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By: Elias Azizi, Contributing Writer
Out of all the subjects of conversation, mental illness is arguably one of the most sensitive topics. Talking about mental illness can make one uncomfortable; especially for those affected by one. Although it may be a sensitive topic, it’s one that needs to be talked about more often. When one thinks of mental illnesses, the first ones that come in mind are anxiety disorders, depression, and ADHD. One mental illness that is quite common but not talked about often: bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is defined as a condition that causes extreme mood swings from highs to lows, often from manic episodes to periods of great depression. According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, roughly 2.6% of U.S. adults suffer from bipolar disorder. Yes, it may not be extremely common, but it is still important for one to understand the signs, symptoms and treatments for bipolar disorder in order to be able to know when to reach out for help for yourself or others.
Signs of bipolar disorder
There are multiple types of bipolar disorder. However, the general signs of bipolar disorders are pretty universal. Based on Dr. Timothy Legg, a mental health nurse practitioner, three major signs of bipolar disorder are feeling overly happy for long periods of time, feeling extremely restless for long periods of time, and newly engaging in risky behaviour like gambling. The majority of the signs of bipolar disorder relate to impulsiveness and a lack of self-control, so that is a key thing to look out for. Any change in cognitive function like a lack of concentration is also a sign of bipolar disorder. A decreased need of sleep is quite common amongst bipolar disorder carriers as well.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder
The symptoms of bipolar disorder vary since there are many types of bipolar disorders. Severity and impact of each disorder type are what distinguishes each type of bipolar disorder.
a. Bipolar I Disorder: Based on the National Institute of Mental Health, bipolar I is described as manic episodes that last at least 1 week. Manic episodes are essentially the opposite of depressive episodes. Those who experience manic episodes tend to become very restless and require very little sleep, whereas depressive episodes can make one feel exhausted. To add on, the mood shifts caused by bipolar I are the most severe and become out of control easily. The episodes can become so severe that emergency treatment is required.
b. Bipolar II Disorder: Bipolar II disorder is actually more common than bipolar I. However, it causes more depressive moods. Its manic symptoms are also much less severe compared to bipolar I, but can still be quite impactful. Bipolar II causes hypomanic episodes, which are tamer. Based on a Harvard Medical School article, symptoms of hypomanic episodes are racing thoughts, agitation, and a decreased need of sleep.
c. Cyclothymic disorder: Those who have suffered from hypomanic symptoms for over two years likely face cyclothymic disorder. The mood shifts caused by cyclothymic disorder are much less significant compared to bipolar I and II, but are still difficult to cope with without medications. With time and little medication, cyclothymic disorder can develop into bipolar I or II disorder and become increasingly severe.
Treatments for bipolar disorders
Luckily, bipolar disorders have many different treatments. Some of them are medications, and others are even simple lifestyle changes.
Medication: Medications are often used to balance mood and suppress the symptoms of bipolar disorders. Mood stabilizers like lithium are prescribed most often for bipolar individuals. They help regulate the mood in order to prevent very manic or depressive feelings. Based on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, use of lithium mood stabilizers have a 50% success rate amongst bipolar disorder carriers. Another type of medication that is used to treat bipolar disorder are antidepressants. They tend to be used more often to treat depression and anxiety, but they also have success with treating bipolar disorder. However, mood stabilizers are recommended as the first choice of treatment for bipolar disorder.
Counselling: Counselling can help bipolar disorder carriers understand what causes their symptoms in order to avoid them. Cognitive-behaviour therapy, also known as CBT, is often used to treat bipolar disorder. Based on Dr. Saripalli, a doctor in psychology, CBT is a type of psychotherapy that concentrates on how one’s mindset affects their behaviour. Essentially, CBT is used to help one identify things that can cause or develop depressive or manic episodes to be able to avoid them. With counselling, people who are bipolar can understand what triggers their symptoms and learn about ways to maintain a balanced mood for long periods of time.
Lifestyle remedies: Lifestyle remedies are the simplest of treatments for bipolar disorder. These treatments not only work against bipolar disorders, but also against many others conditions like obesity and high blood pressure. Based on Dr. Janet Brito, a PhD graduate who is licensed in clinical psychology, maintaining a daily routine, eating healthy and nourishing foods, sleeping regularly, and exercising often combats many of bipolar disorder’s most debilitating symptoms. The thing that makes these treatments so effective is accessibility. Medications and counselling usually cost quite a bit of money. However, things like jogging or sleeping don’t require a lot of money. This makes it easy for one to implement these changes in their lifestyle.
One must be able to understand the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses like bipolar disorder in order to be able to identify it in themselves. Pinpointing bipolar disorder early is important because it tends to be easier to treat when found early. Bipolar disorders may not affect the majority of the world’s population, but it is still a disease that can have detrimental effects on one’s mind. They can cause mild to severe mood swings and manic episodes often. The drastic shifts from high to low moods can interfere with one’s life and prevent them from completing daily activities. Mental disorders like ADHD, anxiety, and depression may be the main focuses of mental health research, but bipolar disorder must not be forgotten. Mental health is a topic that must be discussed all the time because understanding mental illnesses is the key to preventing them.
Link to cover image: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/bipolar