Individuals with bipolar disorders often experience extreme shifts in mood that can interfere with relationships, education, career goals, and their daily life as a whole. A bipolar disorder is also known as bipolar affective disorder or manic-depressive illness. Discover more about this mental health condition and what treatment plan is best for people with bipolar episodes.
What is a Bipolar Disorder?
A bipolar disorder is a mental health issue that causes changes in mood, energy level and ability to function. People living with bipolar disorders experience times when their lives do not feel like they are under their own control. Their severe mood swings interfere with all aspects of their life.
When bipolar individuals are in a manic state, they might feel very happy, energetic or irritable. They may have trouble sleeping but feel wired even when they are awake. Alternatively, sufferers often experience the depressive state of bipolar disorder where they might feel sad or hopeless without knowing why.
What are the Various Types of Bipolar Disorders?
Individuals living with bipolar disorders may experience four very different types of mood swings: bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymia and bipolar IV.
In bipolar I disorder, people experience both manic and depressive episodes. Individuals who fall under this diagnostic category will likely be prescribed medications for bipolar treatment because they often experience depressive episodes as well throughout their lifetime.
People with bipolar II have had one or more depressive episodes and at least one hypomanic episode. They have less severe symptoms than bipolar I, but there are more cases of suicide attempts with people who have bipolar II.
Cyclothymia is considered a milder form of bipolar disorder where people experience hypomanic episodes and depressive symptoms for a minimum of two years within their lifetime without experiencing full-blown manic or depressive episodes. In addition, bipolar cycles between high and low moods last much longer when compared to bipolar or major depression cycles. The typical bipolar cycle lasts from three to six months while bipolar cycles typically last from one day up to several months, depending on an individual's mood.
The symptoms of bipolar IV patients are quite different to the ones mentioned above. An antidepressant medication can lead to hypomanic episodes in people with bipolar IV. The majority of people with this type of bipolar disorder have a family history of the condition but only show symptoms of major depression.
What are the Symptoms of a Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder warning signs differ from person to person as much as their extreme moods do. There is no real way to tell whether they are going through episodes of depression or if they are showing signs of mania. That's because they can easily switch from mania to depression and vice versa.
Living with this lifelong condition means learning to deal with intense periods of elevated moods or depressive symptoms. Whether an individual is experiencing extreme highs or depressive episodes, the most common signs associated with this type of mental illness include:
- Racing thoughts
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Grandiosity or inflated self-esteem
- Symptoms of depression
- Loss of interest in activities that were enjoyable in the past
- Fatigue or loss of energy
Both men and women can experience manic episodes, usually lasting for a week, with the exception of severe mania lasting two weeks. The latter experience a milder form of mania, however. A woman's bipolar diagnosis usually occurs later in life, when she's in her late 20s or early 30s. In episodes of mania, a bipolar person is likely to experience emotional highs and conduct erratic behaviors they wouldn't normally consider in a normal state of mind. Some of these behaviors are promiscuous sexual activity, substance abuse and overspending.
Individuals who manifest bipolar disorder symptoms may experience hypomania, which is similar to mania but does not cause serious disruptions in life. An individual's mood during this period may be noticeably elevated but they remain able to maintain normal social and occupational functioning. Severe episodes, however, can increase the risk of suicide, so anyone experiencing them should seek proper treatment immediately.
What Causes Bipolar Disorders?
Medications have been created to treat bipolar disorders by altering the chemical imbalances that seem to affect people with this brain disorder. Researchers haven't discovered the real cause of bipolar just yet, but they theorise that it may be a result of abnormal levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, which is why bipolar medications work by controlling these levels. The condition is also believed to stem from genetics and environmental factors.
What is the Most Effective Treatment for Bipolar Disorders?
While many individuals living with bipolar disorder cope well and effectively manage their disease, there is no cure for bipolar disorders. Treatment options vary based on the needs of each individual and can range from medications to therapy to support groups. Therapy options may include the following:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy helps the bipolar individual to monitor negative thoughts that trigger depressive states or manic episodes.
- Support groups can help them stay connected with other people who understand bipolar disorder.
- Family therapy teaches the family about bipolar disorders and how to best help their loved one.
- Education programs provide bipolar individuals with information to better understand bipolar disorders.
How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?
If bipolar symptoms are showing up in an individual's life, the best way to get an accurate diagnosis is by undergoing a comprehensive bipolar test or bipolar examination with your family doctor or mental health professional. They'll ask you about the frequency of your mood swings and other bipolar symptoms.
The two approaches that seem to be most effective for diagnosing bipolar disorder are open-ended questions and mood charting. Most individuals with bipolar disorder have frequent major depressive episodes which last four weeks at least without any sign of hypomania between them. We can describe this as rapid cycling, which occurs in around 50% of people who receive a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, it can be helpful to understand what the condition is and how it affects your day-to-day life. There are many bipolar disorder treatments available, including the combination of medication therapy with psychotherapy, performed by a psychiatrist specialising in mood disorders such as depression or mania. You can learn more by contacting your local mental health professional through the Natural Therapy Pages.