We all experience ups and downs, good times and bad. However, if you’re a member of the 1% of the American population who suffers from bipolar disorder, the peaks and valleys of your ups and downs are likely to be far more severe than they are for most people.
Bipolar disorder – also referred to as manic-depressive disorder or just manic depression – is commonly defined as a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings ranging from abnormally elevated, manic energy levels to the lows of depression.
But people suffering from bipolar disorder experience much more complicated symptoms than extreme mood swings. In fact, bipolar disorder can affect people’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and behavior to such a degree that their personal and professional relationships suffer and their day-to-day ability to function can become impaired.
Fortunately, bipolar disorder is treatable. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder tends to worsen without treatment and many people fail to recognize the warning signs and get the help they need.
Bipolar disorder can be a life-long, debilitating condition. However, by getting an accurate diagnosis as early as possible and following a proper treatment plan that usually includes prescription medication and some form of counseling or psychotherapy, you can regain control over your mood swings and your life.
Recognizing the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder often goes unrecognized and is commonly misdiagnosed because the symptoms vary so widely in their pattern, severity, and frequency from one person to the next.
For many individuals with bipolar disorder, depressive episodes are much more frequent and the cause of most of their problems. Others are more prone to manic episodes, alternate equally between the two, or experience mixed episodes in which mania and depression occur simultaneously. Likewise, some people with the disorder may experience mood swings multiple times each day, while others may experience only a few over the course of their lifetime.
Generally speaking, each phase of bipolar disorder has a unique set of symptoms.
Some common symptoms of bipolar disorder’s manic phase include:
- Feelings of exhilaration
- Tremendous optimism
- Inflated self-confidence
- Poor judgment and risky behavior
- Poor performance at, or absence from, school or work
- Rapid thoughts and speech
- Decreased desire and need for sleep
- Lack of concentration
- Irritability and/or aggressive behavior
- Increase in physical activity
- Difficulty concentrating
- Hallucinations and delusions in severe cases
Symptoms of bipolar disorder accompanying depressive phases often include:
- Feelings of sadness and hopelessness
- Feelings of anxiety and guilt
- Decreased interest in pleasurable activities
- Loss of energy and fatigue
- Dramatic changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
- Inferior performance at, or absence from, school or work
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Just because you have up and down days and experience one or two of the symptoms above, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have bipolar disorder.
However, if you experience symptoms of mania or depression, you should consult with your physician or a licensed mental health provider.
People suffering from bipolar disorder don’t recover on their own and getting a proper diagnosis and the necessary treatment is the only way to take back control of your life and consistently move forward with confidence and optimism.
Effectively Treating Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder commonly requires lifelong treatment that includes medication, psychotherapy or counseling, and education or support groups.
Treatment is usually managed by a psychiatrist skilled in treating bipolar disorder, but you’re likely to have a treatment team that includes a psychologist, licensed counselor or marriage and family therapist, a clinical social worker, and/or a psychiatric nurse.
Initial treatment for bipolar disorder commonly involves the use of medications to balance mood swings and provide some stability for longer-term therapy. While a number of medications are used to treat bipolar disorder, finding the right medication or combination of medications that work best for you will likely take some trial and error. You should thoroughly discuss with your psychiatrist all of the benefits, risks, and associated side effects of any medications he or she prescribes.
This having been said, treating bipolar disorder with medication alone is not enough.
Some form of psychotherapy is essential in order for you to cope with bipolar disorder and overcome the problems it has caused in your life. A qualified counselor or therapist can help you recognize, work through, and overcome difficult or uncomfortable feelings, manage anxiety and stress, repair your relationships, and better regulate your mood.
Several types of psychotherapy have been found to be particularly helpful in the treatment of bipolar disorder:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy – Perhaps the most common type of psychotherapy employed in the treatment of bipolar disorder, cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying and replacing unhealthy and unhelpful beliefs and behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you identify the triggers of your bipolar episodes and learn effective stress management and coping strategies.
- Psychoeducation – Because managing symptoms and preventing complications begins with a thorough knowledge of your illness, psychoeducational counseling is designed to help you and your loved ones better understand bipolar disorder so you can get the best possible support and treatment.
- Family therapy – Family therapy typically involves you and other members of your family seeing a licensed psychologist, counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional and is designed to help everyone in your family reduce conflict and stress and improve communication.
- Group therapy – Successfully coping with bipolar disorder requires a solid support system. While the support of family and friends is invaluable, bipolar disorder support groups can provide you an opportunity to develop better relationship skills, share your experiences, and learn from others who have had similar experiences.
Recovering from bipolar disorder doesn’t happen overnight. Finding the right combination of treatments requires you to educate yourself about the illness, communicate with your doctors and therapists, have a strong support system, make healthy lifestyle choices, and stick to your treatment plan.
However, with the right combination of medications and psychotherapy, bipolar disorder can be treated successfully. If you’re hesitant to ask for help, confide in someone you trust and have them help you take the necessary steps towards successful treatment and regaining control of your life.
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