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Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition formerly called manic depression. The condition causes extreme mood swings, from deeply depressed to highly energized. When depressed, you may feel hopeless, or lose interest in normal activities. When your mood shifts, you might feel euphoric, invincible or agitated. These mood swings affect sleep, judgement, behavior, energy, and the ability to think clearly.

Inside Bipolar Disorder

Contrary to popular belief, episodes are not sudden shifts in behavior, and they may not occur regularly. Episodes may occur only a few times a year. In between episodes, some people might experience other emotional disturbances. Others will experience few or none. If you receive a bipolar diagnosis, a good mental health treatment plan can help you manage this disorder. Treatment typically includes medication and psychotherapy.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Symptoms of bipolar disorder include depression, mania, and hypomania. Hypomania is a milder form of mania. You might feel elated and hyperactive without the extreme emotions associated with mania, such as feeling invincible. During a manic episode, you might also experience racing thoughts or surges of ideas. You may feel the need to act immediately, only to then be distracted by another idea. While in a manic phase, sufferers might also engage in risky sexual, financial or social behaviors. This is because symptoms produce unpredictable changes in mood and behavior.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are several types of bipolar and related disorders:

Bipolar I Disorder is characterized by at least one manic episode, followed by hypomania or a major depressive episode. In some cases a manic episode might also trigger psychosis.

Bipolar II Disorder is characterized by at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode but not have experienced mania.

Cyclothymic Disorder diagnosed individuals have experienced at least two years with periods of hypomania and depression. The depression would not have been as severe as is Bipolar I and II. Typically, one of these years will have occurred in childhood or adolescence.

These are all separate diagnoses. While mania is more severe and therefore more dangerous for those with Bipolar I Disorder, depression can last much longer for those with Bipolar II Disorder.

Bipolar Manic Phase

Marked by erratic and emotional behavior, mania is the more externally noticeable of the two faces of bipolar disorder, although as mentioned, not all clients will exhibit full mania, and those who do may exhibit the milder hypomania in some instances. One big difference between mania and hypomania is that mania can trigger a break from reality. This psychosis often requires a client to be hospitalized.

Bipolar Depressive Phase

Major depression includes symptoms that make daily life noticeably difficult. An episode of depression may include several of the following symptoms: depressed mood, emptiness, loss of interest in hobbies, finding no pleasure in regular activities, significant weight loss, insomnia or excessive sleepiness, fatigue or loss of energy, feeling worthless, suicidal thoughts, and a decreased ability to concentrate.

Bipolar Risk Factors

Some risk factors that may increase one’s likelihood of developing the disorder include brain structure, genetics, and family history, with genetics playing a leading role. If a parent or sibling has the disorder, others in the family are more likely to develop the illness. Although most people with family histories do not develop the disorder. Some research has suggested a correlation between certain genes and the likelihood of developing the disorder. Studies of identical twins have shown that while one twin might develop the disorder, the other will not, so it seems the disorder is not entirely predictable through genetic testing. Some studies also show that the brains of people with bipolar might be different from those without mental health disorders.  

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Bipolar Disorder Treatment

Treatment includes continuous talk therapy, medication, and psychiatric attention. Several different medications can help treat bipolar disorder. Usually a combination is needed. Mood stabilizers and antipsychotics can both help treat the disorder. As for psychotherapy, many treatments should be tested until the right combination of methods is found. Cognitive behavioral therapy, lifestyle management, light and dark therapy, community support, family focused therapy, mindfulness meditation, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy can all be useful resources to manage ones illness.

Individual self work is also important. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can mean different things for different people but exercise, meditation, stress management, and coping mechanisms are all useful habits to develop. After diagnosis a client might feel helpless. It is important that they have a consistent relationship with a therapist, who can help guide the client through the early stages of their diagnosis, in tandem with a psychiatrist, who can prescribe needed medication. There are many medical professionals and therapists who specialize in mental health disorders and can help.

Seeking Help

Many clients seek help during the depressive periods of their illness. This can often mean a client is misdiagnosed with depression. When in the manic stage they often feel on top of the world and cannot recognize the problem. Most people afflicted with the disorder are depressed for a larger portion of the time than they are hypomanic or manic. Sometimes anti-depressants can worsen symptoms of bipolar so a false depression diagnosis can be problematic.

If you or someone you love have been experiencing any of these symptoms its important to seek help. There are many resources available to anyone who may be struggling. Seeking a mood disorder specialist is a good first step in the treatment process.

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.