Bipolar disorder, formerly referred to as manic depression, can have a devastating effect on a person’s life if it is left untreated. While there is no known cure, there are effective treatments. The first step is talking to a doctor or licensed mental health provider who can diagnose the illness. Once diagnosed, learning about the disorder and seeking treatment can help patients manage their symptoms and live a rewarding life.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a chronic episodic illness characterized by recurrent episodes of manic or depressive symptoms. The disorder can be challenging to diagnose due to symptom diversity and medical providers not suspecting the patient could have bipolar disorder. Other co-occurring medical and psychiatric conditions can also make diagnosis a difficult task.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are two main subtypes of bipolar disorder. Type I bipolar displays manic episodes and often depressive episodes as well. Bipolar II is characterized by episodes of hypomania and must include at least one depressive episode.
Historically, bipolar II was considered a milder form of bipolar I. However, this idea of a severity continuum has been challenged recently. It is now thought that they are separate disorders distinguished by manic or hypomanic symptoms. Depressive episodes may constitute a greater burden than mania in impact and duration. Some patients may experience symptoms similar to bipolar disorder but milder. This could be due to cyclothymic disorder.
Patients can also receive a diagnosis of bipolar disorder unspecified. Doctors usually diagnose this when a person does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, II, or cyclothymia but still experiences periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevation.
Symptoms of bipolar can be debilitating if not treated. The categories of symptoms include mania or hypomania, depression, and psychosis.
Manic and hypomanic symptoms include:
- Increased energy and activity
- Racing thoughts
- An exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence
- Poor decision-making, increased talkativeness
- A decreased need for sleep
Depressive symptoms look like this:
- Profound sadness
- Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities or hobbies
- Appetite changes
- Sleep disruption
- Suicidal ideation
Additionally, some patients will experience psychosis symptoms, such as:
- Auditory, visual, or tactile hallucinations
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
Researchers, doctors, and scientists have not been able to pinpoint the exact cause of Bipolar I or II. It is believed that bipolar can be caused by multiple factors, including:
- Genes: Bipolar disorder often runs in families suggesting a genetic component. However, no one gene causes bipolar disorder, and not all members of a family will necessarily develop bipolar disorder.
- Brain structure and function: The structure and function of the brains of people with bipolar disorder differ from the brains of people without bipolar disorder
Treating Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is usually treated with medications and therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It can be treated at all levels of care depending on the intensity of care needed. Medications can help treat this disorder, especially:
- Mood stabilizers such as lithium, valproate, and Lamictal
- Atypical antipsychotics such as Abilify, Zyprexa, and Latuda
Complementary therapies can also be effective for treating bipolar paired with evidence-based treatment. Common complementary therapies are yoga, mindfulness, exercise, and a healthy diet.
Sometimes patients can be dangerous to themselves or others due to suicidal ideation, psychosis, or extreme agitation. At these times, inpatient hospitalization or admission to a residential treatment center (RTC) may be needed to maintain safety.
If a patient is not an imminent danger to themself or others, treatment at a partial hospitalization program (PHP) or intensive outpatient program (IOP) can be beneficial. Patients in PHP and IOP can receive the intensive treatment they need while remaining in the community and their homes.
Supporting a Friend or Loved One
Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, and having support from friends and family can be extremely helpful for people living with his disorder. Some ways to help and support a friend or loved one with bipolar disorder are the following:
- Just listen: It is not necessary to offer advice to be helpful. Sometimes it is enough just to lend an ear. Often people with bipolar disorder just want to be heard and not judged
- Educate: Learn about bipolar disorder
- Be patient and understanding: Bipolar disorder is a chronic and unpredictable illness, and symptoms will come and go.
- Actively engage in treatment: Helping with transportation to and from therapy appointments or accessing community resources can help patients with bipolar disorder feel supported.
- Know when to call for help: If a friend or loved one becomes suicidal or violent, call 911 for help immediately.
Even though living with bipolar disorder requires work and can be challenging, there is help and hope. People must see a healthcare provider as soon as they experience symptoms to obtain a diagnosis so treatment can be started. Even though there is no cure, with effective treatment, bipolar disorder can be managed, and patients can live full lives.
Bipolar disorder can cause complications across all areas of life. Symptoms include distractibility, decision-making, mood swings, distractibility, and poor decision-making. Although it’s challenging, bipolar disorder can be managed effectively with treatment. At Sober Life, we offer the best evidence-based treatment for bipolar disorder at all levels of care. While receiving treatment at Sober Life, you or your loved one will be able to remain at home and in the community. You can practice your newfound skills in real-time. We also offer virtual treatment options for even more convenience. We understand that mental illness affects everyone in the family, so Sober Life also offers classes for family members. For help, call Sober Life at (619) 542-9542 today.