Bipolar disorder, also known in some parts of the world by its older name, “manic depression,” is a mental disorder that is characterized by serious and significant mood swings. A person with this condition experiences alternating “highs” (what clinicians call “mania“) and “lows” (also known as depression).
Something I always try to explain to my clients is that both the manic and depressive periods can be brief, from just a few hours to a few days. Or the cycles can be much longer, lasting up to several weeks or even months. The periods of mania and depression vary from person to person — many people may only experience very brief periods of these intense moods, and may not even be aware that they have the disorder.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there four major categories of bipolar disorder: bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, cyclothymic disorder, and bipolar disorder due to another medical or substance abuse disorder (APA, 2013). Anyone can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but bipolar disorder in children is called disruptive mood deregulation disorder and carries a different set of symptoms. Interesting fact that I also learned with my years in the field that sometimes many children are misdiagnosis with ADHD when in fact their hyperactivity is in fact a burst of mania(But I will live that up to another post for a later date. haha)
All types of bipolar disorder generally respond well to treatment, which usually includes medication management for many years and for some, psychotherapy. Like many mental disorders, professionals generally don’t talk about a person being “cured” of this condition, so much as learning to manage it well. Medication and psychotherapy help a person do that.
Symptoms of Bipolar
For bipolar disorder to be diagnosed, a person needs to have experienced at least one manic (or in bipolar II, hypomanic) episode, and one depressive episode during their lifetime.
A manic episode (bipolar I disorder) is characterized by extreme happiness, extreme irritability, hyperactivity, little need for sleep and/or racing thoughts, which may lead to rapid speech. People in a manic episode feel like they can do anything, make plans to try and do all those things, and believe that nothing can stop them. For bipolar I to be diagnosed, this episode must have last at least a week and represents a noticeable change from a person’s usual behavior.
A hypomanic episode (bipolar II disorder) is characterized by the same symptoms as a manic episode, except the symptoms need to only have been present for at least four (4) days.
A depressive episode is characterized by extreme sadness, a lack of energy or interest in things, an inability to enjoy normally pleasurable activities and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. On average, someone with this condition may have up to three years of normal mood between episodes of mania or depression.
When left untreated, the severity of episodes can vary. People with this condition can often predict when a new cycle is starting, as the severity of their symptoms increase.
Best Form of Treatment
Like most mental disorders, this condition is treated with psychotherapy combined with psychiatric medications (most people benefit more quickly from combined treatment of the two). Treatment for this disorder is generally effective and helps most people keep a balanced mood throughout their day, most days of the month. It may take anywhere from one to two months before a person starts feeling the full, beneficial impact of their treatment.
Self-help strategies for this condition vary in their effectiveness, depending upon the person and the severity of the disorder. Some people find it beneficial to join a support group, read books explaining effective self-help strategies, or keeping a journal (either paper or through a mood or journaling app).
Living With & Managing BipolarThere are many challenges to living with this condition on a daily basis. What are some of the long-term, successful strategies to staying well?...sticking with treatment, and maintaining a balanced mood
One important component of living with this condition is learning to build routines and sticking with them, no matter what. What can often drive a person into a manic or depressive episode is going off of their routine, or deciding one day that the mood stabilizer that helps them regulation their moods is no longer needed.
Below is a link to a Youtube video where they explore inside the lives of a person living with Bipolar Disorder.
As always warm regards and until next time,
L. Nicole Edwards, LCSW