition. That said, there are many different ways to successfully treat it. We feel that it is absolutely crucial that anyone suffering from this disease understands that with proper treatment, it is possible to live a normal life. There is no reason why someone with bipolar disorder can't do all of the things that everyone else does. It all comes down to the decision to seek treatment and then work with medical professionals, including those well-versed in psychological issues, in order to find an effective treatment plan.