What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is characterized by the cycling of recurrent episodes of mania and depression. Mania usually refers to periods of elevated moods, such as excitement, irritability, periods of elation, and other high-energy states. Conversely, bipolar depressive episodes are often characterized by despondency, exhaustion, unexplainable sadness, insecurity, and a general state of melancholy.
Treatment for bipolar disorder is often complicated by the very nature of these mood swings. Usually, those with bipolar disorder feel normal during manic periods- even though they may engage in irresponsible behavior- and so typically only seek help during depressive episodes. As a result, bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as various forms of depression. Compounding the problem is the fact that individuals that seek help during manic episodes are often incorrectly assumed to be suffering from ADD or ADHD.
Because of these complications, many people have suffered from bipolar disorder for as long as a decade before being diagnosed correctly. However, today there are very effective methods of treating a bipolar disorder that includes a program of education, medication, therapy, lifestyle choices, and the involvement of loved ones.
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
Identifying bipolar disorder begins by ruling out other conditions. This typically involves a thorough medical exam that will seek to determine if symptoms are being caused by illnesses, injuries, or imbalances- such as improper use of medications or medications that conflict with one another. Tests for physical disorders such as thyroid or other glandular conditions are conducted in order to eliminate physiological causes.
The most important aspect of diagnosing bipolar disorder is a psychological exam. Trained psychiatrists that specialize in the treatment of bipolar disorder will ask potential sufferers questions regarding lifestyle, manic and depressive episodes, suicidal thoughts or attempts, and will also want to discuss any previous psychological treatment in order to make as accurate a diagnosis as possible.
The psychological evaluation is a crucial part of a treatment of bipolar disorder and often involves family members and loved ones to gain multiple perspectives on the mood and personality of the apparent sufferer. This is important to ensure that the diagnosis is correct, as bipolar is often misdiagnosed as depression, schizophrenia, and other mood and personality disorders.
Specific Bipolar Diagnoses
Most people diagnosed as bipolar will fall into one of the following categories:
- Bipolar I Disorder
- Bipolar II Disorder
The primary difference between bipolar types I and II is the state of manic episodes. Bipolar I sufferers cope with the most severe version of the condition, characterized by multiple manic and depressive episodes. Those with bipolar II suffer from significant depressive episodes but have experienced much milder periods of mania known as hypomania.
People suffering from cyclothymia have recurrent bouts of both hypomania and mild depression. This condition is mostly a very mild form of bipolar disorder, but can often develop into bipolar disorder types I or II if not monitored and treated accordingly.
Diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder must be thorough to prevent potentially dangerous misdiagnoses. This is because medications and treatments for other types of conditions and diseases, such as depression and schizophrenia, can worsen bipolar symptoms and increase the likelihood of suicide. This is an especially important consideration, as nearly one in five sufferers of bipolar disorder complete suicide. With a proper plan engaged for the treatment of bipolar disorder, this doesn’t have to be the case.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Treatment of bipolar disorder begins with allowing the afflicted person to take back control of their life through education and self-help. By understanding the condition and its symptoms, a person living with bipolar disorder can know the difference between their natural selves and the onset of bipolar symptoms. Identifying these differences and communicating them to family members can help significantly in managing the disorder, and empowers both the sufferer and family by involving them in the education and treatment process.
As part of a balanced treatment plan for bipolar disorder, people with bipolar are encouraged to make healthy lifestyle choices to help control and reduce symptoms. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and abstaining from harmful activities such as drinking or taking drugs. Additionally, maintaining a regular sleeping schedule, limiting stressors, and sustaining regular sun exposure is important as well. Physical and emotional health is strongly linked to the onset and progression of bipolar disorder. Understanding that these aspects can be controlled is a vital part of an effective treatment program.
Medication for Bipolar Disorder
Medication is also an integral component to treating bipolar disorder. In order to be effective, the medication must be taken precisely as scheduled; even if no symptoms have been present for some time. Mood swings may still occur but will be significantly reduced with effective medication. Seeing a medical doctor regularly while on any medication is important to monitor any possible physiological changes or side effects.
Bipolar Disorder Therapy & Support
Ongoing therapy with a professional that specializes in bipolar disorder is another primary part of treating bipolar. Therapy sessions can be private, or they can involve family members. This often helps to recognize symptoms or issues that might otherwise be disregarded or not noticed by someone living with bipolar disorder. Studies have shown that people with bipolar who consistently participate in therapy are happier overall with their lives and treatment and have reduced or less severe manic and depressive episodes.
Therapy for bipolar disorder is also imperative to determine if medications are working correctly. Sometimes, therapy and other forms of treatment may succeed so well that medications can be reduced or eliminated. On the contrary, worsening conditions can be identified during therapy and medication can be adjusted accordingly.
There are three primary types of therapy employed to help those with bipolar disorder. They are:
- Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy: Explores how thinking affects the state of mind and emotions and focuses on changing thought patterns that negatively impact a person with bipolar disorder.
- Interpersonal Therapy: Helps define and resolve issues in relationships by discussing them candidly, addressing them proactively, and adhering to a plan for a balanced life rhythm.
- Family Focused Therapy: Allows treatment for bipolar disorder to include family and loved ones, who are often negatively affected by symptoms and unmanageable lifestyles caused by bipolar related issues.
Supplemental Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
Because bipolar symptoms are often activated or exacerbated by stress, any person living with bipolar should take part in activities that reduce stress. While this can be something as simple as a daily walk, it can also include making regular visits to a massage therapist, an acupuncturist, or meditation specialist. Any self-help form of treatment for bipolar disorder such as these will provide an outlet to release stress, as well as place control of the condition back into the hands of the sufferer. Knowing that bipolar is manageable and that steps can be taken now and every day to create a better life while living with bipolar is perhaps the most crucial part of a strong, effective, and lasting treatment plan.