31 Jan by HPA/LiveWell Clinical Psychology

What is Bipolar Disorder?

In the United States today, over 5 million adults are living with some form of bipolar disorder, but what is bipolar disorder? Bipolar disorder is a mental illness marked by mood swings that are far more severe when compared to the common “ups and downs” experienced by the general population. People with bipolar disorder encounter extreme mood swings; the highs are referred to as periods of “mania,” and the lows as depressive periods.

There are two types of bipolar disorder, bipolar I disorder and bipolar II disorder. The main difference between bipolar I and bipolar II is in the severity of the manic episodes (which do occur in both types of bipolar). With bipolar I, the mania experienced tends to be much more severe than with bipolar II. In fact, the mania experienced in those with bipolar II is referred to as hypomania, indicating a less serious episode of mania.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms and Signs

The warning signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder are usually divided into two separate categories, those associated with periods of mania and those associated with periods of depression.

When looking at signs of mania, there are a few distinct things to look out for, including:

  • Decreased need for sleep
  • Speaking very quickly and/or experiencing racing thoughts
  • Engaging in risky behavior(s)
  • Feeling impulsive and/or considerably restless
  • Feeling significantly elevated mood, extremely happy, and/or a “high” feeling
  • Becoming increasingly distracted

As with mania, periods of depression associated with bipolar disorder come with some clear warning signs, including:

  • Long periods of sadness or feelings of hopelessness
  • Social isolation (withdrawing from friends and/or family)
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty with concentration, memory, and making decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

Bipolar Disorder Treatment

A part of understanding what is bipolar disorder involves knowledge of the various treatment approaches used in managing the symptoms. The most common include:

  • Psychotherapy – psychotherapy for the treatment of bipolar may include individual psychotherapy sessions, support groups, and/or psychoeducation. Often a combination of these interventions proves most successful.
  • Medication – anticonvulsants, antipsychotics, lithium, and standard antidepressants are all types of medication often used in the treatment of bipolar.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) – although rarely used, electroconvulsive therapy has been used as an intervention for extreme cases of bipolar. ECT is a considered highly effective, but is used infrequently perhaps because it involves transmitting electrical impulses to the brain

Treatment is essential in managing the distressing symptoms of bipolar disorder, which can otherwise impact daily living and overall mental health and wellness.

If you or someone you know is struggling with bipolar disorder, contact HPA/LiveWell in Albany, New York at 518-218-1118 to find out more about treatment options and services.