9 Important Things You Need to Know about Bipolar Disorder
More than 46 million people around the world have bipolar disorder. This mental illness causes a person to undergo dramatic and extreme shifts in energy, moods, and clarity. It affects men and women equally. The illness typically manifests around 25 years of age, although it does occur in teenagers.
Despite the millions of people diagnosed with it, bipolar disorder is often misunderstood. It’s largely due to ignorance and because it affects everyone differently. To help address that, here are nine important things to know about this illness.
1. There are four different types of bipolar disorder
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) have determined the condition has four types –
- Bipolar I: Patients of this type will experience manic and depressive episodes. Manic episodes usually last for a week or longer while the depressive symptoms last for about two weeks. Some people also experience mixed episodes.
- Bipolar II: This is a subset of the disorder, with the patient experiencing manic episodes alongside depressive ones. However, it’s not the “full” mania of Bipolar I.
- Cyclothymic: This condition is likened to a less severe form of the condition. Cyclothymic sufferers will experience mild depression and hypomania for about two years. They will also go through periods of normal moods that lasts around eight weeks.
- Unspecified or Other Specified: This type doesn’t fall under the previously mentioned symptoms. However, the patient still experiences abnormal changes in mood.
2. Symptoms are classified into two types
Symptoms of bipolar disorder are classified into two kinds of moods – mania and depression. You might become more talkative and have higher self-esteem during a manic episode. You’ll sleep less but will have higher energy levels. Your attention span is poor, and your thoughts are always racing. You’ll also be more inclined to engage in risky behavior.
If you’re experiencing a depressive episode, you’re likely to be feeling low and lack energy. There will be significant changes to your sleeping and eating patterns. You might also feel restless and worthless. You’ll have trouble concentrating. Some might even be considering suicide.
3. Doctors can’t determine the exact cause of the illness
No one can pinpoint the exact cause of bipolar disorder. However, researchers have determined three key factors that could increase your odds of having this condition – genetics, family history, and brain structure. You’re more at risk of developing this condition if there’s someone in the family diagnosed as bipolar.
Traumatic events could also increase the risk of it developing. Meanwhile, lack of sleep, alcohol and drug use could trigger depressive or manic episodes.
4. Correct diagnosis is critical
Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression. It’s because people often seek treatment during depressive episodes. Your doctor or mental health specialist will need to establish if your symptoms fall into the manic or depressive criteria. They also have to make sure what you’re experiencing is not caused by alcohol, drugs or other medical issues.
Proper diagnosis is critical as the wrong prescription can be dangerous. For instance, giving an antidepressant without a mood stabilizer to someone bipolar could trigger a full manic episode. These situations could progress and become more extreme.
5. Young people can be diagnosed with it
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says the illness typically manifests in the late teenage years or early adulthood. The average age symptoms appear is 25. However, it can also develop in children and younger teens.
The condition is harder to diagnose in younger people as the symptoms might not fully be in line with the diagnostic criteria. It’s also harder to ascertain if the fluctuations in mood and energy levels are symptoms or they’re just growing up. Children and teenagers with this issue also have other behavioral or mental health problems, like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
6. The disorder can be dangerous
Bipolar disorder can be dangerous if left undiagnosed and untreated. People who are bipolar are more at risk for substance abuse. They could turn to alcohol and drugs as a means to self-medicate. People in a manic episode are also prone to high-risk behaviors, like irresponsible sex, gambling, etc. that could lead to injuries.
People with this disorder are also at risk of suicide. It’s critical that they’re encouraged to get treatment, to go to therapy and talk to someone, and to have a strong support group.
7. It can be treated
This is a chronic condition that will last for the rest of your life. While there’s no cure, it is treatable. The symptoms can be managed effectively with the right combination of psychotherapy, education and medication.
Medication is a key component of treatment. Doctors usually prescribe mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and even ant seizure medications to treat bipolar disorder. Some of these medicines are effective for treating mania while others are for managing depression. The challenge is finding the right combination of medication. It’s why you should work closely with your doctor.
Research also indicates that integrating therapy with medications is more effective in managing the illness. Look into cognitive-behavioral therapy, family therapy, or social rhythm therapy. They will help you understand thought patterns and behaviors to avoid so you can live a fuller life.
8. Medication should be taken regularly.
The medication you’ll be given is primarily for stabilizing your mood and minimizing incidents of mania and depression. It’s essential that you take them regularly. Forgetting to take it or willfully refusing it because you feel better will only trigger episodes and disrupt your life.
9. You can help someone with bipolar disorder.
If you believe a loved one is bipolar, encourage them to see a doctor so they can get the assistance they need to lead a normal life. Your support can make a big difference to someone with this condition.
They also need to talk to an expert and to people with the same condition. There are support groups and networks that can guide them. You can help look for the right support system for them.
This condition is not a death sentence. It does pose daunting challenges, but you can still live a happy, fulfilled, and healthy life even with bipolar disorder.