Bipolar disorder affects in excess of five million people in the United States. It typically begins between the ages of 15 and 24 and does not discriminate in terms of gender, as both men and women are equally affected. Often, it is not easily recognized and an accurate diagnosis may take years.
Because of its disruptive and potentially harmful nature, it is important for people to understand the disorder and how it can affect their lives. Additionally, if a person is already diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he or she should also understand what it takes to live with the condition. Here is a helpful guide to understanding bipolar disorder.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Manic depression is a mental illness, or brain disorder, that is commonly known as bipolar disorder. It is characterized by extreme shifts in a person’s behavior, energy, mood, and thinking. These shifts can last for days and even months. There are several subtypes of the disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II which is less severe than I, and cyclothymia, which is a mild form of the disorder.
- Bipolar Disorder in Adults
- Bipolar Disorder is Not Just One Disorder
- TeensHealth: Bipolar Disorder
- Psych Basics Bipolar Disorder
- Problems and Disorders: Bipolar Disorders
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Although there is no cure, people who suffer from the disorder must still obtain treatment. Typically, treatment comes in the form of medications that help people function normally and that also reduce the severity and frequency of episodes. Medicines include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, or antipsychotics. Another treatment that one’s physician may try, depending on the efficacy of medication, is electroconvulsive therapy. Talk therapy sessions that are performed by a mental health provider have also been a useful treatment option.
- Fact Sheet: Bipolar Disorder
- Psychological Topics: Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder Treatment
- Bipolar Disorder Marked by Depression Mania
- What is Bipolar Disorder (PDF)
- Bipolar Disorder, Including What Treatments are Available
Self-Help for Bipolar Disorder
In conjunction with treatment, there are ways for persons with bipolar disorder to help themselves remain as stable as possible. These self-help methods involve incorporating routine into their lives and living a lifestyle that promotes good health and emotional well-being. This includes not only taking medications as prescribed, but also learning and performing relaxation techniques and meditation, and seeking out peer support groups. Scheduling and sticking to routine meal times and eating a healthy diet is an important part of self-help, as is avoiding alcohol and any other substances that alter one’s mental state. As much as possible, people should also take steps to reduce stressors in their lives, whether it is work related, friends, or family. Additional routine behaviors to adopt include regular exercise and rising and going to sleep at regular times. One of the most important ways that a person can help his or herself is to exercise patience.
- Bipolar Disorder – Living With
- Bipolar Disorder Home Treatment
- Self-help Strategies for Bipolar Disorder
- Preventing Manic Episodes
- Strategies for Living (PDF)
Signs & Symptoms
The signs and symptoms associated with bipolar disorder depend on the subtype and the type of episode that a person is undergoing. The severity of the symptoms and the frequency can vary from one individual to the next. The main types of episodes are mania and depression. Signs and symptoms of manic episodes include impulsiveness, unusually optimistic or irritable feelings, highly energetic on very little sleep, unrealistic or inflated sense of self, easily distracted, and rapid speech. Delusions, aggression, and even an increased sex drive are also signs of a manic episode.
A person having a depressive episode may have feelings of sadness or hopelessness. They may experience difficulty or an inability to feel pleasure, lack energy and feel sluggish, and have difficulty sleeping. Changes in weight and/or appetite may also accommodate this type of episode. Frequent absences and poor performance at either school or work are also characteristics of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder. People may also have suicidal thoughts and feelings of guilt or worthlessness. Symptoms often come in patterns that are dependent on the subtype that a person has been diagnosed with. Bipolar I is considered the classic form of the disorder and is characterized by more severe manic episodes and symptoms as well as signs of depression. Bipolar II is often characterized by more symptoms associated with depression.
- Bipolar Disorder Signs & Symptoms
- Disorders and Conditions: Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
- Health Magazine: Ten Subtle Signs of Bipolar Disorder
- What are the Common Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder, and Can it Affect People Differently?
- University of Maryland Medical Center
Myths and Facts about Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder, like many other forms of mental illness, is surrounded by many myths. Often, these myths have very little truth associated with them. This can be confusing for people who are learning about the disorder or who are trying to cope with it. One such myth is that bipolar disorder is merely mood swings. The fact is, although mood swings are associated with the disorder, they differ significantly from what one might consider a “normal” mood swing in that it is more severe and can interfere with one’s ability to function. Another myth regarding bipolar disorder is that positive thinking is enough to help a person overcome the disorder. This is false. The fact is, bipolar disorder requires treatment because it is an illness that affects the brain. Yet another opposing myth is that a person with bipolar disorder cannot improve or lead a “normal” life. Fortunately, this is yet another false statement and people who receive successful treatment often lead normal lives according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Bipolar disorder is also not caused by alcohol. One of the reasons for this false belief is that often there is an increase in the use of alcohol and other substances by people who are bipolar. It is not, however, a contributing factor or cause of it.
- Eight Myths About Bipolar Disorder
- Myths and Facts About Depression and Bipolar Disorder (PDF)
- Ten Bipolar Disorder Myths
- Bipolar Disorder Facts
- Myth and Realities About Bipolar Disorder