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Published on June 06, 2019

Q&A: What is Bipolar Disorder? What Can I Do to Help Manage Symptoms?

What is Bipolar Disorder?

What is bipolar disorder?

Most people have a smaller range of everyday ups and downs. But bipolar disorder has a much larger range that can fluctuate over days, weeks or even months. Years ago, bipolar disorder was called manic depressive disorder, but the name was changed to reflect the switches from one extreme to the other, or from one “pole” to the other.

What are the most common signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder, including manic episodes and depressive episodes?

Signs and symptoms of mania are decreased sleep, increased energy, poor appetite, impulse control issues, pressured speech and racing thoughts. For depressive episodes, a combination of depressed mood, crying or irritability, feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, extremes in sleep and appetite, suicidal or aggressive thoughts, fatigue and loss of concentration/focus can be seen.

What causes bipolar disorder? What are some of the effects that bipolar disorder can have on someone’s life and health?

One of the main points to bring out is that bipolar disorder is not developed. It is genetic, or it can be the result of a brain trauma. It is an organic or biological state of the brain.

For someone with bipolar disorder, the biggest health risk is suicide, which can happen in a manic or depressive state. Other risks are occupational problems, relationship strains, health issues, financial mismanagement, addictive or impulse control behaviors. Often, people suffering with this problem can go for days, weeks or months with very little sleep, and the body gets worn out.

Is there a connection between bipolar disorder and anxiety or depression?

Depression and anxiety can be experienced without bipolar disorder, but most individuals that have bipolar disorder report episodes of depression and anxiety in varying degrees.

Are there lifestyle changes I can make to help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Yes! Although bipolar disorder cannot be cured, it can be managed in a way that a person with this illness can live a happy, satisfying life. The top three things patients are taught to achieve this goal are to:

1) Keep doctor’s appointments and take medications as prescribed.

2) Regulate and monitor sleep.

3) Limit stress.

Bipolar disorder cannot be managed well without medication.

Can psychotherapy be beneficial? Absolutely! Many times, I have had a session with a patient that came in with mood changes who was talking more than usual or unable to focus on our conversation. The patient may not even realize that these things are going on, but by being in the session, I was able point out what I saw. Together, we took action, whether it was getting in with their doctor for medication changes or making a plan to pull back on stressful events. Psychotherapy is a great way to learn how to stop an episode before it gets out of control for the patient.

If I have a loved-one who has bipolar disorder, what can I do to support their needs?

The most loving act of support is to learn as much as possible about the illness to understand what your loved-one is experiencing. Once the basics are understood, the one with bipolar disorder can be the best teacher of their needs, signs and symptoms. The beauty of psychiatry is that every person is unique, but that also means that your loved-one may be different than someone that wrote a book or was on TV. Ask them questions and let them teach you.

About the Author

Anita Pardo, LPCAnita Pardo, LPC, is a licensed professional counselor at LeBauer Behavioral Medicine at Stoney Creek