Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder

What Are Bipolar Disorders?

Bipolar disorder, often termed manic depression, is a disorder marked by extreme mood swings. These include mania and depression. 

During a manic phase, people might experience heightened energy (euphoria), excessive confidence, and sometimes even reckless behaviour, such as impulsive spending or speed driving. 

Conversely, the depressive phase can bring about feelings of hopelessness, lethargy, and pangs of profound sadness.

Bipolar disorder typically emerges in young adulthood. However, it also manifests in children and teenagers. It is crucial to note that many individuals are often misdiagnosed, as the symptoms are similar to those of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, schizophrenia, or even borderline personality disorder

Underlying biological factors may predispose certain people to this condition, and triggers like sleep deprivation can also trigger manic episodes.

Two main types are Bipolar I and Bipolar II. While both types can experience depressive episodes, Bipolar I is characterised by at least one severe manic episode. 

In contrast, those with Bipolar II encounter milder manic episodes, called hypomania. Recognising and understanding these distinctions is important for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

General mood swings are quite different from the symptoms of bipolar disorder. 

For example, a lot of the general population may have mood swings due to work stress, premenstrual signs, procrastination, or having no friends

However, if you have bipolar disorder, your mood swings may be intense and last for a long time.  

Moreover, these mood swings are not day-to-day changes and aren’t caused by daily life events. The symptoms that occur usually represent significant changes from a person’s baseline mood (ie what they consider ‘normal).

Moreover, the pattern of mood swings is often not predictable. While some may transition from a manic (ie having high energy) to a depressive state (ie having low energy), others might experience multiple manic or depressive episodes consecutively.

The intensity of these episodes can vary widely among individuals and even within the same person over time. 

Manic Episodes

Some of the manic symptoms include:

  • Intense euphoria: Individuals often experience heightened excitement without an apparent reason. Euphoria could manifest as feeling ecstatic about a regular day at work or home.
  • Increased restlessness: There is a notable increase in energy levels, leading to heightened reactivity and an inability to remain still or at ease. 
  • Rapid thought process: The mind becomes exceptionally active, with thoughts racing unprecedentedly. For example, they might jump from planning a meal to considering a holiday within minutes.
  • Excessive talkativeness: People may have an urge to communicate excessively. Their conversations may lack coherence, with topics changing rapidly.
  • Reduced need for sleep: Despite their heightened activity, there is a decreased requirement for rest. They might feel refreshed with significantly less sleep than usual.
  • Impaired judgement: Risky behaviours become more prevalent. A person with bipolar disorder might impulsively buy an entire new wardrobe without considering their financial situation.
  • Easy distraction: The heightened state of mind can lead to a reduced attention span. For instance, while reading a book, they might suddenly decide to start cooking without finishing a chapter.
  • Irritability: A reduced tolerance level might be evident. A minor inconvenience, like a slow internet connection, might lead to an outburst.
  • Delusions of grandeur: Individuals may develop an inflated sense of their capabilities. For example, someone might believe they can single-handedly manage a project meant for a team.
  • Increased libido: Sexual drive can noticeably increase. This might lead to seeking multiple partners in a short span or other impulsive decisions related to intimacy.
  • Unrealistic planning: There might be a tendency to make plans without considering practical constraints, such as finances or time.
  • Psychosis: In severe cases, people might detach from reality and experience hallucinations or delusions.

Depressive Episodes

Bipolar disorder can be a challenging journey, especially during depressive episodes. Here is what you should be aware of:

  • Difficulty in concentration: Individuals find it challenging to maintain focus on tasks or conversations.
  • Overwhelming sadness: Individuals often experience profound sorrow, which can be unrelated to external events.
  • Fatigue: People experience decreased energy, making even sedentary activities or routine tasks challenging.
  • Reduced motivation: Individuals may struggle to initiate or complete tasks that were once manageable.
  • Pervasive hopelessness: A prevailing feeling emerges that situations will not improve, regardless of potential positive changes. 
  • Loss of interest: Activities or hobbies that once brought joy no longer hold the same appeal. 
  • Frequent crying: Emotional responses can be heightened, leading to tears without clear or significant triggers. Crying frequently is also known as ‘crying spells’. 
  • Increased irritability: Individuals become easily agitated by minor inconveniences and are usually impatient. 
  • Sleep pattern disruptions: Individuals may experience changes in sleep habits, either facing insomnia or sleeping excessively.
  • Change in appetite: A noticeable shift in eating habits can occur, leading to either increased or decreased food consumption without a specific reason. 
  • Suicidal ideation: Thoughts of self-harm or ending one’s life can emerge, even in situations that do not seem outwardly distressing.

Mixed Episodes

In bipolar disorder, mixed episodes present a unique set of symptoms. In these episodes, symptoms of mania and depression occur simultaneously. You might observe:

  • Overactivity paired with feelings of sadness or hopelessness
  • High energy levels, yet a lack of pleasure in activities
  • Racing thoughts, along with an inability to focus
  • Elevated self-esteem but a strong sense of worthlessness
  • Increased talkativeness, yet expressing pessimistic views

It is essential to identify these signs early, as they indicate a complex phase of bipolar disorder requiring specialised attention.

Bipolar Disorder Types

Bipolar disorders are multifaceted mood disorders, each with its distinct characteristics. While the intensity and duration of symptoms vary, all types of bipolar disorders can significantly affect one’s daily life.

Let us delve into the three primary types of bipolar disorder. 

Bipolar Disorder 1

People with this type have intense mood highs called ‘mania’. They might feel extremely energetic or restless. 

While they often feel very low, the high moods define this type. However, if these highs are too intense, they might need hospital care.

The high moods or ‘mania’ can last for at least a week. If not treated, these episodes can disrupt daily activities, making tasks like working or maintaining relationships difficult. 

See: How to Be Happy Again? Rediscovering Joy and Happiness

Some might also make impulsive decisions, like spending large sums of money, which they later regret.

Bipolar Disorder 2

People also experience mood highs and lows in bipolar disorder type 2. But their highs, known as ‘hypomania’, are not as extreme as in Bipolar I. 

The lows or depressive moments are more common and can be quite challenging.

This prolonged low mood can make it hard for them to find motivation and impact their work and personal lives.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymia is a milder form of bipolar where people’s moods keep shifting between light highs and mild lows for years. They might have short times when they feel okay, but the symptoms do not last long.

The mood shifts in cyclothymia are frequent but milder. The constant changes can make it challenging for them to maintain a consistent routine or establish long-term plans.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

A single factor usually does not cause bipolar disorder. Instead, a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors could contribute to the onset. 

Below are some questions that can help you identify if you have a high risk of developing bipolar disorder. However, do note that only a mental health expert can identify and diagnose the condition. 

Hence, regardless of your answers, if you suspect that you may have this disorder (or any other psychological condition), please seek guidance from a professional therapist. 

If you are wondering about your risk, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have a family history of bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses?
  • Were you exposed to traumatic events during your childhood?
  • Have recent stressful situations or sleep disruptions affected your mood?
  • Have you observed mood fluctuations after consuming drugs or alcohol?
  • Have mood swings hindered your professional or personal life?

If you answered yes to two or more of the questions above, you can consult a Therapist

Some of the common causes of bipolar disorder include:

  • Genetic predisposition 
  • Environmental triggers 
  • Substance abuse 
  • Psychological factors (eg trauma)

Managing Bipolar Disorder

Common Bipolar Disorder Treatments

Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is an effective psychological intervention to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder.

One such approach is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). A therapist may use CBT to help you replace harmful or unhelpful thoughts with realistic and positive ones. (See: Realistic Couple Goals and Ways You Can Achieve Them)

Similarly, family-focused therapy (FFT) is when all or most family members engage in talk therapy. During FFT, your therapist may focus on:

  • Communication
  • Coping strategies
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Improving interpersonal relationships

IPSRT, or interpersonal and social rhythm therapy, focuses on creating and maintaining daily routines. For example, the therapy may focus on the following:

  • Setting sleep schedules
  • Meal patterns
  • Mood management

All the above aspects would, in turn, contribute to overall wellness. 

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy under CBT. During DBT, your therapist may help you manage your emotions. DBT tools include grounding exercises and sensory activities. 

Medications

Psychiatrists or medical doctors may prescribe medications as the primary treatment for bipolar disorder. 

The type of medication you receive can depend on several factors, such as:

  • Predominant symptoms
  • Severity
  • Client preferences

Some of the most common medications used to manage bipolar disorder include:

  • Mood stabilisers
  • Antidepressants (eg selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).
  • Atypical antipsychotics 

Frequently Answered Questions

What’s a person with bipolar like?

A person with bipolar experiences intense emotional states, termed ‘manic’ and ‘depressive’ episodes. 

During manic phases, they might feel overly energetic, impulsive, or euphoric. Conversely, depressive episodes can plunge them into deep sadness or hopelessness. 

The mood shifts can affect sleep, energy, and judgement. Remember, everyone’s experience is unique. Hence, support and understanding are crucial. 

Many manage their symptoms by recognising the signs and seeking professional help. 

Why is bipolar disorder no longer called manic-depressive illness?

Over recent years, the term ‘bipolar disorder’ has replaced ‘manic-depressive illness’. 

Firstly, ‘manic depression’ was once a blanket term for various mental health issues. With advancements in psychiatric classification, notably the DSM, ‘bipolar disorder’ emerged, offering precise diagnostic clarity. 

Secondly, the words ‘manic’ and ‘mania’ carry stigmas, often linked to the derogatory term ‘maniac’. 

Moreover, ‘depression’ is frequently misused to depict sadness rather than clinical depression. By adopting ‘bipolar disorder’, the emphasis shifts from these emotionally charged words to a more neutral, clinical descriptor. 

In essence, the transition to ‘bipolar disorder’ reflects a more informed, sensitive approach to mental health terminology.

How does Can someone with bipolar love?influence addiction?

Someone with bipolar can love. Bipolar disorder, characterised by mood swings from manic highs to depressive lows, can indeed pose challenges in relationships. 

However, it is essential to remember that this condition does not diminish the capacity to love.

Understanding and patience from a partner can make a world of difference. Many people with bipolar disorder have profound emotional depths – and the intensity of their emotions often leads to enriched, passionate relationships.

Moreover, some individuals with bipolar disorder display remarkable creativity and energy during certain phases. These attributes can also improve a relationship.

Effective treatment, including therapy and medication, can manage symptoms and improve stability. With the right support, individuals with bipolar disorder can have fulfilling, loving relationships. 

Can you have a good life with bipolar disorder?

Yes, you can lead a good life with bipolar disorder!

Understanding the condition is the first step. Bipolar disorder, characterised by mood swings, can pose challenges. Yet, with the right support and strategies, many thrive despite these issues.

It is natural to associate intense happiness with the onset of a manic episode. However, it is crucial to distinguish between genuine joy and symptoms of mania. Recognising personal triggers, like sleep deprivation or stress, can help in this differentiation. 

Engaging in regular therapy sessions can be transformative. A therapist can offer coping mechanisms and help individuals navigate their emotions more effectively. 

Medication, while beneficial, can sometimes affect emotions. If you ever feel ‘emotionally muted’ (eg numb), it is essential to communicate this with your doctor. 

Doctors will make the necessary adjustments in the dose or frequency to ensure you experience a full range of emotions. 

Remember, bipolar disorder is a part of you but does not define you. A balanced and rewarding life is entirely achievable with the right tools and support. You are not alone!

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