What is Bipolar disorder? Bipolar disorder is a treatable brain condition characterized by extreme and sometimes sudden shifts in mood, energy, thoughts, behavior, and the ability to carry out everyday tasks. These shifts in mood, called “mood episodes”, often produce intense emotional states, which can range from mania (highs) to deep depression (lows). Sometimes a mixed state can occur, where an individual may experience both mania and depression simultaneously. The mood swings of bipolar disorder are distinct from ordinary mood swings in their length, intensity, and the degree to which they may interfere with one’s life. The mood episodes of bipolar disorder may last a few hours, days, weeks, or even months.
Did you know that about six million adult Americans have bipolar disorder? Bipolar disorder is common – it occurs in all races, ethnic groups, social classes, and develops in equal numbers among men and women. While the disorder can appear at any age, typical onset begins in late adolescence (or one’s late teenage years), with a median onset age of 25 years old. A male’s onset typically begins with a manic episode, whereas a female’s begins with a depressive episode.
Bipolar disorder is not caused by some personal flaw or weakness. The precise cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but most scientists agree that multiple factors are likely involved in the onset of symptoms. While the disorder can appear at any age, onset can begin in late adolescence (or one’s late teenage years) with a median onset age of 25 years old.
Symptoms of mania or a manic episode include:
• A long period of feeling “high,” or an overly happy or outgoing mood
• Extremely irritable mood, agitation, feeling “jumpy” or “wired”
• Talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another, having racing thoughts
• Being easily distracted
• Increasing goal-directed activities, such as taking on new projects
• Being restless
• Sleeping little
• Having an unrealistic belief in one’s abilities
• Behaving impulsively and taking part in a lot of pleasurable, high-risk behaviors, such as spending sprees, impulsive sex, and imprudent business investments
Symptoms of depression or a depressive episode include:
• A long period of feeling worried or empty
• Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, including sex
• Feeling tired or “slowed down”
• Having problems concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
• Being restless or irritable
• Changing eating, sleeping, or other habits
• Thinking of death or suicide, or attempting suicide.
While someone with bipolar disorder may experience all of the above symptoms, the type of bipolar disorder that one has can be determined by the pattern and severity of these symptoms. The onset of the disorder can be difficult to recognize, as symptoms often seem like separate problems. Receiving a proper diagnosis is thus a critical step towards effective treatment, and ultimately, a healthy and productive life.
Experiencing any of the symptoms of bipolar disorder can make taking the first step towards treatment very difficult. Taking the steps towards diagnosis and effective treatment may take time, so it is important to be patient and gentle with oneself during this process. Fortunately, becoming educated and connected to the people and resources that can help one get well has never been easier.
How does one go about getting diagnosed? The first step is getting in touch with a doctor.
The doctor may be one’s general physician or a trained mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist. The doctor should conduct a complete diagnostic evaluation. Family history of mental illness or bipolar disorder should be discussed, along with a complete history of symptoms. It will also be important for the doctor to talk with relatives or the spouse of the person being diagnosed to note their explanations of the symptoms and ascertain family history. In performing a diagnosis, a doctor may carry out a physical examination, an interview, and lab tests. Certain mental health professionals specialize in the diagnosis of mental disorders.
In addition to the Find-A-Pro feature, The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance offers a number of other excellent resources in education, wellness, and peer support – for family, friends, and those with bipolar alike. We highly encourage you to explore these great resources, and those offered by other organizations.
Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder at this time, with proper treatment people can gain a measure of control over their mood swings and other symptoms. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong, recurrent illness that requires continuous long-term treatment in order to control the symptoms. The most effective treatment combines medication with psychotherapy to prevent relapses and reduce the severity of symptoms. Lifestyle choices such as diet, sleep, and exercise can also effect one’s quality of life.
When embarking on any type of treatment plan one should consult their doctor or other medical professional. A treatment plan needs to be tailored to each individual. There are a number of different types of medications that have proven to be effective for people with bipolar disorder but consultation with medical professionals is required to find the right one(s). There are different kinds of therapy such as group, individual, interpersonal, cognitive-behavioral, and family focused therapy. Healthcare professionals can help you understand what type of therapy is right for you.
Patient Assistance Drug Programs
Drugs are an important part of living with bipolar disorder. But drugs can be expensive, especially for those without health insurance or with high deductibles. Many drug companies have programs to provide drugs free of charge to physicians for patients who cannot afford the drugs. Below is a link to a comprehensive list of these drug companies and the contact information. Please note we have not verified any of this information.
Educational Information | Links
There are many websites that deal with bipolar disorder. Generally, we have found that Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) are the most comprehensive resources on the web for bipolar disorder. Because each organization offers something different we have included links from all three. Please explore these websites for additional information. They each have sections for educational materials and resources.
The following are links to particular pages on the above mentioned websites that can assist in various aspects of treatment such as how to find and work with healthcare providers, how bipolar is treated with medications, how therapy works in treatment of bipolar, and what are additional treatments.
DBSA: Medications for Depression and Bipolar Disorder
NAMI: About Medications
NIMH: How Bipolar Disorder is Treated
WebMD: Drugs & Medication Search
Mayo Clinic: Treatments and Drugs
DBSA: Psychotherapy: How it Works and How it Can Help
NAMI: Psychosocial Treatments
WebMD: Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder
Mayo Clinic: Treatments and Drugs
DBSA: Additional Treatment Options
NAMI: Treatment and Support
NIMH: How Bipolar Disorder is Treated
WebMD: Alternative Medicine
WebMD: Foods to Avoid
WebMD: Exercise and Healthy Lifestyles