Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by severe changes in mood, usually changing from extreme depression to mania. Bipolar disorder may make you feel out of control and isolated, but you are not alone – many people suffer from this disorder.
Approximately 2.8 percent of people in the United States have bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is equally common in men and women, and the median onset age of the disorder is 25 years old. While bipolar disorder is a serious condition, people affected by it can get effective treatment. Here is a guide to bipolar disorder facts and bipolar treatment.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is also called manic-depressive disorder because it causes a dramatic shift in moods. People affected by bipolar disorder commonly experience mania — periods of extreme energy and elevated mood — and depression — periods of feeling sad and low-energy. While this is the general description of bipolar disorder, there are several different types.
- Bipolar I disorder: Bipolar I disorder is usually the diagnosis when a person experiences extreme manic episodes, or hypomania. These episodes can be severe enough to require hospitalization. A manic episode is followed by a period of depression that lasts approximately two weeks. It is possible for people with bipolar I disorder to have periods with characteristics of both a manic and depressive episode.
- Bipolar II disorder: Bipolar II disorder has cycles similar to bipolar I disorder, but the periods of hypomania tend not to be as intense. Manic episodes will be followed by periods of depression. It is possible for people with bipolar II disorder to experience a stable mood between cycles of mania and depression.
- Cyclothymic disorder: Many doctors consider cyclothymic disorder to be a milder form of bipolar disorder. People who have cyclothymic disorder experience the same cycle of mania and depression as people with bipolar disorder, but the mania and depression are not as intense. It is possible for the nature of the cycles to change over time.
- Bipolar disorder NOS: Bipolar disorder not otherwise specified is a term applied to bipolar symptoms that do not follow the pattern of either bipolar I or II disorder. Someone with bipolar disorder NOS might have episodes of mania and no depressive episodes. It is also possible to experience only some of the symptoms of a manic or depressive episode.
- Rapid cycling: Rapid-cycle bipolar disorder applies to a person who experiences four or more episodes, either manic or depressive, during a single year. Rapid cycling can accompany any type of bipolar disorder. It is possible for rapid cycling to be a temporary experience for a person with bipolar disorder.
There are no definitive causes of bipolar disorder, but genetics can play a role. When both parents have bipolar disorder, there is a 50 to 75 percent chance their child will also have bipolar disorder. There is also a possibility brain structure chemistry plays a role in bipolar disorder.
While things like genetics, family history and brain chemistry are outside anyone’s control, there are also specific things that can trigger either manic or depressive bipolar episodes. For example, changes in your sleep pattern can be a big factor. Stress related to your job or the relationships in your life can also precipitate an episode. Things like alcohol and drug use can also affect people with bipolar disorder.
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
One study found it can take an average of six years to get a bipolar disorder diagnosis. Though symptoms can be severe and incredibly disruptive to a person’s life, health professionals often have trouble distinguishing between a variety of different types of depression and bipolar disorder.
The four most common symptoms of bipolar disorder are:
- Depression: Depression is a hallmark of all different types of bipolar disorder. In people with bipolar I, depressive episodes are distinct from manic episodes. People with bipolar disorder II will also experience periods of depression, though the manic periods may be less distinct than those experienced by people with bipolar disorder I. During a period of depression, a person with bipolar disorder will feel sad, anxious and hopeless. These feelings can be accompanied by difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much, loss of interest in most activities, lack of energy, changes in appetite and suicidal thoughts. This symptom of bipolar disorder is why the condition is so often misdiagnosed as a type of depression. People with bipolar disorder may turn to drugs or alcohol to help them cope with depressive episodes.
- Mania: Manic episodes are a dramatic change from depressive episodes. People with bipolar disorder I will definitely experience mania, while people with bipolar disorder II may experience less severe forms of mania. During a manic phase, a person will have unusually high levels of energy, difficulty sleeping, agitation, racing thoughts and partake in risky behaviors. Mania can become extreme enough to require hospitalization.
- Hypomania: Hypomania is a less serious form of mania, which can make it more difficult to recognize. Hypomania is not uncommon in people with bipolar II. During a hypomanic phase, a person can experience similar symptoms to mania: elevated mood and energy levels, risk-taking behaviors, agitation, difficulty sleeping and racing thoughts. However, hypomania is usually not serious enough to require hospitalization.
- Psychosis: People with bipolar disorder can experience psychosis, but not everyone will. Psychosis refers to a break with the real world. When this happens, a person’s perceptions and thoughts are so distorted they cannot tell the difference between delusions and reality. Psychotic breaks can happen during a particularly severe manic episode. Some studies suggest two-thirds of people with bipolar disorder will have at least one psychotic episode during their lifetime. This symptom of bipolar disorder can sometimes lead to a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia, another type of mental disorder that affects how a person thinks and acts.
People who have cyclothymic disorder will experience the same types of symptoms, but they will be less severe than the cycles associated with bipolar I and bipolar II. People with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder will have the same symptoms, but the shifts between mania and depression will occur more often than in bipolar I or bipolar II.
Recognizing bipolar symptoms in themselves can be difficult for people with bipolar disorder, particularly people who have bipolar II. It may take urging from friends or family to help someone with bipolar disorder to seek proper diagnosis and treatment.
Common Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options
Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose, and the symptoms can be devastating. Although there is no cure for any kind of bipolar disorder, there is treatment for this condition that can help effectively manage the effects of the disorder.
Common treatments for bipolar disorder include:
Medication can be an effective treatment for bipolar disorder. Nine out of 10 people taking medication for bipolar disorder are satisfied with their medications. Different types of medication prescribed for bipolar disorder include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, antipsychotics and medications for anxiety.
Mood stabilizers can help control manic and depressive episodes in people with bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder who experience psychosis may be prescribed an antipsychotic to help control delusions or hallucinations. Antidepressants can help people to manage their depressive episodes. Anxiety medications can help manage their sleep cycle and relieve anxiety related to their symptoms.
Physicians may prescribe clients a combination of different medications to manage their condition. Everyone is different, and there is no perfect solution. It may take a few different tries to find the right combination of medication that works for you.
It is important to know medication comes with side effects. People with bipolar disorder should always speak with their health care provider about any side effects. Do not change your prescribed medication or the way you take it without talking to a doctor first, as abruptly stopping many of these medications can have serious side effects.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help you manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder. People with bipolar disorder could benefit from a type of psychotherapy known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people recognize and change patterns in their behavior. In the case of someone with bipolar disorder, CBT could help you recognize behavior that triggers a manic or depressive episode.
Sometimes people with bipolar disorder can benefit from electroconvulsive therapy, also known as ECT. During an ECT treatment, an electric current is passed through the brain. This treatment can help manage severe manic and depressive symptoms.
A professional can help you to determine the best form of therapy based on an individual’s symptoms, needs and any other co-occurring conditions.
3. Customized treatment plans
Everyone is different, and that means your doctor will probably come up with a treatment plan tailored to you and your symptoms — which could mean a combination of different kinds of medication and therapy. Your treatment will require commitment from you. Your doctor and/or therapist may ask you to track your symptoms and your progress during treatment.
Customized treatment plans are especially important for people who have co-occurring conditions like depression and addiction.
Treating Bipolar Disorder and Depression
Bipolar disorder and depression can go hand-in-hand, which is why bipolar depression often gets misdiagnosed as a type of depression. In fact, bipolar is also called manic depression. Depression, like bipolar disorder, is a mental illness. During a depressive episode, someone with bipolar disorder will experience symptoms of depression like lack of energy, a feeling of hopelessness, difficulty focusing and changes in appetite. These episodes can even cause suicidal thoughts.
Treatment for bipolar disorder and depression does not differ much from the general treatment options for bipolar disorder. Talk to your doctor about your depression symptoms. Treatment can be a combination of antidepressant medications and different types of therapy, but this will ultimately depend on your individual needs.
Treating Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety
Anxiety can be a part of the agitation symptoms that appear during manic episodes. Anxiety can also be a separate condition from the bipolar disorder that a person is suffering from.
Common types of anxiety that are often found co-occurring in people with bipolar disorder include:
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Social anxiety
- Panic disorder
- Other anxiety disorders
Treating Bipolar Disorder and Addiction to Drugs or Alcohol
Many people with bipolar disorder have struggled with drug or alcohol addiction at some point in their lives. When it can take so long to get an accurate diagnosis, and therefore the right treatment, many people turn to substance abuse to help cope with their symptoms. These commonly overlapping conditions can both be treated.
Your doctor may prescribe you medication to help you stop abusing either drugs or alcohol. Therapy will also be key to managing bipolar disorder symptoms and substance abuse issues. Behavioral therapy might help you build healthy habits and ways to avoid substance abuse. Integrated group therapy might help provide a support system and insight into the connections between bipolar disorder and substance abuse. A study of people with bipolar disorder and substance dependence found integrated group therapy helped reduce the number of days of substance abuse per month.
Like treating bipolar disorder alone, treating bipolar disorder and substance abuse will take a customized plan. You and your doctor may have to try several different medications and approaches to therapy before you find an effective combination.
Statistics and Facts About Bipolar Disorder
- Mood disorders, including bipolar disorder, are the third most common cause of hospitalization for adults ages 18 to 44 years old in the United States. Bipolar disorder is sometimes thought of as a rare condition, but this is not true.
- While the exact cause of bipolar disorder remains elusive, genetics likely plays a role. Mood disorders can be inherited. For example, bipolar disorder can have 80 percent heritability.
- Bipolar II disorder is the most common type of this condition, accounting for 30 percent of cases. Bipolar I disorder is the second most common type of bipolar, with 27 percent of cases. Cyclothymic disorder comes in third, with 24 percent of cases, while bipolar disorder NOS accounts for 15 percent of cases.
- The median age for the onset of bipolar depression is 25, but that does not mean a person under that age cannot have bipolar disorder. It is even possible for children to have bipolar disorder, but it is more difficult to diagnose in such a young person. Experts estimate 2.9 percent of adolescents have bipolar disorder.
- Getting an accurate diagnosis can be difficult for people with bipolar disorder. Approximately 70 percent of people who have bipolar disorder have received at least one misdiagnosis from a doctor. A study mentioned early in this article indicates the average delay in bipolar disorder diagnosis is six years. Just 25 percent of people with bipolar disorder receive an accurate diagnosis within three years of first experiencing symptoms.
- There is no definitive test, such as a brain scan or blood test, for bipolar disorder. Physicians have to rely on mental health evaluations and clients’ descriptions of their symptoms to accurately diagnose bipolar disorder.
- A study conducted by the Statistics Brain Research Institute found 87 percent of people with bipolar disorder reported experiencing feelings of extreme irritability or an extreme high. Other common symptoms include depression that lasts for more than two weeks — 78 percent of people — and feelings of abnormally high energy with little sleep — 63 percent.
- Bipolar disorder often comes with co-occurring conditions, such as substance abuse problems. Bipolar disorder is also associated with physical health issues. A total of 35 percent of people with bipolar disorder are also obese.
- Bipolar is just as common in men as it is in women, though bipolar disease is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a “women’s disease.” Though bipolar disorder is equally prevalent in men and women, women are more likely to experience rapid cycling — or frequent switches between manic and depressive episodes. Men with bipolar disorder are more likely to be mistakenly diagnosed with schizophrenia, while women with bipolar disorder are more likely to be misdiagnosed with depression.
- Bipolar disorder can be extremely disruptive, and it cannot be cured. Although this is true, the symptoms of this order are highly manageable with the right treatment. More than 75 percent of people with bipolar disorder are successful at their jobs.
Bipolar Disorder Treatment for Women
After getting an accurate diagnosis, getting the right treatment for bipolar disorder is essential. Women can have a hard time reaching out for help when they need it. Just two in five people who have issues with a mood disorder or substance abuse reach out for help when they first start to experience symptoms. Mental health disorders often carry a stigma, which can stop people from getting the help they need.
Instead of staying silent, find a place that will make you comfortable and address your needs. At Brookhaven Retreat, we offer a comprehensive program for women struggling with bipolar disorder. Our holistic approach takes into account individual needs in a safe, private, women-only environment. We can help you with not only your bipolar symptoms, but also any co-occurring conditions you may have.
Brookhaven Retreat combines the clinical aspects of care with a unique approach to therapy through The Lily Program®. Our peaceful location allows you to explore individual therapy, group therapy, art therapy, equine-assisted therapy, garden therapy and more. After undergoing treatment at Brookhaven Retreat, you can turn to us as a part of your support system through the aftercare program.
If you have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or your loved ones have urged you to seek treatment for bipolar disorder, do not hesitate to seek the help you need to manage your symptoms. Brookhaven Retreat can help you get the individualized treatment you need.