What is bipolar disorder



I seem to talk about mental health a lot on my blog and my go to mental disorder is bipolar. Today I wanted to put up a post explaining what bipolar disorder is along with the symptoms and treatment options for this form of mental illness.

Bipolar disorders (That’s right I said disorders because there is more than one type of bipolar) are disorders in the brain that affect people’s mood, energy and even their ability to function. Bipolar has three main categories bipolar 1, bipolar two and cyclothymic disorder yet there are some people who have traits of multiple disorders so they are considered unspecified bipolar.

When you suffer from bipolar disorder no matter which category it falls under you suffer from extreme and intense emotional states that happen at distinct times, called mood episodes. The main types of mood episodes are categorized by doctors as being manic, hypomanic or depressive. People who are dealing with bipolar disorder also generally do have times where they are having a somewhat normal mood as well. The good news is doctors can treat all of the categories of bipolar disorder and the treatment can allow sufferers to live somewhat normal and productive lives.

Now I’m going to give you a little bit of information about each category of bipolar disorder so that you can recognize the symptoms and seek treatment from a psychiatrist if needed.

Bipolar 1 disorder:

Of all the different types of bipolar disorders, the most publicized version is bipolar 1 disorder because the mania associated with it is what causes most of the stigma attached to this mental illness. When suffering a manic episode people with bipolar 1 can feel invincible as if they were on top of the world, or they can be uncomfortably agitated and revved up possibly even talking to themselves in this state.

When a person with bipolar 1 disorder suffers from a depressive episode they feel sad and hopeless losing interest in most things that used to give them enjoyment. In most cases, there are periods of normal moods in between these bipolar episodes. A psychiatrist will usually diagnose a person with bipolar 1 disorder when they suffer from a manic episode.

What is a manic episode? A manic episode is a period of time when a person is overly energetic and high-spirited or extremely irritable for at least three days and experiences any of the following changes in behavior:

  1. Grandiose thoughts or an exaggerated self-esteem where they feel like they are invincible
  2. They need less sleep than usual or go days without sleeping
  3. They often times talk way more than usual and at a faster pace
  4. Attempting to take on many activities at one time. They usually tend to schedule more things than  possible to do in one day
  5. Risky behavior or poor decision-making (e.g. reckless spending of money, driving recklessly, risky and frequent sex and irresponsible spending sprees
  6. Their mind is filled with uncontrollable racing thoughts or it tends to change topics and ideas very rapidly

Friends and family can almost always pick up on the changes at the onset of bipolar disorder. The symptoms of the disease are severe enough they usually end up causing major dysfunction and problems with work, family/social activities, and responsibilities. If a person suffers a manic episode it may require them to be admitted into a hospital or a psychiatric facility so they can stay safe. The average age for a first manic episode is 18 years old, however, it can start anytime between early childhood up until later adulthood.

There is also something called a hypomanic episode. A hypomanic episode is somewhat similar to a manic episode only the symptoms are less severe and only need to last four days in a row to be categorized as hypomanic. Usually, you can still function during a hypomanic episode because they don’t tend to lead to major problems.

The flip side of mania when you have bipolar disorder is a major depressive episode. A major depressive episode lasts at least two weeks and the person has to have at least five of the following including at least one of the first two symptoms listed:

  1. Suffering from intense sadness or despair, a feeling of helplessness, feeling as if everything is hopeless or you are a worthless person
  2. A loss of interest in things you once enjoyed doing
  3. Difficulty with sleep whether it be not getting enough or sleeping too much
  4. Restless or agitated feelings (for example pacing or even hand-wringing), a slowed speech pattern or decreased body movements
  5. Your appetite changes either by causing you to eat more often or a lot less
  6. Difficulty remembering things, concentrating on tasks or even avoiding making simple decisions
  7. Frequent suicidal idolization or thoughts of death. (If you have these feelings and begin to make a plan please seek help immediately)

Bipolar disorder can often also create issues in a person’s life and their ability to be sociable with others. These difficulties tend to happen with spouses and family members, and in many cases making going to work or school very difficult. In many cases, people who suffer from bipolar 1 tend to suffer from other mental issues as well such as attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and generalized or social anxiety disorder. A lot of people especially those who are undiagnosed attempt to self-treat their disorder by using alcohol or even illegal drugs. Suicide is significantly higher among bipolar sufferers than the general population.

It is believed by most psychiatrists bipolar disorder can run in families because 80 to 90% of people who suffer from bipolar have a relative with either depression or bipolar disorder. However, psychiatrists also make a case for environmental factors that can contribute to triggering bipolar disorder such as extreme stress, sleep disruption as well as the use of drugs and alcohol in vulnerable patients.

Don’t lose hope though because bipolar disorder is treatable. Medication alone or medication with psychotherapy are often used to control the symptoms of bipolar disorder over time. Everyone is different though so your doctor will have to find a treatment plan that fits your needs. In most cases, it does take a while to find a medication combo that works for you.

One of the most important and most prescribed medications if you suffer from bipolar disorder is a mood stabilizer. Many doctors also prescribed antidepressants but if you are bipolar never take antidepressants without a mood stabilizer as it can lead to suicidal thoughts. Because bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness ongoing preventative treatment is highly recommended as bipolar disorder can be easier to control if regular treatment is provided.

In psychotherapy, you work with a psychiatrist or some other mental health professional to discuss and work out your problems, better understand your illness and hopefully, repair any relationship that may have suffered as a result of issues caused by your disorder.

There are some very rare cases when medication and psychotherapy just aren’t enough to help. Some people with that problem seek out a treatment known as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Electroconvulsive therapy sends a brief electrical current through the scalp while you’re under anesthesia. It usually takes around 10 to 15 minutes for the treatment to be administered and patients typically receive it 2 to 3 times a week until they reach 6 to 12 treatments.

Your family may also benefit from professional resources like mental health advocacy and bipolar or mood therapy sessions. Because bipolar disorder can cause serious and stressful family situations these resources can help them learn to cope and be a part of your bipolar treatment plan.

Bipolar II Disorder


Bipolar II disorder (bipolar 2) is diagnosed when a person has at least one major depressive episode and at minimum one hypomanic episode. These people are usually able to function between episodes. Bipolar II disorder sufferers are often the first people with bipolar to seek treatment because of the depressive symptoms they experience, which can be very severe. Those with bipolar II are also the ones who are most likely to commit suicide due to their extreme depressive state.

Most people with bipolar II have some form of co-occurring mental illness such as anxiety, PTSD, OCD or some form of substance abuse addiction.

Treating bipolar II is a lot similar to the treatment of bipolar 1 since both highly depend on medication and psychotherapy. With bipolar II ECT is less common but is a necessity for some people with the disorder. Everyone is different so once again treatment must be individualized by your doctor.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic Disorder is the mildest form of bipolar disorder but it does involve many mood swings along with sufferers experiencing hypomania and depressive’s symptoms fairly consistently. People who suffer from cyclothymia have many ups and downs but their symptoms are much less severe than that of those with Bipolar 1 or Bipolar 2.

Symptoms of Cyclothymic Disorder are:

  1. You must have had at least two years of hypomanic and depressive states but your symptoms cannot meet the criteria to be diagnosed as full episodes
  2. During that same two-year period your mood swings must’ve lasted at least half of that time and had a continuous two-month period where the symptoms did not go away

The treatment for cyclothymic disorder sometimes involve medication and talk therapy. Most people suffering from cyclothymic disorder, however, usually don’t take any medication as their talk therapy sessions usually help them manage the stresses created by their mood swings. People with this disorder can stop and restart therapy at any time because it’s not always an ongoing issue for them.

That’s pretty much all the technical mumbo-jumbo about bipolar disorder. I do want to stress, however, that there is hope if you suffer from this mental illness as we are learning more and more about bipolar disorder each and every day. If you suffer from the symptoms I listed earlier or just feel like something isn’t right mentally I do encourage you to get screened by a competent psychiatrist just to be on the safe side. If you are diagnosed with bipolar disorder whether it be type 1 or 2 I do encourage you to take your medication regularly and if you feel like it would help give talk therapy a shot.

Lastly, there is a strong supportive presence on the Internet for people with mental illnesses via social media. Facebook has hundreds of groups you can join and I personally enjoy using Twitter since I sought out and began to follow people who suffer from the same issues as myself. You are not alone and sometimes just knowing there are others going through the same thing as you can be extremely helpful in managing your mental illness.





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