What do you know about Bipolar Disorder?

Posted on March 30, 2019 by kerri
Trying to understand bipolar disorder can be difficult, even if you are the one living with it. Bipolar disorder comes in at least three distinct forms—Bipolar I, Bipolar II and Cyclothymic Disorder (also known as Cyclothymia). As well, people may have other disorders that seem to be on what could be called a ‘bipolar spectrum’—known as “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders”—having symptoms which do not match those of the three above disorders—they have symptoms of bipolar disorder but do not fit the diagnostic criteria for the three disorders above.
What are symptoms of bipolar disorder?
In bipolar disorder, people have dramatic swings between low and elevated mood states—from depression to an almost euphoric state in some types of the disorder. This is why Bipolar I disorder used to be known as “manic depression”. The way the following symptoms are experienced will depend on the type of bipolar disorder a person experiences.
Symptoms of a manic state episode [1]
People who are experiencing a manic episode may:
  • ‘Feel “up,” “high,” or elated’ [1], have a lot of energy.
    • Talk very fast and bounce around to different topics frequently and unexpectedly
  • Describe feeling jumpy or wired (or hyper)
  • Experience increased activity levels
  • Develop insomnia (be unable to sleep)
  • Be irritable, “touchy” or agitated. [1]
  • Take risks they would not normally take—such as undergoing dangerous pursuits, spending significant amounts of money without planning, engaging in dangerous physical activities or having “reckless sex”. [1]
  • Act on impulse and think they can do many things simultaneously.
Symptoms of a depressive episode [1]
Many symptoms of depression have become common knowledge due to the increased awareness of depression. Depressive state symptoms include [1]:
  • Feeling extremely sad, “down”, “empty” or “hopeless”; feeling unusually worried
  • Having very little energy and experiencing decreased activity levels; feeling tired or “slowed down”
  • Feeling as if they cannot enjoy anything
  • Experiencing sleep issues, ranging from insomnia to sleeping too much; people with depression often have trouble getting out of bed whether due to tiredness or other symptoms.
  • Experience difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness
  • Eat too little or eat too much
  • Think about death or suicide
Depressive symptoms are more readily identifiable, but may also be when people seek help since they feel “invincible” during a manic episode. This can cause bipolar disorder to be misdiagnosed as depression, and in some cases, this can lead to poor treatment choices that worsen the bipolar disorder.
In addition, “mixed state” symptoms can occur, where a person is both depressed and experiencing high energy, or experiences a very rapid cycling between depressive symptoms and manic ones. This, again, can make it difficult to identify bipolar disorder. Sometimes, people with bipolar disorder also experience psychosis (such as hallucinations or delusions), which can occur in either state; this can lead to a misdiagnosis of schizophrenia. As well, anxiety, ADHD and substance use disorders are common in people with bipolar disorder.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
Besides “other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders,” the three types of bipolar disorder are:
  • Bipolar I disorder “involves periods of severe mood episodes from mania to depression” [2]
  • Bipolar II disorder features the same type of depressive symptoms of bipolar I disorder, but with milder features in the manic phase, known as hypomania. [2]
  • Cyclothymic disorder includes the “hypomanic” symptoms described above, in brief periods, alternating with brief periods of depressive state symptoms. The phases experienced in cyclothymic disorder are not as “extensive or as long lasting” as in full depressive or hypomanic episodes. [2]
Treating and Managing Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder can be effectively managed with medications such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants and atypical antipsychotics [1], psychotherapy, and education. [1] Other therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy in severe cases and sleep aids. [1] Most often, bipolar disorder is managed by a psychiatrist and psychologist, possibly with the assistance of a mental health nurse practitioner.
If you have bipolar disorder, wearing a medical ID bracelet can help if you are experiencing a mental health crisis or physical health emergency. if you take lithium, this should be engraved so blood levels can be checked in an emergency.

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