Bipolar treatment is a complex and regularly misunderstood disease, affecting around 2.8% of Americans. Despite colloquial use describing overly emotional moments or individuals, bipolar disorder is actually a serious mental health disorder that can significantly impact daily life.
Like most mental health conditions, however, there is light at the end of the tunnel for those who live with bipolar disorder. The right approach to treatment can minimize symptoms and encourage a healthy way of life. With help from residential care, outpatient programming and medical integration as needed, it’s possible to encourage a healthy mental state.
Understanding Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is often referred to as if the term is applicable to a single condition, but this is not actually the case. There are three different subtypes of bipolar disorder:
- Bipolar I: Bipolar type one requires manic episodes lasting at least seven days or that are so severe hospitalization is required to receive a clinical diagnosis. Depressive periods may also be present, as well as episodes that include both symptoms of mania and depression simultaneously.
- Bipolar II: Bipolar type two also includes periods of mania and depression, but the hypomanic episodes displayed do not reach the threshold of the mania required for a type one diagnosis. Bipolar type two can be easier to manage than type one but is no less significant for those affected.
- Cyclothymic Disorder: The least known of the bipolar disorder subtypes, cyclothymic disorder manifests as episodes of both hypomania and depression over period of two or more years but does not meet the specific diagnostic requirements of hypomanic and depressive episodes for the diagnosis of bipolar type one or two.
In general, all forms of bipolar require periods of mania and depression. Manic episodes often manifest as:
- Feelings of excitement and enthusiasm
- Decreased need to sleep, with consciousness sometimes lasting for days
- Loss of appetite
- Fast, erratic speech patterns
- Extreme multitasking
- Poor judgement or the undertaking of exceedingly risky behaviors
- Delusions of grandeur
- Taking on projects with lofty or impossible goals
Depressive symptoms, on the other hand, can include:
- Feelings of sadness, hopelessness or anxiety
- Inability to function normally or at a normal speed
- Trouble falling asleep or excessive sleep
- Weight gain
- Trouble making decisions and concentrating on work or school
- Disinterest in hobbies or enjoyable activities
- Thoughts of death or suicide
The fluctuation between these periods of time can seriously affect relationships, jobs and schooling. Those in a manic period may find themselves unable to sleep, focus or adequately meet daily demands, and those in a depressive state may be unable to get out of bed or meet normal commitments.
Due to the fluctuations in mood that characterize any kind of bipolar diagnosis, treating bipolar disorder can be a more complex process than treating a single element of the condition, like depression.
Treating Bipolar Disorder
Due to the nature of bipolar disorder, treatment can be complex and may vary greatly from one patient to another. Treatment can also differ between the subtypes of bipolar disorder based on the symptoms affecting a patient most significantly. However, the two most common options include counseling and medication.
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Counseling is an important tool for those living with mental health disorders, and that includes bipolar disorder.
In many cases of bipolar disorder, manic and depressive episodes are triggered by life events, like stress at work or relationship problems. Unfortunately, these kinds of circumstances are hard to avoid, as ups and downs are a part of life for virtually everyone. As such, learning how to manage stressors and overcome obstacles can be an important part of managing symptoms and preventing unnecessary episodes of both mania and depression.
Regular counseling can help confront issues as they arise, giving patients an opportunity to talk through concerns, share progress and stay in touch with how their lifestyle choices may be affecting their symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Counseling for bipolar disorder can come in several forms. Some counselors may favor one option for a bipolar patient, but others may promote several to adequately address all aspects of a patient’s life. These can include:
- Family-Focused Therapy (FFT): A therapeutic technique that includes family members like parents, spouses or children to facilitate education, communication and symptom management
- Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy: A form of therapy that encourages patients to document social routines to support symptom management using sleep-wake cycles and interpersonal triggers
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): A popular form of psychotherapy that looks for connections between thoughts and behaviors to identify and correct negative patterns and adapt ways of thinking
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): An evolution of CBT that teaches awareness, mindfulness and emotional regulation to prevent emotional outbursts and physical reactions to life circumstances
Counseling can take place in an office or as a part of inpatient or outpatient treatment programs, or a combination of both.
By integrating physical evaluations with psychiatric care, doctors and therapists are better able to get to the bottom of symptoms and determine the best approach to care from a biological perspective.
While there’s absolutely no denying the very real presence of mental health issues, it’s important to note that not all symptoms that appear mental are actually psychiatric conditions. There are numerous physical problems — take untreated syphilis, for example — that can cause symptoms that seem similar to conditions like disorder. Before moving forward with treatment like medication, a full medical workup is a necessary step to rule out other possible explanations.
Medication and counseling don’t have to walk on separate sides of the street. For many individuals living with mental health disorders of all kinds, medication in conjunction with counseling can be the most effective way to manage conditions.
Bipolar disorder can be hard to treat due to the variable symptoms — mania and depression have virtually no overlap — but there are some medications that can be very effective in managing symptoms. These include:
- Mood stabilizers to address manic and hypomanic episodes, like lithium, valproic acid and lamotrigine
- Antipsychotics, like olanzapine, risperidone and lurasidone, should mania still persist despite the use of mood stabilizers
- Antidepressants, which are most commonly prescribed in conjunction with mood stabilizers
- Antidepressant-antipsychotic medications like Symbyax, which combines the antidepressant fluoxetine with the antipsychotic olanzapine
- Anti-anxiety medications, like benzodiazepines
In some cases, individuals may take numerous medications, or may need to cycle through medications, to find the right fit. Just because one drug doesn’t work does not mean that there aren’t plenty of alternatives to try.
How we choose to live our lives can have a significant impact on mental health. A poor diet and lack of exercise, for example, can often contribute to worsening psychiatric symptoms. Many doctors will encourage a change in lifestyle habits as a natural way to fight back against mental illness, using diet and fitness in particular to encourage a healthier way of living.
Can Bipolar Disorder Be Cured?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. The idea of a cure for a physical illness, like strep throat or a broken leg, doesn’t really apply when discussing mental illness. Those with a diagnosis will likely live with that diagnosis forever, for better or worse.
However, just because there’s no one true cure does not mean there is no hope. With the right approach to treatment, those living with bipolar disorder can lead happy, normal and productive lives in which symptoms are minimal.
Living With Bipolar Disorder
Receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder can feel life-changing, but it doesn’t have to be. Millions of Americans live with mental health disorders like bipolar and are able to enjoy rich, healthy and fulfilling lives. These tips can help manage symptoms, reduce the severity of episodes and encourage a sustainable lifestyle:
- Stay informed. Monitoring moods and symptoms, evaluating triggers and assessing mental state regularly can provide a better understanding of what to expect and how to self-regulate.
- Stick to routines. Go to bed at the same time every night, wake up at the same time every morning and set times for things like work, socializing and exercise. This can help regulate mood and avoid the likelihood of surprises.
- Create a support system. Living with any illness, whether physical or mental, often requires a strong support system. By partnering with friends and family who can help you find strength or communicate with you about what you’re experiencing, you’re more likely to see success.
- Be patient. Treating any mental illness takes time and patience to find the right approach to therapy and medication. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a mental health treatment plan.
If you or someone you love is living with bipolar disorder, help is here. Please contact FHE Health today to learn more.