Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy, and ability to function. People with bipolar disorder experience intense emotional states that typically occur during distinct periods of days to weeks, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are categorized as manic/hypomanic (abnormally happy or irritable mood) or depressive (sad mood). People with bipolar disorder generally have periods of neutral mood as well.
People with bipolar disorder may have trouble managing everyday life tasks at school or work, or maintaining relationships. There’s no cure, but there are many treatment options available that can help to manage the symptoms. When treated, people with bipolar disorder can lead full and productive lives.
What are the types of Bipolar Disorder?
There are different types of bipolar disorder:
🔵 Bipolar Disorder I – Bipolar I Disorder is an illness in which people have experienced one or more episodes of mania. Most people diagnosed with bipolar I will have episodes of both mania and depression, though an episode of depression is not necessary for a diagnosis. To be diagnosed with bipolar I, a person’s manic episodes must last at least seven days or be so severe that hospitalization is required.
🔵 Bipolar Disorder II – Bipolar II Disorder is a subset of bipolar disorder in which people experience depressive episodes shifting back and forth with hypomanic episodes, but never a “full” manic episode.
🔵 Cyclothymia – Cyclothymia is a chronically unstable mood state in which people experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. People with cyclothymia may have brief periods of normal mood, but these periods last less than eight weeks.
🔵 Bipolar Disorder “other specified” and “unspecified” – When a person does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, II or cyclothymia but has still experienced periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevation.
What causes Bipolar Disorder?
The cause of bipolar disorder isn’t clear. Research suggests that a combination of different things can make it more likely that you will develop bipolar disorder.
🔵 Genetics – The chances of developing bipolar disorder are increased if a child’s parents or siblings have the disorder. This risk is higher if both the parents have the condition or if the twin has the condition. Researchers haven’t found the exact genes that cause bipolar disorder. But different genes have been linked to the development of bipolar disorder.
🔵 Stress – A stressful event such as a death in the family, an illness, a difficult relationship, divorce or financial problems can trigger a manic or depressive episode. Thus, a person’s handling of stress may also play a role in the development of the illness.
🔵 Brain chemical imbalance – Different chemicals in your brain affect your mood and behaviour. Too much or too little of these chemicals could lead to you developing mania or depression.
What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?
There are three main symptoms that can occur with bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania and depression. Sometimes people can have psychotic symptoms that can reflect their mood.
🔵 Mania – While experiencing mania, a person with bipolar disorder may feel an emotional high. During manic episodes, people may engage in behaviors such as:
🔵 Feeling happy or excited, even if things are not going well for them
🔵 Being full of new and exciting ideas
🔵 Moving quickly from one idea to another
🔵 Racing thoughts and talking very quickly
🔵 Hearing voices that other people can’t hear
🔵 Being more irritable than normal
🔵 Being easily distracted and struggle to focus on one topic
🔵 Not being able to sleep or feel that they don’t want to sleep
🔵 Make unusual or big decisions without thinking them through
🔵 Doing things they normally wouldn’t do which can cause problems such as spending a lot of money, having casual sex with different people, using drugs or alcohol, gambling, etc.
🔵 Hypomania – Hypomania is generally associated with bipolar II disorder. It is similar to mania, but it’s not as severe. Unlike mania, hypomania may not result in any trouble at work, school, or in social relationships. However, people with hypomania still notice changes in their mood.
🔵 Depression – During an episode of depression a person may experience:
🔵 Low mood
🔵 Having less energy and feeling tired
🔵 Feeling hopeless or negative
🔵 Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless
🔵 Being less interested in things they normally like doing
🔵 Difficulty concentrating, remembering or making decisions
🔵 Sleeping too much or not being able to sleep
🔵 Eating less or over eating
🔵 Losing or gaining weight
🔵 Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
🔵 Psychosis – Sometimes you can have psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations (this means they may hear, see, or feel things that are not there) or delusions (this means they may believe things that are not true. Other people find their beliefs unusual) during a severe episode of mania or depression.
How common is Bipolar Disorder?
The average age-of-onset is about 25, but it can occur in the teens, or more uncommonly, in childhood. The condition affects men and women equally, with about 2.8% of the U.S. population diagnosed with bipolar disorder and nearly 83% of cases classified as severe.
How is Bipolar Disorder diagnosed?
To diagnose bipolar disorder, a doctor may perform a physical examination, conduct an interview and order lab tests. While bipolar disorder cannot be seen on a blood test or body scan, these tests can help rule out other illnesses that can resemble the disorder, such as hyperthyroidism. If no other illnesses (or medicines such as steroids) are causing the symptoms, the doctor may recommend mental health care.
Mental health care professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose the “type” of bipolar disorder a person may be experiencing. To determine what type of bipolar disorder a person has, mental health care professionals assess the pattern of symptoms and how impaired the person is during their most severe episodes.
What is the treatment for Bipolar Disorder?
Treatment aims to stabilize the person’s mood and reduce the severity of symptoms. The goal is to help the person function effectively in daily life. Treatment involves a combination of therapies, including:
🔵 Medication – There are a large number of medications that can help. Some work by preventing the extreme highs or lows caused by the condition; these are known as mood stabilizers, and often need to be taken daily for long periods. Other medications may then be used to treat episodes of high or low moods when they happen. Different medications suit different people and finding the best medication for an individual can take time, and trials of different medications and doses.
You can find out more about mental health medication you’re your doctor or a website: ncmh.info/medication, including how different drugs work, their potential side effects and the way that they interact with other drugs, food and drink.
🔵 Cognitive – Behavioral Therapy – CBT is a talking therapy that can help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave. You and a therapist talk about ways to manage your bipolar disorder. They will help you understand your thinking patterns. They can also help you come up with positive coping strategies.
🔵 Psychoeducation – This approach helps people to understand their illness, learn to recognize early warning signs of highs and lows and develop the skills needed to stay as well as possible. A combination of medication and psychoeducation is often most effective.
🔵 Lifestyle changes – There are also some simple steps you can take right now to help manage your bipolar disorder: keep a routine for eating and sleeping, learn to recognize mood swings, ask a friend or relative to support your treatment plans, talk to a doctor or licensed healthcare provider, etc.
Tips for people with Bipolar Disorder
🔵 The key things that are known to help in bipolar disorder are medications, education and following the right lifestyle.
🔵 It is crucial to take medication regularly as prescribed stopping and starting suddenly can make things worse.
🔵 There are many medications for bipolar and finding the one that works the best for you can take time – try to be patient.
🔵 Learn as much as you can about the condition and how to stay well. There are many bipolar disorder websites, self- help books and education groups. Find details on some of these at ncmh.info.
🔵 Look after your physical health as well as your mental health. Getting enough sleep, eating healthily, avoiding recreational drugs and moderating your alcohol consumption can all help you to avoid becoming unwell.
🔵 Even if you are well now, you may have more episodes if low or high mood in the future. Try to have a plan in place in case you become unwell again.
🔵 Talk to other people who have bipolar disorder. Their knowledge and experience can be helpful. Organizations such as Bipolar UK (bipolaruk.org) can help you to do this.
- If you have bipolar, are female, and planning a family, you should discuss it with your doctor. There are many important issues to consider around bipolar disorder and pregnancy.
- Try to remember these tips to help you to keep your mood stable:
Sleep… make sure you get enough
Treatment… don’t miss taking your medication
Avoid… recreational drugs, and overdoing it with alcohol
Be positive… there is lots you can do to keep well
Intervention… get help sooner rather than later
Lifestyle… follow a regular routine
Inform… yourself and your family about bipolar disorder
Triggers… learn what makes you more likely to relapse
You… can take control of your illness
Tips for partners, families and carers
- A loved one with bipolar disorder may need your help to stay well. Try to be open and understanding about their condition. Ask them about their concerns and how you can help.
- Talk to the mental health professionals who are looking after them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and for advice.
- Don’t assume that every small mood change or disagreement is related to the illness.
- Have a plan for what to do if your relative becomes unwell in the future.
- Learn as much as you can about bipolar disorder and possible treatments. There are useful links included in this leaflet and on ncmh.info, including a list of books on the subject.
- Talk to others who care for people with bipolar disorder. They may have experienced similar situations and have useful tips. Organizations like Bipolar UK (bipolaruk.org) can help you to do this.
Myths v/s Facts about Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is a rare condition.
Bipolar disorder is a common mental health condition, affecting millions of people.
There is only one kind of bipolar disorder.
There are several types of bipolar disorder.
Mood swings always indicate bipolar disorder.
Mood swings are not the same as bipolar disorder.
Children cannot get bipolar disorder.
Children can be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
Drug abuse causes bipolar disorder.
Substance abuse is not a cause of bipolar disorder.
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