Bipolar Disorder

“Bipolar disorder is an extremely rare disorder. On top of that, it completely ruins your life.” 

“I’m really moody, so I must have bipolar disorder.” 

“I get angry very quickly; I have bipolar disorder.”

“If you have bipolar disorder, forget about making any plans for the future.” 

“Bipolar disorder is basically the same thing as multiple personality disorder.” 

“Everyone is bipolar.”

Bipolar disorder is different than mood swings. A dark-haired woman sits with her arms wrapped around her knees.

These are all common myths about bipolar disorder. None of them are true! Bipolar disorder is one of the most misunderstood psychological diagnoses. Many people just accept the explanation of bipolar disorder that we’ve seen in our culture. It’s often described as having mood swings or being irritable throughout the day. Some people also believe that having bipolar disorder means that you will be constantly reckless and out of control. Sometimes, this idea assumes that people with bipolar disorder have “multiple personalities” like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. All of these assumptions couldn’t be farther from the truth!

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Historically, bipolar disorder has been referred to as “manic depression.” It causes individuals to experience changes in their mood that fall on the manic or depressive spectrums. Someone with bipolar disorder can experience “highs,” that are referred to as manic or hypomanic episodes. They can also experience “lows,” that are classified as depressive episodes. People tend to stay in these episodes for days to months, unlike the minute to minute changes that are better described as mood swings. There are two main types of bipolar disorder: bipolar 1 and bipolar 2. 

What is Bipolar 1 Disorder?

Bipolar 1 disorder is diagnosed when a person experiences symptoms of mania. This person can also experience depressive symptoms, though this is not necessary in order to have the diagnosis. So, what exactly is a manic episode?

A manic episode is a period of time when a person’s mood is abnormally elevated and positive without the effect of stimulants (like cocaine). An abnormally high level of irritation accompanies the elevated mood, too. In addition, individuals experience an uncharacteristically high level of energy and often engage in many risky activities that are out of the ordinary for them. They often speak quickly and they say things that suggest they have an extremely high level of self-esteem. In addition, they may no longer need sleep. At times, people with bipolar 1 disorder end up experiencing psychosis, where they have sensory experiences that are not based in reality. They may also have delusional beliefs, which means they may believe things that aren’t true, despite any amount of evidence to prove that they’re wrong. Usually, these symptoms last for at least a week, but often longer. 

What is Bipolar 2 Disorder?

Bipolar 2 looks a bit different from bipolar 1. People with bipolar 2 experience hypomanic episodes as well as depressive episodes. When someone is depressed, they have a sense of sadness, worthlessness, and hopelessness. They can stay in this state for long periods of time. Then their mood may shift, but not to a typical state. Rather than returning to a more normal mood, people with this disorder experience hypomanic episodes. These are similar to the manic episodes described above, but they’re less severe. People in a hypomanic state will have noticeable differences in the way they talk and interact with people. Their mood is elevated and irritable in a manner that is not typical for them. 

How Common is Bipolar Disorder?

Depending on the study, lifetime prevalence rates of bipolar spectrum disorders range from 1%-2.4%.  Bipolar 1 is diagnosed at a somewhat higher rate than bipolar 2. In general, both types of the disorder have an even distribution across men and women, but its onset usually occurs in the late teens and early twenties. There is also a strong genetic contribution to the development of this disorder.

Do I have a Psychological Disorder?

“Bipolar” has become a common adjective in our society. It’s often used to describe people who have quickly shifting emotions or who behave unpredictably. Even though this isn’t an accurate description of the disorder, the use of the term persists.

Getting an accurate diagnosis is necessary to ensure proper treatment. In order to qualify for a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, there must be signs of mania, hypomania, or depression. Moreover, these symptoms must cause considerable distress or impairment in daily functioning. 

Can Psychological Therapy Help?

Because mania and hypomania often make you feel good at some level (e.g., increased energy, euphoric thoughts), people with bipolar disorder are sometimes resistant to seeking help. Often, it’s those around them that seek services because they have witnessed the detrimental effects of this disorder on their loved one’s life. 

The first step is proper diagnosis. This is essential, particularly given that this is one of the most misdiagnosed mental illnesses. Throughout our extensive experience of providing treatment for bipolar disorder, we have found that working hand in hand with a psychiatrist is a necessity. This allows for a treatment team to work together, approaching the problem from different angles. The use of psychiatric medication is an important component in treating this disorder. 

Although medication is a vital part of the treatment of bipolar disorder, people with this disorder often benefit from therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help with depressive episodes. In CBT, we look at the relationship between your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Looking at this relationship can help address any unhelpful thinking patterns that are getting in the way of your emotional well-being. Engaging in CBT will help you manage your symptoms and prevent behaviors that can cause a relapse of symptoms. It also provides the perfect environment to safely learn healthy coping skills. 

Bipolar disorder can be treated effectively with therapy and medication. A man sits on a sofa while a therapist holds a clipboard to perform an assessment.

Experiencing high levels of stress can promote the onset of a manic, hypomanic, and depressive episode. That means incorporating good coping skills as part of the treatment is vital. Coping skills soothe your body and promote relaxation, allowing your mind to work logically and efficiently. There are a wide variety of coping skills, and they work differently for everyone. One important component of treatment is learning about which skills work for you!

Experiencing mania and hypomania can be scary to you and those around you. Often, these episodes feel unpredictable, without a clear onset. Therapy can help you identify the early signs of mania and hypomania, which will give you the confidence to know when to intervene if an episode arises. In treatment, you will have the opportunity to explore the factors that “kick start” these episodes. Knowing the signs and symptoms that lead up to an episode can give you a sense of control. One other important focus of treatment will learning to navigate the interpersonal issues (e.g., arguments with friends, family experiencing fear in your presence during an episode) that arise from your behavior during these episodes.  

How Do I Get Help?

There is no reason to wonder if you have bipolar disorder. At Sentience Psychological Services, we offer a comprehensive psychological evaluation that can definitively tell you if you suffer from this disorder. Our team at Sentience Psychological Services is well-versed in diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder, and making sure you feel safe and comfortable with our therapists is our priority. Contact us to start your journey today.

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