What is a Bipolar Disorder?

What is a Bipolar Disorder?

A bipolar disorder, sometimes known as manic depression, is a mental health condition where those who suffer experience intense mood swings. Typically, an emotional high known as mania or hypomania and an emotional low known as depression.

Both of these opposing emotions can come at random instances and are usually uncontrollable. Each of them has their own set of symptoms – the mania will leave a person feeling full of energy and extremely irritable while the low leaves someone feeling hopeless and at a loss of interest.

People with bipolar disorder do so at different rates. For example, some may feel symptoms frequently, on a day-to-day basis, while others might only experience them for a monthly, or even yearly, period of time. When one feels these set of symptoms, it’s referred to as an episode. Between these episodes, some people may feel similar emotional symptoms while others will not.

This article seeks to give you all the information you need in order to understand what a bipolar disorder is. We’ll look into all the symptoms, treatment options, and at the end, offer you the opportunity to ask more questions.

Types of Bipolar and Symptoms

To begin, it must be understood that there are multiple different types of bipolar disorder. Each is unique in the way they affect the individual. These different types of bipolar are:

  • Bipolar I Disorder – You’ve experienced a manic episode which may or may not have followed by a hypomanic episode or a major depression. In rarer cases, you’ll experience a mania which feels as though you’ve separated from reality.
  • Bipolar II Disorder – You’ve experienced at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode, yet, you’ve never experienced a manic episode.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder – You’ve experienced a bipolar disorder, whether it be symptoms of hypomania or depression, for at least two years. If you’re a teenager or child, then you’ve experienced at least one year of these symptoms.
  • Other Types – Bipolar of other types can include a variety of conditions. For example, if your symptoms were induced due to drug or alcohol use, then you’ve experienced another type of bipolar disorder. Some might receive the illness through certain medical conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or stroke.

People of any age can experience a bipolar disorder. However, most get diagnosed with the condition when they are in their teenage years or early 20s. As mentioned, not everyone will feel the same set of symptoms nor to the same degree.

Symptoms can be divided into the two emotional states.

  • Emotional Highs – Mania or HypomaniaThough mania and hypomania are different, they typically produce the same set of symptoms. Hypomania is less severe than mania which can cause serious complications for someone in important areas of their life such as school, social activities, relationships, and work. Furthermore, these symptoms may lead to a person disconnecting with reality and entering a psychosis. These symptoms include:
    • Abnormal chattiness
    • Easily distracted
    • Exaggerated sense of well-being (euphoria)
    • Increased energy and/or agitation
    • Lack of necessity for sleep
    • Poor decision making
    • Rushed thoughts
    • Unusually upbeat, jumpy
  • Emotional Lows – DepressionPeople who suffer from a bipolar disorder will enter a major depressive episode which can make it very difficult to go about vital aspects of life including school, social activities, relationships, and work. These symptoms include:
    • Fatigue
    • Feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, sometimes resulting in tears and irritability
    • Feelings of unsuitable guilt and worthlessness
    • Incapable of concentrating or thinking
    • Loss of appetite
    • Loss of interest in activities that may have once interested the person
    • Restlessness
    • Suicidal ideation
    • Weight loss

Some people will experience other symptoms. For example, those who suffer from bipolar I and bipolar II disorders have been known to have symptoms of anxiety, melancholy, and psychosis.

Furthermore, symptoms may differ for children and teenagers. Often, people of these ages experience certain stresses that make it difficult to tell if they are actually being affected by a bipolar disorder. Sometimes, these children and teenagers are experiencing another mental disorder and misrepresent it as bipolar.

It’s also been noticed that bipolar in children and teenagers differs from that of adults. Often the pattern of emotional highs and lows will rapidly shift and sometimes, these younger individuals will have long periods of time without any symptoms at all.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Many people suffering from bipolar disorder don’t even know they’re experiencing the symptoms of the illness. Rather, they take their emotional extremes to either be another mental illness or just an aspect of their lives. This can be dangerous as those same individuals won’t seek out the treatment.

Even more so, there are certain individuals out there who experience a bipolar disorder and enjoy the episodes. Particularly, those of emotional highs. As mentioned, a manic or hypomanic episode can cause euphoria and, in some case, will make a person more productive. They often ride this high and ignore the emotional crash that’s bound to come. Unfortunately, they may be unaware that this kind of behavior can lead to a variety of troubles including:

  • Financial
  • Legal
  • Relationship
  • School
  • Work

If you have experienced any of the above-mentioned symptoms, whether that of depression or mania, it’s important to talk to a doctor or mental health professional. When someone doesn’t approach bipolar disorder and attempt to treat it, they often throw themselves in a position of worsening it.

By getting treatment, you’re allowing yourself to get your symptoms under control and, in turn, get your life back on track.

As mentioned, some people will face suicidal thoughts or behaviors due to a major depressive episode caused by bipolar disorder. If you are in this position and have had thoughts of hurting yourself, CALL 911. It’s extremely important you go to an emergency room or reach out to a person you can trust.

You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

If someone you love has either attempted suicide or has mentioned thoughts of suicide, you should CALL 911 or take that person to the nearest emergency room.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

With the research we have today, it’s not entirely known how bipolar disorders come to be. We know a few different factors play important roles, yet, we don’t know everything that goes into this mental health condition.

First, when observing the brain of someone with bipolar, you’ll notice there are physical differences in comparison to someone without the disorder. These differences still aren’t entirely understood by medical professionals. However, the fact that they’re there proves mental illness isn’t simply a mindset, but a physical condition which should be taken seriously.

The other factor that plays a large role is that of genetics. People with a bipolar disorder often have a first-degree relative (either a sibling or parent) who also suffers from the condition. Currently, researches are trying to pinpoint which particular genes lead to mental illness.

Is it possible for someone to develop a bipolar disorder?

Yes. Some people don’t receive the mental health condition through genes, but rather, through outside interferences. For example, if one experiences a high-stress period of their life, they are at risk for developing bipolar disorder. The cause of this high-stress can be anything from the death of a loved one to a brutal car accident.

Some people might also develop bipolar through drug and alcohol abuse. Particularly, those who abuse drugs for a long period of time usually have long-lasting (sometimes irreversible) damaging effects on their brain.

Is it possible for someone to have bipolar disorder and another mental illness?

Yes. In fact, sometimes one mental illness can lead to another. For example, when one is going through a major depressive state, there’s potential they’ll end up with depression. Other health problems which can occur from a bipolar disorder (or, vice versa, can cause a bipolar disorder) are:

  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Anxiety disorder
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorder
  • Physical problems (such as heart disease or headaches)

Are There Ways to Prevent Bipolar Disorder?

Scientifically speaking, there’s no sure way of preventing bipolar disorder. Yet, if a person receives treatment during the earliest signs of the disorder, it can prevent the mental health condition from worsening. There are also ways to prevent certain symptoms and avoiding full-blown mania or depressive episodes.

It’s important to pay attention to the warning signs. If you notice yourself or a loved one is developing symptoms similar to those mentioned above, you’ll want to seek medical attention. In turn, you could prevent episodes from getting worse.

If you believe you’ve already developed a bipolar disorder, then you may have also noticed your pattern of episodes and your triggers. With this knowledge, you can reach out to a medical professional before you fall into an episode and better inform him/her of your condition. Furthermore, you have the ability to tell those around you of an episode and the ways in which they can help you.

You’ll also want to refrain from drinking alcohol and using drugs. Substances tend to worsen symptoms and can even make them appear more frequently. If you’re using drugs as a means of self-medicating, it’s important to reach out to a mental health professional.

When you begin your treatment, you’re going to be offered medication as a means of relieving symptoms. make sure you take this medication exactly as directed. Unfortunately, the medication a doctor gives holds the potential of developing addictive tendencies. With that, you shouldn’t take more medication than directed as you may begin a dependence and, by taking less of the medication, you might experience withdrawal symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

There are two ways in which bipolar disorder is treated. The first is through at least one of three different classes of medication. And the second is through psychotherapy.

The three classes of medication are:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood stabilizers

The most common drug used to treat bipolar is lithium carbonate. This medication has had extraordinary effects on reducing many of the symptoms associated with mania. Some people have also had success in preventing major depressive episodes, but this isn’t a guarantee when you take the medication.

Another popular medication for bipolar disorder is valproic acid (also known as Depakote). It’s another popular choice for reducing mania and is sometimes taken alongside lithium carbonate.

You may also be offered certain kinds of drugs if your mania isn’t as intense. These drugs include but aren’t limited to:

  • Gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal)
  • Topiramate (Topamax)

As mentioned, bipolar medication can cause addiction if not careful. Only take the amount recommended by your doctor.

Though medication has shown lots of success for people, it’s usually most effective when taken alongside psychotherapy. The purpose of these therapies is to help you better understand your episode patterns while getting you to accept the personal and social disturbances that naturally come through these episodes. Inevitably, the end goal is to teach you how to better cope with your symptoms for when future episodes occur.

There are a few different types of psychotherapy you may be offered for bipolar disorder. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Individual therapy/counseling
  • Interpersonal/social rhythm therapy

If you’ve faced very severe manic or depressed episodes, you might be offered electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). The reason for such intense therapy is some people don’t properly react to medication nor the psychotherapies mentioned above.

Your Questions

This article sought out to give you as much information as possible surrounding bipolar disorder. Still have more questions? We invite you to ask them in the comments section below.

Have any further information pertaining to a bipolar disorder? We’d also love to hear from you. Personal advice from your experiences is always appreciated.

We reply to each comment in a timely and personal manner.


Leave a Reply