Why are you having mood swings?
We all have moments when we are happy and moments when we are sad. Most of the time, we are able to function every day without either of these effecting us too much. What if you go back and forth between these two extremes frequently? While you’re experiencing either one of these, does it making completing daily activities difficult? If it does, you might have bipolar disorder. What does this mean? How is it treated? Can it be prevented?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that is known for having extreme mood swings. You can have episodes where you feel euphoric, full of energy or very irritable. These are referred to as manic or hypomanic. They have the same symptoms, but mania is more severe and usually cause more noticeable problems. At the opposite end of the spectrum are the depression episodes, which is when you experience feeling sad or hopeless and lose interest in activities that you normally enjoy. In either case, they can affect your sleep, energy/activity level, judgment/thinking and behavior. The disorder used to be known as manic depression because of the two mood extremes. Episodes can occur rarely or frequently.
There are several types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I is if you have at least one manic episode that was either preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. These manic episodes can be severe. Some people even develop psychosis. Bipolar II is when you have at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but have never experienced a manic episode. Sometimes, the depressed period can last for a while. It’s important to note that these two groups are separate diagnoses—Bipolar II isn’t a milder form of Bipolar I. Cyclothymic disorder is when you have many periods of hypomania and depression within the past two years (adults) or one year (children/teens). For this type, the severity of the depressive symptoms aren’t as bad as those who have Bipolar II. Bipolar that is classified as other types is usually brought on by alcohol, drugs or other medical conditions.
Bipolar disorder is often diagnosed when an individual is in their teens or early 20s, but can occur at any age. Symptoms vary for each individual and can change over time. It’s a lifelong condition that requires management of symptoms. In order for a person to be classified as having a manic episode, they must have three or more of these symptoms: being abnormally upbeat, feeling jumpy/wired, having increased activity/energy level, feeling agitated, having an exaggerated sense of well-being/self-confidence, not sleeping, unusual talkativeness, racing thoughts, easily distracted and poor decision-making (ex. going on buying sprees or taking unnecessary risks). For a person to be labeled as having a depressive episode, they need to have five of the following symptoms: feel sad/empty/hopeless/tearful, children and teens might be irritable, noticeable loss of interest in activities, not getting enjoyment out of activities that they normally do, significant weight changes (up or down), changes in appetite, either insomnia or sleeping too much, either restlessness or slowed behavior, fatigue, feeling worthlessness, having excessive/inappropriate amounts of guilt, unable to think/concentrate, indecisiveness or thinking about/planning/attempting suicide. When either symptoms are severe enough, they can make day-to-day activities extremely difficulty. The cause of bipolar disorder is unknown, but thought to be related to physical changes within the person’s brain. It’s more common to develop it if you have a sibling or parent with the condition. Many people have something that triggers their first episode, such as abusing drugs/alcohol or periods of high stress (ex. going through a traumatic event).
Bipolar disorder requires treatment in order to get better by managing the symptoms. If it’s not treated, it can cause numerous complications, such as legal/financial problems, damaged relationships, poor performance at work/school, drug/alcohol abuse and suicide attempts/suicide. Treatment is managed by a psychiatrist, who is a doctor that specializes in diagnosing/treating mental health disorders. Your doctor will likely prescribe medication to help you regulate your moods. These medicines can include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, antidepressant-antipsychotics and anti-anxiety medications. It can take a bit of time to find the right medication for you. Your doctor will help you in adjusting your medications in order to get the best fit. The key is to not stop taking any medications without talking to your doctor first. If you are pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant, make sure to talk to your doctor because many of these medications can have an impact on fetal development. For people who don’t respond to medications, your doctor may recommend electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to see if they help to change the chemistry within your brain in hopes to provide you with better management of your symptoms.
The other big component of treatment involves psychotherapy. There are many different types. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is designed to help you develop a consistent routine for sleeping, eating and activities because this makes it easier to manage your moods. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) helps to recognize unhealthy behaviors and replace them with healthy ones. This can be useful in recognizing triggers and dealing with stress. Psychoeducation is when you learn more about your condition to gain a better understanding in order to stick with your treatment plan and prevent a relapse. Often, bipolar disorder is accompanied by several other problems, such as substance abuse, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and physical problems. All of these need to be address separately while you are receiving care for your bipolar disorder. For your treatment to be successful, you need to stick to the plan, surround yourself with supportive family/friends and have a healthy routine. It can also be helpful to keep a chart of your moods so you can identify triggers and know when a treatment plan is working or needs to be changed.
There is no specific way to prevent bipolar disorder. The key to preventing complications is getting the help you need at the earliest sign of an episode. The major thing to look for are warning signs. This can help you get a head start on dealing with the symptoms, see if there is pattern to them and identify what is triggering them. It’s a good idea to include family and friends in monitoring for them. Since alcohol and drugs can make your symptoms worse or reappear, avoid them. It’s vital to take your medication as prescribed, even if you are feeling better. If you stop or reduce the amount you’re taking, you can experience withdrawal symptoms and your bipolar symptoms will get worse or return.
Living with bipolar disorder is a challenge. The good news is that there are treatments available that can help you to successfully manage it. If you have any questions or concerns about bipolar disorder, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s bipolar page at https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml