Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental health condition characterized by extreme changes in mood from a manic emotional episode to a depressive emotional episode. These episodes differ from the typical highs and lows experienced by most people and last for hours, days, weeks, or even months.

People with bipolar disorder may have trouble maintaining relationships and keeping up with their daily responsibilities at work, home, or school. Bipolar disorder often develops for the first time during teenage or early adulthood and affects men and women equally. Approximately 2.8% of the U.S. population has a bipolar disorder diagnosis, and nearly 83% of such cases are classified as severe.

Types of Bipolar Disorders

Four distinct diagnoses fall under the umbrella term of “bipolar disorder.”

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I Disorder – is marked by one or more manic episodes that last at least a week or manic symptoms that are so severe that the person requires immediate medical intervention. Depressive episodes occur as well, typically lasting two weeks. It’s also possible to experience both depressive and manic symptoms within the same episode.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II Disorder – is marked by at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. Less intense manic symptoms that persist for four days rather than a week are hypomanic episodes. The major difficulties in daily functioning that are associated with manic symptoms are not present when dealing with hypomanic symptoms. People with bipolar II disorder typically have comorbid mental conditions, such as an anxiety disorder or substance use disorder, the latter of which can exacerbate depression or hypomania.

Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia)

Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia) – is a milder version of bipolar disorder defined by multiple mood swings or episodes with hypomania and depressive symptoms that occur frequently. Individuals with cyclothymia go through emotional highs and lows, although their symptoms are milder than those of bipolar I or II disorder. Short intervals of normal mood are possible for those with cyclothymia, but they never persist longer than eight weeks.

Unspecified Bipolar Disorder

Unspecified Bipolar Disorder – People who do not meet the relevant criteria for bipolar I, II, or cyclothymic disorder but still experience periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevation fall into this category.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of bipolar disorder can vary from one person to another, depending on the specific type of condition. However, they all generally include distinct periods of manic and depressive episodes.

Symptoms of a manic episode include:

  • Feeling euphoric
  • Excessive energy or hyperactivity
  • Racing thoughts and difficulty staying focused, and easily distracted
  • Rapid speech
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Unable to sleep
  • Lack of self-control and sound judgment
  • Taking part in risky behaviors, such as substance use or sexual promiscuity
  • Psychosis (hallucinations or delusions)

Symptoms of a depressive episode include:

  • Prolonged sadness
  • Feelings of despair and hopelessness
  • Low energy and feeling extremely tired
  • Feeling anxious
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Loss of interest in formerly enjoyed activities
  • Chronic pain with no known medical cause
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Highly irritable
  • Suicidal ideations

Diagnostic terms like “mixed features” or “rapid cycling” may be assigned to patients based on fluctuating symptom patterns. Individuals who experience mixed features may experience both depressive and manic symptoms at the same time. Rapid cycling constitutes four or more manic, hypomanic, or depressive episodes within twelve months.

Individuals with bipolar disorder may also struggle with co-occurring mental health conditions such as:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Substance use disorders

Risk Factors

As of yet, researchers have not pinpointed what triggers bipolar disorders. They suspect several possible causes, including:

  • Genetics – For children, having a parent or sibling with bipolar disorder increases the risk that they will also develop the disorder. But the role of genetics is not absolute since a child born into a family where bipolar disorder runs in the genes may never develop the condition themselves.
  • Brains structure and functioning – Although brain scans cannot diagnose bipolar disorder, researchers have identified subtle differences in brain chemistry, structure, or function of those with bipolar disorders.
  • Stress – Stressful events such as losing a loved one, an illness, divorce, or financial problems can also trigger manic or depressive episodes.
    Pregnancy and seasonal changes can also trigger manic or depressive episodes in people with bipolar disorder.

Diagnosis and Treatment

At least one manic or hypomanic episode is required to diagnose bipolar disorder. The “type” of bipolar disorder a patient may be experiencing is determined by a clinician’s assessment of diagnostic criteria included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Mental health specialists look at a patient’s symptom pattern and level of impairment during their manic periods to diagnose the type of bipolar disorder they have.

The treatment and management of bipolar disorder involve a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness. Thus, long-term, continuous treatment is necessary to manage the symptoms.

  • Medications – Mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics, and, to a lesser extent, antidepressants are the medications most often recommended to treat bipolar disorder.
  • Psychotherapy – Evidence-based treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and family-focused therapy are the most common psychotherapy used to treat bipolar disorder

Self-management techniques, such as psycho-education and recognizing the earliest indications of an episode, as well as supplementary therapy approaches, such as physical exercise, meditation, and mindfulness, can supplement and improve treatment outcomes.

Living with bipolar disorder can be challenging, but numerous options exist for improving health and happiness. When it comes to treating mental health issues in adults, Turning Point Centers are unrivaled. Our compassionate clinicians offer individualized care to those battling mental health conditions through residential treatment, day treatment (PHP), and intensive outpatient programs.

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