So You've Been Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder

By: Brian Cook

If you've been diagnosed with bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) you are not alone. It has been estimated that over 2 million people in the United States suffer from this form of mental illness which involves episodes of both mania and depression.

Although bipolar disorder usually begins in childhood or early adulthood, it is often not recognized as an illness. And, because it is sometimes misdiagnosed, individuals who have it often suffer needlessly although treatment is available. Left untreated, those with bipolar disorder sometimes experience serious complications, including an inability to keep a stable job, abuse of drugs and alcohol, marriage problems, and even suicide.

Symptoms of mania can include: decreased need for sleep; excessive feelings of euphoria; extreme distractibility; racing thoughts and rapid talking; decreased need for sleep; drug abuse; and a denial that anything is wrong. Depressive symptoms, (the flip-side of mania) may include: difficulty sleeping; loss of appetite; feelings of hopelessness; decreased energy; persistent sad mood; loss of interest in pleasurable activities; and thoughts of death or suicide.

It is important to recognize the various mood states experienced by individuals with bipolar disorder so that they can obtain effective treatment. Unfortunately, this illness often goes unrecognized by everyone involved, including family, friends, physicians, and even the patient.

An early stage of this illness often manifested is hypomania, in which the person suffering from it shows a high level of energy, excessive moodiness or irritability, and impulsive behavior. Ironically, hypomania may feel good to the person who experiences it. Unfortunately though, if left untreated, bipolar disorder tends to get worse, and the person typically will experience episodes of full-fledged mania and clinical depression. Fortunately, most people with manic depressive illness can be helped with treatment, specifically medications and therapy.

Medications play an important role in helping to stabilize the mood swings often found with this type of mental illness. Lithium has been shown to be very effective in helping to control mania and in stopping the recurrence of both manic and depressive episodes. Several types of antidepressant have also been found useful in combating the depression aspect of bipolar disorder. In severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy is often helpful in treating severe depression that fails to respond to medication.

Therapy from a qualified provider can also be helpful in educating the patient and providing support and guidance to all family members involved. It is important to remember that bipolar disorder is recurrent, and, as such, long-term preventive treatment is indicated in most cases.

Finally, it is important to know that bipolar disorder is a legitimate illness, and that it will not "just go away" if given enough time. Treatment is necessary to help keep the disease under control and a maintenance regimen (including both medications and therapy) may be required over the length of a person�s life.

About the author: Brian Cook is a freelance writer whose articles on bipolar disorder, and depression in general, have appeared in print and on many websites.

Michael T. Halyard, MS, MFT
Individual & Couple Psychotherapy
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Michael Halyard, MFT

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