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Does My Loved One Have Bipolar Disorder?

Are you worried that your loved one may have bipolar disorder? The sudden mood, behavior, and energy shifts that come with this mental health condition can be challenging to identify. Fortunately, some telltale signs can help determine if your loved one has bipolar disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by alternating episodes of mania and depression—thus, the former name of manic-depressive disorder. It is believed to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain that affects mood, energy levels, sleep patterns, and behavior.

During manic episodes, people with bipolar disorder have abnormally elevated moods and energy, often engaging in high-risk activities and having difficulty concentrating. They may also act impulsively or engage in reckless behavior, such as spending sprees or substance abuse.

Conversely, individuals suffering from the illness may feel hopeless, unmotivated, or excessively fatigued during depressive episodes. They may also struggle with feelings of guilt or worthlessness while experiencing difficulty functioning in day-to-day life.

Bipolar disorder can be debilitating, requiring professional diagnosis and treatment to manage. If your loved one is exhibiting any of the symptoms discussed, it is important to seek medical help.

What are the Types of Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is classified into four types: Bipolar I Disorder, Bipolar II Disorder, Cyclothymic Disorder, and Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders.

Although each type differs in the severity and duration of its symptoms, all types share the same core symptoms: switches in behavior, energy level, and mood that are either unusually high (mania) or low (depression).

Bipolar I Disorder

Bipolar I disorder is characterized by manic episodes that last at least seven days, or manic symptoms that are so severe they require hospitalization. In addition, depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks may also occur as part of the disorder. Some individuals may also experience both sets of symptoms in the same episode, known as a mixed episode.

Bipolar II Disorder

Bipolar II disorder is characterized by periods of depression alternating with periods of hypomania. Hypomanic episodes are less severe than manic episodes but may still cause significant distress and impairment in daily functioning. While individuals with bipolar II disorder may not experience full-blown manic episodes, they may still have difficulty managing life tasks and maintaining relationships.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder is a milder form of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by less intense hypomanic episodes and periods of depression that occur sporadically. Individuals with cyclothymic disorder may experience mood swings that are not as severe or disruptive as those experienced by individuals with bipolar I or II.

Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorders

The other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders are characterized by symptoms that do not match the criteria for diagnosing any of the other types of bipolar disorder. These symptoms may include irritable moods, periods of depression, unstable relationships with others, and difficulty managing daily tasks.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

The manifestations of bipolar disorder vary from person to person and depend on the type of bipolar disorder. In general, individuals with any kind of bipolar disorder will experience shifts in mood, energy level, and behavior that cause significant distress or impairment in daily functioning.

Manic Episode Symptoms

  • Abnormally elevated mood
  • Increased energy and activity levels
  • Racing thoughts
  • Poor concentration
  • Impulsivity
  • Risky behavior
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Less need for sleep
  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
  • Increased goal-directed activity
  • Excessive talking

Depressive Episode Symptoms

  • Abnormally depressed mood
  • Loss of interest in usually enjoyable activities
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Impaired concentration
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Slow talking
  • Forgetfulness

Other people suffering from the disorder may experience manic and depressive manifestations at the same time. These mixed episodes can include symptoms of both mania and depression and can be especially severe and disruptive.

For example, some individuals may be in a manic state yet also experience intense depression and hopelessness. Others may be depressed while also feeling energetic and irritable.

It is essential to understand that the symptoms of bipolar disorder can range from mild to severe and vary in frequency, duration, intensity, and triggers. As a result, it is essential to seek professional help if you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of bipolar disorder.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown. Still, several theories suggest genetic, biological, and environmental factors may be involved.

Genetic Factors

Research suggests that genetic factors play a role in the development of bipolar disorder. Studies have shown that individuals with first-degree relatives with the disease are more likely to develop the condition than those without family members with the disorder. In fact, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance report over 2/3 of persons diagnosed with the illness have a close relative with either bipolar disorder or major depression.

Biological Factors

The National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) suggests that differences in the structure and chemistry of the brain can also influence the development of bipolar disorder. Studies have shown that individuals with bipolar disorder may have abnormalities in certain brain areas, including an imbalance of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors, such as stress, traumatic experiences, and drug or alcohol abuse, can also contribute to the development of bipolar disorder. For example, individuals who experience extreme stress or trauma can be at a higher risk of developing the condition. Similarly, those who engage in substance abuse are more likely to be diagnosed with the illness.

In other words, you may be born with a genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder, but environmental factors can also trigger the onset of symptoms. However, it is important to note that these factors do not cause the illness but act as triggers or aggravators.

How Common is Bipolar Disorder?

According to the NIMH, bipolar disorder is estimated to affect 2.6% of adults in the United States. That's 5.7 million people aged 18 or older in any given year. Our World in Data also reported an equal prevalence of bipolar disorder among men and women. 

Children are also affected by the condition. The NIMH reports that youths with one parent suffering from the disease have a 15% to 30% chance of developing it themselves. Similarly, children who have both parents diagnosed with bipolar disorder are four to six times more likely to develop it themselves.

On the other hand, adolescents are at a higher risk of developing the condition than younger children. The NIMH said 2.9% of teens aged 12 to 17 had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, with a higher prevalence rate among girls than boys.

Overall, bipolar disorder is not uncommon, and it is crucial to be aware of the symptoms and receive treatment as soon as possible.

How is Bipolar Disorder Diagnosed?

A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, typically diagnoses bipolar disorder. The diagnosis may involve a physical exam to rule out possible medical causes or other psychological conditions.

The mental health professional will also assess the patient's symptoms and discuss any family history of bipolar disorder. In addition, the doctor may use a variety of tests and inventories to help identify mood swings and other symptoms.

These assessments may include rating scales such as the Young Mania Rating Scale (YMRS) and the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). The doctor may also ask the patient to keep a mood chart or diary for several weeks to identify any patterns associated with the disorder.

All these procedures could take hours to days depending on the severity and complexity of the condition. Once diagnosed, the doctor will discuss treatment options with the patient.

What are the Treatments for Bipolar Disorders?

The primary treatments for bipolar disorder include medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. The treatment plan will depend on the type of bipolar disorder and the patient's symptoms and preferences.

Medications

The most commonly prescribed medications for bipolar disorder are mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Mood stabilizers help regulate the highs and lows of bipolar disorder and reduce the risk of a manic episode. They may also be used to reduce depression symptoms.

Antipsychotics, on the other hand, are typically prescribed to help control symptoms of mania, such as hallucinations and delusions. Other medications that may be prescribed include antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, and sedatives to help with sleep problems.

Mood stabilizers are often paired with antidepressants to reduce the risk of a manic episode. Hence, following the doctor's instructions carefully when taking such medications is essential.

People taking medications for bipolar disorder must avoid alcohol and street drugs, as these substances can interfere with the effectiveness of the drugs. Likewise, they should not stop taking them without consulting their doctor first or risk experiencing a relapse.

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help individuals learn how to manage their bipolar disorder. This type of therapy is effective in treating bipolar disorder and reducing relapse rates.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, family-focused therapy, and psychoeducation are some of the most common types of psychotherapy for bipolar disorder. These all help teach individuals how to recognize and modify their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors associated with the disease.

Additionally, therapists may help patients identify and address any underlying issues contributing to their condition, such as depression or anxiety. They may also help the patient identify any triggers that can lead to a manic or depressive episode and develop strategies to cope with them.

Lifestyle Changes

In addition to medications and therapy, lifestyle changes can help manage bipolar disorder. These involve developing healthier habits, such as getting enough sleep and regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, reducing stress levels, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and having a good support network.

These changes may seem minor, but they can go a long way in helping individuals maintain stability and prevent the onset of episodes. Moreover, they can help individuals live a more productive and fulfilling life.

How to Discuss Bipolar Disorder With Your Loved One

It can be challenging to know how to talk about bipolar disorder with a loved one who is struggling with it. So to create an open and supportive dialogue, consider these tips:

1. Educate Yourself: Take time to learn about bipolar disorder and its symptoms so you can be a more understanding and supportive listener.

2. Be Respectful: Show respect for how your loved one chooses to manage their symptoms, even if it differs from your own experience.

3. Listen: Make sure to listen without judgment and be patient. Hear what your loved one has to say, and don't offer advice unless asked.

4. Offer Help: Ask your loved one how you can best support them in managing and treating their condition.

5. Be Understanding: Remember that bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness, and it can be hard for your loved one to cope with the symptoms. Try to be understanding and supportive of their experiences.

6. Encourage Treatment: Sometimes, it can be hard for a person to seek treatment, so gently encourage them to do so. Offer to go with them or help make appointments if needed.

7. Make Time: Show your loved one that you care by setting aside time for them and making them feel like they are not alone.

Talking about bipolar disorder with someone struggling can be complicated and intimidating, but it can also be a powerful way to show your support and understanding. With these tips, you can help create an open dialogue that provides your loved one with the support they need.

When to See a Doctor

If you think that you or a loved one is showing signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is important to seek professional help as soon as possible. A doctor can make an accurate diagnosis and recommend the best treatment options to manage and treat the condition. If you or your loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 for help.

Many mental health resources, including Jackson House, are available if you need additional support. We provide counseling, support groups, and other resources for people with mental health issues like bipolar disorder. To learn more, please visit our website or contact us at (888) 255-9280.

About the author

Jackson House

Jackson House

We built Jackson House because we realized there was a critical gap in our healthcare system and many individuals with mental illnesses and substance abuse problems were struggling because of it. While there are many outpatient treatment options and locked, inpatient facilities there was nothing in the middle. Nothing to help people who needed around the clock care but wanted to receive treatment voluntarily, on their own terms. Jackson House is different. We provide clients with the level of care they need in a welcoming environment. When you walk through our doors, we will meet you wherever you’re at and help you on your journey toward feeling better.

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