Each year, approximately 2.6 percent of the population in the United States is diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, previously known as Manic-Depressive Disorder. The average age of onset for this psychiatric disorder is twenty-five; however, bipolar disorder symptoms have been recognized in nearly every age group. This serious condition is found in individuals at all socio-economic levels, in all ethnicities, and in both genders. The highs and lows of Bipolar Disorder can cause great strain in social interactions and work relationships, and as a result many sufferers alienate important others, inadvertently losing support from those closest to them. Bipolar Disorders can also make keeping a job extremely difficult, perhaps even leading to hopelessness and despondency during periods of worsening mood symptoms.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder is a neurochemical disease marked by pendulum-like shifts of mood or emotions. People with this condition suffer from periods of debilitating depression as well as periods of elevated or euphoric mood. More severe episodes of elevated mood are called manic episodes and less severe episodes are called hypomanic episodes. Mood episodes that occur during the course of bipolar disorder are not necessarily rooted in any specific life events. While most men and women have emotions that change depending on what is happening in their lives at that time, people with Bipolar Disorder have such extreme feelings of sadness, worthlessness, exuberance, and/or excitement that they have difficulty functioning when these fluctuating moods are in their most extreme phases.

What are the Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder?

The symptoms of bipolar disorder are distinct during the depressive, manic, and hypomanic episodes of the illness. During the manic phase, people with Bipolar Disorder may experience a combination of an increase in energy, agitation or nervousness, difficulty concentrating on a single thought or staying on task, an amplified sex drive, grandiose and unrealistic ideas about their capacities or talents, and unusual optimism about the future.

People in the manic phase have poor decision-making skills, and may have an inability to control their temper. They may become more talkative than usual and increase their activity level. During this time, people with a Bipolar Disorder may also have trouble controlling how much money they are spending.

When individuals enter a Bipolar Depressive state, symptoms occur at the opposite end of the Bipolar spectrum. Sufferers may feel extremely tired and without energy and spend a great deal of time sleeping. They often begin having weight changes, either gaining weight very quickly or losing it without intentionally dieting. Their thoughts are dominated by gloomy ideas and sometimes even suicidal thinking. During this period of depression, those who suffer from Bipolar Disorder may break close connections with friends and family members because of feelings of guilt or worthlessness.

What are the Subtypes of Bipolar Disorder?

Researchers have classified the different types of Bipolar Disorder. Though all subtypes of Bipolar have similar symptoms, they have different time courses and different responses to treatment. Careful treatment planning, which takes these differences into account, must be utilized. The following diagnostic sub-categories are used to determine appropriate treatment for Bipolar Disorder:

Bipolar I: A person may be diagnosed with this disorder if he or she has experienced at least one manic episode, which was accompanied by behaviors that made normal functioning impossible. Often, persons with a history of Bipolar I disorder have a history of manic episodes, which have resulted in their being hospitalized, arrested, or both.

Bipolar II: A diagnosis of Bipolar II is given when a person has moods that move from a hypomanic high to a depressive low, but do not reach the extreme of the manic scale. Although these patients may become impulsive and have unusual levels of energy, they do not exhibit some of the more extreme and/or prolonged symptoms of mania..

Rapid Cycling: This is a condition in which patients experience at least four cycles of mania and depression within the same year. Rapid cycling is evident in up to 20 percent of the patients diagnosed with a Bipolar Disorder.

Mixed Episode Bipolar Disorder: If a patient appears to be experiencing both manic and depressive symptoms at the same time, or is rapidly switching between them, they may be experiencing mixed Bipolar Disorder. These patients may be energized and excited but also experience angry and depressed thoughts and moodiness.

Cyclothymia: This is the diagnosis given to a form of Bipolar Disorder in which patients have mood shifts that fluctuate more slowly over the course of a lifetime.

What are the Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder?

People with untreated Bipolar Disorder often need professional help immediately, due to the associated suicide rate of 10 to 15 percent. In contrast to major depression, nearly all patients with Bipolar Disorder will require care from a psychiatrist rather than treatment solely from a psychotherapist or primary care provider. Occasionally, people with bipolar disorder respond favorably to medication or therapy on their own, but nearly all require both of these in order to optimize their emotional well-being. Doctors use psychiatric screening instruments to determine if their patients have a Bipolar Disorder and then work with their patients to provide the best possible care and treatment. Many different treatment options have proven successful for this disorder. The following treatment modalities may be used in a variety of combinations to help those with Bipolar Disorder manage this condition:

Prescription Medications: Whether a patient is suffering through a manic period or a cycle of depression, doctors can use medications targeted at the current symptoms. Most patients are given some type of medication to take regularly that helps to even out their moods, termed “mood stabilizers.” During a manic or hypomanic phase, doctors may prescribe mood stabilizing medications to ease the feelings of anger and restlessness that often make life during this period quite uncomfortable. During periods of depression, doctors will prescribe antidepressants, Lithium, or other antipsychotic medications to control symptoms. Even the best doctors need to exercise caution in order to avoid precipitating a switch into a manic mood state. Most patients with Bipolar Disorders are placed on a long-term medication regimen in order to control, and ideally, prevent the recurrence of symptoms.

Counseling: Talk therapy as well as family-based therapies can be especially helpful for individuals with Bipolar Disorder. Working with a psychotherapist provides an opportunity to discuss emotional highs and lows with a trained professional, who can help them explore different strategies to manage their emotions and associated behaviors. Psychotherapy can help patients learn to express their needs and understand the needs of others. It can also help them to recognize early symptoms of an impending mood swing, so that treatment can be modified and/or intensified in order to prevent a decline in functioning. These management techniques can prevent or minimize serious disturbances in the lives of those suffering from Bipolar Disorder.

Bipolar FAQ

Receiving a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder may be a scary experience that prompts confusion and bewilderment. The following questions and answers may give people with Bipolar Disorder some valuable information that they need in order to better understand this challenging condition:

Is there a cure for bipolar disorder?

Presently, doctors have no cure for Bipolar Disorder, but intensive research is ongoing. Doctors will use every treatment technique at their disposal to give their patients with bipolar disorder longer periods of mood stability.  Though symptoms can be managed successfully, some periods of relapse may occur. It is for this reason that most people must maintain a strict medication regiment even during periods of normal mood.

What is the connection between alcohol or drug abuse and bipolar disorder?

Researchers have found that people with bipolar disorder may use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to ease the symptoms, even before they have been diagnosed. Additionally, the impulsive use or overuse of drugs or alcohol may be a symptom of either the elevated or the depressed phases of the disorder. Teenagers with Bipolar Disorder are at a particularly elevated risk of drug and alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol abuse do not cause Bipolar Disorder, however they can exacerbate the symptoms and reduce the capacity to cope with life stressors.

What causes bipolar disorder?

The jury is still out on all of the factors that might cause a person to develop a Bipolar Disorder. It appears that there are hereditary factors involved, and doctors are aware of neurochemical changes that occur during Bipolar mood episodes. Other factors that do not cause, but may influence the severity of Bipolar Disorder are: deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals, hormonal changes, and poor dietary or sleeping habits.

What is Bipolar Residential Treatment like at Bridges to Recovery?

Many people suffering from a bipolar disorder benefit from intense treatment, particularly in the context of an ongoing mood episode. Some patients in the midst of these episodes will require inpatient psychiatric hospitalization. For patients whose symptoms are severe and difficult to manage, but do not require treatment in a locked inpatient setting, Bridges to Recovery offers a residential treatment setting in which staff have the expertise to manage bipolar symptoms. Doctors and therapists with years of experience treating bipolar disorder work diligently to find answers and treatment solutions that will return those suffering from bipolar disorder to a healthier and more enjoyable mood state.

The small group setting at Bridges to Recovery provides protection and support, as well as careful monitoring for those who are scared and vulnerable. Residents at Bridges recovery center are given the time and attention necessary to confront their symptoms and learn to cope with them. Those closest to the patient are encouraged to be a part of this process and play a crucial role in facilitating recovery.

The goal of every Bridges to Recovery medical team is to help each patient reach the point of living confidently in their own homes and workplaces, with a strengthening of their capacity to tolerate life stressors and mood swings. Although bipolar disorder can be a disabling condition, our hope at Bridges to Recovery is to provide clients with the treatment and tools for self-reflection that will enable them to enjoy productive lives and loving relationships.