In 2008, The New York Times published the “Modern Love” essay “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am.” This piece was written by Terri Cheney, an entertainment lawyer at the time, who described her experience with bipolar disorder as being “in a constant state of becoming someone else.”
In the now-famous essay, Cheney details her “up” days during which she’s talkative, productive, and personable, but unable to sleep. She also recounts her “down” days in which she’s unable to motivate herself to go to work, talk to people, or perform basic self-care activities. She describes meeting a man she wants to pursue a relationship with. However, her drastic mood swings prevent her from following through with commitments and ultimately put an end to the relationship before it could start.
Cheney closes her essay by chronicling her experience with finding the right doctor and the right medication to treat her condition. While she learned to accept that bipolar disorder isn’t currently curable, she learned that she could live a normal life with proper ongoing treatment. Her medication regimen stabilized her mood and helped her feel confident enough to pursue dating again.
Bipolar disorder can be very disruptive, making it very difficult for those with this condition to nurture relationships, maintain steady employment, and enjoy the quality of life they deserve. While researchers are still trying to determine the exact cause of this disorder, a lot of evidence indicates that genetics play a significant role.
How Common Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder, also referred to as manic-depressive disorder, causes dramatic fluctuations in the individual’s mood and energy levels. While everyone experiences ups and downs due to causes such as hormones, the weather, and stress, those with bipolar experience strong mood swings that can make it very difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks.
Based on the most recent data from the National Institute of Mental Health, about three percent of U.S. adults were diagnosed with bipolar in the past year, and a little over four percent of adults are diagnosed with this condition at some point in their lives. It’s equally prevalent in males and females, with 2.9 percent of males and 2.8 percent of females having this disorder.
While this disease affects a relatively small portion of the population, especially compared to conditions such as depression and anxiety, its symptoms are often very disruptive. An estimated 83 percent of adults with bipolar disorder experience serious impairment, which is the highest percentage of serious impairment across all mood disorders. About 17 percent of individuals have moderate impairment.
Adolescents are diagnosed with bipolar disorder at a similar rate as adults. Information gathered in the National Comorbidity Survey Adolescent Supplement shows that among those aged 13-18, 2.9 percent have bipolar and 2.6 percent experience serious impairment. Among this age group, bipolar is a little more common in females (3.3 percent) versus males (2.6 percent).
To summarize, while bipolar disorder affects a relatively small portion of the population compared to other mood disorders, its symptoms tend to be more extreme.
Is Bipolar Hereditary?
Mental health professionals are still learning about bipolar disorder and studying its causes and risk factors. Currently, researchers believe that genetics play the most significant role in this disease, accounting for between 60-80 percent of the cause. Other causes may include stressful life events, seasonal factors, substance abuse, and hormone changes.
Numerous studies have found that people with bipolar often have at least one close relative with this condition. Children who have a parent with bipolar are up to 25 percent more likely to have the disorder themselves. If both parents have this diagnosis, their children are up to 50 percent more likely to have it.
Clearly, having a parent or other close family member with bipolar doesn’t automatically mean a person will live with this disease as well. If this were the case, a much larger portion of the population would have this diagnosis. Studies of identical twins, who share exact genetic make-up, prove this. If bipolar were strictly hereditary, then if one twin had this condition the other would also have it. However, studies show that if one twin is diagnosed, the other has a 40-70 percent chance of also having bipolar.
Currently, most mental health professionals believe that bipolar is caused by not one gene but several genes that act together in combination with external factors such as lifestyle habits, sleep quality, and stress.
Bipolar Disorder and Trauma
While bipolar disorder likely isn’t caused by external factors such as stress and trauma, these factors can trigger manic or depressive periods in those with this condition.
For example, for a child, living with a parent who has bipolar can be very hard. The parent may do or say things to make the child feel scared, confused, sad, or angry. Multiple studies suggest that children of adults with bipolar are more likely to engage in risky behaviors such as substance use and aggressive behavior. Living in a home in which one or both parents have unmanaged bipolar disorder is a highly stressful environment, particularly for a child whose emotional development hinges on them feeling safe and secure. These environmental factors, along with the child’s increased risk of developing bipolar due to genetics, may trigger manic and depressive episodes.
Treating Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is complicated, and it’s best to seek treatment from a mental health professional who specializes in mood disorders. Depending on where an individual obtains care, they may have a treatment team with a psychologist, a psychiatric nurse, and a social worker.
Bipolar is a lifelong condition that isn’t curable, but those living with it can enjoy a high quality of life with proper treatment. This may include:
- Medication: Most people who get treatment start on medications right away to help balance their moods. Medication regimens vary from one person to another but may include mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and antianxiety medications. Even when they begin feeling better, they need to stay on their medications to prevent relapses and keep minor mood variations from turning into full-blown manic or depressive episodes.
- Day treatment programs: The individual’s doctor may want them to participate in a day treatment program, which provides support and counseling as the individual’s condition stabilizes.
- Treatment for substance abuse: Substance abuse is common among those with bipolar, affecting up to half of those with this disorder. For those who’ve tried to self-manage symptoms using alcohol or drugs, the doctor may want to treat the substance use disorder as well.
- Hospitalization: In severe cases in which someone with bipolar is suicidal, is behaving dangerously, or is detached from reality, inpatient psychiatric treatment may be necessary. This can provide a safe, compassionate environment for the individual where they have the support and around-the-clock care they need as their condition stabilizes.
Seeking Treatment for Bipolar Disorder with FHE Health
FHE Health specializes in treating bipolar disorder and helping those with this condition manage their symptoms, reduce the severity of manic and depressive episodes, and enjoy a sustainable lifestyle. Our treatment method incorporates medical interventions, psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes to help individuals improve their quality of life. Contact us today to learn more about treatment and begin the treatment process.