Bipolar Disorder: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by extreme changes in one's emotional state. Bipolar disorder was formerly called manic depression due to the experiences one has with states of mania followed by states of depression. Bipolar disorder is a prevalent mental illness.

Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimate that approximately 7 million people in the United States have manic depression, or as it is commonly referred to today, bipolar disorder. Most commonly, bipolar disorder is diagnosed when a person reaches their early twenties; however, it can also occur during childhood or teen years.

Understanding the different types of bipolar disorder

There are three primary diagnoses or "types" of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia.

Bipolar I

Bipolar I is characterized by the occurrence of at least one manic episode. A person with bipolar I may experience major depressive or hypomanic episodes before and after a manic episode. Bipolar I disorder affects both genders equally.

Bipolar II

People with bipolar II disorder experience at least one episode of major depression lasting a minimum of two weeks. They also experience at least one hypomanic episode that lasts a few days. Although Bipolar II is thought to be more common in women, it affects men as well.

Cyclothymia

Someone with cyclothymia will experience episodes of depression and hypomania. However, the duration and severity of their symptoms are much less than what occurs with bipolar I or bipolar II disorders. Many people with cyclothymia only experience a month or two at any given time when their moods are stable.

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Three primary symptoms commonly occur with bipolar disorder. They include mania, hypomania, and depression. Depression has widely been associated with bipolar disorder; however, one does not need to experience depressive episodes to receive a bipolar disorder diagnosis.

Mania

Mania occurs when the person goes through what is considered an emotional high. They feel emotions such as excitement, impulsivity, and euphoria. Manic episodes are characterized by above-average energy levels, which can affect one's ability to sleep or focus.

During manic episodes, undesirable behaviors like spending sprees, unprotected sexual encounters, or drug use may also occur. Other emotional symptoms, such as restlessness and high levels of irritability, are also common.

Hypomania

Hypomania is a symptom typically associated with bipolar II disorder. This state is similar to mania but is not as severe. Unlike episodes of mania, hypomania may not result in difficulties at work, school, or in social relationships. However, people with hypomania still notice alterations in their mood.

Depression

Depressive episodes or periods of major depression are the exact opposite of manic episodes and will have opposite effects on the body and emotions. During an episode of depression the following symptoms may occur:

  • Sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Loss of energy
  • Lack of interest in commonly enjoyed activities
  • Excessive sleep

In some cases, suicidal thoughts or talk of self-harm occurs during a depressive episode. Depressive episodes can also cause irritability and restlessness.

Depressive episodes caused by bipolar disorder will last at least two weeks, whereas manic episodes may last for several days or weeks. It is common for people to experience changes in mood several times during the year, although some people experience changes rarely.

This is what makes a diagnosis of bipolar disorder so difficult for medical providers. Unlike some other mental health conditions, the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder vary (sometimes widely), and their occurrence differs from person to person.

Treatment for bipolar disorder

It is possible to effectively manage bipolar symptoms with therapy, medication, and support. Below are examples of treatment models and options generally used in a bipolar disorder treatment program.

Medications

There are a variety of potential medication-related treatments that have been approved for use in helping to alleviate the symptoms associated with bipolar disorder, including:

  • Mood stabilizing drugs such as lithium
  • Antipsychotic medications
  • Antidepressant drugs
  • Certain benzodiazepines for short-term antianxiety treatment

Psychotherapy

Medications work better when used in conjunction with psychological therapy. The most effective therapy models used in bipolar disorder treatment programs include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoeducation.

Mental health professionals may also recommend alternative treatments and lifestyle changes such as supplements, yoga, acupuncture, journaling, and creating and following an eating and sleeping schedule.

Because bipolar disorder is a chronic condition, treatment will be ongoing. However, with adequate support and commitment to a therapy program, it is possible to dramatically reduce the level to which symptoms interfere with one's life.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder. The most effective treatment programs are individually designed to meet each patient's specific needs.

Conclusion

Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental illness that does not have a known cure. This means that someone with bipolar disorder will live and cope with the challenges presented by episodes of mania and depression for life.

However, a bipolar disorder diagnosis does not mean it is impossible to live a happy, productive and healthy life. Treatment programs for bipolar disorder can help you learn to manage mood changes and develop the tools to cope with other bipolar symptoms.

Key takeaways:

Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness estimate that approximately 7 million people in the United States have manic depression.

There are three primary diagnoses or "types" of bipolar disorder: bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia.

There are three primary symptoms that commonly occur with bipolar disorder. They include mania, hypomania, and depression.

With therapy, medication, and support, it is possible to manage bipolar symptoms effectively.

There is no cure for bipolar disorder.

Resources:

National Alliance on Mental Health. Mental Health by the Numbers.

National Institute of Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder.

Mayo Clinic. Bipolar Disorder.

National Alliance on Mental Health. Bipolar Disorder, Treatment.

National Library of Medicine. What is the Best Treatment for Bipolar Depression?

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