The term “bipolar” is used commonly in our social repertoire. Most often people suggest loved ones or themselves are bipolar because of rapidly shifting mood states within one day, one hour, or even several minutes. This is often described as “high and lows” where one is easily triggered, resulting in intense mood swings. It is worth noting, however, the presence of mood swings does not necessarily signify a bipolar disorder. While it is true that events in our lives can make us feel bipolar, a classification of Bipolar Disorder is a much more serious mental health condition that encompasses far more than mood swings. Most people in lay culture mean to communicate difficulties with emotion regulation/modulation when they announce they are being “bipolar.” Nonetheless, there are persons in the public who genuinely endure a bipolar disorder.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5th Edition (DSM-5) published by the American Psychiatric Association is the guidebook for mental health practitioners and diagnosticians. In order for a person to algin with a DSM-5 diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder (Type I) the individual must have had a manic episode in their lifetime. A manic episode is a serious mental health condition often containing psychotic behavior/thinking and characterized by “abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood…and increased activity or energy, lasting at least one week and present most of the day, nearly every day” (p. 124). These elevated mood states must contain at least three of the following elements: inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, excessive talkativeness, flight of ideas, distractibility, increase goal-directed activity, and excessive involvement in activities that carry a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, foolish business investments). In conjunction with a manic episode, the person must have a significant depressive episode lasting within a two-week period of the manic episode. These depressive episodes are much more severe than sadness, and often include suicidality, significant weight loss, anhedonia, hopeless/helplessness, worthlessness, inability to concentrate, psychomotor retardation, insomnia, and/or fatigue. A second Bipolar Disorder – Type II includes the depressive episode, but does not require a manic episode; however, it requires a hypomanic episode, which is a consistent sense of hyperactivity less severe, but no less burdensome, than mania.
Living with or supporting a loved one diagnosed with a bipolar disorder can be a difficult task. One of the most useful treatments to help aid such persons in living fulfilling and meaningful lives is the use of psychiatric medications. If you or a loved one endures a bipolar condition it is advised you seek professional psychiatric help. A combination of medication and psychotherapy can prove useful in treatment bipolar conditions. Please consider consulting with the clinician at Town Center Psychology if you’d like help. You are not alone!