You may know someone who is bipolar and not even know it!
Questions about Bipolar Disorder
(with easy to understand answers)
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health diagnosis given to someone who experiences episodes of both major depression and mania. Essentially, the difference between someone who has a diagnosis of depression and someone who has been given a bipolar diagnosis is that the person with the bipolar diagnosis has, at some point in their lives, experienced at least one manic episode. Once a manic episode occurs the person is considered to have bipolar disorder.
What is Mania?
A manic episode can look different for different types of people. For many it includes abnormally positive feelings that cause them to feel invincible and thus participate in risky activities (like drinking, drugging, sex, shopping, etc) at extreme levels. Many people find when they feel manic that they are unable to sleep and are very productive, accomplishing much more than an average person would be able to accomplish. Some people may experience very high levels of agitation and irritability during a manic episode. Manic episodes typically last for at least a couple of days but may also last for weeks or more.
How is Bipolar treated?
Bipolar disorder is a chemical imbalance in the brain and as such requires medication to treat it in conjunction with therapy with a licensed clinician. Bipolar is often treated with a combination of medications, prescribed by a psychiatrist, that may include an anti-depressant, a mood stabilizer, and an anti-anxiety when needed. Another class of drugs often used to treat bipolar disorder is an anti-psychotic. Many people are afraid to take medications but most people with bipolar disorder see little to no success unless they are on a medication regimen that their psychiatrist has determined to be the best mix of medications for their particular symptoms.
Why do people with bipolar stop taking their medications?
If you are not someone with bipolar disorder it may be hard to understand why someone would stop taking their medications if it helps them remain emotionally stable. However, for people who are bipolar, who are used to feeling very high highs and very low lows, “stable” can feel boring or even make them feel like they are numb emotionally. For many people with bipolar disorder when they are in a manic state they do not recall how depressed and hopeless they feel when they are in a depressed state.
Since they feel good when they are in a manic state (very good usually) many will stop taking their medications because they believe they no longer need them because they feel fine. Many people with bipolar disorder also enjoy the way they perform when in a manic state and do not want to give up that high level of productivity or satisfaction that they experience and believe the depressive episode to be “worth the risk” to gain the manic feelings. It is not healthy for anyone to go on and off medication rapidly and without the direction of a psychiatrist and, for people who are bipolar, it can be very risky.
Is bipolar more severe for some people and less so for others?
In my experience, the answer to this is, “yes”. Remember that this is a chemical imbalance in the brain. That being said, no one has the same amount of chemicals or the same amount of imbalance and this allows for different severity of the illness. Additionally, your life experiences can impact the severity of the way the illness effects a person. Some people with bipolar disorder, when medicated, can function very well without others around them even knowing that they have an illness. Others, even with medication, struggle to maintain emotional stability making it difficult for them to maintain relationships and jobs. Even daily living skills can become difficult to accomplish for the person suffering with bipolar disorder.
Does therapy/counseling help?
Yes! A very well researched and evidence based therapy that can help people with bipolar disorder (and everyone else for that matter) is called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT essentially teaches you how to change your thoughts in order to change your actions and feelings, It has proven effective in learning how to better manage our emotions and emotional stability.
If you, or someone you love, suffer from bipolar disorder do not be afraid or ashamed to reach out for help! Talk with your doctor or a counselor. Many schools and places of employment provide counseling services. You can also find a psychiatrist and a counselor in your area at psychologytoday.com. At BBHW we work with people suffering from bipolar disorder without judgment and with compassion and will be pleased to set up a free consultation for you with one of our therapists.
CADC, NBCCHT, ACH, CCT
Dr. Denise Casey is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a Certification in Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counseling and a National Board Certification in Clinical Hypnosis. She is also Certified in Cognitive Therapy and has studied addictions and hypnosis at advanced levels.
Her general experience in working with young adults to seniors has equipped her to deal with a wide variety of issues. Dr. Casey is highly skilled, deeply compassionate, and presents a very casual and caring atmosphere.
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