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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.

People with bipolar disorders have extreme and intense emotional states that occur at distinct times, called mood episodes. These mood episodes are categorized as manic, hypomanic or depressive. People with bipolar disorders generally have periods of normal mood as well. Bipolar disorders can be treated, and people with these illnesses can lead full and productive lives.

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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

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

JUNE 29 2020

The Truth About Living With Bipolar Disorder
Brown Girl Magazine

Every person’s lived experience is different, yet my hope is that I may provide you with a better understanding of what the life of a diagnosed bipolar is like. The truth is each day is different but there are some standing truths that we have come to accept. Bipolar disorder includes a variety of symptoms: anxiety, paranoia as well as the well-known depression. What isn’t well known is that you can experience these symptoms all at once.

JUNE 25, 2020

Managing bipolar disorder and what I wish my employers understood    
The American Genius

This editorial offers a perspective on living with bipolar disorder in the workplace, giving employers insight into how to support similar team members. The following is about Jake’s journey with his diagnosis, how it has impacted his career, and his ideas on how hiring managers and business owners could interact with people living with bipolar disorder in a way that keeps their talents in full use on the job. This isn’t – I want you to read this through Jake’s eyes.

JUNE 10, 2020

Photographer Documents Her Struggle with Bipolar Disorder
Peta Pixel

Symptom is a collection of photos by Argentinian photographer Magali Agnello that inadvertently chronicled her experience and feelings with bipolar disorder. “It was 2016, in which I had proposed to carry out a project (for the third time) that consisted in taking one photo per day throughout the entire year,” Agnello tells PetaPixel. It wasn’t until a year later that Agnello found out she had the disorder, and that caused the photos to take on a new meaning.

Resources

Additional Resources and Organizations

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

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