What is it?
Bipolar disorder, formally known as manic depression, is a mental illness that brings severe high and low moods and changes in sleep, energy, thinking, and behavior. People who have bipolar disorder can have periods in which they feel overly happy and energized and other periods of feeling very sad, hopeless, and sluggish.
In between those periods, they usually feel normal. You can think of the highs and the lows as two "poles" of mood, which is why it's called "bipolar" disorder. The word "manic" describes the times when someone with bipolar disorder feels overly excited and confident.
These feelings can also involve irritability and impulsive or reckless decision-making. About half of people during mania can also have delusions (believing things that aren't true and that they can't be talked out of) or hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that aren't there). "Hypomania" describes milder symptoms of mania, in which someone does not have delusions or hallucinations, and their high symptoms do not interfere with their everyday life.
2 Forms of Bi-Polar
What some people may not know is that there are two types of bipolar diagnosis. These are referred to as Bipolar 1 and 2. The differences are the severity of the episodes, A person with bipolar 1 will experience a full manic episode, while a person with bipolar 2 will experience only a hypomanic episode (a period that’s less severe than a full manic episode). A person with bipolar 1 may or may not experience a major depressive episode, while a person with bipolar 2 will experience a major depressive episode.
Differences in the 2 Forms of Bi-Polar
•increased self-esteem or grandiosity
•decreased need for sleep
•increase in goal-direct activity, energy level, or irritability
•increased risk-taking (spending money, risky sexual behaviors, etc.)
•changes in sleep
•changes in eating
•fatigue or lack of energy
•loss of pleasure in activities once enjoyed
•restlessness or slowing down
•feelings of guilt or worthlessness
•indecision or difficulty concentrating
•thoughts of suicide
Symptoms of Bi-Polar
Symptoms of mania ("the highs"):
Excessive happiness, hopefulness, and excitement
Sudden changes from being joyful to being irritable, angry, and hostile
Rapid speech and poor concentration
Increased energy and less need for sleep
Unusually high sex drive
Making grand and unrealistic plans
Showing poor judgment
Drug and alcohol abuse
Becoming more impulsive
Less need for sleep
Less of an appetite
Larger sense of self-confidence and well-being
Being easily distracted.
During depressive periods ("the lows"), a person with bipolar disorder may have:
Loss of energy
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
Not enjoying things they once liked
Less of a sex drive
Inability to feel pleasure
Trouble making decisions
Needing more sleep
Appetite changes that make you lose or gain weight
Thoughts of death or suicide
Monitor your mood. Keep track of your mood daily, including factors such as sleep, medication, and events that may influence mood. Use a chart or app to help.
Develop a schedule. Routine is important in keeping your mood stable. Organize a schedule and try to stick to it regardless of your mood, to help maintain stability.
Sleep hygiene. Disruption to sleep cycles can influence circadian rhythms and have a negative impact on mood. Read about getting into a sleep routine.
Limit stress. Where possible, limit stressors in your life and don’t take on too many commitments. This might mean taking one less subject for a semester or working shorter hours.
Take your time in making decisions. Or ask others such as a trusted family member or friend to help you make decisions if you’re feeling impulsive.
Build a good support network. Family and friends can help you manage your day-to-day symptoms by giving an outsider’s perspective on your mood. They can also be there when you need to talk about your more difficult moments.
How Can I Help Someone I Know
1. Educate yourself
The more you know about bipolar disorder, the more you’ll be able to help. For instance, understanding the symptoms of manic and depressive episodes can help you react appropriately during severe mood changes.
You don’t always need to provide answers or advice to be helpful. In fact, simply being a good listener is one of the best things you can do for someone with bipolar disorder, especially when they want to talk to you about the challenges they’re facing.
Offering your acceptance and understanding can go a long
3. Be a champion
For people with bipolar disorder, it can sometimes feel like the whole world is against them. Assuring the person that you’re on their side can help them feel more stable. You don’t have to agree with the person’s behaviors and actions, but telling them that you’ll always have their back can be very beneficial.
People with bipolar disorder often feel worthless or hopeless, so affirming their strengths and positive qualities can help them recover from their depressive episodes more easily.
4. Be active in their treatment
Treatment for people with bipolar disorder usually consists of many therapy sessions and doctor visits. While you shouldn’t necessarily attend these appointments, you can help someone with bipolar disorder by coming with them and then waiting for them until their appointment is over.
These appointments can sometimes seem complicated or scary to people with bipolar disorder. Having someone there who can offer support and talk to them may help reduce any stress or anxiety they may be feeling.
5. Make a plan
Bipolar disorder can be unpredictable. It’s important to have an emergency plan in place if you need to use it during severe mood episodes. This plan should include what to do if the person feels suicidal during a depressive episode, or if the person gets out of control during a manic episode.
You should also have everyday plans that can help the person get through the time between extreme episodes. These plans can include coping mechanisms, such as what the person can do when they feel a mood swing coming on, or how to complete chores or other daily activities when they have low energy levels. Make these plans when the person is in a calm and stable state of mind. It’s best to write them down so both of you can easily refer back to them.
Sometimes people with bipolar disorder can become quite impulsive when they’re in the manic phase of their illness. When your loved one is well, they may ask you to hold cash or credit cards for them, which will minimize the potential financial damage they can do to themselves while in a manic phase.
If you agree to do this, be prepared to be on the receiving end of some hostility when your loved one “demands” that you give them their credit cards, bank books, or cash. Think in advance about whether you can deal with this before agreeing to support your loved one in this way.
6. Support, don’t push
Your support can be very helpful to a person with bipolar disorder. However, you need to know when to step back and let a medical or mental health professional intervene. While people with bipolar disorder are capable of making conscious decisions, you need to understand when their moods and behaviors are out of their control.
Also, don’t take it personally if the person experiences a setback while you’re trying to help. Remember that you’re both doing your best.
7. Be understanding
It can be hard for people with mental disorders to understand what they’re experiencing. Those with bipolar disorder may not know why their moods are shifting. Trying to understand what the person is going through and offering your support can make a big difference in how they feel.
9. Be patient
Bipolar disorder is a long-term condition, so the symptoms will come and go throughout a person’s life. The disorder is unpredictable, with symptom-free periods alternating with extreme mood episodes. For the sake of the person with bipolar disorder, try to stay patient and optimistic. This can help them stay on track to living a full, healthy life.