Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels that negatively affect a person’s ability to carry out daily tasks and is marked by extreme “mood swings” that go between manic and depressive episodes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “an estimated 2.8% of U.S. adults had bipolar disorder in the last year” and “an estimated 4.4% of U.S. adults experience bipolar disorder at some time in their lives.”
Bipolar Disorders are chronic illnesses that can get worse with time, which is why establishing a proper treatment plan early can be so important. Thankfully, medications, psychotherapy, education, support systems, and self-management techniques make bipolar disorders treatable conditions.
Bipolar Disorder (previously known as manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a psychiatric disorder that produces significant fluctuations in mood, energy, activity levels, attention, and the capacity to carry out everyday duties. These temporary shifts in mood can last anywhere from a few hours to months or years. Personality changes often accompany reduced inhibition that can lead to strained relationships and work performance. Stabilizing the “swing” of these emotions is the goal of treatment for bipolar disorders.
Bipolar disorders come in three different forms: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder.
Each form involves changes in mood, vitality, and energy. Mood swings can range from times of excessive “up” behavior (known as manic episodes) to periods of intense “down” times (known as depressive episodes).
Manic episodes are a period of emotional high where a person feels excited, impulsive, and a sense of euphoria. These states may influence a person to engage in risky behaviors that they otherwise might not engage in (i.e. promiscuity, gambling, drugs, etc.). Hypomanic episodes are manic episodes that are less severe than manic episodes. Hence, a person may be able to function somewhat normally at work, at home, and with friends. Still, this level of enthusiasm may be unsustainable and eventually lead to a depressive episode.
Depressive episodes can also vary in severity. Though, typically depressive episodes might last longer than manic episodes. And, how each person experiences these altering mood cycles will determine how their bipolar may be classified into types.
Types of Bipolar Disorder Include:
- Bipolar I Disorder: Distinguished by manic episodes lasting at least a week or by severe manic symptoms that require urgent hospitalization. Generally, depressive episodes last at least 2 weeks, although mixed episodes of depression and hypomania may also occur.
- Bipolar II Disorder: Defined depressive and hypomanic episodes, but not full-blown manic episodes like in Bipolar I.
- Cyclothymic Disorder (also known as Cyclothymia): Characterized by periods of hypomania and depressive symptoms lasting at least 2 years, but symptoms don’t meet the criteria for a hypomanic episode or depressive episode.
People with bipolar disorder tend to fluctuate between strong emotions, changes in sleep patterns, activity levels, and show odd behaviors—often without being aware of the changes. Mood swings are markedly different from the person’s usual moods and actions during an episode. Episodes can sometimes last for a few days or weeks.
Even if a person’s symptoms are mild, they may still be living with bipolar disorder. Persons with Bipolar II, for example, suffer hypomania. During a hypomanic episode, a person may feel alright, be able to get things done, and go about their daily activities. Although the individual may not believe anything is wrong, family and friends may detect changes in mood or activity levels as signs of bipolar disorder. People suffering from hypomanic or depressive episodes might progress to severe mania or depression if not treated properly.
Always talk to your doctor about any and all mental health concerns you have experienced. A doctor may be able to run tests to rule out other potential factors and start the process of an accurate diagnosis.
If you happened to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you can be referred to someone who specializes in treating the disorder. Working psychiatrists and therapists, a person with bipolar disorder can get the right tools and education needed to effectively manage their condition.
Treating Bipolar Disorders
Bipolar disorders are conditions that are best treated with a combination of treatment methods, mainly medication and talk therapy (psychotherapy). Because bipolar disorder is a chronic illness, it is important a person with it find what is effective for them earlier than later.
An effective treatment plan for bipolar disorder can include:
- Psychotherapy, also known as “talk therapy,” comes in many forms — most commonly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).
- Medication, which can include different classes of pharmaceuticals depending on how one experiences their symptoms. A doctor may prescribe mood-stabilizers, antidepressants, and/or antipsychotics.
- Self-management — gives the person the strategies they need to recognize and handle their symptoms effectively.
- Holistic Strategies like meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet can support mood stability as well.
How We Can Help
If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, SoCal Mental Health can help diagnose and treat mental health disorders in a safe, caring environment. Our residential programs in Orange County, CA provide high-quality alternatives to institutionalized care and are designed to limit unnecessary stays in psychiatric hospitals, reduce emergency room visits, and avoid inappropriate incarceration for those struggling with untreated mental health disorders.
In addition to providing crisis stabilization, we use goal-oriented approaches and therapies to help manage symptoms effectively and promote self-development, increased quality of life and decreased emotional distress. The psychiatrists and specialists at our SoCal Mental Health Treatment Center in Mission Viejo, CA can provide a comprehensive treatment plan with medication, psychotherapy, education, and life skills needed to effectively find relief from bipolar disorder.