“I think I’m bipolar.” If you’ve ever thought this to yourself or even said it out loud to a friend, you probably have questions about how you can find out whether you have bipolar disorder or not.
This article will help you discover what bipolar disorder really is, how you can find out whether you have it, and what treatment options are available to you if you do.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-V). It is characterized as a mood disorder where the person experiences really high high’s and really low low’s.
These mood swings can be very severe and debilitating. Symptoms can look different from person to person. Some people can experience psychosis during a bipolar episode.
The exact cause of Bipolar Disorder is still unknown. Researchers have not found a specific genetic link as to where Bipolar Disorder comes from, but it has proven in research to run in families.
If you are saying to yourself, “I think I’m bipolar,” you might want to have some education on what bipolar disorder looks like and ask yourself a few questions.
First, what is the intensity of your mood swings? Second, how often and what is the time duration of your mood swings or episodes? Finally, are the mood swings affecting your every day life and ability to function?
Below is some information on what Bipolar Disorder and what it can look like.
Bipolar I vs. Bipolar II
There are two different kinds of bipolar disorder, Bipolar I and Bipolar II. The main difference is that in Bipolar I, the person has experienced at least one manic episode while a person with Bipolar II Disorder has never had a manic episode. With Bipolar II Disorder, the person has had hypomanic episodes as opposed to manic episodes.
As mentioned, the main difference between Bipolar I and II is the difference between mania and hypomania. Some of the symptoms of these episodes are: higher energy levels, restlessness, decreased need for sleep, feelings of grandiosity, very talkative, racing thoughts, easily distracted, starting multiple projects but unable to finish, increased sexual behavior and engaging in risky activities like gambling, sex, drugs, etc.
Somebody who is manic is going to take these symptoms much farther than somebody who is hypomanic. Mania is much more severe than hypomania. Mania can often lead to serious ramifications and/or hospitalization. It can also cause psychotic symptoms like: paranoia, delusions and hallucinations.
A manic episode might be a week or sometimes longer of symptoms while a hypomanic episode might be only a few days. Having a hypomanic episode is less likely to lead to hospitalization.
What does a major depressive episode look like?
When talking about Bipolar Disorder, there is also the depression piece to remember, too. Some of the symptoms of having a major depressive episode are: feeling depressed most of the day and nearly every day, little to no energy, significant weight loss or weight gain, sleeping too much or too little, unable to enjoy things you once enjoyed, feelings of worthlessness, feeling lonely, trouble concentrating, and reoccurring thoughts of death and/or suicide.
These symptoms of a major depressive episode are very isolating. Suicide is a very real symptom of bipolar disorder and many people with this illness have at least attempted suicide.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States and 44,965 Americans die each year from suicide. This is a real conversation to be having because suicide is becoming more and more prevalent in our society.
Bipolar I and Bipolar II are not the only types of bipolar diagnosis and there are specifiers for bipolar disorder. There are other factors to consider when somebody is being diagnosed. Rapid cycling is not a diagnosis itself but a diagnosis specifier. It is when a person has constant and severe bipolar episodes. The criteria in the DSM is that the person would have four or more manic or depressive episodes in a year.
Bipolar NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) is given to somebody who might come very close to meeting the criteria for a bipolar diagnosis but falls a little short of meeting the full criteria in the DSM.
Many doctors will use this diagnosis to be conservative and not jump to over diagnosing, but also to be clear that the person is not just dealing with depression. If you are initially diagnosed with this, it is important to monitor yourself and take seriously the symptoms that you might be having.
Cyclothymia Disorder is similar to Bipolar I and Bipolar II disorder in that it has ups and downs but it is not as severe. The person might still be able to function in every day life, it is considered a more mild mood disorder.
Finally there are what’s called having, “mixed episodes.” This is when a person is experiencing both mania/hypomania along with depression at the same time. The person might be having high energy, feeling extremely tired and racing thoughts along with feeling hopeless, agitated, and suicidal. Having somebody in a mixed state makes the risk of suicide much higher.
Finding the right provider is going to be key if you think you are suffering from bipolar disorder. Often times people are misdiagnosed with some other mental health diagnosis before they come to the bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Symptoms of bipolar disorder can present in different ways and forms. Many times people can be diagnosed with major depression, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, along with various personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder.
Finding a psychiatrist, monitoring your own symptoms, and asking your friends or family for insight might help you get diagnosed correctly much faster.
What Types of Treatment Are Available to Me?
There are many types of treatment available to somebody with bipolar disorder. Seeking professional help is important to finding peace and restoring your life. Finding treatment can help minimize the amount of episodes you might have along with the intensity of your episodes.
The first type of treatment often used is medication management. Finding a Medical Doctor who has a specialty in Psychiatry is important. Not all Medical Doctors have the knowledge a Psychiatrist would have. I have found finding somebody with vast knowledge of psychiatric medications is going to be best. Medications that are normally used are: mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, and at times, anticonvulsants.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Another treatment that can work hand in hand, improving a person’s chances of recovery, is therapy. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) are common therapeutic tools to help somebody struggling with bipolar disorder. Using these two types of therapy gives the person struggling some “tools” in their tool box, or coping skills.
Support Groups and Group Therapy
Finding support groups or group therapy is also a great addition. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers support groups for people struggling with mental health issues. You can find your local NAMI affiliate and what support groups are available at NAMI.org.
There are also some mental health agencies and therapists that offer group therapy for those struggling with bipolar disorder that can be a great resource and powerful tool. These types of groups let the person struggling know that they are not alone in their struggles. Bipolar Disorder can be very isolating, especially when somebody is in a depressive episode. Having the ability to talk to others with similar struggles is very powerful.
There are people who are classified as medication resistant. This is when a person has tried countless medications and trials with medications and nothing seems to be helping. We are lucky to live in a period of time where medications and medical interventions are constantly improving and evolving.
There are other options to consider when a person is not having any success with medications. These interventions I am about to talk about are not used as a first line of defense. It is normally used when most people are not having success with medications.
Electro convulsive therapy (ECT) is not a new intervention being used, but it is far more common than most people realize. ECT has changed and evolved since when it first started in the 1930s. It is not used as a first option; you need to have tried and have medical documentation that previous medication trials have not worked.
It is much more humane and by that I mean you are now put under general anesthesia instead of being awake for the procedure. ECT does come with serious side effects, the most common of which is memory loss.
While the person is under anesthesia, small electrical currents are put through your brain, causing a seizure. ECT does cause your brain chemistry to change. It is still unknown how and why this treatment specifically works, but there are many people for whom ECT has improved their quality of life and helped their bipolar disorder.
There is a newer intervention that is being used as opposed to ECT called, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). This is a non-invasive procedure, especially compared to ECT. TMS can be done without anesthesia or any serious side effects. This procedure uses a magnetic pulse (what feels like tapping on your scalp) and it stimulates nerve cells in the part of your brain that controls your mood.
There are many different treatment options available today. It is best to talk with your healthcare provider to find the treatment that is going to work best for you. Since there are so many options available today, you do not have to do anything you do not want to. You can try a wide variety of treatments. The good news is you have options.
Where to Find Help for Bipolar Disorder
Now that you have the knowledge on what bipolar disorder looks like along with the types of treatment available, you can talk to your healthcare provider about a possible diagnosis and treatment.
Today there are so many people suffering alone. Maybe that is you? Maybe you have deviated from the track you were once on and are struggling to find relief? Maybe the depression has progressed so much you are thinking of hurting yourself? If you are thinking of suicide, please call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (or 1-800-273-8255).
I am a licensed mental health therapist and available to walk with you through this journey in finding the right treatment and learning to develop skills and coping mechanisms to help find recovery. There are many people who suffer alone and do not seek outside help or talk about their symptoms with somebody they trust. This is serious and should be looked into and treated.
So many people suffer and then turn to suicide for the relief that they crave so badly. We have learned through history, even the past few months, how prevalent bipolar disorder is. People die every day from this illness. I am telling you that this does not have to be your path. Hope and treatment are available.
As it says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are burdened, and I will give you rest.” God wants recovery for you and will offer you hope. It is important to remember to trust in Him and lean into Him during these kinds of difficult times. Please remember you do not have to walk in this journey alone, reach out today.
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