While bipolar disorders are technically mood disorders, they are some of the most complex mood disorders. Bipolar disorder is one of the most widely misunderstood mental health conditions out there. Sometimes referred to as manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by severe and dramatic shifts in mood that affect a person’s ability to carry out daily responsibilities and routine tasks.
Bipolar Disorder isn’t as rare of a disorder as one might think. In fact, it affects more than five million adult Americans. Men and women are impacted equally, and the average age that individuals begin to show symptoms is 25 (which is why many young adults find themselves needing treatment after years without major symptoms). While researchers have yet to fully comprehend the exact cause of bipolar disorder, they have identified various potential risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing it.
Research has found that bipolar disorder is something that is often passed down from generation to generation. The National Institute of Mental Health states that children with a parent or sibling with the disorder have a higher chance of developing it than those without affected family members. However, it’s important to note that just because there is a family history of bipolar disorder, it does not mean a person is guaranteed to develop the illness.
Chemical imbalances and hormonal problems have been linked to mood disorders, including bipolar disorder. Patients with bipolar disorder often show physical changes in their brains, although the exact reasoning still remains unclear.
Individuals who have experienced physical or emotional abuse, prolonged periods of high mental stress, a “significant loss,” or some other traumatic event are more susceptible to developing bipolar than those who have not.
As mentioned, bipolar disorder affects both genders equally; however, women are three times more likely to experience rapid cycling of mood episodes. They are also more likely to experience depressive and mixed episodes of the disorder compared to men.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are four major categories:
Bipolar I Disorder
An individual will cycle through episodes of full mania, which typically last seven days or more, alternating with episodes of major depression. The manic episode may precede or follow a major depressive episode.
Bipolar II Disorder
In this instance, the person will experience depressive episodes along with less severe symptoms of mania, called hypomania, which last at least four days and are present most of the day, nearly every day.
This form is characterized by episodes of hypomania and episodes of mild depression over a period of at least two years, interspersed with symptom-free periods. However, none of the symptoms are severe enough to meet the diagnostic criteria for a hypomanic episode or a major depressive episode.
Substance-Induced Mood Disorder
This condition occurs when the mood disturbance symptoms begin when an individual is either high on a drug or during withdrawal.
Although it’s not fully understood why substance use disorders (SUDs) are very common among individuals with bipolar disorder, compared with individuals without psychiatric disorders, those with bipolar illness may be more vulnerable to substance use. Conversely, chronic substance users may be at greater risk of mood disorders than non-substance users.
Studies have found that alcohol is the substance most often abused by patients with bipolar disorder, followed by cannabis, amphetamines, and cocaine. According to SAMHSA, alcohol is commonly misused by people with bipolar disorder, and people with bipolar disorder and co-occurring alcohol use disorder are less likely to adhere to treatment and more likely to be hospitalized or attempt suicide than people with bipolar disorder only. While it’s not always easy living with bipolar disorder, it doesn’t mean a happy life is out of reach. Although there is no definitive cure, the National Advisory Mental Health Council finds that the treatment success rate for bipolar disorder is as high as 80 percent.
It does take time and effort, and with effective treatment for bipolar, including psychotherapy, medications, a healthy lifestyle, and workable coping strategies, it’s absolutely possible to experience life to the fullest extent living with bipolar disorder.
Most individuals with bipolar disorder typically need mood-stabilizing medications to control manic or hypomanic episodes. Some of the most common types include lithium, lamotrigine, and valproate.
If a patient suffers from hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, or severe episodes of mania, antipsychotic medications can help ease these symptoms.
Doctors often prescribe antidepressants to treat symptoms of depression in bipolar disorder; however, they are typically prescribed only in combination with mood stabilizers as they can increase the risk of mania or hypomania on their own.
Psychotherapy is also highly recommended for individuals with bipolar disorder, with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and family-focused therapy proven to show the highest success rates.
For those who are interested in incorporating more holistic remedies into their long-term treatment plan, there are non-pharmacological approaches that can be incredibly helpful. Here are some alternative treatment options that can help ease the symptoms associated with the various types of bipolar disorder:
- Eating a balanced diet of healthy, nutrient-dense foods
- Maintaining an exercise routine
- Setting and following a regular sleep schedule
- Taking herbs and supplements, such as magnesium, St. John’s Wort, Rhodiola, and SAMe
- Practicing meditation and mindfulness
- Restoring your body’s balance with acupuncture, cupping, and other forms of Traditional Chinese Medicine
- Trying eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy
- Joining a local support group
- Avoiding alcohol and / or drugs
- Taking time to relax and practice self-care
People with this are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t want to feel like a burden to others. If left untreated, bipolar disorder usually worsens over time. Suicide is the number one cause of premature death among people with bipolar disorder, with 15–17 percent taking their own lives. So, remind the person who is struggling with the disorder that they are not alone and that you’ll do whatever you can to help.
The personalized therapeutic support team at Launch Centers uses a blend of medication, psychotherapy, peer group counseling, family counseling, life skills, educational guidance, and vocational assistance to help individuals manage the disorder.
Launch Centers seeks to rebuild the whole person during treatment for dual diagnosis. A blend of medication and psychotherapy lays the foundation along with therapeutic activities that are integrated with educational and vocational elements. Learn more about our program HERE.