Living with bipolar disorder can make managing everyday tasks and maintaining relationships extremely difficult. The condition can cause you to feel happy and energetic one moment and depressed and confused the next. These shifts in mood can be devastating. Luckily, there are many treatment options available that can help you manage bipolar symptoms. Understanding bipolar disorder and knowing how the condition is treated can help you live a thriving, productive, and purposeful life.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes dramatic shifts in an individual’s mood. The condition, which was once called manic depression, can also affect your energy and activity levels as well as your ability to think clearly. With bipolar disorder, you experience high and low moods that are very different from the typical ups and downs many people experience. The high mood, called mania or hypomania, can make you feel energized and elated, while the low mood, a form of depression, tends to make you feel sad, indifferent, irritated, or hopeless.
Doctors and behavioral health experts called these shifts “mood episodes.” These emotional states can occur suddenly and last for days or weeks. You might feel most like yourself when you experience a neutral mood episode, also called euthymia. This means that your mood should feel fairly stable. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder causes frequent changes in mood so this neutral state may not last long.
Most people with bipolar disorder show symptoms and receive a diagnosis around the age of 25, but the condition can occur during adolescence or childhood, although that is rare. Even though the condition affects men and women equally, the symptoms may manifest differently between genders.
Typically, men with bipolar disorder:
- Are diagnosed earlier in life
- Experience more severe episodes, especially manic episodes
- Struggle with substance abuse issues
- Act out during manic episodes
- Are more likely to die by suicide
In comparison, women with bipolar disorder tend to:
- Be diagnosed later in life
- Have milder episodes of mania
- Experience more depressive episodes than manic episodes
- Have other co-occurring conditions such as thyroid disease, obesity, anxiety disorders, and migraines
Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are 4 main types of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I is characterized by 1 or more manic episodes. If you have bipolar I, you may have both mania and depression, but a depressive episode isn’t necessary for a diagnosis.
- Bipolar II is characterized by depressive episodes shifting back and forth with hypomania. If you have bipolar II disorder, you won’t have a “full” manic episode.
- Cyclothymia triggers an unstable mood where people experience hypomania and mild depression for 2 years or more.
- Unspecified. If you don’t meet the criteria for bipolar I, II, or cyclothymia but still have significant periods of abnormal mood shifts, you might have unspecified bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms and severity of bipolar disorder can vary greatly. You might have sudden, short manic episodes or extended periods of depression. Sometimes, you may not experience any symptoms at all followed by both manic and depressive episodes.
Common symptoms of a manic episode include:
- Feeling excited, “high on life,” or elated
- Needing very little or no sleep
- Having a short temper or feeling extremely irritated
- Racing thoughts
- Talking very fast
- Feeling unusually important, talented, or powerful
- Participating in risky activities such as eating or drinking too much, spending excessive amounts of money, or having unprotected sex
Symptoms of a depressive episode often include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, or worthless
- Talking very slowly or feeling like you have nothing to say
- Difficulty with memory
- Having low or little to no energy
- Sleeping too much
- Eating too much or too little
- Losing interest in your usual activities and being unable to do simple tasks well
- Feeling lonely and isolating yourself from others
- Thinking about death and suicidal thoughts
Severe manic or depressive bipolar episodes can include psychotic symptoms such as:
When left untreated, bipolar disorder can worsen. Thankfully, treatments such as behavioral therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes can help manage bipolar symptoms.
How Is Bipolar Disorder Treated?
There are several different ways you can manage bipolar disorder. The most common include:
- Lifestyle changes
However, some natural remedies such as fish oil, vitamins, certain antioxidants, yoga, acupuncture, and meditation might also be helpful.
Medications For Bipolar Disorder
The most commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder include:
- Mood stabilizers help control manic and hypomanic episodes. These typically include lithium, valproic acid, divalproex sodium, carbamazepine, and lamotrigine.
- Antipsychotics help relieve depressive or manic symptoms. Your doctor might prescribe these alone or with a mood stabilizer. Common examples of these medications include olanzapine, risperidone, quetiapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone, lurasidone, or asenapine.
- Antidepressants help manage depression. Usually, antidepressants are prescribed alongside a mood stabilizer or antipsychotic because they can trigger a manic episode.
- Antidepressant-antipsychotic. Symbyax combines the antidepressant fluoxetine and the antipsychotic olanzapine. This allows the medication to relieve depression and stabilize mood.
- Anti-anxiety medications. Sometimes, doctors prescribe benzodiazepines to help relieve anxiety and improve sleep. But these medications are most often prescribed on a short-term basis.
Remember, this is not medical advice. Before starting or stopping any prescription medication, you should talk to a healthcare provider first.
Psychotherapy For Bipolar Disorder
The most commonly used therapies for bipolar include:
- Psychoeducation can help you and your loved ones better understand bipolar. Knowing more about the disorder can help you and others in your life better manage the condition and symptoms.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you understand your thinking patterns, control your emotions, relieve stress, and develop positive coping strategies for symptoms.
- Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) can help you find a daily routine to effectively manage daily habits such as sleeping, eating, and exercising. Balancing these everyday tasks can help you manage the disorder despite manic or depressive episodes. Having a consistent routine can also help manage your mood.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help you manage moment-to-moment thoughts and emotions. DBT can also help you regulate emotions and build healthy interpersonal skills.
- Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) sends an electrical current through the brain to trigger brief seizures in the hopes of creating changes in brain chemistry that may be able to reverse bipolar symptoms. Typically, ECT is only used for bipolar cases with a high risk of suicide or if medications don’t appear to work well.
If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact your healthcare provider or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Helping You Obtain Optimal Mental Health
Here at StoneRidge Centers, we believe that everyone deserves improved mental health. Our mental health stabilization program can help you find relief from debilitating challenges like bipolar disorder. Our team consists of a triple-board-certified neuropsychiatrist and an experienced team of registered nurses. Learn more about how our comprehensive evaluation and treatment plan can help you get the relief you’ve been searching for. Contact us today.
Innovative, Evidence-Based Therapies
Because mental health and addiction concerns are so often interconnected, we utilize research-based approaches with evidence-based outcomes that promote overall healing and recovery.