Many mental health disorders bear the burden of stigma, but the burden borne by bipolar disorder may be the worst. Many believe that bipolar disorder is the same as having mood swings, for one, and it is common to call someone who switches moods “bipolar.” Misconceptions such as these can mock and stereotype those with a disorder or even prevent those suffering from it from getting help.

Bipolar is a serious mental health disorder and can even be fatal on occasion. It should be treated and taken seriously by patients and their loved ones.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is a separate but related disorder in which a patient experiences manic and depressive periods that are not as severe as the ones in bipolar disorder. These swings may not occur as frequently, either, as the swings in bipolar disorder. Mental health professionals often treat this disorder with the same methods they would use for bipolar disorder, as well.

Bipolar 1 & Bipolar 2

There are two types of bipolar disorder: bipolar I and bipolar II.

Bipolar I patients experience periods of mania that go on for at least 7 days and periods of depression that go on for at least 14 days. If the periods of either depression or mania are so severe that the patient ends up in the hospital, that patient may still receive a diagnosis even if the periods are shorter that 14 or 7 days.

Bipolar II patients also experience stages of depression and mania, but they are shorter and less severe than in bipolar I. This does not mean that this version does not require treatment, however. Those with bipolar II should be sure to get treatment, too.

The Symptoms 

Those with bipolar disorder experience very different symptoms during their periods of mania or depression. When manic, a patient may be so overstimulated he forgets to take care of the basic necessities of life, engaging instead in manic and impulsive behaviors of great intensity.

In the depressive stage, the patient experiences severe depression and even suicidal ideation. As with the manic stage, the individual may not be able to take care of themselves or their life.

Both manic and depressive stages can be dangerous for the patient. What’s more, these periods can last for extended periods of time, exposing patients to risk for a long time.

Manic Symptoms

  • Excessive energy
  • Extreme elation
  • Inability to sleep
  • Heightened irritability
  • Racing thinking
  • Risk taking behavior

Depressive Symptoms

  • Feeling hopeless
  • Low energy
  • Disordered sleeping and eating
  • Exhaustion
  • Apathy and detachment
  • Avoiding favorite things
  • Suicidal ideation

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

There is no blood test or brain scan that can identify bipolar disorder. Clinical diagnosis by a mental health professional is the only way to confirm this disorder.

The diagnostic process involves thorough interviews with the patient, during which the therapist tries to establish the patient’s history. A patient may also need to answer surveys, questionnaires, and scales.

This is not a stressful process, though the patient may be hesitant to share personal details. Taking breaks during the process is a good way to alleviate any strain during diagnosis.

Differential Diagnosis

A mental health professional may also want to conduct what is known as a differential diagnosis. This process is used to determine whether or not other comorbid disorders are present, including addiction or psychosis. A differential can also help rule out other disorders that have similar symptoms.

Running a differential diagnosis involves the same steps listed above, including interviews and questionnaires.

Treating Bipolar Disorder

A mental health professional can treat bipolar disorder with therapy, medication, or both. When a patient has very severe symptoms, admittance to an inpatient facility may be necessary.

Talk Therapy

Talk therapies that are effective with bipolar disorder include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In this form of talk therapy, the patient can work on understanding triggers and modifying responses. Family members can also benefit from participating in some form of family therapy so that they can build the understanding they need to support the patient. Other therapies used to treat bipolar disorder include Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT).

Medication

Talk therapy alone does not typically suffice when it comes to treating bipolar disorder. A psychiatrist may also prescribe:

  • Mood stabilizers
  • Antipsychotics
  • Antidepressants
  • Sleep aids

Since insomnia is often a symptom of this disorder, sleep aids can help a patient get enough rest to succeed during the treatment process.

Do A Lot of People Have Bipolar Disorder?

Statistics show that 2.6 percent of U.S. adults, or 5.7 million people, have bipolar disorder. It is unclear how many children and adolescents have this disorder. Some estimates place the number of children who are bipolar at 750,000 but mental health professionals have not come to a consensus on how to diagnose bipolar disorder in children.

Risk Factors for Developing Bipolar Disorder

Individuals with a specific gene variant may be at higher risk for developing bipolar disorder. While there may be a genetic component, those without a history in their family can also develop the disorder.