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 can function every day without either of these affecting us too much. What if you go back and forth between these two extremes frequently? While experiencing either of these, does it make completing daily activities difficult? What does this mean?
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition known for 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 causes more noticeable problems.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are the depression episodes, which are when you experience feeling sad or hopeless and lose interest in activities you normally enjoy. Either way, they can affect your sleep, energy/activity level, judgment/thinking, and behavior. The disorder was known as manic depression because of the two mood extremes. Episodes can occur rarely or frequently.
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).
There are several types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I is if you have at least one manic episode 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 Bipolar II isn’t a milder form of Bipolar I; instead, it’s a separate diagnosis.
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 isn’t as bad as those with Bipolar II. Bipolar classified as Other is often brought on by alcohol, drugs, or other medical conditions.
Bipolar disorder is typically diagnosed when an individual is in their teens or early 20s but can occur at any age. It’s a lifelong condition that requires the management of symptoms. Symptoms vary for each individual and can change over time. When severe, symptoms can make day-to-day activities extremely difficult.
During a manic episode, a person will experience 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).
During a depressive episode, a person will 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.
Bipolar disorder requires treatment to manage the symptoms. If 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 overseen by a psychiatrist, a doctor specializing in diagnosing/treating mental health disorders.
Your doctor will likely prescribe medication to help regulate your moods. These medicines can include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, antidepressant-antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications. Finding the right medication can take a bit of time. Your doctor will help you adjust your medications to get the best fit. The key is not to stop taking any medications without talking to your doctor first. If you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, make sure to talk to your doctor because many of these medications can impact 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 of providing you with better management of your symptoms.
The other significant component of treatment involves psychotherapy. There are many different types. Psychoeducation is when you learn more about your condition to understand it better so you’ll be more likely to stick with your treatment plan and prevent a relapse. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT) is designed to help you develop a consistent routine for sleeping, eating and activities, making 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 identifying triggers and dealing with stress.
Often, bipolar disorder is accompanied by other problems, such as substance abuse, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), and physical issues. All of these need to be addressed while receiving care for bipolar disorder. For treatment to be successful, it’s key 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 avoiding complications is getting the help you need at the earliest sign of an episode. The primary thing to look for is warning signs. This can help you get a head start on dealing with the symptoms, see if there is a pattern, and identify what is triggering them. Including family and friends in watching for them is a good idea.
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 feel better. If you stop or reduce the amount you’re taking, you can experience withdrawal symptoms, and your bipolar symptoms will return or worsen.
Living with bipolar disorder is a challenge. The good news is that there are treatments available that can help you 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