Bipolar disorder is a term I hear many people use conversationally or as slang, without understanding what it means. But bipolar disorder is more than just wide mood swings. Learning accurate information about this disorder is the first step to getting help for yourself or others who may suffer from it.
Here are some experiences or characteristic feelings often reported by people with bipolar disorder.
- Many people with bipolar disorder may engage in high risk behavior – risky sexual encounters, draining the bank account, going on shopping sprees, or investing their life savings in a stock – because they could not control the impulse. They might do things that feel good in the moment, but the long-term painful consequence is not worth it a few days later.
- People report loving the way they feel, because they are elevated, cheerful, or “on top of the world”.
- A large number of people report little need for sleep. They can accomplish many tasks with energy. An example could be feeling excessively energized at 3:00 a.m., so they work out hard and then clean the house from top to bottom.
- Some people report having ideas, so many ideas, all racing so fast. A sudden interest can turn into a life passion, but then the next day, a new interest could become the new life calling.
- People talk about the unpredictability of their mood. For some, a high can be followed by a low. The low could be where getting out of bed feels like a chore, feeling sad for no reason, having no interest in anything, feeling worthless, having trouble thinking, or wondering about death.
- People who experience the highs and lows often wish they knew what they were waking up to: the high or the low?
What is Bipolar Disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines the diagnostic criteria for bipolar and related disorders. There are a number of bipolar and related disorders, and the difference between them can be slight to the untrained eye. Some of the elements that characterize the elevated aspect of bipolar disorders may include:
- A clear-cut pattern of elevated, expansive or irritable mood
- While this mood is happening, there is also more energy and activity
- An exaggerated sense of self-esteem
- Feeling rested after a short period of sleep
- Feeling the need to keep talking, or talking more than normal
- Experiencing racing thoughts
- Being easily distracted by both important and at other times trivial things
- Having a get-up-and-go attitude
- Engaging in activities that could lead to negative ramifications
Some people with bipolar disorder also experience depressive episodes. Depressive episodes are different than feeling sad or down-in-the-dumps. People with depression have a depressed mood or lack of interest or pleasure for at least two weeks, in addition to a number of other factors.
Here are the answers to 4 common questions about bipolar disorder.
1. How do I know if I have a bipolar disorder or a related disorder?
To learn if you have a bipolar or related disorder, you need to see someone who is trained in assessment and diagnosis of mental disorders, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist. A good place to start a conversation about your mental health concerns is with your family doctor. There are a number of other types of mental health professionals whom you could be connected with; these include nurses, social workers and occupational therapists.
2. Do I have to take medication?
Medication is an important component in treating bipolar disorder. Common psychopharmacological treatment usually involves mood stabilizers. This is a conversation best had with a psychiatrist or family doctor.
Remember that taking medication prescribed by your doctor to treat your condition does not mean you are weak. It means you are strong enough to stand up for your needs, and the path to being the healthiest version of you.
3. What can I do to help my periods of stability last longer?
As suggested above, seeing a trained mental health professional to discuss mood symptoms and possible treatment suggestions is a good idea. This will help to accurately diagnose and treat the right symptoms. A number of types of psychotherapy have been proven to be effective in bipolar and related disorders. Seeking counselling can have a beneficial impact for most people.
Another line of defense to promote mood stability is maintaining consistency in your life. People who have difficulty with mood stability do better with regular patterns in their life. Examples of these patterns include:
- Regular bedtime
- Eating at similar times each day
- Consistent start and end times at work (shift work is typically challenging for people who suffer from mood instability)
- Routine exercise schedule
- Regular social engagement with consistent people
- Practice emotional coping strategies
- Brush up on effective problem solving skills
4. I’m not ready to see a mental health professional. What can I do?
Examine what is stopping you from taking the next steps. You could try making a pros and cons list to help you understand what the benefits and consequences of this next step could be. Gaining insight and awareness into the problems in your life might encourage you to take the next steps.
If you are exhausted by fighting the war in your mind, remember, you do not have to fight the battle alone.
Bipolar and related disorders can cause a lot of difficulty for people in their lives. There are answers and solutions that can help people regulate and manage their mood instability. What other ways can you think of that help with mood stability? Let us know.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.
Getting help. (n.d.). Canadian Mental Health Association. Retrieved from http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/getting-help/#.V9MV9pgrI2w.
Miklowitz, D. J. (2014). Bipolar disorder. In Clinical handbook of psychological disorders: A step-by-step treatment manual (462-501). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.