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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder causes extreme mood swings, from very high energy (mania) to depression. Your mood may return to normal between these swings. Bipolar disorder is also called manic-depressive disorder. It often begins in the teen or early adult years and it may run in families.

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

The symptoms depend on your mood swings, or “highs” and “lows.” During a manic high, you may feel:

  • Very happy, energetic, or on edge.
  • Like you need very little sleep.
  • Overly self-confident.

Some people spend a lot of money or get involved in dangerous activities when they are manic. After a manic episode, you may return to normal. Or your mood may swing in the opposite direction to feelings of sadness, depression and hopelessness.

During a depressive episode, or low, you may have:

  • Trouble thinking and making decisions.
  • Memory problems.
  • Less interest in things you have enjoyed in the past.
  • Thoughts about killing yourself.

The mood swings of bipolar disorder can be mild or extreme. They may come on slowly over several days or weeks or suddenly over a few minutes or hours. These mood swings may last for a few hours or for several months.

How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?

Bipolar disorder can be hard to diagnose. This is because it has many phases and the symptoms overlap with other mental health conditions.

To find out if you have bipolar disorder, your doctor will ask detailed questions about your symptoms. You will be asked how long your symptoms last and how often you have them. Your doctor will also ask about your family history.

Blood and urine tests, such as a test of your thyroid, may be done to make sure another problem isn’t causing your symptoms. A toxicology screen looks at blood, urine or hair for the presence of drugs.

The earlier the condition is diagnosed, the sooner you can get treatment, feel better and improve the quality of your life. This can also reduce your risk of other health conditions, such as substance use disorder.

How is bipolar disorder treated?

Bipolar disorder is treatable. A treatment plan can make you feel better.

You may need to try several medicines to find the best combination.

  • Most people with bipolar disorder need to take a medicine called a mood stabilizer every day.
  • Antipsychotic medicine can help get a manic phase under control.
  • Antidepressants are used carefully for episodes of depression. They cause some people to move into a manic phase.

Counseling is also an important part of treatment. It can help you cope with some of the work and relationship issues that the condition may cause.

You can do a few things on your own. These include getting enough sleep and learning to recognize the early signs of highs and lows. Exercise may also help with depressive symptoms.

How can I support a loved one who has bipolar disorder?

Family members often feel helpless when a loved one is depressed or manic. But you can help.

  • Be sure your loved one uses their medicine. Encourage the person to take prescribed medicines regularly, even when feeling good.
  • Consider family therapy. If family therapy is available, make sure that everyone in the family attends.
  • Help your loved one after an episode. Allow your loved one to take enough time to feel better and get back into daily activities.
  • Understand hypomania. Hypomania can occur in people with bipolar disorder. Hypomanic episodes are less severe than manic episodes. You may notice your loved one’s mood is different than their nondepressed mood, but not manic. You may think that your loved one is just having a good day. But hypomania can still interfere with your loved one’s ability to function. An episode can last for a week or more.
  • Help yourself. If a loved one has bipolar disorder, it may be helpful for you to get counseling. This can help you deal with the disorder’s impact on your own life. Manic episodes can be particularly hard. Talk with a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a social worker or a licensed professional counselor for your own therapy.

Counseling can also be helpful for a child who has a bipolar parent. The parent’s mood swings may negatively affect the child. This can cause tearfulness, anger, depression or rebellious behavior.

Get help now

If you are unable to manage your bipolar disorder symptoms on your own, consider seeking professional help.

Call the Behavioral Health HelpLine at 260-471-9440 or 800-284-8439 anytime 24 hours a day. Our assessment specialists are available to guide you to the appropriate level of care or resources to support you.