August 28, 2023
Table of Contents
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition. People who have bipolar disorder experience bouts of positive moods known as mania, and bouts of negative moods known as depression. These shifts between moods can be extreme. Bipolar disorder can be an inherited condition.
What is bipolar disorder?
When you hear that bipolar disorder is a swing between highs and lows in moods, you may immediately wonder if you might have bipolar disorder. But bipolar disorder is more than just simple high and low feelings. It is extreme highs of activity and feelings of euphoria or extreme lows of inactivity and severe depression. These drastic shifts in mood can have a large impact on your daily life and relationships. It is estimated that over 4% of the U.S. population are diagnosed with this condition.
What can cause bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that researchers still are learning about, even today. It has a long history of stigma around it, and those who live with the condition may feel like they aren’t understood. There is currently no known exact cause of bipolar disorder, but it is believed to be caused by a complex mix of factors including genetic, social, environmental and physical.
Factors that can cause bipolar disorder:
- Genetic factors — Bipolar disorder appears to have a genetic factor. If a first-degree relative (mother, father or sibling) has the condition, you may have a risk of also developing it. While bipolar disorder can be passed genetically, studies have yet to isolate a single gene that is responsible.
- Environmental triggers — Even with a genetic factor, bipolar disorder can also be a triggered condition. Very stressful situations (relationship breakdown, abuse, death of a close friend or family member), illness, sleep disturbances, or other overwhelming issues may trigger symptoms. Seasonal changes can also trigger episodes. Winter can be a trigger for depressive episodes while spring and summer can trigger manic episodes.
- Chemical imbalance — Bipolar disorder may be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. If the brain contains too much or too little of certain neurotransmitters, manic or depressive states can be triggered.
- Brain injuries and brain structure — If you have sustained a concussion or other traumatic head injury, you may be at a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder. Brain size and activity may also affect the development of the condition.
What are symptoms of bipolar disorder?
The two main symptoms of bipolar disorder are mania and depression. The kind of episode a person is having can affect their symptoms.
Manic episode symptoms can include:
- Impulsive behavior or decisions
- Poor judgment
- Risky behavior, such as drunk driving, gambling or sexual encounters
- Speaking quickly
- Thinking quickly
- Agitation or irritability
- Extreme happiness or euphoria
Depressive episode symptoms are similar to regular depression and can include:
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Prolonged and intense sadness
- Loss of interest in hobbies and activities
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Thoughts of death, self-harm, or suicide attempts
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty concentrating
If you believe you or a loved one may have bipolar disorder, you may find more information, including a nondiagnostic quiz, here.
How is bipolar disorder diagnosed?
Bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose or can even be misdiagnosed. This can be due to it being mistaken for a different condition or if all symptoms are not reported.
Bipolar disorder can occur at any age due to genetics or triggers. However, most develop the conditions around the age of 25. Some experience the first signs in their childhood, while others don’t show symptoms until adulthood.
To diagnose bipolar disorder, your doctor or mental health provider will:
- Examine your medical history
- Evaluate your symptoms
- Do a comprehensive mental health evaluation
- Interview close friends and family (this should only be done with your permission)
- Complete a physical examination to rule out other conditions
How is bipolar disorder treated?
Bipolar disorder, whether genetically inherited or triggered due to other causes, is usually treated with a combination of treatments. Some people respond well to only one treatment, while others need the support of multiple or all treatment options. Needing to seek treatment does not mean anything is wrong with you or that you are weak. It takes great strength to admit you need help. Those who have bipolar disorder just have a brain that is wired and operates a little differently than those who don’t have the condition.
Treatments for bipolar disorder can include:
- Psychotherapy — Your therapist may recommend one or multiple therapies to best support you. At Lightfully, we use process-based therapy as our clinical model. Process-based therapy (PBT) can integrate various evidence-based therapies to create a customized treatment that is as individualized as you are. The PBT approach begins with the identification of the four core processes (emotion, thoughts, relationships and/or behaviors) that make up all mental health disorders and how you are struggling with them. Once identified, your therapist can then draw from components of science-backed treatments, like cognitive behavioral therapy, designed to help bipolar disorder. If you are struggling with behaviors due to bipolar disorder, your therapist may draw upon PBT techniques to help address them.
- Medication treatment — When you think of bipolar disorder medication, you might immediately think of lithium. Lithium has the most supportive evidence of helping to stabilize this condition. There are also a number of other medications that can be beneficial in helping to manage symptoms in conjunction with therapy treatment.
Treating bipolar disorder can be a two-pronged approach. If treatment begins during an episode, the first step will be to stabilize the mania or depression. Once stable, your mental health professional will shift to helping you set and achieve long-term goals. One such goal might be working to prevent future manic and depressive episodes from occurring.
If you are struggling with bipolar disorder, Lightfully wants to help
Bipolar disorder can have a drastic effect on your daily life and relationships. At Lightfully, our mission is to compassionately help our clients change their lives so they can live their best life. Our clinically trained therapists see more than your bipolar disorder diagnosis; they see the complex human you are.
We’re here to help you deal with bipolar disorder. We want to help you learn healthy coping skills to lessen the effect bipolar disorder is having on your life.
Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.