Bipolar Disorder
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Mood Swings vs. Mood Disorders - Discovering Bipolar Disorder

People use the term mood to describe the emotional tones that color their daily lives. Moods are everywhere and ubiquitous; everyone has them. Moods may be happy or sad; energized or sluggish; embodying various combinations of emotional states. Moods consist of feelings as well as the thoughts and judgments that give feelings their meaning. An anxious mood may shift into an excited mood with a simple change of perspective, and a depressed mood may shift into a happier one upon hearing pleasing news. Moods are typically transient things that shift from moment to moment or day to day, but they can be prolonged states as well which color the whole psychic life for long periods of time.

While people's moods rise and fall as various life events are experienced, most moods never become that extreme or feel uncontrollable. As depressed as an average person might get, it won't take too much...

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Bipolar Disorder?

  • Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder that causes people to experience extreme and abnormal mood swings that stick around for long periods of time, cause severe psychological distress, and interfere with normal functioning.
  • Bipolar Disorder is also known as Manic-Depression, or sometimes Bipolar Affective Disorder.
  • Bipolar moods swing between 'up' states called Mania and 'down' states called Depression.
  • During a manic phase, symptoms may include a decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, rapid speech and distractibility.
  • When people are in a manic phase, they may show poor judgment, impulsive behavior, and may engage in risky or dangerous behaviors and activities.
  • Hypomanic individuals show an energized and sometimes elated mood, with rapid thinking and speaking.
  • The difference between a full manic period and a hypomanic one is the degree of intensity or energy present in the behaviors that are displayed.
  • Depression is the opposite of mania and has symptoms such as a lack of energy, a negative outlook on life, low or non-existent self-esteem, and a sense that nothing is possible.
  • Depressed individuals tend to lose interest in things that used to give them pleasure and enjoyment.

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What are the types of Bipolar Disorder that a person can be diagnosed with?

  • Bipolar I Disorder is used when a person has had at least one full manic episode and one full major depressive episode.
  • Bipolar II Disorder diagnosis is used when a person has experienced at least one full major depressive episode, but no full manic episodes. Instead at least one hypomanic episode has been experienced.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder is diagnosed when a person has experienced repeated mood swings, but none have been severe enough to have met criteria for full mania or depression episodes.
  • Bipolar Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (NOS) is diagnosed when a person has bipolar symptoms that do not fit cleanly into the categories defined above.

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What types of medication are used to treat Bipolar Disorder?

  • There are two types of bipolar medication that are typically used - antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
  • Antidepressants help the patient to come back "up" and out of the depressive state.
  • Mood stabilizers help to keep the patient's moods even and centered as much as possible.
  • Bipolar patients treated with antidepressants alone have an increased risk of swinging into mania. Patients treated with mood stabilizers alone often end up spending more time in dangerous depressive states than is necessary.
  • Lithium is one of the best and most effective mood stabilizers available, although there are many other choices available today.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and other new antidepressants, such as buproprion and venlafaxine, are generally considered to be the first-line choices for the depressed phase of bipolar disease.

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What types of treatment, other than medication, can be used for Bipolar Disorder?

  • Hospitalization, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychotherapy are often used in addition to medication treatments.
  • Hospitalization is generally used only when no other treatment options are enough to insure the person's safety.
  • Electroconvulsive therapy involves the passage of an electric current through the brain to artificially create a seizure. It is primarily used when manic and depressive states have not responded to other treatments.
  • Psychotherapy can be very effective and helpful for some bipolar patients, but generally only when combined with medication.
  • Family focused therapy can be used to educate family members about the nature of bipolar disorder, treatments, and ways that family members can best support their affected member.

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How can I help myself deal with my Bipolar Disorder?

  • During severe mood episodes, people with Bipolar Disorder are often unable to help themselves or often even to stop themselves from acting out in ways that may damage their health.
  • However, there are things that people can do to ensure their health and safety as their bipolar symptoms stabilize (generally with the help of bipolar medication therapy).
  • Self-help methods include any activities that will help people keep their moods stable. This could include:
    • Regular physical exercise.
    • Setting and maintaining a standard bedtime and wake-time.
    • Practicing relaxation or meditation exercises regularly.
    • Taking bipolar medication at the same time every day.
    • Reducing work and family stress as much as possible
    • Eating a healthy diet at regular times each day.
    • Regular participation in group activities, such as peer-support groups, religious communities or other interest-based activities
    • Regular attendance in psychotherapy and/or regular self-monitoring exercises designed to help promote awareness of moods (talking about problems and problem solving help to prevent depression) can also be helpful.
    • Avoidance of mood-altering drugs, including alcohol.

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How can friends or family help someone with Bipolar Disorder?

  • Family and friends may become frightened and annoyed by the impulsive and self-destructive behaviors that they see played out again and again, but they also generally want to help.
  • Support from others takes the form of monitoring. Often, family and friends will know that moods are shifting before patients will themselves, and can help make the patient aware that they are again entering into a dangerous period.
  • They can regularly encourage the person to take their medication, attend therapy groups, and follow other recommendations from their doctor.
  • They can offer support by helping to "reality-test" - to notice when judgment isn't quite right, or when the person is acting in bizarre ways, and help the person make better choices.
  • They can also initiate an intervention when necessary.

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How can family and friends help themselves in dealing with someone that has Bipolar Disorder?

  • Bipolar Disorder is an illness that affects the entire family.
  • Manic and depressive behaviors come with lasting and very stressful consequences for both patients and their families.
  • Family members can do only so much to prevent the person with Bipolar Disorder from entering into dangerous mood episodes. Beyond doing all they can to support the person, family members may also need to insulate themselves as best they can from the extremes of behavior that they may have to endure.
  • Family members can educate themselves as to the nature of bipolar symptoms so that the various behaviors that may occur will not surprise them.
  • Family members may participate in bipolar support groups or family therapy situations where they can talk about and process their experiences.
  • The family may find it useful to develop an ongoing relationship with a family therapist who can provide advice and crisis management services.

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Introduction to Bipolar DisorderTypes of Bipolar and Similar DisordersCurrent Understandings and Body SystemsDiagnosis of Bipolar DisorderMedication Treatments for Bipolar DisorderPsychotherapy and Other TreatmentsSelf-Help and Helping OthersReferences and Reading List
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Depression: Major Depression & Unipolar Varieties
Addictions: Alcohol and Substance Abuse