What It Means to Have Bipolar Disorder, and How to Get Help If You Do

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Even in the 21st century, those who suffer from mental illnesses are too often stigmatized and ostracized. It helps that “bipolar disorder” is now the official name of a condition that is characterized by extreme mood swings. “Manic depression” or “manic-depressive illness” may indeed accurately describe the condition’s symptoms. But removing the concept of mania from the name is certainly a positive step.

Bipolar refers to the radical highs and lows experienced by those with the disorder. Physical exams designed to rule out other medical conditions, psychiatric assessments, and tracking your moods are key to diagnosing it. If you meet the diagnosis criteria, you can begin treatment for it.

The disorder manifests itself differently in the individuals who have it. Because of this, treatment options vary as well. Read on to learn more about what bipolar disorder entails and what steps you can take to get help.

Dealing With Depression

There are two major types of bipolar disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II. You should know that one is not less severe than the other. The difference lies in the characteristics of the manic component of the disorder. However, major depressive episodes are shared by both.

During the depression stage, you may feel tearful and hopeless, taking no pleasure in anything in your life. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and indecision affect your ability to function. You can be restless or lethargic, sleep too much or too little. Some people have thoughts of suicide, plan it, or attempt it.

Medications are critical to controlling the depression component. Finding the right combination of them is usually a matter of trial and error. To make this part of the journey safer for you, consider undergoing rehab for depression.

Bipolar-related depression can be treated on an outpatient basis if you live near a provider. To work more closely with your healthcare team to find the right treatment, inpatient rehab may be your best option. Moreover, if you suffer from any related issues, such as addiction or anxiety, you’ll be treated for those as well.

Finding the right combination of medications — including antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and, if necessary, antipsychotics — is critical. Add psychotherapy to the right medication regimen, and you can live a healthy life despite bipolar disorder.

Managing Manic and Hypomanic Periods

Bipolar I includes periods of manic behavior during which you may feel euphoric, invincible, and impulsive. You may believe you can do things for which you actually have no training, experience, or ability. Some people even experience psychosis during this time in their cycle.

Bipolar II hypomania periods are less extreme. You may still feel extremely excited and energetic, but less invincible than those diagnosed with Bipolar I. Because behavior during the Bipolar II hypomania stage is less extreme, it’s also less noticeable to others. That could be dangerous as well.

Mania and hypomania are both associated with poor decision-making. You run the risk of going on spending sprees, giving away money and possessions, and liquidating investments. Some people are left in financial ruin if there is no way to apply the brakes to their actions.

Some examples of ways you can protect yourself include having someone you trust be a co-signer on bank and investment accounts. You may want to forgo a credit card with a high spending limit, opting for a low-limit card or a prepaid one. If you work with a financial advisor, tell them about your diagnosis so they will be more aware of what could happen.

Of course, your treatment for bipolar disorder will be designed to level your mental extremes. But it’s also a wise decision to take steps to protect yourself from harm, just in case. The stress caused by financial missteps taken during manic or hypomanic periods could worsen the disorder as well.

Assembling a Complete Treatment Team

There is no cure for bipolar disorder. There are treatments for it, and those are becoming increasingly effective as more research is conducted. But the linchpin of a treatment plan is a team that addresses the psychological, biological, and social aspects of the disorder.

A medical doctor, usually a psychiatrist who treats bipolar and similar disorders, is the best person to lead the team. Your psychiatrist is qualified to diagnose the disorder and prescribe medications and therapy to treat it. But other professionals can add depth to your team.

Clinical social workers can help diagnose and treat those with bipolar disorder using therapy. But what they really bring to the joint effort is their knowledge of the societal and environmental factors that affect mental health. Although genetics may play an outsized role in causing bipolar disorder, trauma and stress may as well.

Social workers know what resources are available to assist those who suffer from the disorder. For example, patients may lose their jobs because of erratic behaviors or after not showing up for work due to depression. A clinical social worker can bridge the gap between the disorder and the resources necessary to live in society with it.

Your team may also include psychologists, psychiatric nurses, and even dietitians. Work with your doctor to build a strong team. Doing so may remove any limits on your ability to successfully manage your bipolar disorder.

Help Is Out There

Having a psychiatrist diagnose your bipolar disorder is the first step toward managing it. Because the disorder is unique to individual patients, it takes time and experimentation to find the best treatment regimen for you. Therefore, patience is a necessary virtue.

Above all, listen to the guidance and advice of your treatment team. Medications are critical to leveling highs and lows. Coping mechanisms, honesty during therapy, and compliance with a treatment plan are required. But if you suffer from bipolar disorder and want to live your best life, help is available if you seek it out.

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