Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression, is a mental health disorder that is distinguished by dramatic changes in a person's mood and energy, from the elated highs of mania to the lows of depression. Bipolar disorder affects all ages, genders, and ethnicities, and usually has its onset in late adolescence or young adulthood. We know that genetics can play a role in the vulnerability to bipolar disorder, as researchers have traced the incidence of bipolar disorder among generations of families.
While bipolar disorder cannot be prevented, it's important to be aware of early warning signs of an impending episode of bipolar depression or bipolar mania. Early recognition of bipolar warning signs and seeing your doctor regularly can allow you to monitor your mood and medications and keep illness from escalating.
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In fact, although treating bipolar disorder moods is critical, there is a convincing case supported by scientific studies that the prevention of further mood episodes should be the greatest goal.
What are bipolar disorder symptoms?
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can fall between two extreme mood states:
Bipolar depression, which includes feelings of being sad, hopeless, helpless, and worthless
Bipolar mania, which includes feelings of elation and exuberance coupled with increased energy and activity and little need for sleep.
In addition, people with bipolar disorder can have manic episodes that occur simultaneously with depressive symptoms or vice versa. The simultaneous occurrence of depressive symptoms and manic episodes is known as "mixed features."
What are symptoms of bipolar depression?
Symptoms of the depressive phase of bipolar disorder may consist of the following:
Depressed mood and low self-esteem
Excessive crying spells
Low energy levels and an apathetic view of life
Sadness, loneliness, helplessness, feelings of guilt
Slow speech, fatigue, and poor coordination and concentration
Insomnia or oversleeping
Thoughts of suicide or dying
Changes in appetite (overeating/not eating)
Unexplainable body aches and pains
Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities
What are symptoms of bipolar mania?
Euphoria or irritability
Excessive talking; racing thoughts
Unusual energy; less need for sleep
Impulsiveness, a reckless pursuit of gratification -- shopping sprees, impetuous travel, more and sometimes promiscuous sex, high-risk business investments, fast driving
Hallucinations and or delusions (psychotic features such as these may be involved in about one out of every two of cases of bipolar mania)
How is bipolar disorder treated?
Bipolar disorder is treated with medications to stabilize mood. If the mood stabilizers do not fully manage the symptoms, other medications may be added to help calm the mania or ease the depression.
Along with mood stabilizers, psychotherapy is recommended to help the patient develop appropriate and workable coping strategies to deal with everyday stressors and to increase medication compliance.
Can behavioral counseling help those with bipolar disorder?
Different types of talk therapy options are available to help those with bipolar disorder prevent or cope with a mood episode:
Individual Counseling: This is a one-on-one session with a professional therapist with experience in bipolar disorders in which the patient's problem areas are addressed. The session may include help accepting the diagnosis, education about bipolar moods, ways to identify warning signs, and intervention strategies to manage stress.
Family Counseling: Bipolar disorder extends beyond the patient and can affect the entire family. Families are frequently involved in outpatient therapy as they receive education about bipolar disorder and work with the therapist and patient to learn how to recognize early warnings of an impending manic or depressive episode.
Group Counseling: Group sessions allow for the sharing of feelings and the development of effective coping strategies. The give-and-take at group sessions can be the most productive way to change the way you think about bipolar disorder and improve coping skills as you face life's challenges.