Bipolar Disorder

Young women's version of this guide
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depressed manEveryone has ups and downs in their mood or feelings of “moodiness” once in a while. When these ups and downs begin to interfere with normal everyday activities such as school, work, and relationships, there may be a problem. A person with Bipolar Disorder experiences unusual and extreme shifts in mood, energy levels, and behaviors all at one time. These changes are called “episodes.” Read on to learn more about Bipolar Disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

There are two main types of Bipolar Disorders – Bipolar I and Bipolar II. With both types, there are manic episodes and depressive episodes. There may be mixed episodes with both mania and depression. Symptoms occur every day for most of the day and last at least one to two weeks. If a person only experiences depression, they do not have Bipolar Disorder.

What is a manic episode?

According to the DSM-V (the manual that providers use to diagnose emotional disorders), someone who is having a manic episode will have some of these symptoms:

  • Extremely high feelings of happiness or feeling like you can do or say anything
  • Extreme irritation with a short temper
  • Not sleeping very much, but not feeling tired, and having an unusual amount of energy
  • Having racing thoughts and difficulty focusing on anything
  • Talking very quickly and feeling pressure to keep talking or jumping from one subject to another
  • Doing too many activities at once without realizing that it’s too much
  • Dangerous or risky behaviors (for example: increased or an unusual amounts of sexual activity, drug use, buying expensive things without the money to pay for them) without thinking about possible consequences

With mania, the behaviors are extreme and serious enough to interfere with a person’s school, work, and home life.

What is a depressive episode?

A person experiencing a depressive episode will have some of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme sadness or emptiness that makes it hard to get out of bed or do normal daily activities
  • No interest in fun activities at school, home, or with friends
  • Eating too little or eating more than usual
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Extreme low energy and feeling tired all of the time
  • Feeling hopeless or guilty
  • Having an extremely hard time thinking or focusing at school, work, or at home
  • Thinking about hurting themselves, death, or suicide

How is Bipolar II Disorder different from Bipolar I Disorder?

Both Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder consist of both manic and depressive episodes. In Bipolar II, manic episodes are called Hypomania and are less severe than the manic episodes in Bipolar I disorder. Depressive episodes are also less severe. Episodes in Bipolar II may not prevent participation in usual daily activities.

Do a lot of people have Bipolar Disorder?

Even though you may hear a lot about Bipolar Disorder, it’s actually rare. While it’s not certain how many teens have Bipolar Disorder, the rate for adults (age 18 and up) is 1-3% of the US population.

Who gets Bipolar disorder?

Both guys and girls of all ages can have Bipolar Disorder. A person may be more likely to develop Bipolar Disorder if their parents, siblings, or close family members have it. This doesn’t mean that if you have a parent with Bipolar Disorder, that you’ll develop it too. It only means that there’s a greater than average chance. Other factors that lead to the development of Bipolar Disorder are unknown and are being researched.

How do I know if I have Bipolar Disorder?

Someone with Bipolar Disorder will have unusual and extreme changes in mood, behavior, and energy levels every day that last most of the day, for at least a week at a time. This change in mood and behavior is very likely to be noticeable to family, friends, co-workers, and teachers. A person with Bipolar Disorder may have a lot of trouble sleeping and being calm, or may have trouble feeling good enough to do every day things.

What problems can Bipolar Disorder cause?

People who struggle with Bipolar Disorder may have some of these problems:

  • Relationship problems – Extreme mood changes can make it hard to get along with family, friends and partners
  • School and work problems – Extreme mood changes can make it hard to concentrate well in school or at work
  • Self-harm behaviors – Some people have thoughts of hurting themselves or attempting suicide
  • Substance abuse – Some people start using drugs and alcohol. Drugs and alcohol make the mood changes worse and the disorder harder to diagnose.
  • Legal problems – During periods of mania, People may do things that they would not normally do, including illegal activities that may cause them to get into trouble with the law.

How do I get help?

Talk with a parent or adult that you trust if you are concerned that you might have Bipolar Disorder. They can help you find a mental health clinician who is experienced in treating it.

What is the treatment for Bipolar Disorder?

There are many kinds of treatment for Bipolar Disorder, including:

Medication: Different types of medication are usually helpful in treating Bipolar Disorder. A psychiatrist will likely prescribe a medication called a mood stabilizer. This will help keep moods level so preventing too much excitement or depression. There may be other medications that are helpful as well.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): is a type of therapy that can help manage symptoms of manic and depressed episodes.

Family Therapy can help a family figure out how to best support a person with Bipolar Disorder.

Psychoeducation: Educating people and their families on recognizing the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder can be helpful in preventing extreme episodes.

A combination of psychotherapy and medication is usually the most effective treatment. A mental health clinician can recommend the best type of therapy for you.

How to talk to your provider: “I have really extreme mood swings. I’m concerned I could have Bipolar Disorder.”