The cause of bipolar disorder is unknown — it’s a complex brain disorder that often comes with unique expressions for each person. There’s no single treatment that works for all individuals with this disorder, but targeted, customized treatment plans can help control the most disruptive symptoms.
A blend of bipolar disorder therapy and medication is generally used in treatment, though lifestyle changes and other tools can help with day-to-day management. The exact approach will differ based on the type of bipolar disorder an individual has and the specific symptoms that are most critical.
Types of Bipolar Disorder
Originally known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness, bipolar disorder is characterized by unusual mood swings and changes in energy levels and concentration.
Bipolar disorder is broken down into three broad categories, although not every patient falls into one of these types. Every person with bipolar disorder expresses clear changes from “up” periods where energy levels and mood are elevated to “low” or “down” periods where they may feel sad or hopeless. The three categories of bipolar disorder include:
- Bipolar I is categorized by manic episodes that continue for at least a week at a time, and those affected usually experience long-lasting periods of depression as well. People who have at least four episodes of mania or depression in a single year are rapid cycling.
- Bipolar II patients have both depressive episodes and less severe mania (hypomania) than those with bipolar I.
- Cyclothymic bipolar disorder is when a patient has less severe depression and mania or symptoms that don’t last as long.
Signs and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Recognizing some of the indicators of bipolar disorder can help individuals seek treatment earlier. Those with bipolar disorder have two distinct sets of symptoms, depending on whether they’re in a manic or a depressive state. Below is a quick list of some of the symptoms that might indicate it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional.
- Feeling very high-energy or extremely happy
- Having significantly more energy than usual
- Taking less time for sleep
- Sleep disruptions or sleeping too much
- Discussing lots of ideas and switching topics quickly
- Increased ability to accomplish multiple tasks at once
- Increased appetites in a variety of settings, including for food, sex or other enjoyable tasks
- Feelings of grandiosity
- Sadness, anxiety or depression
- Having low energy
- Communication troubles, talking slowly or forgetting the topic
- Trouble making decisions or concentrating
- Even simple tasks feel insurmountable
- Suicidal ideation or feelings of worthlessness
The intensity of symptoms can vary from person to person, and some may even experience both mania and depression at the same time.
Treatment Methods for Bipolar Disorder
Treating bipolar disorder usually involves both counseling and medication. There are several types of therapy for bipolar disorder that can help. Some of the most common approaches to a bipolar disorder treatment plan include:
- Family-focused therapy: Those with bipolar disorder often struggle to communicate well with friends and family. This approach to treatment includes members of a patient’s support network to develop better communication strategies and help every member of the family better understand bipolar disorder and how to support it.
- Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy for bipolar disorder: This treatment plan is based around identifying triggers that may cause a manic or depressive state. Individuals in this type of therapy may document their day and moods to see what social and emotional events are most likely to cause a major mood shift.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a treatment that assumes that psychological problems are often due to unhelpful thoughts and behavior patterns. This therapy works at changing the individual’s thinking and resulting behavior. It’s used to treat a variety of mental illnesses and often helpful for those with co-occurring disorders.
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT is a specific type of CBT that focuses on developing coping strategies to help individuals better manage stress and intense emotions.
Medications That Help With Bipolar Disorder Treatment
In most cases, those with bipolar disorder will need both therapy and medication to relieve symptoms.
Some of the most common medications used to treat bipolar disorder include:
- Mood stabilizers such as lithium or lamotrigine. These medications can help with hypomania to reduce the severity and incidence of episodes.
- Antipsychotics are sometimes used when mood stabilizers fail to control a person’s manic symptoms. Some examples might include risperidone and lurasidone.
- Antidepressants may be prescribed along with mood stabilizers to help reduce the incidence of depression.
- Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines may be helpful for some patients.
Mania and depression have little overlap, so it’s likely that someone with bipolar will be prescribed more than one medication to control both types of symptoms.
Living With Bipolar Disorder
A diagnosis of bipolar disorder can be shocking for many individuals, but a diagnosis means treatment is available. About 2.8% of people develop bipolar disorder, which means millions of Americans struggle with similar symptoms. With the right combination of lifestyle changes and a solid treatment plan, many people with this mental disorder live complete and enriched lives. Follow these tips to help keep your symptoms to a minimum.
- Track your mood. When you notice more frequent mood changes, you can react to triggers faster and seek help before you enter a long-term mood shift. The more aware you are of your mental state, the better armed you are to pick the right tools to help self-regulate.
- Build good habits. Practice good sleep hygiene with a set bedtime and wake-up time. Schedule social activities and pay attention to physical fitness. Solid routines can be very helpful when trying to regulate your mood and avoid surprises that can trigger a mood shift.
- Lean on your support network. Family and friends are the foundation of any support network, but they can only help if you communicate when you’re struggling. Openly talking about your experiences and how you’re feeling with loved ones is an important part of living with any chronic illness.
- Keep trying with treatment. Finding the right treatment plan for any individual can take a lot of time. Experimenting with therapeutic methods and medications could mean it takes longer than a year to find something that works. Don’t give up.
If you or a loved one has symptoms that might be bipolar disorder, treatment can help. Contact Sunlight Recovery today to learn more about your options and how to get help.