Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that can affect a person’s mood, energy, activity levels and ability to handle daily tasks. Also called manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder can be extremely difficult for people to live with.
Bipolar disorder statistics show that while a small portion of the world’s population suffers from this illness, the disorder is not extremely rare. The National Institute of Mental Health states that around 5.7 million adult Americans, which equals close to 2.7 percent of the population, suffer from this illness. Diagnosing children and teenagers is much harder, in part due to their undeveloped brains and also because many go undiagnosed until they reach adulthood. A study by researchers at Columbia University revealed that around 750,000 adolescents have bipolar disorder, but the actual number is probably closer to, or above, 1 million.
For people suffering from the symptoms associated to the illness, help is available. Medication can curb some of the manic states and bouts with depression, along with how each can disrupt a person’s daily life. First, it’s important to understand what this disorder is, how many different versions there are and how the illness is diagnosed.
Some people have misconceptions about a lot of mental health disorders, leading them to ask the question, “What is bipolar disorder?” The most common symptom of someone with a bipolar disorder is extreme emotional states that can occur at any time and for any reason, or no reason. The mood swings are categorized in three episodes: manic, hypomanic or depressive. However, people with bipolar disorder do not always experience extreme moods and sometimes can seem to be in a level state.
Manic episodes can last anywhere from a few hours to one week, in which the person has an elevated spirit or feels irritable most of the time. People might engage in riskier behavior than usual — including reckless driving or spending — or attempt to complete more activities than normal in a small window of time. Other bipolar disorder symptoms of manic episodes include:
- Exaggerated self-esteem
- Less need for sleep
- Being easily distracted
- Talking more frequently, louder and faster than usual
- Inability to focus on one topic or thought
A hypomanic episode is similar to a manic state but involves less-severe versions of each symptom. Oftentimes hypomanic occurrences only last for around four days, versus week-long stretches for manic episodes, and people who experience hypomanic states can function easier.
When a depressive state occurs, it can have debilitating effects on a person’s social life, work production, family relationships and self esteem. Sometimes people endure two-week stretches of depression and experience bipolar disorder symptoms including:
- Intense sadness and feeling helpless or worthless
- Lack of interest in activities that usually bring happiness
- Instances of sleeping too much or too little
- Extreme fatigue
- Restlessness or agitation
- Decreased speed of speech or movement
- A modified appetite
- Inability to concentrate or make routine decisions
- Suicidal thoughts
Many people endure these mood changes and the difficult associated symptoms. However, one person’s experience having a bipolar disorder will not be the same as everyone else’s struggles. Describing how the illness can differ from person to person can show what people who have been diagnosed must live with.
Like addiction, not every type of bipolar disorder is the same. The range of manic and depressive states changes for each person, and so too do the symptoms commonly associated to the disorder. Not everyone will have thoughts of suicide or experience an increase or decrease in appetite.
To better distinguish between the many variations of the illness, there are at least three medically accepted types of bipolar disorder:
- Type 1 bipolar disorder
- Type 2 bipolar disorder
- Cyclothymic Disorder
To find out more about the various types of bipolar disorders keep reading.
People who suffer from type 1 bipolar disorder usually experience manic episodes that last at least seven days. Other people might have such severe symptoms that the person needs immediate medical attention.Separate states of depression can last two weeks, or more, for people with type 1 bipolar disorder. Manic episodes and bouts with depression can occur at the same time, increasing the risk of injury or death.
Type 2 bipolar disorder is less severe than type 1, but the symptoms still include depression and hypomanic episodes. Around 6 million people suffer from this version of the mental illness, according to WebMD.com. In between stretches of time when people experience hypomania and depression, they often follow regular lives and can carry out daily functions.
In fact, people who have type 2 bipolar disorder can be pleasant to be around during the manic phase. When this stage involves a positive mood, people who have this illness often show a strong interest in other people and their activities and are highly engaging in conversation.
Cyclothymic Disorder, a much more mild form of bipolar disorder, usually involves frequent instances of hypomania and depression. The severity of the emotional rises and declines for Cyclothymic Disorder is not the same as for type 1 or type 2.
To be diagnosed with this version of bipolar disorder, people must have experienced at least two years of interchangeable hypomanic and depressive states, but not severe enough to be deemed an episode where the person can no longer function. Additionally, within those two years, mood swings needed to last at least one year and never stopped for more than two months. Medical experts using these time requirements can help distinguish between Cyclothymic Disorder and the common, every-day mood swings than everyone experiences.
Knowing some of the signs of bipolar disorder can help recognize when someone is afflicted with the illness. The most common one and well-known symptom is the extreme mood swings, but there are additional identifiers for the manic and depressive states that someone with this disorder would experience.
Age also plays a factor in how this illness affects someone. Adults and children experience different signs if they are suffering from bipolar disorder, and medical experts have researched the traits that people with this illness show during each part of their life.
There is no blood or brain test available to determine if someone has a bipolar disorder. The only medical way to determine whether someone has this illness is by noticing symptoms. In adults, the symptoms can be a little easier to recognize because the person’s brain is fully developed.
The most recognizable signs of bipolar disorder in adults are erratic and extreme mood swings, states of elevated energy followed by periods of time with fatigue and a lack of interest, and suicidal thoughts to go along with depression. Other symptoms include:
- Changes in appetite or sleeping habits
- Inability to maintain friendships or relationships
- Spending sprees
- Inability to concentrate on work assignments or home responsibilities
- Restlessness or irritability
Sometimes people show general mood swings but do not have a bipolar disorder. The distinct way to identify the illness is by recognizing the extreme difference in the manic high and the depressive low that people feel, and how long these states last.
Since a child’s brain is not as developed, identifying a bipolar disorder in a teenager or someone younger can be challenging. One of the biggest differences between adults and children who have a bipolar disorder is the length of time for each’s symptoms.
Adults are more likely to experience stretches of two weeks or more where they can suffer from depression or go through a manic state. Children more frequently change from one mood to another and identifying episodes can be challenging simply because an adolescent does not stay in a depressive or manic state for very long.
Additionally, children often have rapid mood changes due to hormones. A teenager in high school more frequently goes from states of happiness to sadness, than adults do. Clinical professionals such as counselors are the best choice for determining whether a child suffers from a bipolar disorder.
Blood tests can help identify numerous illnesses, but bipolar disorder is most often diagnosed simply from talking to a medical professional about any signs of a manic or depressive state. General mood swings are not indicative of a bipolar disorder, which is why medical professionals look for the severity, length of time and frequency of the two common moods. However, some states of hypomania can be difficult to recognize. People might feel more energetic, require less sleep to operate and become more socially engaging. In many cases, people who experience these signs will not think something is wrong with them because they often are viewed in a positive light. Explaining these occurrences to a medical professional, when discussing the depressive states, is one of the best ways to identify hypomania.
Bipolar disorder can be a crippling mental illness, and that’s why diagnosing it is important to finding a proper treatment strategy and pursuing a healthier and happier future. Most importantly, people should remember that having this disorder is not their fault. There are numerous potential causes of bipolar disorder, and in many cases it is completely out of a person’s control.
Bipolar disorder and substance use disorders often are connected due to the struggles that people with this mental illness face. The U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse states that having a mood or anxiety disorder doubles the risk of drug or alcohol abuse. The journal JAMA Psychiatry published a study in 2014 that revealed the strong connection between bipolar disorder and addiction. The findings show that people with a severe type of the disorder are four times more likely to frequently misuse alcohol, and five times more likely to smoke cigarettes.
The erratic and lengthy mood states can also lead to self-medication. When people are going through the depressive time, they might lean on drugs or alcohol to reverse some of these feelings of sadness, fatigue or disinterest. Additionally, people who feel irritable during the manic stage might misuse drugs or alcohol as a way of calming themselves. If the manic state involves more happiness and energy, people might be inclined to misuse drugs in a party setting such as a bar or club.
Doing any of these can lead to a substance use disorder. Over time, as people continue to drink alcohol or take drugs, they become more tolerant and often will increase the dosage. This alters their bodies and brains, leading to people becoming dependent on the substances to achieve certain feelings. There is no biological connection between having a bipolar disorder and developing an addiction, but the states that are experienced with a bipolar disorder can lead to substance abuse as a way of coping with the effects.
Numerous bipolar disorder treatment options are available for people who suffer from a bipolar disorder. Methods can include medication or behavioral therapy, or both. People should figure out the best treatment method for themselves through a licensed psychiatrist who can properly identify the type of the disorder and the severity of the states. Since some people might have type 1 bipolar disorder and experience suicidal thoughts, immediate medical attention could be necessary to curb some of the most extreme side effects of the illness. However, others might not experience these potentially harmful thoughts and do not need the same level of care when starting their bipolar disorder treatment.
The most prescribed bipolar disorder medications are mood-stabilizers, which help prevent manic or depressive states and can curb any disruption of a social life, family relationships or work responsibilities. The most common mood-stabilizing medications include:
- Divalproex sodium
- Valproic acid
The Recovery Village provides treatment for substance use disorders along with co-occurring mental health disorders, including bipolar disorder. Since many people who have this biological disorder also develop an addiction to drugs or alcohol, many people who enter rehabilitation can trace their severe substance misuse back to their manic or depressive states. The Recovery Village’s team of experts can help people identify this cause, when present, and teach patients how to cope with their substance use disorder along with their bipolar disorder.
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