We’ve all had “those days” at work or at home – days when we feel exhausted, irritable, or out of sorts and when nothing seems to go our way. Conversely, we’ve all also experienced days when we are chock full of energy, when we feel like we can take on the world, when ideas seems to flow effortlessly, and we feel joyful and optimistic. For most of us, those feelings of the “blues” or of being happy will ebb and flow from one day to another and they don’t really change our daily lives. But, for people with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression), the swings between emotional highs and lows are chronic and can fluctuate broadly from extreme euphoria, overconfidence, and boundless energy, to the other end of the spectrum and despair, anger, and deep depression. People can also experience a mixture of the two extremes.
About 1% of people (or 1 in 100) will develop bipolar disorder. The National Institute of Mental Health’s bipolar definition states that, “Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Symptoms of bipolar disorder are severe. They are different from the normal ups and downs that everyone goes through from time to time. Bipolar disorder symptoms can result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. But bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.”
Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
One of the worrisome things about the disorder is that it is often hard for people to pin down and identify. In fact, family and friends of the individual may recognize the need for evaluation long before the person does. This is because bipolar disorder symptoms can sometimes be subtle and are often dismissed by the person who has the condition. After all, if you have troubles at work or have been moody, why would that indicate that anything else might be wrong?
The main bipolar disorder symptom is mania. While a mania episode can be extreme enough that some people can lose sight of reality, hypomania (a milder form of mania) is subclinical and produces a state of more energy and activity, but lasts for less than the bipolar threshold of four days. Because this shortened state doesn’t really impact a person’s life, they can easily deny it as being a symptom of anything.
Other bipolar disorder mania symptoms may include:
- Feeling euphoric, overly happy, extremely optimistic
- Inability to sleep, sleeping fitfully, racing thoughts
- Easy to anger, irritability, aggressive behavior
- Poor judgment, reckless behavior, high risk behavior
- Inability to concentrate, easily distracted
- Rapid speech (the person may just “talk right over you” in a conversation)
On the other end of the spectrum, the depressive state of bipolar disorder symptoms can be where some people spend an overly long period of time. These symptoms may include:
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having trouble making decisions, being easily distracted, having problems remembering or concentrating
- Loss of energy, loss of appetite
- Feeling guilty, worthless, or helpless
- Feeling very tired, sleeping more than usual
- Chronic pain that can’t be accounted for through injury or illness
- Thoughts of suicide or death
To make this disorder even more confusing, some people can be in a depressive state, yet have a lot of energy or they may feel hopeless and agitated at the same time.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you are worried whether you or someone you know may have bipolar disorder, the red flag is when the person does things that are out of character for them. Are they normally careful with their money, but suddenly go on a reckless spending spree or take up gambling? Are they engaging in uncharacteristic behaviors (drinking too much, engaging in substance abuse, having one-night-stands or frequent sexual encounters)? Maybe they aren’t interested in their hobbies or are sleeping all the time. If you spot atypical behaviors, encourage the person to see their health provider to rule out possible medical conditions. If everything checks out and the symptoms aren’t caused by injury or illness, they can provide a referral to a mental health professional.
A mental health professional will discuss family history to see if there may be a genetic component to the disorder. In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help with severe symptoms. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is also used in treating bipolar disorder to change harmful behavior patterns and reduce negative thought patterns. Additionally, family focused therapy can provide coping strategies to help family members learn to recognize an impending episode and to improve communication between the person and their family members.
Bipolar disorder can worsen if left undiagnosed and untreated. If you know someone who may be suffering from bipolar disorder, the mental health professionals at The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida are ready to help – online or in the office. To find our more, contact them at 561-496-1094 or email The Center today.