Life is hard enough as it is, but when you add a mental health disorder into the mix, you can imagine the additional hurdles a person must endure when going through life. Although we’re all bound to battle problems from time to time, some of us need a little extra help to get by, and that’s OK. Bipolar disorder is a potentially severe and even life-threatening mood disorder that cannot be ignored. Some of us can get through life with disorders like anxiety or depression nagging us. However, when it comes to bipolar disorder, that’s not the case. 

Bipolar disorder isn’t a condition you can put in the rearview mirror and battle later when you get home. This particular mental health condition causes a person to experience intense mood changes that can threaten your safety and well-being while leaving you feeling unstable. If you’ve recently received a bipolar diagnosis or fear that’s what you have, you aren’t alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 60 million people suffer from it globally. 

So, what can you take from this? Well, one silver lining is that statistically speaking, many people walking amongst you struggle with bipolar disorder. How is that a silver lining? It means that, despite its severity, it’s a condition that you can manage with medication and therapy. It also means you can lead a relatively normal life, even with a diagnosis of this magnitude. Lastly, it means that bipolar disorder is not a death sentence. What can you do? Considering bipolar treatment is a good first step.

According to a 2019 report from Harvard Health, researchers found that bipolar disorder can affect up to 4 percent of the adult population in the United States. The figure could actually be higher if a broad definition is used, according to the report. Unfortunately, almost anyone is at risk of developing bipolar I disorder. Most people who develop symptoms of the condition are in their teens or early 20s but vary from one person to another. Nearly everyone who develops it will before they turn 50.

According to a recent study from Lancet Psychiatry, roughly 2.5 percent of the adult population in the United States suffer from bipolar disorder, equating to around 6 million people. The findings underscore how vital it is to treat those with the condition. It also discusses that you must treat someone after their first manic episode to ensure better care. When bipolar disorder is left untreated, it can cause significant problems in a person’s life.

Untreated bipolar disorder can lead to the following:

  • Strained relationships
  • Legal issues
  • Financial problems
  • Poor job performance
  • Poor school performance
  • Substance use disorders (SUDs)
  • Self-harm or causing harm to others
  • Suicide ideation or suicide

If you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and you’re at odds with what you should do, it’s important to learn more about it, its causes, and how you can manage the illness. 

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a severe condition that causes intense mood swings. It’s also referred to as “manic depression.” Bipolar disorder can cause a person to feel extremely “up” or elated, energized, or irritable, known as a manic episode. Other times, the individual may transition to the lowest point in their life. They’ll feel sad, hopeless, and indifferent, something known as a depressive episode. It’s possible to have both depressive and manic symptoms together, called a mixed episode. In addition to these mood swings, bipolar disorder will lead to changes in your activity levels, behavior, and energy levels. 

There are three primary types of bipolar disorder. These include the following:

  • Bipolar I Disorder: Bipolar I disorder is characterized by manic episodes that last, at the minimum, for seven days or manic symptoms severe enough to warrant immediate hospital care. Depressive symptoms are also common with bipolar I, which last around two weeks. You can also experience mixed episodes with this form of the illness. Bipolar I is more commonly diagnosed than bipolar II.
  • Bipolar II Disorder: Bipolar II is more commonly associated with depressive episodes. However, instead of full-blown manic episodes, this form of the illness sees hypomania episodes, which are less severe than mania. 
  • Cyclothymic Disorder: Also known as cyclothymia, it involves depressive and hypomanic symptoms. However, they are much less intense and don’t last as long as hypomanic or depressive episodes. These symptoms typically last for two years in adults and one year in children and teenagers.

No matter the type of bipolar you’re diagnosed with, if you have four or more episodes of depression or mania in a year, it’s called “rapid cycling.” Rapid cycling is a pattern of frequent, distinct episodes.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Researchers have not determined the precise cause of bipolar disorder. However, they continue studying to see if they can pinpoint the cause and potentially prevent others from getting it in the future. For now, the Mayo Clinic says there are several factors involved. The most prominent of them seems to be genetics. Those with a first-degree relative in their family, meaning a parent or sibling, are at risk of developing the illness. 

Biological differences are also potential causes of bipolar disorder. Those with the condition are shown to have physical changes to their brain structure. Some other factors that contribute to the disorder include traumatic or stressful events, as well as abusing addictive substances like alcohol or drugs. 

Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

If you haven’t been formally diagnosed with the disorder, you might be wondering what some of the signs and symptoms are of the illness. First, while this list is meant to inform you, please don’t use it as a diagnosis. Some of the signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder may be similar to other conditions. With that being said, only a doctor can diagnose you with the condition. 

A person experiencing a manic episode could experience the following:

  • Fast-talking, loud speech, or talking more than usual
  • Increased agitation or energy
  • Restlessness, anger, or irritability
  • Strong feelings of happiness, excitement, or enthusiasm
  • An inability to fall asleep or less need for it
  • Rapid and racing thoughts
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Reckless behavior and increased risk-taking
  • Rambling speech that’s hard to understand or doesn’t make any sense
  • Pleasure-seeking behavior, including an increased interest in drug or alcohol use
  • Excessive spending

Hypomanic symptoms could include the following:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased agitation or energy
  • Rapid and racing thoughts
  • Increased risk-taking
  • Reckless behavior
  • Decreased need for sleep

Depressive symptoms could include the following:

  • Feel empty, sad, hopeless, or worthless
  • Low energy
  • Losing interest in activities and hobbies that once brought you joy
  • Withdrawing from friends and family and becoming isolate
  • Weight gain or weight loss without trying
  • Sleeping too much
  • Suicidal thoughts or tendencies

If you experience any of these, you must seek professional medical help for a diagnosis.

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

If depression, mania, or hypomania occurs, the next step is to speak with a medical professional. The visit will lead to a thorough evaluation that can give you the answers you need.

An evaluation to determine whether you’re bipolar will include:

  • Physical exam and lab tests
  • Psychiatric assessment
  • Mood charting
  • Reviewing criteria for bipolar disorder

Since bipolar disorder is commonly misdiagnosed in its early stages, it’s important to be honest about your symptoms and tell the physician everything. If you receive a diagnosis, treatment is necessary.

How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated?

treatment for bipolar disorder

Depending on the severity of your condition, treatment can range from medication and therapy all the way up to hospitalization. Again, only a medical professional can make this determination. Treatments for bipolar disorder are designed to help individuals gain function in their lives. 

  • Medication: Many types of medication are available to treat bipolar disorder. The one your doctor prescribes depends on your specific symptoms. You must start the drug immediately to help balance your mood. Determining which one works will take time, so be patient and work with the doctor. 
  • Psychotherapy: The most common therapies used to treat bipolar disorder include psychoeducation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), family-center therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). Again, like the medication you’re prescribed, it may take some time to determine which one works best. 

The more committed you are to your treatment plan, the higher your odds are of success. Fortunately, a normal life with bipolar disorder is possible if you put in the effort.

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