What is Bipolar Disorder?
Mental Health Series
Manic-depressive illness, also known as bipolar disorder, is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings. A disorder is not the same thing as a disease, but many confuse the two. These mood swings can range from manic episodes with high energy, little sleep, and reckless behavior to depressive episodes with low energy, difficulty with daily activities, and feelings of hopelessness.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.8% of adults in the United States experience bipolar disorder. It is important to note that bipolar disorder does not discriminate and can affect individuals of any gender, age, race, or socio-economic background.
There are several different types of bipolar disorder (detailed below), including bipolar I disorder, bipolar II disorder, and cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar I disorder is characterized by at least one manic episode, while bipolar II disorder is characterized by at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode. Cyclothymic disorder is characterized by periods of hypomanic symptoms and periods of mild depression.
- Bipolar I disorder involves manic episodes that last at least 7 days or manic symptoms so severe that you need immediate hospital care. Depressive episodes are also common. Those often last at least two weeks. This type of bipolar disorder can also involve mixed episodes.
- Bipolar II disorder involves depressive episodes. But instead of full-blown manic episodes, there are episodes of hypomania. Hypomania is a less severe version of mania.
- Cyclothymic disorder, or cyclothymia, also involves hypomanic and depressive symptoms. But they are not as intense or as long-lasting as hypomanic or depressive episodes. The symptoms usually last for at least two years in adults and for one year in children and teenagers.
Common symptoms include:
- The symptoms of a manic episode can include-
- Feeling very up, high energy, or extremely happy
- Feeling on edge, jumpy or wired, more active than your usual
- Having a very short temper or seeming extremely irritable/agitated
- Having racing thoughts (repetitive thoughts that won’t stop) and talking very fast
- Need for less sleep, but still feeling energized
- Feeling like you are more important, talented, or powerful than others or what you normally feel like
- Doing more risky things that show poor judgment, such as eating and drinking too much, spending or giving away a lot of money, or having reckless sex
- The symptoms of a depressive episode can include-
- Feeling very sad, hopeless, or worthless
- Feeling lonely or isolating yourself from others
- Talking very slowly, feeling like you have nothing to say
- Forgetfulness or foggy brain
- Having little energy and/or low motivation
- Sleeping too much or sleeping to avoid feelings or problems
- Eating too much or too little
- Lack of interest in your usual activities and being unable to do even simple things
- Thinking about death, suicide or self-harm
- The symptoms of a mixed episode include both manic and depressive symptoms together. For example, you may feel very sad, while at the same time feeling extremely energized. Sometimes bipolar can be rapid cycling, which is even more difficult to navigate. Rapid cycling is defined as having four or more episodes of mania or depression in a year. Others might experience this cycle within days or months.
Bipolar disorder’s exact cause is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic, environmental, and brain chemistry factors. It is critical to understand that bipolar disorder is not caused by personal weakness or a lack of willpower.
Some people often find it hard to interact with those who have bipolar because they do not understand the disorder and how difficult it is for people to manage it. Those with this disorder may find it hard to keep a stable job, a healthy relationship and parent their children appropriately. Family and friends may notice a change in mood swings and changes in activity levels that might indicate that someone is suffering from bipolar before the person even realizes they are behaving differently.
Bipolar disorder, whether treated or untreated, can have a variety of negative consequences. Undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder can worsen and increase the intensity of episodes. Without any treatment all, episodes may become more frequent or severe. Delays in receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment can lead to personal, social, and occupational issues. Although there is no “cure” for bipolar disorder, it can be effectively treated.
Bipolar disorder treatment typically consists of a combination of medications, such as mood stabilizers and atypical antipsychotics, and talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoeducation. Individuals suffering from bipolar disorder should collaborate closely with a mental health professional to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to their specific needs.
Managing bipolar disorder can be difficult, but it is possible to live a fulfilling and productive life with the right treatment and support. Individuals with bipolar disorder should prioritize self-care and make lifestyle changes that can help them manage their condition, such as keeping a regular sleep schedule, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly.
Per this National Library of Medicine article, “A combination of biological and psychosocial treatment produces better outcomes and reduces the rates of relapse and suicide.” This article also includes a massive live of alternative therapy ideas and suggestions.
Ways to Manage Bipolar Disorder in Addition to Typical Treatments
Omega-3 fatty acids — Supplements like fish oil and flax seed oil helps to reduce irritability and aggression, maintain mood stability, reduce depression symptoms and improve brain function.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) — This is an antioxidant that helps reduce oxidative stress. Studies have shown that those with bipolar disorder, can add just 2 grams of N-acetylcysteine per day in a combination with traditional medication to significantly improve depression, mania, and quality of life. NAC is a supplement with tons of other benefits as well including improving your immune response, respiratory function and helping to regulate levels of glutamate, the most important neurotransmitter in your brain that impacts those suffering not only with bipolar but also with schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and substance use disorder (many times people turn to drugs and alcohol to deal/cope with mental health issues). The benefits of this supplement are endless.
Choline — Choline is a water-soluble vitamin may be effective for managing symptoms of mania in people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder. Results of one study of people with rapid cycling bipolar disorder who received 2,000 to 7,200 milligrams of choline per day (in addition to treatment with lithium) indicated an improvement in their manic symptoms.
Stress Busting Activities — Yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy and meditation have all been beneficial for those with this condition. Anything you can do to manage your stress levels, can greatly impact your mental and physical health and wellbeing overall.
Sleep Better — Creating an optimal sleep hygiene routine that includes maintaining a regular sleep schedule, a calm bedroom environment and enough sleep to function well during the day. Ensure that your bedroom is cool, quiet, dark, relaxing, and that your bed is as comfortable as possible. Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smart phones, from the bedroom or disconnect at least 30 minutes to 1 hour prior to your desired bedtime. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
Erratic patterns and sleep deprivation may worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder as well as other mental health disorders. Sleep is the foundation for all mental health and there are so many more ways to improve your sleep and feel better quickly. My goal is to compile a huge list of tips and tricks for a future post all about sleep hygiene. For now, check out my top sleep apps by clicking here or the YouTube Channel I created for our community at Cloud Nine Sleep — All For Myself.
Exercise — Physical activity can also help stabilize moods. As I mentioned above, being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night. It can also help ease depression and increase sleep. Some people find it helpful to start with low impact activities like walking, swimming or yoga. The key is to aim to just “move” for at least 30 minutes every day. Even housework, playing with your kids or dancing counts! If we set a goal to do anything for at least 30 minutes, it is easier to attain, and you will feel a sense of accomplishment. Start small and work your way up to whatever goal you might have.
Diet — Last but not least and probably the MOST IMPORTANT is to eat for overall health and wellness and reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats, sugars and processed foods which are linked to brain chemical imbalances. You don’t have to go crazy perfecting an ideal diet but practicing more balance and moderation is a good way to start. If you are addicted to soda (like me) try to drink less and add more water. If you cannot live without carbs, consider “healthier” breads like sourdough or “keto friendly” breads. Selenium-rich foods like turkey, steak, ham, tuna and Brazil nuts have been shown to help stabilize mood. Selenium deficiency has been linked to depression and anxiety as well. Adding prebiotics and probiotics will improve your gut biome and because your gut acts like a “second brain” it needs love too! Research is currently underway to try and understand how healthy bacteria promote health and immune function, including reducing inflammation. By reducing inflammation in your gut, you in turn reduce inflammation in your brain. Foods like sugar-free yogurt, sauerkraut, miso and kimchi all are great sources of probiotics (think anything fermented).
These are just a few suggestions for managing bipolar symptoms. There are tons of other ways to help alleviate and manage bipolar disorder. As always, I encourage you to do your own research (especially with herbal medicine and alternative techniques) and be open to trying new things.
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder, it is important to seek help from a mental health professional. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to effectively manage bipolar disorder and lead a fulfilling life.
When to get emergency help
If you think you may hurt yourself, someone else or attempt suicide, call 911 in the U.S. or your local emergency number immediately.
Also consider these options if you’re having suicidal thoughts:
- Call your doctor or mental health professional. Or 211 to speak to a live person about mental health options.
- Contact a suicide hotline.
- In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential.
- U.S. veterans or service members who are in crisis can call 988 and then press “1” for the Veterans Crisis Line. Or text 838255. Or chat online.
- The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1–888–628–9454 (toll-free).
- Numerous Apps are now available to talk with someone in the privacy of your own home. Click here for a free app list. Other Apps include: Talkspace, BetterHelp, and Sanvello.
- Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
- Contact a spiritual leader or someone else in your faith community.
If you have a loved one who is in danger of suicide or has made a suicide attempt, make sure someone stays with that person. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Or, if you think you can do so safely, take the person to the nearest hospital emergency room. DO NOT leave them alone.