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An Overview of Bipolar Disorder By Matthew Lindgren

June 5, 2012

A common condition that affects millions of people in the United States today, bipolar disorder involves an oscillation between extremely good moods and irritability or depression. In many cases, the mood swings between depression and mania occur suddenly and without warning. 

For most people with bipolar disorder, the manic period can last anywhere from days to months. The manic phase typically includes symptoms such as poor temper control, increased energy, rapid talking, racing thoughts, and high self-esteem. People in the manic phase often exhibit several types of reckless behavior, including spending sprees, binge eating, and sexual promiscuity. On the other hand, people caught in the depressed phase of bipolar disorder experience symptoms similar to those of clinical depression, including low mood, difficulty concentrating, a lack of energy, and feelings of hopelessness. The depressed period also results in a loss of self-esteem, sleep irregularities, withdrawal from activities that were once enjoyed, and even thoughts of death and suicide. 

Although the exact cause of bipolar disorder remains unknown, it usually appears in men and women equally and starts between the ages of 15 and 25. In recent years, researchers have divided bipolar disorder into three major categories. Bipolar disorder type I involves at least one manic episode and one bout of major depression. Bipolar disorder type II, on the other hand, results in periods of high energy levels and impulsiveness that fall short of full-blown mania. Finally, cyclothymia refers to a condition where people experience swings between mild mania and mild depression.

Treatment for bipolar disorder typically focuses on five major goals: stopping the movement between phases, preventing self-injury, preventing the need for hospital stays, lessening the severity of episodes, and preparing the patient to cope with mood swings. In today’s medical landscape, many mental health specialists prescribe mood-stabilizing drugs such as Lithium, Valproate, Lamotrigine, and Carbamazepine. In some cases, physicians may prescribe antipsychotics for mood problems or antidepressants to treat symptoms of depression. In extreme cases, some doctors use electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) to treat cases of depression that do not respond to medication.

Support programs and therapies have also proven effective in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Participants in support programs learn valuable skills such as living a healthy lifestyle, coping with symptoms when they arise, and managing their medications. Therapy sessions also stress the importance of family members and caregivers in the treatment of bipolar disorder, as they can help administer the proper medication and locate support services. 

About the Author

Matthew Lindgren is the Chief Executive Officer and a Clinician at Blackbird Family Therapy, Inc. in Oakland, California. In this capacity, Lindgren provides mental health care for children and adults who have witnessed violent crimes such as assault and gang violence. Lindgren specializes in the treatment of bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, problem gambling, sex addiction, and dissociative disorders.

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