One of the most misunderstood mental health disorders, bipolar disorder involves experience prolonged periods of mania followed by deep bouts of depression. It is often misused to describe people whose moods change abruptly. True bipolar disorder involves extreme shifts and prolonged periods of either mania or depression that interfere with an individual’s quality of life and ability to conduct a regular life.
The diagnostic criteria for bipolar disorder is quite specific. Those who experience mania and depression to a lesser degree may not qualify for a diagnosis. In some of these cases, a patient may be considered as having a cyclothymic disorder. The therapeutic recommendations for patients with cyclothymic disorder are the same as those for patients with bipolar disorder.
Bipolar 1 & Bipolar 2
There are two subtypes of bipolar disorder: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2.
In bipolar 1, the bouts of mania extend for more than a week, while depression goes on for more than two weeks. In some cases, these periods may be briefer but the patient’s symptoms are so severe that they require hospitalization.
In bipolar 2, the patient has shorter bouts of depression and mania. This is not to say that these patients do not require compassion and intervention.
Spotting Bipolar Disorder
Recognizing the signs of bipolar disorder is a critical first step in getting help.
In the manic stage of bipolar disorder, patients can exhibit the following:
- Significantly Increased energy levels
- High risk taking behavior
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling unstoppable
- Getting frustrated with those who try to stop or calm the patient
In a depressive episode, patients can experience some or all of these symptoms:
- Significantly decreased energy
- Hopeless or empty feelings
- Disordered sleep
- Loss of appetite
- Excessive fatigue
- Disinterest in formerly enjoyable activities
- Suicidal ideation
Testing for Bipolar Disorder
There is no physical test for bipolar disorder. Diagnosing a case involves working with a mental health professional in a therapeutic setting. A therapist may use interviews, surveys, and discussions with a patient to diagnose a case.
The process can feel invasive to a patient. Patients seeking help need to understand that diagnosis is the most crucial step in getting help. Skilled therapists work with compassion and respect for privacy.
Conditions that Can Come with Bipolar Disorder
Patients with bipolar disorder can experience a range of comorbid disorders. These can include anxiety disorders, psychosis, ADHD, and drug or alcohol abuse. A mental health professional will screen for these comorbid conditions during the diagnostic process.
Treating Bipolar Disorder
As with many mental health disorders, treating bipolar disorder can include talk therapy, medication, or a combination of these interventions. In severe cases, a patient may require admittance to an inpatient facility.
CBT & Talk Therapies
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), CBT, or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as well as Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) and family-focused therapy are effective therapies for those with bipolar disorder.
CBT involves working with a therapist to discover what triggers symptoms in a patient. The patient then learns how to employ tools to respond to these triggers in a healthier way. CBT can be an effective component in a larger system of intervention for those with bipolar disorder.
IPSRT is another form of talk therapy that can help bipolar patients. In IPRST, patients explore the interconnectedness of biological triggers, social interactions, and their own emotional reactions. This understanding helps them develop coping mechanisms.
Finally, bipolar patients can also benefit from family therapy. In family sessions, the patient and their loved ones explore and develop tools for dealing with triggers in the patient’s life.
Medication for Bipolar Disorder
Finding the right medication can take time and patience. Anything from antidepressants and mood stabilizers to antipsychotics and sleep aids can help those with this disorder.
In some cases, patients may want to explore the option of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT). Since ECT can cause loss of memory in some patients, it is only recommended when conventional methods are not working effectively. outweigh the risks.
Another alternative treatment to consider is utilizing life charts. The patient carefully tracks medications, daily events, and symptoms in these life charts. The patient and their therapist then uses these charts to spot patterns and build tools.
Rates of Bipolar Disorder
It is estimated that 2.6 percent of the adult U.S. population has bipolar disorder. Disagreement on the diagnostic criteria for children and adolescents means that rates of bipolar disorder amongst the young are less clear. It is estimated by some that as many as 750,000 children may have undiagnosed bipolar disorder in the U.S.
Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder
There may be a genetic link to bipolar disorder. Research is ongoing on the subject. Those with bipolar disorder in their family seem more likely to develop the disorder. There is no known cause for bipolar disorder at this time.