Bipolar disorder is a common mental illness. Despite its increased presence, many people are unaware that they have bipolar disorder. It often presents depressive symptoms, making it difficult to distinguish from other mood disorders, like severe depression.
Though lifelong, bipolar disorder can easily be managed, and symptoms can be controlled with the right treatment and therapy.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Also known as bipolar depression, bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects up to 2.8% of the American population and causes mood swings. These mood swings can range from moderate to severe, causing those with bipolar disorder to fluctuate between emotional highs (manic episodes) and emotional lows (depressive symptoms).
These shifts in mood can significantly impact everyday activities, sleep, work, and concentration levels. When a person experiences a manic episode, they might feel extremely happy, euphoric, and energetic. However, they might feel depressed and hopeless when they encounter a low.
Mood disorders like bipolar depression affect everyone differently, but extreme mood swings are a common characteristic of the condition.
Types of Bipolar Disorders
There are seven different bipolar disorders, each with slightly distinct symptoms and characteristics. Some of the most common include:
- Bipolar II disorder. Also known as bipolar II depression, bipolar II is characterized by having had at least one or more depressive episodes and one or more hypomanic episodes. Those with bipolar II disorder never experience manic episodes.
- Bipolar I disorder. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by having had one or more manic episodes, followed by one or more hypomanic episodes. When some people experience a manic episode, it may also trigger a psychotic episode (a break from reality).
- Bipolar induced by drugs or conditions. In some cases, bipolar can be triggered by specific medications, drugs, alcohol, or conditions. In these instances, symptoms of bipolar disorder, like hypomanic episodes and mania, are common.
- Cyclothymia. Cyclothymia, often known as acute bipolar depression, is characterized by short episodes of hypomania and depression. It usually presents much less severe symptoms than bipolar I or II. Those with cyclothymia often experience frequent mood swings.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental health condition. If it’s not managed correctly, many people are at risk of experiencing extreme highs and lows, which in some cases can even lead to suicidal ideation and thoughts.
If you suspect that you have bipolar, it’s best to get a diagnosis from a medical professional. This way, you'll be able to ascertain what kind of bipolar disorder you have and receive appropriate bipolar disorder treatment.
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Mania, hypomania, and depressive symptoms are all characteristics of bipolar disorder. But it's important to remember that each type of bipolar presents slightly different symptoms.
Bipolar I Disorder
- A manic episode that lasts one week or more
- Bipolar depression
Bipolar II Disorder
- A hypomanic episode that lasts at least four days
- Hypomanic mood changes
- Depressive episodes that last two weeks or longer
- Psychosis during a depressive episode
- Hypomanic symptoms and depressive symptoms on and off over two years or more (one year in children)
- Not experiencing a full episode of hypomania or depression (often seen as acute bipolar depression)
- Symptoms that have a significant impact on day-to-day life and activities
- Mood swings
As a serious mental health condition, bipolar can significantly impact your day-to-day life and functioning. As well as experiencing episodes of major depression and hypomania, you might also experience agitation and sleeping problems during the acute phase of bipolar.
You might experience little to no symptoms in some cases, but it’s always best to get it checked out. Treatment for bipolar disorder can help alleviate the severity of symptoms and make it easier to function.
What Causes Bipolar Disorder?
Though there’s no set cause of bipolar disorder, scientists have researched possible risk factors contributing to its development. These include:
Genetics and Family Medical History
Research suggests that specific genes contribute to the likelihood of developing bipolar depression. Those who have parents or siblings with bipolar, for example, are more likely to develop the condition than those who don’t.
The same goes for any kind of mental health disorder. If you have a family history of depressive episodes and mood disorders, you’re more likely to have bipolar disorder.
Substance abuse problems can also trigger bipolar disorder as the chemicals and toxins in drugs can change the brain’s functioning and, in turn, affect your mood.
Other Mental Health Conditions
If you suffer from other mood disorders like anxiety or unipolar depression, you’re more likely to develop bipolar disorder than those who don’t.
Research indicates that the brains of people with bipolar disorder are different from those without any kind of mental illness. Though no concrete answer has been developed, these studies show a difference in brain structure and functioning between the two groups.
This suggests that some are perhaps born with a natural predisposition to bipolar disorder because of their brain structure.
Diagnosis and Examination
If you suspect you have bipolar disorder, it’s best to get a proper check-up and diagnosis from medical health professionals. There are so many discrepancies to look out for, so getting a diagnosis will help you determine what kind of bipolar depression you have. For example, if you have acute bipolar depression, you may only need pharmacological treatment to keep your symptoms under control.
Obtaining a diagnosis can also help rule out any pre-existing mental health conditions like unipolar depression or major depressive disorder. Since symptoms of bipolar are so similar to major depression, it can be easy to get mixed up between the two. Understanding your condition in greater detail will ensure you get the right kind of treatment, whether that’s adjunctive antidepressant treatment or solely psychotherapy.
As part of a diagnosis, you might be asked to take a physical examination or clinical assessment. This will help determine if you have any mental health conditions and may involve a doctor referring you to a specialist. You might also be asked to fill in a daily mood chart. This chart will help doctors determine the highs and lows you experience and whether any of your symptoms fit in with the criteria needed to make a bipolar diagnosis.
Treatment For Bipolar Depression
Treatment for bipolar depression focuses on alleviating symptoms and making the condition easier to manage. As a lifelong condition, bipolar disorder usually requires maintenance treatment (regular upkeep of medication and therapy, for example), so your doctor will be able to draw up a plan that works around your schedule.
As a broad mental health condition, effective treatment might include medication and psychotherapy or a combination of all these treatment options. Since there are different types of bipolar depression, every approach to treating the disorder will vary slightly depending on your needs.
Medication is one of the primary treatment options for those with bipolar disorder - it's used to help control symptoms. These medications include antipsychotic drugs, mood stabilizers, and antidepressants. The medicine dosage depends on the type of bipolar depression and individual symptoms.
- Mood stabilizers. Mood stabilizing drugs like Lithium (Lithobid) and Lamotrigine (Lamictal) are used to treat bipolar disorder, alleviating symptoms like a manic episode and hypomania.
- Antipsychotic drugs. If symptoms of depression and mania persist with mood stabilizers, you may be given an antipsychotic drug like asenapine (Saphris) to help bring your condition under control. These can also be switched with mood stabilizers and taken by themself.
- Antidepressants. If your bipolar disorder causes depressive episodes, you may also be prescribed antidepressants. Used to treat a wide range of mood disorders, antidepressants will help relieve any depressive symptoms you have.
- Anti-anxiety medications. During the acute phase of bipolar disorder, agitation and insomnia are common symptoms. This can make it difficult to concentrate and can have an impact on day-to-day activities. In these cases, anti-anxiety medications like benzodiazepines can be prescribed to help improve sleep and alleviate any anxiety you may experience. These are usually only taken for a set period of time until the acute phase has passed.
Pharmacological treatment is effective and can help alleviate bipolar symptoms, but side effects like weight gain and fatigue can make it a little unpleasant at times. Though not everyone will experience side effects, be sure to talk to a doctor if you encounter any.
In doing so, it may be possible to find an alternative medication that’s better suited to you, so don’t suffer in silence. Though medication is an effective treatment, it’s advised that most people with bipolar disorder undergo adjunctive therapy in combination.
Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy is used to help people with bipolar disorder manage their emotions and develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Some of the most popular types of psychotherapy for treating bipolar depression include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is used to help clients with bipolar depression identify their triggers and negative beliefs and behaviors, arming them with the tools to replace them with healthy behaviors and strategies to cope with the condition.
- Psychoeducation. Psychoeducation is all about learning as much as you can about your disorder. In this case, you and your family will learn about bipolar depression, its triggers, symptoms, and what you can do to manage any symptoms better.
- Family-focused therapy. Family-focused therapy will help your loved ones better understand your condition and what they can do to make your life easier, as well as help you stick to your maintenance treatment plan.
Brain Stimulation Therapies
In some cases, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy may be recommended. These treatments are known as brain stimulation therapies that treat a range of mood disorders, including major depressive disorder and treatment-resistant depression. They’re usually recommended if you have severe bipolar disorder or treatment-resistant bipolar depression.
Both treatment options work by triggering nerve cell activity in the brain. This stimulation helps alleviate psychotic symptoms associated with severe bipolar depression. Unlike other treatments, brain stimulation therapies have little to no side effects - something often a problem with medication.
Tips for Living With Bipolar Disorder
On top of your regular maintenance treatment (mood-stabilizing drugs and therapy), you’ll need to develop some healthy lifestyle habits. This will make it easier to cope with your bipolar depression and stop negative habits from forming.
- Stop taking drugs. If you take any drugs, now is the time to quit or seek help. Substance abuse exacerbates mental illness, making your symptoms twice as severe.
- Develop healthy bonds and relationships. Having friends and family around you will go a long way in making you feel supported and loved. Though family-focused therapy is one of many treatment options, don’t just rely on this to develop relationships. Set time aside to spend with loved ones and let them understand what you’re going through.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise is often used to treat bipolar depression and other mental disorders like major depression. Set aside a bit of time each day to workout - not only does doing so release endorphins, but it also keeps your mind focused.
- Develop a healthy routine. Developing a healthy routine will help you better manage your bipolar disorder. Make sure you prioritize sleep, exercise, and a healthy diet, and always speak to a doctor if your mood stabilizers or medication are causing any side effects.
- Keep a mood chart. Mood charts are often recommended for those with bipolar depression and mental disorders like anxiety. A chart will help you keep track of your mood fluctuations and help you notice any possible triggers.
Treatment for Bipolar Disorder at GIA Miami
At GIA Miami, we know just how difficult it can be to live with bipolar depression. Some days you feel euphoric; other days, you feel hopeless. Clients with bipolar disorder often feel misunderstood by those around them, and that’s why we’ve created a program that’s fully personalized to your needs and medical history.
Our program also treats a wide range of bipolar disorders, from acute bipolar depression to bipolar I and II. At GIA Miami, our treatment options for bipolar depression include:
- Adjunctive therapy
- Family therapy
- Lithium monotherapy
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation
We also cater to a wide range of mental disorders, from treatment-resistant depression and unipolar depression to major depressive disorder, and provide substance abuse treatment to those who need it.
Contact our care team today if you are hoping to receive a diagnosis or explore other treatment methods. They’ll be happy to walk you through the admissions process and answer any questions you might have.