What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder, formerly manicdepressive disorder, is characterized by periods of emotional highs and lows. It is classified as a mood disorder.  

Bipolar disorder is grouped in two different ways: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. A person is diagnosed with Bipolar I when they experience a manic episode, followed or preceded by a depressive episode. It is more severe than Bipolar II, which a person is diagnosed with when they experience episodes of hypomania and depression.  

Bipolar disorder requires professional treatment, but it does not prevent anyone from living a full life. There are many ways to manage bipolar disorder; being able to recognize individual triggers that lead to depressive or manic episodes can be preventative. 

What are the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?  

It is inevitable that someone diagnosed with bipolar disorder will experience mania. Mania and hypomania are both defined as elevated emotional states that may include grandiose ideas- such as the ability to fly- impulsiveness, and beliefs of invulnerability. In some cases, mania may result in psychosis (a break in reality). Hypomania is the less severe form of mania. A person with hypomania will experience many of the same symptoms as someone with mania, but with lesser intensity.  

As with any other psychiatric disorder, the symptoms of bipolar disorder are both mental and physical.  

Depressive symptoms 

  • Loss of interest in almost all activities 
  • Restlessness or slowed movements 
  • Increased or decreased need for sleep  
  • Feeling worthless  
  • Increased or decreased appetite 
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Thoughts of/attempts at suicide 
  • Inappropriate feelings of guilt 
  • Depressed mood, crying, hopelessness, or emptiness 

 

Manic symptoms 

  • Decreased need for sleep 
  • An exaggerated sense of confidence and self  
  • Increased, unusual talkativeness  
  • Distractibility 
  • Impulsiveness and poor decision making (ex. Shopping sprees, risk-taking behaviors, poor investment decisions) 
  • Increased energy 
  • Psychosis 

 

How is Bipolar Disorder Treated? 

Bipolar disorder is a chronic psychiatric diagnosis that requires consistent treatment. Medication, therapy, and a combination of the two are the most commonly prescribed treatments. It is important to seek help if you believe you have bipolar disorder. The symptoms will not go away on their own, and finding proper treatment will drastically improve your quality of life.  

Psychotherapy is an excellent way to manage bipolar disorder. One form of psychotherapy, called interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), helps the person establish a consistent routine that will help with stabilizing moods. Having a consistent daily schedule has been shown to greatly benefit people with bipolar disorder.  

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) emphasizes replacing unhealthy thinking patterns with healthy ones. CBT teaches ways to manage stress and cope with situations that may trigger a bipolar episode. The valuable skills taught in this therapy can be applied to many situations in life and contribute to overall wellbeing. 

Alongside professional treatment, there are many at-home ways to manage bipolar disorder. Keeping a mood diary is one such way. Tracking your emotions each day will help you identify mood patterns and emotional triggers, as well as help you maintain a consistent schedule. Avoiding drinking and drug use will also decrease bipolar symptoms. Recreational drugs and overuse of alcohol may lead to manic or depressive episodes. Additionally, many psychiatric medications prescribed for bipolar disorder react negatively to alcohol and drug use. Surrounding yourself with positive relationships will also help improve bipolar symptoms. 

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