In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month we’re going to close it out by talking about Bipolar Disorder, something one our hosts (Bunny) suffers from.
Bipolar Disorder, or manic depression, is widely known for its extreme mood swings and affects 2.5% of the population. In entertainment media you’ll see portrayed highs that look like total chaos or lows that look like staying in bed for weeks at a time. Realistically though those are the two opposite ends of the spectrum. Most people with bipolar disorder fall somewhere in the center of the spectrum.
There are also different types of Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar I is characterized by having at least one manic or hypomanic episode preceded or followed by a major depressive episode. Bipolar II does not include any manic episodes. Rapid Cycling Bipolar is characterized by having four or more episodes of mania or depression within a one year time span.
According to the DSM-5 (the diagnostic manual for mental health professionals), to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder you have to exhibit three or more of the following symptoms and they must be significantly different from the patients usual behavior:
- Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
- Decreased need for sleep
- Increased talkativeness
- Racing thoughts
- Distracted easily
- Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation
They must also experience five or more of the following symptoms in two weeks:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
- Loss of interest
- Significant weight loss or decrease or increase in appetite
- Engaging in purposeless movements, such as pacing the room
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt
Even with the extremes in moods and different episodes, people with any type of Bipolar Disorder often don’t recognize how much their emotional instability disrupts their lives affects the people around them and this causes issues in getting treatment. Plus, some people with the disorder enjoy and look forward to the euphoria and hyper-productivity that mania brings and therefore are noncompliant with treatment plans. Unfortunately though, the upside is followed by a severe emotional crash.
Causes and risk factors include having a parent or a sibling with the disorder, periods of high stress and drug and alcohol abuse. So if you have Bipolar Disorder what are some things you can do to manage it ?
Secondly, educate yourself. Bipolar Disorder is great at deceiving the person with it. Keeping the signs and symptoms present in mind help you to be more aware of when you’re showing them. That way you can train yourself to notice when you’re going through or about to dive into an episode and reach out for extra help.
It can also help to track your symptoms. Keeping track of your mood, thinking and behaviors surrounding different times in your life gives you a greater chance of stabilizing your mood. It does this by helping you figure out what sorts of things trigger an episode. If you notice major changes in your log you’ll want to share the log with your mental health professional.
Lastly, establish a routine that includes a crisis plan. The single most efficient coping skill for preventing mania and depression is keeping a consistent routine. Include your medication, meditation, consistent full nights of sleep, exercise and eating clean. All five of these factors work together to stabilize your dopamine levels and other hormones that contribute to how you feel. However, there will still be times when even the best routine and set of coping skills don’t prevent an episode. Keep handy a written plan with a list of people you can contact when you’re feeling impulsive or low as well as a list of your current medications and allergies just in case.
If you don’t have this disorder but someone in your life does, learn everything you can about Bipolar. The more accurate information you have, the more you can keep things in perspective. Try to be understanding, your loved one genuinely often cannot see that they have been acting any different until after the episode is over. Also, always encourage them to get help. The sooner bipolar disorder is treated, the better the prognosis.