What is Bipolar Disorder? Symptoms, Causes, & Diagnosis
Bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) is a mood disorder that causes unusual ups and downs in a person’s emotions, energy, and ability to handle stress. It is also the third most common type of mental illness, affecting approximately 5.7% of adults over 18 in any given year.
Despite these statistics, many people are still unfamiliar with what bipolar disorder is and how it can affect someone’s life. This article will explore the basics of bipolar disorder so you can better understand what it is, who it affects, and why it’s important to treat it sooner rather than later. Keep reading to discover more about what this condition entails and why it’s important to understand its implications if you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder (sometimes referred to as manic depression) is a mood disorder characterized by extreme shifts in mood, energy, and ability to handle stress. People with bipolar disorder will experience both extreme highs (known as mania) and extreme lows (known as depression).
While these two poles of mood are often discussed in tandem, they are distinct. Mania is characterized by feelings of euphoria, excessive energy, thoughts racing far too quickly, reduced need for sleep, risky behaviors, and impulsivity. Depression, on the other hand, is characterized by sadness, lethargy, low energy, thoughts that are too slow, too much need for sleep, and a general inability to accomplish basic tasks.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?
A diagnosis of bipolar disorder is made using criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Healthcare professionals use this diagnostic manual to determine if someone has a specific mental illness. Because bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, it is diagnosed based on a person’s current and past symptoms.
This means someone could be diagnosed with bipolar disorder even if they haven’t experienced a manic episode in years. If you or someone you know has been diagnosed, it’s important to understand that the diagnosis isn’t an end-all, be-all. It is simply a way to identify and describe a particular set of symptoms negatively affecting your life.
Different Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are five different types of bipolar disorder, each with its unique symptoms, causes, and treatments. However, not everyone diagnosed with bipolar disorder will have every symptom of every type.
Bipolar 1 Disorder: First and foremost, bipolar disorder is categorized as either type 1 or 2. Bipolar 1 is the most severe type of disorder, and extreme and frequent manic episodes characterize it. During manic episodes, people with bipolar 1 may experience delusions, hallucinations, and a break from reality. They may also become extremely impulsive, leading to poor choices like substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and financial mismanagement. Bipolar 1 is often accompanied by extreme and frequent depressive episodes as well.
Bipolar 2 Disorder: Bipolar 2 is much less severe than bipolar 1. It is characterized by less frequent and less intense manic episodes in which reality is not broken, delusions and hallucinations are less likely to occur. Bipolar 2 is often accompanied by frequent depressive episodes during which reality is not broken, and delusions and hallucinations are less likely to occur. Bipolar 2 can be misdiagnosed as unipolar depression, which is why it’s important to get it right.
Cyclothymic Disorder: Cyclothymic disorder is a mild form of bipolar disorder characterized by fewer and less severe symptoms that are also less frequent. Cyclothymic disorder is often misdiagnosed as unipolar depression. It’s important to get it right because the treatment is different.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
There are several different symptoms associated with bipolar disorder. These symptoms can vary in type and severity. Because bipolar disorder is a disorder marked by extreme mood shifts, it’s common for people with the illness to experience symptoms from each type.
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can also change over time, with some symptoms becoming more or less prominent depending on the person, the circumstances, and the overall course of the illness. For example, one person with bipolar disorder may experience frequent manic episodes while another may experience fewer, less frequent manic episodes.
1. Mood Changes
Mood changes are the most prominent symptom of bipolar disorder. They are characterized by extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). Mood changes are typically triggered by external stressors, though they can also occur seemingly out of the blue.
2. Unusual Thoughts
Unusual thoughts are one of the earliest symptoms that may lead to a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. They are characterized by rapid, racing thoughts that are difficult to slow down and control and a heightened sense of creativity and new ideas.
3. Sleep Disturbances
Sleep disturbances are common for people with bipolar disorder. They are characterized by feelings of either not needing as much sleep or needing more sleep than usual.
4. Disregard for Self-Care
Disregarding self-care is another symptom often present early in bipolar disorder. It is characterized by poor hygiene, messy or disorganized living spaces, unbalanced eating habits, and a general disregard for self-sustaining activities such as paying bills on time or keeping up with doctor appointments.
5. Substance Abuse
Substance abuse is a common symptom of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by a strong desire to numb painful emotions, either through alcohol or drugs or self-harm.
6. Excessive Spending
Excessive spending can be a symptom of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by a strong desire to make purchases, such as buying a new car or shopping sprees. It’s important to note that excessive spending can also signify another mental illness, most commonly, unipolar depression.
7. Relationship Problems
Relationship problems are often a symptom of bipolar disorder. They are characterized by either an inability to maintain stable or healthy relationships or a need to break up with a partner or end a relationship.
8. Unhealthy Coping Techniques
Unhealthy coping techniques are another symptom of bipolar disorder. They are characterized by an inability to manage stressors and emotions with healthy behaviors, such as taking a break from work or engaging in self-care activities like meditation or yoga.
Managing Bipolar Disorder with Medication
While there isn’t an “ideal” treatment for bipolar disorder, a few treatment options are widely used and show promise for managing symptoms. Bipolar disorder can be treated with mood stabilizers, such as lithium, or antipsychotics, such as olanzapine.
Mood stabilizers are often used for bipolar 1 and cyclothymic disorder, whereas antipsychotics are often used for bipolar 2. Bipolar disorder can also be treated with antidepressants. These medications are typically used with mood stabilizers or antipsychotics because they don’t have the same properties as mood stabilizers.
Managing Bipolar Disorder with Psychotherapy
Bipolar disorder can be treated with psychotherapy, a type of mental health treatment focusing on healing the mind through cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, art therapy, and group therapy.
Psychotherapy can help people with bipolar disorder break down their issues into smaller pieces to work through them more easily. It can also offer insight into how each issue may be related to others so they can be treated comprehensively and interconnectedly.
Final Words: Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
Suppose you or someone you know has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In that case, it’s important to educate yourself about the illness so you can start working towards feeling better as soon as possible. Bipolar disorder can be difficult and exhausting to manage, but it can also be treated and managed with the right treatment plan.