Bipolar Disorder

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by extreme moods. These moods include both deep depression and feelings of euphoria that are often known as mania.

Sometimes a person with bipolar disorder will experience quick changes from one extreme to the other. Different kinds of bipolar disorder involve different levels of mania, but all bipolar disorders involve periods of clinical depression. Bipolar disorder can also involve extreme changes in a person’s energy level or thought processes.

Feelings of great happiness and sadness are a normal part of life, and it’s also normal to experience mood swings sometimes. However, if your mood changes are frequent and extreme enough to interfere with your day-to-day life on a regular basis, you may be dealing with a form of bipolar disorder.

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How common is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is relatively common in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that among adults, about 2.8% of people have experienced bipolar disorder in the past year. Among that population, most (almost 83%) had severe symptoms.

Bipolar disorder most often begins around the age of 25, but it can start earlier as well. It is about equally common for men and women.

Symptoms of bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder can involve a broad range of symptoms, and not everyone experiences every symptom. Some of the most common ones include:

  • Episodes of depression: All people diagnosed with bipolar disorder have experienced episodes of clinical major depression.

  • Episodes of mania: Mania can include variety of symptoms including feeling incredibly happy and excited; feeling so full of energy that you might not need to sleep or eat; impulsive and/or dangerous behavior; and being unable to rest.

    • People with Bipolar II Disorder (see below) experience a milder form of these symptoms known as hypomania.

  • Frequent or extreme mood changes: You might find that your mood changes very quickly or from one extreme to the other.

  • Frequent or extreme changes in energy level: You might go from feeling exhausted and listless to full of energy, or vice versa.

  • Frequent or extreme changes in thought processes: People experiencing mania often feel their thoughts racing, while people experiencing depression may find it hard to think at all.

  • Hallucinations or delusions: Extreme mania can include seeing or hearing things that aren’t actually there (hallucations) or believing things that aren’t true (delusions).

Types of bipolar disorder

There are two different specific disorders classified as bipolar disorders:

  • Bipolar I Disorder: In Bipolar I Disorder, a person cycles between episodes of major depression and full-blown mania. This mania  is very extreme and may include hallucinations and/or delusions.

  • Bipolar II Disorder: In Bipolar II Disorder, a person still experiences episodes of major depression, but these episodes alternate with a milder state called hypomania. Hypomania is not as extreme as mania but includes less severe versions of many of the same symptoms. For example, a person experiencing hypomania might need less rest, while a person experiencing mania might not need to sleep at all.

In both cases, some people switch between the different extremes more quickly than others.

Additionally, there is a condition called Cyclothymic Disorder that is not technically bipolar disorder but that shares some of its features. In Cyclothymic Disorder, a person experiences frequent and drastic mood changes, but the moods are not extreme enough to qualify as major depression or full-blown mania.

Treatments for bipolar disorder

There are a number of options that may be helpful if you think you have bipolar disorder:

  • Therapy. Therapy can be a very helpful way to gain insight into your condition and work on evidence-based strategies to reduce your symptoms. (See tips on finding a therapist below.)

  • Medication: Medication is a very common treatment option for bipolar disorder. Though most medications come with side effects, a psychiatric professional can help you manage these side effects and find the most effective treatment.

  • Check-ups: Symptoms of bipolar disorder can sometimes be related to underlying medical conditions. It’s important to stay up-to-date with visits to your primary care physician to rule out related medical conditions.

  • Keeping a journal: Keeping track of changes in your mood, thoughts, and behavior can be a great way to gain more insight into your condition. Knowing exactly how and when these changes occur can help you and your treatment team better treat your symptoms. Writing in a journal can also help you process your emotions and reduce anxiety.

  • Hotlines: If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at at 1-800-273-8255. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline at 1-800-622-4357 can also help you locate resources and treatment options.

Therapy types for bipolar disorder treatment

Several different kinds of therapy have been shown to be effective for treating bipolar disorder. Most often, psychotherapy is used in combination with medication managed by a psychiatrist.

A few of the most common psychotherapy options for bipolar disorder are:

What to look for in a therapist for bipolar disorder treatment

In addition to these therapy approaches, you’ll want to make sure that your therapist is qualified to treat bipolar disorder. This will usually involve:

  • Advanced education in a field related to mental health, such as psychiatry, psychology, or social work;

  • Licensure to practice in the state where you live;

  • Additional training and/or experience in treating bipolar disorder specifically.

Finally, as with any therapy, it’s important to make sure that your therapist is a good fit for your unique needs. Be sure to evaluate the following in your initial calls with therapists:

  • How will you pay for therapy? Does the therapist take your insurance or otherwise offer rates that will work with your budget?

  • When and where will you attend sessions? Does the therapist offer treatment at a location that is convenient for you and at times that work with your schedule?

  • Most importantly, do you feel comfortable talking to this therapist and sense that you have the potential to develop a therapeutic alliance?

Find therapists for bipolar disorder

Find therapists for bipolar disorder near you on Zencare:

Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you.