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    What Is Bipolar Disorder?

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    Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive disorder or manic depression, is a serious mental illness. It's a disorder that can lead to risky behavior, damaged relationships and careers, and even suicidal tendencies if it's not treated.

    Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme changes in mood, from mania to depression. Between these mood episodes, a person with bipolar disorder may experience normal moods.

    Bipolar Disorder Therapy

    Along with medication, ongoing psychotherapy, or "talk" therapy, is an important part of treatment for bipolar disorder. During therapy, you can discuss feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that cause you problems. Talk therapy can help you understand and ultimately master any problems that hurt your ability to function well in life. It also helps you stay on your medication -- and helps you deal with effects of bipolar disorder on your social and work life. It can help you maintain a positive self-image.

    Types of psychotherapy used to treat bipolar disorder include:

    • Behavioral therapy. This focuses on behaviors that decrease stress.
    • Cognitive therapy. This type of approach involves learning to identify and modify the patterns of thinking that accompany mood shifts.
    • Interpersonal therapy. This involves relationships and aims to reduce strains that the illness may place upon them.
    • Social rhythm therapy. This helps you develop and maintain daily routines.

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    "Manic" describes an increasingly restless, energetic, talkative, reckless, powerful, euphoric period. Lavish spending sprees or impulsive risky sex can occur. Then, at some point, this high-flying mood can spiral into something darker -- irritation, confusion, anger, feeling trapped.

    "Depression" describes the opposite mood -- sadness, crying, sense of worthlessness, loss of energy, loss of pleasure, sleep problems.

    But because the pattern of highs and lows varies for each person, bipolar disorder is a complex disease to diagnose. For some people, mania or depression can last for weeks or months, (and rarely, even years). For other people, bipolar disorder takes the form of frequent and dramatic mood episodes.

    Manic periods, experts say, can be very productive. People going through a manic period can think things are going great. The danger comes, though, when the mania grows worse. Changes can be dramatic and marked by reckless behavior, sexual promiscuity, sexual risks, and financial irresponsibility.

    The depressed phases can be equally dangerous. A person may have frequent thoughts of suicide.

    If you or someone you know has thoughts of death or suicide, contact a health care professional, loved one, friend, or call 911 immediately.

    Bipolar disorder is equally difficult for the families of those affected. The condition is the most difficult mental illness for families to accept, according to some experts. When a person is sometimes very productive and then becomes unreasonable or irrational, it may seem more like bad behavior than a sickness.

    If this rings true -- either for you or a loved one -- the first step in tackling the problem is to see a psychiatrist. Whether it's bipolar disorder or another mood-related problem, effective treatments are available. What's most important is that you recognize the problem and start looking for help.

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD on September 11, 2014
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