What is bipolar disorder?
You just got the news that you didn’t receive the job promotion that you were hoping to get and you’re pretty sad about it. Or, maybe you’re a little down because the dog that you’ve had for three years is suddenly very sick. We’ve all been in similar situations. Every now and then, everyone has ups and down – unfortunately, it’s just a part of life. However, after a short period of time, most of us begin to feel better and back to our normal selves again. That’s the life of a person not living with bipolar disorder.
People living with bipolar disorder experience life much differently. Do you know someone who experiences dramatic mood swings that include emotional highs and lows? Do you have a loved one who feels very happy one moment then feels down the next? If you answered yes to either question, there is a possibility that the person you know may have bipolar disorder. Individuals living with bipolar disorder go through major mood swings that usually cause a disruption in their day-to-day life. Bipolar disorder, previously called manic depression, is a mental disorder that is characterized by severe mood swings and repeated episodes of depression and mania (a period of an abnormally elevated mood). If you, or someone you know, is living with bipolar disorder, you may feel abnormally happy during manic states, then quickly change to feel the overwhelming urge to cry during depressive states.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million adult Americans. And, unfortunately, there’s no way to prevent bipolar disorder. However, if you notice early signs of a mental health disorder, getting treatment can help prevent bipolar disorders or other mental health conditions from getting worse.
What are the different types of bipolar disorder?
There are several types of bipolar disorder – the most common include Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, and Cyclothymic Disorder. Here’s a little additional information about each type:
- Bipolar I Disorder – A person affected by this type of bipolar disorder has had at least one manic episode in his or her life. Specifically, a person with Bipolar I Disorder may have manic episodes that last for seven days or manic symptoms that are so severe to the point that the person needs hospitalization. Also, most people with this type of bipolar disorder also suffer from episodes of depression. And there also tends to be a pattern of cycling between manic and depressive episodes.
- Bipolar II Disorder– Many people confuse Bipolar II as being a milder form of bipolar; that is not the case. Bipolar II is actually a separate diagnosis, and it can be very dangerous. People with Bipolar II Disorder experience at least one major depressive episode that lasts two weeks or more and at least one hypomanic episode (an episode that is less severe than a full-blown manic episode).
- Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia– This type is a chronically unstable mood state in which a person experiences hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. People with this type of bipolar disorder may have brief periods of normal mood, but these periods last less than eight weeks.
What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?
Because there are several different types of bipolar disorder, the symptoms vary from person to person. However, let’s take a look at a few of the most common symptoms and signs based on a person’s emotional state.
Signs of a manic episode (reminder – an abnormal state of elevated or irritable mood that occurs for at least a week) may include:
- Long periods of feeling very “up” or “high”
- Increased activity levels
- Extreme irritability or impatience
- Racing thoughts
- Increased agitation
- Little need for sleep
- Doing risky activities
- Talking very fast
- Feeling “jumpy” or “wired”
Signs of a depressive episode (reminder – a loss of interest or pleasure in life) may include:
- Feeling sad and hopeless
- Having trouble sleeping and concentrating
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Slowed behaviors
- Feeling worthless
- Uncontrollable weeping
- Losing interest or feeling no pleasure in doing activities
- Thinking about death and suicide
It is important to note that symptoms of mania and depression can happen at the same time.
How to treat bipolar disorder
An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy. And keep in mind, bipolar disorder is a long-term disease. Therefore, if a person wants to control their symptoms, it is important to have continuous treatment. And if the treatment plan is followed properly, the success rate is usually really good.
Psychotherapy is the process of treating psychological disorders by using verbal techniques. It can be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder if mixed together with medication. Some of the psychotherapy treatments used to treat bipolar disorder include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Social Rhythm Therapy
- Interpersonal Therapy
- Family-focused Therapy
Medications can help symptoms of bipolar disorder become more manageable. There are different types of medications that can help stabilize a person’s moods so that they don’t experience the extreme highs and lows. The most common medications include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and atypical antipsychotics. Here are some of the medicines for bipolar disorder:
- Lithium – The first course of drug therapy is the prescription of mood stabilizers. Lithium is the most popular and most effective mood stabilizer. It reduces the incidence of recurrent manic episodes and, to a lesser extent, depressive episodes if it is monitored properly.
- Lamotrigine – It reduces manic episodes and helps with the prevention of recurrent depression.
- Valproate – This drug is widely used for the prevention of manic episodes.
- Tegretol/Trileptal – These medicines are anticonvulsants that are used to treat bipolar disorder. Anticonvulsants, such as Tegretol and Trileptal, are used as mood stabilizers.
- Atypical Antipsychotics – These are a group of antipsychotic drugs used to treat psychiatric conditions. And atypical antipsychotics are usually paired with antidepressants to treat bipolar disorder.
The medications mentioned above have proven to have beneficial effects on the long term natural course of the illness. They do not just provide temporary relief. Sedatives will temporarily help manic symptoms and stimulants help reduce depressive symptoms but the goal should be how to manage bipolar disorder symptoms in the long run. These medications will help people with bipolar disorder live a healthy and productive life.
When to Seek Professional Help
Many people with bipolar disorder don’t realize how much the inability of their emotions can disrupt their lives. Getting the proper treatment and help is important. If you or a loved one have any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is important that you see a mental health professional or your doctor.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t get better by itself. You need a professional on your side to help and guide you. To learn more about bipolar disorder and how to effectively manage its symptoms, you can contact Dr. Mark Herbst. He is a board-certified psychiatrist in Los Angeles, CA. He provides psychological treatment, prescribes medications, and does therapy treatments based on what is best for his patients. Remember, getting treatment from a mental health professional with bipolar disorder experience and help you get your symptoms under control and help you gain better control of your emotions.