Bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic depression, is a serious condition that causes severe mood shifts. People with this disorder may spend weeks feeling like they are invincible before quickly dropping into a severe depression. The length of each high and low varies from person to person. Bipolar disorder affects over two percent of Americans every year. Bipolar disorder symptoms can lead to inadequate professional performance, wrecked relationships, and even suicide. Bipolar disorder is treatable, and people with this illness can have successful professional and personal lives.
Without treatment, a person with bipolar disorder may experience intense episodes of depression. Symptoms of bipolar disorder include sadness, anxiety, loss of energy, hopelessness, and uncontrollable crying. One may lose interest in an activity that they used to find enjoyable. They may gain or lose weight, sleep too much or too little, and even contemplate suicide.
People with bipolar disorder experience unusually intense emotional states that occur in distinct periods called “mood episodes.” There are four types of “mood episodes” for those with bipolar disorder: mania, hypomania, depression, and mixed episodes. Each type of bipolar disorder “mood episode” has a unique set of symptoms. In the manic phase of bipolar disorder, feelings of heightened energy, creativity, and euphoria are common. People experiencing a manic episode often talk a mile a minute, sleep very little, and are hyperactive. They may also feel like they’re all-powerful, invincible, or destined for greatness. Hypomania is a less severe form of mania. People in a hypomanic state feel euphoric, energetic, and productive, but they are able to carry on with their day-to-day lives and they never lose touch with reality. Symptoms for bipolar depression involve irritability, guilt, unpredictable mood swings, and feelings of restlessness. People with bipolar depression also tend to move and speak slowly, sleep a lot, and gain weight. In addition, they are more likely to develop psychotic depression and experience major disability within work and social ordeals. A mixed episode of bipolar disorder features symptoms of both mania or hypomania and depression. Common signs of a mixed episode include depression combined with agitation, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, distractibility, and racing thoughts. This combination of high energy and low mood makes for a particularly high risk of suicide or other forms of personal harm.
Figure 2. Bipolar Mood Episodes
There are a few different types of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar 1 disorder have manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days. Sometimes they even have manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, the person also has depressive episodes, typically lasting at least two weeks. The symptoms of mania or depression must be a major change from the person’s normal behavior. People with bipolar 2 disorder have major depressive episodes with much less severe mania.
Doctor’s are not exactly sure what causes bipolar disorder. A leading theory is that brain chemical fluctuate abnormally. When levels of certain chemicals become too high, the person develops mania. Likewise, when levels drop to low, depression may result. Bipolar disorder affects males and females equally. Symptoms will usually show sometime between the ages of fifteen and thirty. People are considered to he at higher risk if a family member has been diagnosed with bipolar, but most doctors believe that genetics is not the only factor for receiving bipolar disorder. It may take a stressful event, drug abuse, or other unknown factors to trigger the disorder.
Figure 3. Picture of bipolar patient’s brain.
This disorder can disrupt your goals at work and at home. The unpredictable mood swings can divide people from there co-workers or family members. In particular, the manic phase may scare off friends and family. People with bipolar disorder also have a higher risk of developing anxiety disorders. A large amount of people with bipolar disorder tend to have drug or alcohol problems. Many drink or use drugs to relieve the uncomfortable symptoms of their mood swings. Also, people having this disorder are ten to twenty times more likely to commit suicide than people without it.
A crucial step in diagnosing bipolar disorder is to rule out other possible causes for extreme mood swings. These may include head injury, HIV, diabetes, ADD, eating disorders, or schizophrenia. Since there is no lab test to determine bipolar disorder, one must go to a psychiatrist to be diagnosed. Once there, the psychiatrist will make a careful decision based on the person’s history of mood swings.
Medications are very important to help people with bipolar disorder live stable lives. Mood stabilizers, such as lithium, can smooth out the wild cycle of ups and downs. Some people suffering from severe mania benefit from being prescribed antipsychotic drugs. Antidepressants are also common medication, especially for people who tend to get stuck in a low. Another affective type of therapy is talk therapy. Talk therapy can help people cope with the emotional aspects of having bipolar. Meeting with a psychiatrist helps patients stay balanced by talking about what is working for them. In case of random changes, this would allow them to get more help before a condition grew out of control. If a person becomes suicidal, they are recommended to go through electroconvulsive therapy. This last resort method uses an electric current to cause a seizure in the person’s brain. This is the fastest way to relieve severe mania or depression for a person.
Although the main focus of bipolar disorder is on the patient, many other people in the patient’s life are also affected. Friends and family may not understand bipolar disorder at first. They may become frustrated with the depressive episodes and frightened by the manic outbreaks. People with this disorder must try and explain the illness and how it is affecting them in order for loved ones to understand. It is very important to have a solid support system that can help the person with bipolar disorder feel less isolated and more motivated to manage their condition.