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Help With Bipolar Disorders

Curated and updated for the community by APA

Bipolar disorders are brain disorders that cause changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Bipolar disorder is a category that includes three different conditions — bipolar I, bipolar II and cyclothymic disorder.

See definition, symptoms, & treatment

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How quickly does a person with bipolar disorder shift between highs and lows?

It depends. Mood shift frequency varies from person to person. A small number of patients may have many episodes within one day, shifting from mania (an episode where a person is very high-spirited or irritable) to depression. This has been described as “ultra-rapid cycling.” More

Does having one manic episode necessarily mean you will have more and will have depressive episodes?

Not necessarily. Studies have shown that approximately 10 percent of patients have a single episode only. However, the majority of patients have more than one. The number of episodes within a patient’s lifetime varies. Some individuals may have only two or three within their lifetime while others may have the same number within a single year. Frequency of episodes depends on many factors including the natural course of the condition as well as on appropriate treatment. Not taking medication or taking it incorrectly are frequent causes of episode recurrence. More

Can someone with bipolar disorder be treated without medication?

Although it is possible that during the natural course of the illness individual patients may get well without any medication, the challenge is that it is impossible to identify or determine beforehand who those fortunate patients are. Although some patients don’t get well or just have partial response to the best available treatments, on average — and for the vast majority of patients — the benefits of medications outweigh the risks. More

What is a “mixed episode?”

The term “mixed episode” was changed to “mixed features” in the last edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013. The new term may apply to either episodes of mania with additional symptoms of depression or the opposite, episodes of depression with additional symptoms of mania. The overall idea is that the presence of both mania and depression can exist at the same time. Symptoms of mania include elated mood, decreased need to sleep or racing thoughts. Symptoms of depression can include depressed mood, and feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. More

Could my child have bipolar disorder?

It is possible for children to have bipolar disorder. This mental illness occurs in approximately 1 to 3 percent of the general population, and studies have shown that bipolar disorder has a genetic component. However it is also possible for bipolar disorder to appear in someone who has no family history of the disease. More

What can family members do to support a person with bipolar disorder?

Outcomes are always better when there is a strong family support network. Think of bipolar disorder as any other severe medical condition. However, also note that in many severe psychiatric conditions, patients may not be aware that they are ill. They may minimize the severity of their condition. The result of these factors may be that patients will not follow through on their treatment. In very severe cases, there may be instances of a lack of behavioral control where family members may not be able to look after their loved ones. In those cases, assistance from providers or even law enforcement agents may be necessary. More

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About the Expert:

Mauricio Tohen, M.D., Dr.PH, M.B.A.
Professor and Chairman, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center

Paul's Story

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Chelsea's Story

Chelsea was a 43-year-old married librarian who came to an outpatient mental health clinic with a long history of depression. She described being depressed for a month since she began a new job. She had concerns that her new boss and colleagues thought her work was poor and slow, and that she was not friendly. She had no energy or enthusiasm at home. Instead of playing with her children or talking to her husband, she watched TV for hours, overate and slept long hours.

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Editor's Choice

APR 15, 2019

Identifying Predominant Polarity May be Key to  Tailoring Bipolar Disorder Treatment

Psychiatry Advisor

In patients with bipolar disorder and no predominant polarity, the onset of illness occurred earlier and the duration of the illness was longer, with more hypomanic/manic and depressive episodes. The clinical characteristics associated with the presence or absence of predominant polarity (PP) in patients with bipolar disorder are significant enough to justify the need for differential treatment, according to study data published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

MAR 27, 2019

World Bipolar Day - Controversies in bipolar disorder

Biomed Central blog

Bipolar disorder is a severe brain disorder that causes abnormal strong shifts in mood, activity levels and energy, and causes severe stress to patients and their caregivers. The life expectancy of patients with bipolar disorder is reduced by about 10 years, likely due to medical comorbidity, high suicide rates and adverse lifestyles. The burden of the disorder constitutes a major health economic challenge for societies: according to the most recent WHO global burden of disease study, bipolar disorders rank within the top 20 causes of disability among all medical conditions worldwide, and rank 6th among the mental disorders.

MAR 25, 2019

'You've Been Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder - Now What?

Psychiatry Advisor

Individuals diagnosed with bipolar disorder are capable of living full and productive lives. Understanding the signs and symptoms and seeking professional help are the first steps to improvement. With bipolar I individuals experience extreme highs (mania) and lows (depression) in mood. Symptoms can be so severe that individuals lose touch with reality. With bipolar II individuals experience mild highs (hypomania) along with periods of severe depression. Individuals do not experience hallucinations or delusions; rather, they may appear more energetic.

Resources

Additional Resources and Organizations

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

Healthy Minds Healthy Lives public television show

International Bipolar Foundation

International Society for Bipolar Disorders

Mental Health America

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Physician Reviewed

Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.
January 2017