People have told you that you’re moody and that you’ve been like that your whole life. While you’ve insisted you react with great passion about certain things, you must admit you experience severely high and low moods when least expected. It’s been happening more often, which means you could have bipolar disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
“Bipolar disorder (formerly called manic-depressive illness or manic depression) is a mental disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, concentration, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.”
Not everyone with bipolar disorder has similar symptoms. Most have various kinds and at different severity levels, which directly influences the type of care they receive. People experiencing bipolar are more likely to get help because of depression rather than symptoms related to bipolar.
No one knows for sure what causes bipolar disorder, but there are risk factors to be aware of, including:
- Brain Structure and how it works. Evidence suggests that people with bipolar disorder have brains different from people without the disorder.
- Genetics. Research indicates that people with specific genes are more susceptible to getting bipolar disorder. People with biological relatives who have bipolar are at a greater risk of getting it, too.
Why Don’t People Talk About Bipolar Disorder?
One of the main reasons people don’t talk about bipolar disorder is the stigma involved and the myths that surround the disorder. Society is more accepting today of mental illness than ever before, but overcoming widespread stigmas makes it hard for someone who has it to talk about bipolar disorder.
People with bipolar disorder sometimes shy away from discussions about their illness, and instead may say they have depression or anxiety instead. Explaining their inability to relax about issues they agonize over, how hard it is for them to recover from sadness, or that their bipolar isn’t a case of being lazy or highly strung is very difficult. It also can be challenging to articulate that their condition won’t make them hurt anyone.
One person described part of her experience in a first-person account: “Our society is just now beginning to understand the struggles that all of us with mental illness face and is still inexcusably harsh on people for symptoms of which they have no control over,” she said. Part of the reason people don’t talk about bipolar disorder is because of how certain illnesses (bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and schizophrenia) are portrayed socially and in the media – evoking fear, derision, and notions of violence. This makes it hard for many people with bipolar disorder to get the help and accommodations they need to function.
The other reason people don’t talk about bipolar disorder is because of the myths involved:
- Myth: Bipolar doesn’t happen that often. Fact: 2.8% of U.S. adults experience symptoms in any given year.
- Myth: There is only one kind of bipolar disorder. Fact: There are actually at least seven – bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, substance/medication-induced bipolar, bipolar related to another condition, other specific bipolar, and unspecified bipolar.
- Myth: Someone with bipolar disorder is just moody. Fact: Everyone experiences mood swings during their lives, but someone with bipolar struggles with extreme highs and lows, and changes in activity, energy, and sleep patterns.
- Myth: Mania is exciting and fun. Fact: People who experience mania as a symptom of bipolar also are more irritable, restless, and feel out of control.
- Myth: People don’t need to take medicine or go to therapy once their bipolar disorder is under control. Fact: This is false. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition that may ebb and flow. With proper care, including medicine like ketamine and psychotherapy, someone can learn to develop coping mechanisms and live a productive life.
Diagnosis & Treatment
There are four components for diagnosing bipolar:
- Physical examination. This is done to check for any medical conditions causing your symptoms. If anything is discovered, it may be treatable.
- Psychological assessment. This is done to understand your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and personal and family history of mental illness.
- Daily mood charting. Your healthcare provider will ask you to keep a daily log of your moods and triggers to develop a treatment plan.
- Comparing your symptoms with accepted criteria for bipolar disorder, as specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition.