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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Posted on January 8, 2019

An Overview of this Mental Health Disorder 

Like many mental health issues, bipolar disorder is largely misunderstood by the general public who also doesn’t realize it can be effectively treated with lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, and medication. 

In its simplest terms, it’s an illness that affects a person’s ability to regulate or control their moods. Of the two parts, mania and depression, mania must be present for it to be bipolar, and all mood swings will have a discrete beginning and end, yet the person returns to stability when the two extremes are gone. 

It’s an unsettling illness to say the least because it causes shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. 

A Two-Fold Illness 

Bipolar disorder has been described as “riding a rollercoaster,” although not in the good way we often associate with a fun summer day at an amusement park. 

It’s comprised of two parts, the first of which is euphoric highs known as mania. It will include three or more of these manic symptoms: 

  • Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired 
  • Increased activity, energy or agitation 
  • Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria) 
  • Decreased need for sleep 
  • Unusual talkativeness 
  • Racing thoughts 
  • Distractibility 
  • Poor decision-making — such as, going on buying sprees, taking sexual risks or making foolish investments 

The second half is depression and for a person’s condition to truly be bipolar disorder, episodes must include includes five or more of these depressive symptoms: 

  • Depressed mood, feeling sad, empty, hopeless or tearful 
  • Irritability may surface as a result of depression in children and teens 
  • Noticeable loss of interest in activities of any sort 
  • Feeling no pleasure in all, or almost all, activities 
  • Decrease or increase in appetite 
  • Unintentional weight loss without dieting 
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much 
  • Restlessness or slowed behavior 
  • Fatigue or loss of energy 
  • Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt 
  • Decreased ability to think or concentrate 
  • Indecisiveness 
  • Contemplating, planning or attempting suicide 

People with bipolar disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to stabilize their moods. Unfortunately, substance misuse and abuse has the opposite effect, and often makes symptoms worse. For some, it can lead to psychological and physiological addiction and co-occurring disorders.

Levels and Types of Bipolar Disorder 

There are different levels and types of bipolar disorder which a mental health professional or a well-versed physician can diagnose:

  • Bipolar Disorder Type 1 – Diagnosis includes at least one manic episode and periods of major depression. This used to be labeled “manic depression.” 
  • Bipolar Type 2 – Patients have not experienced full-blown mania, but instead they experience periodic high-energy periods and impulsiveness. These “high” periods alternate with the “lows” of depression. 
  • Cylothymia – A mild form of bipolar disorder which is often misdiagnosed as depression. 

A Non-Discriminating Illness 

Just as bipolar disorder doesn’t discriminate between men and women, it also affects people in all walks of life. 

Much of the recent attention and education on the illness is due to high profile Americans bringing to light their own battles. Academy Award winning actress Catherine Zeta-Jones was very public in 2011 regarding her condition and seeking immediate treatment for it even while her husband, actor Michael Douglas was being treated for throat cancer. 

“Somebody like Catherine Zeta-Jones talking so openly about it … just shows that this can happen to anybody, and I think that is a bit of a comfort for people who are really struggling,” said Jane Harris, associate director of the mental health charity Rethink, who was close to Ms. Zeta-Jones.  

American television journalist and author Jane Pauley has also been forthright about her own struggles with bipolar disorder. “My tides were fluctuating, back and forth, back and forth, sometimes so fast they seemed to be spinning,” said Pauley who was diagnosed in 2001 at the age of 50. Pauley’s case is particularly noteworthy because it’s unusual but not unheard of to be diagnosed and treated so late in life. She too has come to the forefront in telling her story and lending support to the community.

Other celebrities who’ve stepped from the shadows to help others include Demi Lovato, Jeanne-Claude Van Damme, Mel Gibson, Richard Dreyfuss and Ray Davies, lead singer of the Kinks. 

Is There Treatment? 

Yes. And it typically begins with an accurate assessment and diagnosis, mental health professional involvement, lifestyle changes and often, medication.

However, those with this disorder have a low chance of meaningful recovery from addiction without medical treatment of bipolar disorder. Like some other mental illnesses, bipolar disorder usually begins between the ages of 15 and 25, which is typically the age when people begin to drink or use drugs. Furthermore, medications taken to control bipolar disorder should never be mixed with alcohol or with other prescribed drugs. In fact, bipolar episodes may be affected by illegal drug use or the misuse of prescription drugs. 

Now what? 

We have more than three decades’ experience successfully treating those with bipolar. This is often called.co-occurring disorders or dual diagnosis. While it is not the norm, it is not uncommon. We not only know how to diagnose bipolar disorder, but how to treat it simultaneously with substance abuse. 

Is today the day you get answers to those questions and then find the solutions to both? While you’re contemplating, call 561-841-1296.