Do You Have Bipolar Disorder?
Do you ever feel like you’ve had 20 energy drinks and 4 cups of coffee and have so much energy you cannot sleep or even keep your thoughts clear, without actually drinking any? Does this mood usually last about every day up to 2 weeks? Does this mood disrupt your work, school or even home life? Maybe you’re the opposite and become depressed or saddened without any apparent reason, you have no motivation to do anything resulting in restlessness and irritability. These “episodes” define bipolar disorder, a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and sometimes the ability to carry out everyday tasks.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is categorized as severe mood swings, ranging from mania to depression.
Mania: A person experiencing mania may feel immortal or full of energy. This person would be so excited for no reason, they would have thoughts of grandeur or thinking they are invincible or be so excited they would only be able to sleep for a couple hours or may not even sleep for days. Other times, that person may be irritable that a simple “hello, how are you?” may set them off the edge and arguments result.
Hypomania: A milder form of mania is called hypomania, which people may experience the same symptoms without the negative effect on their everyday life. In many cases the lack of sleep and motivation to do everything at once gets them ahead at work or school.
Depression: A person experiencing depression may feel so saddened they begin crying for no reason or so guilty over things that don’t even concern them. In more severe cases, the lack of energy to do everyday things may isolate them from friends or family, interfere with their job and could even lead to thoughts of suicide. Depression is a much more likely episode to occur than a manic mood, which makes it all the more dangerous.
Mixed: A person experiencing mixed episode will feel depressed or severely saddened while having enough energy to run a triathlon. This episode may affect someone’s appetite or sleeping patterns. The mixed episode is much more uncommon in many bipolar disorder cases.
Causes of Bipolar Disorder
The causes of bipolar disorder are not certain. Many experts have come to believe that there are many factors. The first is believed to be a chemical imbalance in the brain which is controlled by neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, a stress hormone, which contributes to bipolar disorder. When these levels are too high, mania is the result. When these levels are abnormally low, depression is the result.
Another key factor in discovering the cause of bipolar disorder is genetics. If a person has a family history of bipolar disorder, they may be at risk. The biggest risk is for the identical twin of a person suffering from bipolar disorder. The risk does not occur because of one gene, but multiple genetic and environmental factors. In other cases, a period of heightened stress (mainly emotional), drug use, and an illness with no association to bipolar disorder may trigger the onset of an episode.
The picture above shows three different brain scans. The top is a “normal” or “typical” brain. There are moderate levels of activity. The second is a hypomanic brain scan, or someone experiencing hypomania. There are endless amounts of activity occurring in all different parts of the brain, which is congruent with the racing thoughts of a manic episode. The bottom is a depressed brain scan, which shows the lowers levels of brain activity.
Not everyone with severe mood swings or severe changes in one’s personality has bipolar disorder. In order to get the right diagnosis, one must seek medical care. Many other psychiatric conditions mimic bipolar disorder such as panic disorders, phobias, drug use, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizoaffective disorder or schizophrenia.
2 Types of Bipolar Disorder
• Bipolar I is defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days. More than often, the person also has depressive episodes, typically lasting at minimum of two weeks. These episodes are irrelevant to any changes in the person’s life, which means the symptoms must be a definite change in one’s behavior, not a change in their lifestyle to make them feel manic or depressed.
• Bipolar II is very different from bipolar I, it is defined by episodes of mild depression that shift back and forth with hypomania. This means there is no extreme manic behavior, only hypomania, a less severe manic episode.
The biggest risk factor when one has bipolar disorder is substance abuse. Those who have mixed episodes are at higher risk for substance abuse, because the need to feel balanced is not being met and they would do anything in order to make the mixed emotions stop. Some drugs that are considered “downers” help relieve the symptoms of an episode, only to create more problems later. For example, when a person is experiencing a depression episode, drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine send them into a manic episode, many times followed by a severe depression and other psychotic symptoms while alcohol and tranquilizers send them into a depression episode.
Anybody close to the person diagnosed bipolar disorder who is using drugs needs to be extra cautious. When a person is using drugs and is experiencing an episode, they are not themselves and may be considered very dangerous, especially when the drugs wear off and psychotic symptoms begin to show. This can range anywhere from delusions, such as: “I think they’re out to get me,” to blaming others around them for not helping them. It is advised that those associated with a person suffering from bipolar disorder to consider this as their cry for help and assist them in treatment as soon as possible.
Triggers for Episodes
• Stress is the main trigger for offsetting an episode. This can be a positive or negative change in someone’s life such as moving, getting fired, getting married, or a divorce. Should any severe changes happen in a person’s life who suffers from bipolar disorder, extra care and support may be necessary in order to ensure a successful transition.
• As stated, substance abuse is also a main trigger for offsetting an episode. While some who suffer from bipolar disorder may choose to turn to drugs in order to “cure” themselves, some may already be suffering from substance abuse. Any drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy may send them into a manic episode while downers such as alcohol may send them into a depression episode.
Treatments for Bipolar Disorder
While there is no cure for bipolar disorder yet, there are various ways to treat the symptoms and prevent episodes. Most help begins when medical treatment is enacted. There are many forms of counseling available, from group counseling to individual counseling. Cognitive therapy teaches the individual how to understand their disorder and how to make changes in their life through thought and behavior patterns. If someone suffering from bipolar disorder work 60 hours a week and goes to the bar to feel better every day after work, the cognitive therapist would see this as a road to a depression episode and would help the individual to see and change this behavior. Family therapy has also proven to be a strong way to support loved ones suffering from this disorder. For many individuals with bipolar disorder, they feel alone and hopeless. When family or friends show that they are not alone and want to help them understand and deal with their disorder, the support alone shows to improve their chances for a better lifestyle. These therapies help when the person wants help. As with anything, if help and the desire to better oneself are not present, it makes it very difficult to help that individual.
Medications have also proven to be a good treatment for those who suffer from bipolar disorder. Lithium is the most common treatment for bipolar disorder. Lithium is basically sodium. Sodium affects excitation or mania, lithium helps stabilize the flow of lithium through their body. Although lithium has been used for years, half the people who have bipolar disorder and take lithium do not respond. An alternative to taking lithium is Divalproex sodium or more commonly known as Depakote, which also controls the levels of sodium in their body. Olanzapine is also found to be very effective. It is an antipsychotic medication that works by changing the actions of chemicals in the brain. Olanzapine is also more commonly known as Zyprexa. Although antidepressant medication has been shown to help they should be taken with a mood-stabilizer medication during depressive episodes since they trigger mania.
It is very important to talk with a doctor before choosing to take any medications listed above. All medications have side effects, depending on a person’s body chemistry; some side effects may be more severe than others.