Bipolar disorder is a condition of which you have likely heard. However, unless you or someone you love has been diagnosed with the condition, you might not realize what an effect it can have on a patient and their loved one’s lives. Patients should be aware of the psychological counseling benefits for the disorder that help them manage their condition and give them the necessary coping skills they need to live with the disease.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) defines bipolar disorder like this:
“Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly.”
To read more specifics from NAMI about Bipolar Disorder, please click here.
There are four types of bipolar disorder. They all share the same changes in mood, energy and activity levels, although not to the same degree of intensity. Bipolar I Disorder is the most severe, and the fourth type is the least severe, although still sharing symptoms with the other types. To read more about the four types of Bipolar Disorder, please click here.
Most people have heard of Bipolar Disorder even if they don’t know anyone with the condition. However, many people don’t know the specific signs and symptoms associated with the disease.
Common Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder Include:
- Experiencing unusually intense emotions
- Unusual behaviors
- Odd sleep patterns and activity levels (at strange times)
- Extreme changes in energy and activity, e.g. from very “up” and energetic to very “down” and lethargic
These symptoms are categorized as mood episodes. These mood episodes are the Manic, which is the “up” mood, and Depressive, which is the “down” mood.
During Manic Episodes, the patient might have symptoms that include:
- Positive feeling, feeling very “up”
- Extreme energy and activity levels, typically more active than usual
- Difficulties sleeping
- Talking fast about a multitude of subject
- Feel like their mind is racing
- Taking risks he or she wouldn’t normally take (e.g., spending a lot of money or engaging in unusual sex)
- Extreme multi-tasking
- Feeling jumpy and irritable; might be quick to anger
A patient having a Depressive Episode, on the other hand, might have the following symptoms:
- Feeling an extreme level of sadness, even hopelessness, as well as worried and empty; might say they feel like they can’t have any pleasure in anything or enjoy his or herself
- Listless behavior and a decreased activity level; feeling tired all the time
- Changes in sleep patterns, from sleeping too much to sleeping too little
- Changes in eating patterns, from eating too much to eating too little
- Experiencing difficulties concentrating
- Might experience a fixation on death or contemplations of suicide
Some patients have episodes with mixed features from both the up and down moods. As an example, the patient might feel incredibly sad and empty but have lots of energy.
The mood swings are typical of the disorder, but they are not always extreme. Some people have less severe swings, which is a condition referred to as hypomanic. If left untreated, hypomania may progress to severe mania or depression.
People suffering from bipolar disorder are not always aware they have it. In some cases, the patient knows he or she is suffering a mood episode, but they don’t want to admit it or attempt to persevere it on their own. In these cases, they might hide their symptoms under other excuses, pretending everything is fine or calling in sick to school or work. Typically, it’s up to the patient’s family and friends to discover the truth.
Some of these “hidden symptoms” could include:
Creating a façade of normalcy: In this case, the patient is feeling the symptoms of mania, but is hiding it behind a tranquil expression, disguising the racing thoughts behind a cultivated calm demeanor. They pretend everything’s okay, employing the “fake it ‘til you make it” strategy to deceive those around them.
Cutting themselves off from family and friends: It’s not unusual for the patient to withdraw from their usual activities or family gatherings when they are experiencing a mood episode. The idea behind this choice is that he or she knows something is wrong, but think by keeping it to themselves it will minimize the symptoms. On the flip-side, someone on a manic swing might overcommit to activities and then cancel at the last minute.
Unusual behavior at odd times: When a patient starts doing things out of the ordinary, and unusual in judgment, they could be experiencing a mood episode. For example, a patient experiencing mania might have trouble sleeping and start calling people in the middle of the night. Another example might be that the patient uses drugs (prescription or otherwise) and alcohol to help manage the symptoms of either type of mood episode. This self-medication can be dangerous for their health and could even lead to an overdose.
Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder
In all cases of bipolar disorder, the proper diagnosis is critical to appropriate treatment. However, it can be challenging to diagnose accurately because most patients seek help when they are in a depressive episode, and could be diagnosed only with depression. Furthermore, some of the symptoms are the same as those of other conditions, including Psychosis, Anxiety, ADHD, and even substance abuse. The patient’s doctor, however, can differentiate bipolar disorder from these disorders to arrive at the diagnosis and treatment plan.
Once the patient’s doctor has a diagnosis, he or she can pursue a treatment plan. Some common treatment plans for bipolar disorder might include medication, psychotherapy, and other nonpharmacological therapies.
Medication used to treat bipolar disorder involves mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants. Which drugs are used are tied to the symptoms the patient experiences. Some address the manic cycle, like lithium and valproic acid, while others might address the depressive cycle, which includes the antidepressant drugs. However, most experts agree that antidepressants can be more problematic than helpful and will keep their use to a minimum. Antipsychotic drugs are also used to treat the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Some medications that treat epilepsy have shown good results in treating mood episode regulation, but at this time are considered experimental.
Psychotherapy on an ongoing basis is the foundation of treatment for bipolar disorder. It helps patients understand their symptoms and cope with its consequences. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, family therapy and group therapy have all been successful in this regard. Not only does it teach understanding and coping skills, but psychotherapy is also helpful to keep patients on their medication.
In severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) might be used. It is helpful to those patients that do not respond to medication and for pregnant women experiencing symptoms. In ECT, the patient is under anesthesia in conjunction with muscle relaxers while an electric current induces a grand mal seizure. This treatment typically has six to twelve treatments over a two or three week period. Other nonpharmacological treatments might involve nerve stimulation or light therapy.
Home therapy is also recommended for patients with bipolar disorder. Experts agree that a calm environment is best for patients experiencing a manic mood episode. Routines are good for daily activities, especially eating and sleeping schedules. Regular and routine exercise is also important.
Some triggers at home can contribute to the frequency or intensity of an episode. Too much socializing in a party setting or watching media for extended periods of time can exacerbate symptoms, so moderation for each is recommended. Too much caffeine has adverse effects as well, so experts recommend exercising restraint in the consumption of soda and coffee. Also, using drugs and alcohol has shown reduce medication’s effectiveness. They also tend to make symptoms worse. Experts say to avoid these all together.
People with bipolar disorder can learn to live with their condition. There are many psychological counseling benefits, including coping skills, which make it possible for them to manage their situation to its best possible outcome. Diagnosis and ongoing treatment are key factors in their success. If you or someone you love is experiencing any of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, please contact your doctor for a consultation.
Achieve Wellness Group has many professional psychologists and neuropsychologists that can help you or someone you love gets the proper diagnosis and treatment you need to achieve your best possible wellness. Contact us to learn more.
Grohol, Psy.D., John M. “5 Surprising Signs & Hidden Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder.” Psychcentral.com. Web. 18 April 2016. <https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/03/30/5-surprising-signs-hidden-symptoms-of-bipolar-disorder/>.
“Understanding Bipolar Disorder —Treatment.” www.webmd.com. Web. 18 April 2016. <https://www.webmd.com/bipolar-disorder/guide/understanding-bipolar-disorder-treatment>.