Approximately 6 million Americans suffer from bipolar disorder. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by mood changes that can swing from a high-energy, manic state to a low-energy, depressive state. The disorder can affect sleep, energy level and the ability to think clearly, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can interfere with a person’s ability to work and perform daily living activities, and could lead to suicide attempts. Patients with bipolar II disorder do not experience the full-blown manic episodes, but may have a less severe high-energy state.

Approximately 2.6 percent of American adults have bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression and manic depressive disorder), according to the National Institute of Mental Health. These mood swings include “highs” (mania), when individuals feel either on top of the world or on edge, and “lows” (depression), when they feel sad and hopeless. Suicide attempts are common in bipolar disorder, especially during depressive episodes

Bipolar disorder can be effectively treated with medication and psychotherapy. With proper treatment, individuals with bipolar can lead fulfilling, productive lives. This is why it’s so important to recognize the symptoms and see a mental health professional for an evaluation.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder:

There is no single cause for bipolar disorder. Indeed, like all psychological disorders, bipolar disorder is a complex condition with multiple contributing factors, including:

  • Genetic: Bipolar disorder tends to run in families, so researchers believe there is a genetic predisposition for the disorder. Scientists also are exploring the presence of abnormalities on specific genes.
  • Biological: Researchers believe that some neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine, don’t function properly in individuals with bipolar disorder.
  • Environmental: Outside factors, such as stress or a major life event, may trigger a genetic predisposition or potential biological reaction. For instance, if bipolar disorder was entirely genetic, both identical twins would have the disorder. But research reveals that one twin can have bipolar, while the other does not, implicating the environment as a potential contributing cause.

There are four possible bipolar states:

Mania 

  • Feelings of euphoria and elation or irritability and anger
  • Impulsive, high-risk behavior, including grand shopping sprees, drug and alcohol abuse and sexual promiscuity
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Increased energy and rapid speech
  • Fleeting, often grandiose ideas
  • Decreased sleep (typically the individual doesn’t feel tired after as few as three hours of sleep)
  • Decreased appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating; disorganized thoughts
  • Inflated self-esteem
  • Delusions and hallucinations (in severe cases)

Hypomania

Hypomania is less severe than a full-blown manic episode. Hypomanic individuals can seem pleasant, friendly, energetic and productive. Though it doesn’t sound problematic, increasing hypomania can lead to risky behaviors and full mania.

Depression

  • Feelings of hopelessness and sadness
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in formerly enjoyable activities; loss of energy (sometimes to the point of inability to get out of bed)
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Feelings of worthlessness and inappropriate guilt
  • Inability to concentrate or make a decision
  • Thoughts of death and suicide

Mixed Episode

A mixture of mania and depression

Note About Suicidal Behaviors

  • Withdrawing from loved ones and isolating oneself
  • Talking or writing about death or suicide
  • Putting personal affairs in order
  • Previous attempts

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is a crucial component of long-term bipolar disorder management. Even when your mood swings are under control, it’s still important to stay in treatment.

Several different psychotherapeutic methods have proved to be effective in treating bipolar disorder.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals develop strategies to cope with their symptoms, change negative thinking and behavior, monitor their moods and predict their mood to try to prevent a relapse.

Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy is a combination of interpersonal therapy and CBT. This newer treatment focuses on circadian rhythms to help clients establish and maintain routines and build healthier relationships.

Psychoeducation teaches individuals about their disorder and treatment and gives them the tools to manage it and anticipate mood swings. Psychoeducation also is valuable for family members.

What Do I Do Next?

By starting to learn about bipolar disorder, you’ve already taken a significant first step. If you’d like to learn more, check out our resource page.

If you think you or a loved one has bipolar disorder, it’s important to be evaluated by a trained mental health professional. Urban Balance has clinicians on staff who specialize in mood disorders, including bipolar. If you are interested in connecting with one of our therapists, contact our intake department.

If bipolar disorder is well managed with therapy and medication, and with help from family, friends, support groups and health professionals, the person with bipolar disorder can lead a productive and satisfying life: many people with bipolar disorder are partnered, have families, work, study and pursue pastimes of their choice.

A variety of psychotherapies can also help supplement medications to help a person learn to better control and stabilize their moods.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps people change their “depressive” style of thinking; interpersonal therapy and family therapy both focus on relationship issues; and social skills training helps improve communication. These have all been shown to help people with bipolar disorder. They are often useful alongside self-help and support groups which may be particularly beneficial in the early stages of the disorder, at the time when people are accepting their diagnosis and developing strategies to cope.

Whatever the severity of their condition, people with a bipolar diagnosis are increasingly developing ways of managing their mood swings, working out ways of reducing their frequency and severity, and lessening the disruptive effect they can have on jobs, relationships and lives. There is much to be optimistic about, because more has been discovered about bipolar disorder in the past ten years than was discovered in the previous 50. Enormous strides have been made on all fronts, including removing the stigma attached to the condition.