Previously known as manic-depression, bipolar disorder seems to be much more common than previously appreciated. In the last decade, adults with this diagnosis have doubled while recognition of the condition in children and teens has increased several times more. A lot of misconception remains from our antiquated understanding of the condition as well as incomplete information of its attributes that still persist among professionals and the general public. We have come to appreciate that it occurs with variations in intensity and severity like most things. This compounds the difficulty recognizing the characteristics of bipolar disorder. The mood swings and depression can be mild exaggerations of normal behavior, but with greater intensity, that often are rationalized as only idiosyncrasies of that person. Increased awareness and diagnosis of the condition means there is more confusion than ever about its origin and prognosis.
The National Institute of Health estimates 5.7 million adults are affected by bipolar disorder. Another 750,000 children may suffer with symptoms that go unrecognized. The exact origin is unclear but as with many mental disorders a chemical imbalance in the brain is usually to blame. There is a familial tendency but it is not directly inheritable in the usual sense. A newly available blood test screens for two genetic mutations that are associated with the condition. Unfortunately they are not dependable in predicting or measuring the expression of the disorder. It is believed some mild symptoms may start to appear before the age of 18 even though the average age of diagnosis is 25.
Most people who struggle with bipolar disorder are depressed. The old notion of mania is better described as a state of being very energetic. This can be expressed as euphoria but often leads to erratic behavior and irritability with a rapid, pushy rate of speech. Listening to the person speak you could follow their rapid train of thought but literally be unable to get a word in edge-wise. The irritability and energy may lead to very erratic behavior including substance abuse, spending sprees and exercising generally poor judgment resulting in many uncharacteristic bad decisions.
Depression is usually the theme indeed with some mood swings. The person with bipolar disorder may seem inappropriate in their response to a situation. An upbeat or depressed response with excessive intensity can be indicative of the disorder. Everyone has their ups and downs, but not to the extent that it interferes with their ability to work or be an active participant with their family. Inappropriate behavior may also include paradoxical responses to challenging events. Laughing excessively and celebrating regarding a death, job loss, or car accident is pathologic behavior.
The hallmarks of depression and mood swings dictate the foundation of treatment. Use of antidepressant and often mood stabilizing medication in conjunction with talk therapy has become the norm. Similar to other mental health conditions, medication can help stabilize the chemical imbalance. In turn, more clear thinking follows. However therapeutic counseling helps with learning coping skills. Goal setting and recognizing early signs of disorder or potentially difficult situations help stay on track with the individual’s aspirations while remaining a compliant partner in therapy. The combination of medication and talk therapy can enable people who suffer with bipolar disorder to lead happy, productive lives.