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Introduction to Bipolar Disorder and Mood Disorders

Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression) Online Resources and Treatment Information

People use the term mood to describe the emotional tones that color their daily lives. Moods are everywhere and everyone has them. Moods may be happy or sad; energized or slow; making up various combinations of emotional states. Moods consist of feelings as well as the thoughts and judgments that give feelings their meaning. An anxious mood may shift into an excited mood with a simple change of perspective. A depressed mood may shift into a happier one upon hearing good news. Moods are typically short-term or passing things that shift from moment to moment or day to day, but they can be ongoing states as well which color a person's whole life for long periods of time.

While people's moods rise and fall as various life events are experienced, most moods never become that extreme or feel uncontrollable. As depressed as an average person might get, it won't take too much for them to recover and start feeling better. Similarly, happy and excited moods are not easily continued l...More

Fast Facts: Learn! Fast!

What is Bipolar Disorder?

  • Bipolar Disorder (often called Manic-Depression, or sometimes Bipolar Affective Disorder), is a category of serious disorders.
  • Bipolar Disorder involves a swing between high and low energy states. When in a high-energy state, people appear happy because they are motivated and excitable. In a low energy state, people feel sad, and lack motivation and enthusiasm.
  • Because high-energy manic states exist on a scale, it is possible for someone to be a little manic or very manic.
  • People who are very manic are said to be experiencing a manic episode.
  • People who are only a little manic are said to be experiencing a hypomanic episode.
  • Mania is characterized by a joyful, energetic mood; hyper-activity; a positive, expansive outlook on life; an inflated sense of self-esteem; and a sense that just about anything is possible.
  • Depression is, more or less, the opposite mood state from mania. Depressive symptoms can vary a great deal from one person to the next.

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What are the types of Bipolar Disorder that a person can be diagnosed with?

  • "Bipolar I Disorder" is used with patients who demonstrate full-strength manic and depressive episodes.
  • "Bipolar II Disorder" is used with patients who demonstrate full-strength depression, but only hypomanic episodes rather than full-strength manias.
  • "Cyclothymic Disorder" is used to describe patients who demonstrate repeated mood swings which are never quite severe enough to qualify as major depressive or manic episodes.
  • "Substance/Medication-Induced Bipolar and Related Disorder" is used when the symptoms happen during or soon after taking a substance or stopping use of a substance that is capable of producing the bipolar symptoms.
  • "Bipolar and Related Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition" is used when symptoms are produced by a medical condition (not another mental health condition).
  • "Other Specified Bipolar and Related Disorder" applies when symptoms cause significant distress or impairment, but do not meet the full criteria for any of the other disorders in this category. This is used when the clinician specifies the reasons that criteria are not meet (for example, not quite enough days or symptoms displayed to trigger the full diagnosis).
  • "Unspecified Bipolar and Related Disorder" is used to describe situations where the clinician chooses not to specify the reason that the criteria for one of the other types are met or when there is not enough information available to make a more specific diagnosis.

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What types of medication are used to treat Bipolar Disorder?

  • Often two types of medication are used in bipolar disorder treatment. These are antidepressants and mood stabilizers.
  • Antidepressants help the patient to come back "up" and out of depressive states.
  • Mood stabilizers help to keep patients' moods even and centered as much as possible.
  • Patients with bipolar disorder who are treated with antidepressants alone have a heightened risk of swinging into mania.
  • Patients treated with mood stabilizers alone often end up spending more time in dangerous depressive states than is necessary.
  • Lithium Carbonate, known informally as "Lithium," is the oldest treatment for bipolar disorder currently prescribed. The American Psychiatric Association recommends lithium as first line therapy for bipolar disorders.
  • Valproic Acid, also known as Sodium Valproate, Depakote, or Depakene, is often prescribed as a stabilizing medication for patients who do not tolerate lithium therapy well.
  • Antipsychotic medications are now sometimes used to stabilize mood and as preventative medications against bipolar disorder relapses.

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What types of treatment, other than medication, can be used for Bipolar Disorder?

  • Hospitalization, electroconvulsive therapy, and psychotherapy are often used in addition to medication treatments.
  • Hospitalization is among the more expensive bipolar treatment options available. Because of this, it is generally used only when no other treatment options will prove sufficient to ensure patient safety.
  • Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) involves passing an electric current through the brain to create an artificial seizure. ECT is typically used for people with severe depression that has not responded to other treatments and/or for people requiring non-medication treatment of depression.
  • Psychotherapy is a non-medical "talking" therapy that can be very effective and helpful for some bipolar patients. However, it is generally helpful as an additional bipolar treatment to be provided along with medication treatment.
  • The dominate type of psychotherapy for bipolar disorders is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT is founded on the basic idea that what people think about an event that has happened determines how they will feel about that event.
  • Family focused therapists educate all family members about the nature of bipolar disorder, bipolar treatment, and ways that family members can best support their affected member.
  • Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) is based on the observations that bipolar disorders are essentially body rhythm disturbances, and that altered body rhythms (e.g., circadian rhythms, seasonal rhythms, and social/occupational rhythms) can lead to mood disturbances.

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How can I help myself deal with my Bipolar Disorder?

  • People with Bipolar Disorder in the grip of severe mood episodes are often unable to help themselves or often even to stop themselves from acting out in ways that may damage their health.
  • However, they actually can do a lot to help ensure their health and safety as their bipolar symptoms stabilize.
  • Self-help methods include any activities that will help people keep their moods stable.
  • This could include:
    • Regular physical exercise.
    • Setting and maintaining a standard bedtime and wake-time.
    • Practicing relaxation or meditation exercises regularly.
    • Taking bipolar medication at the same time every day.
    • Reducing work and family stress as much as possible
    • Eating a healthy diet at regular times each day.
    • Regular participation in group activities, such as peer-support groups, religious communities or other interest-based activities
    • Regular attendance in psychotherapy and/or regular self-monitoring exercises designed to help promote awareness of moods (talking about problems and problem solving help to prevent depression) can also be helpful.
    • Avoidance of mood-altering drugs, including alcohol.

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How can friends or family help someone with Bipolar Disorder?

  • The family and friends of those with bipolar disorder may become frightened at and angry about the impulsive and self-destructive behaviors associated with bipolar disorder that they see played out again and again.
  • Family and friends provide social support and encouragement, which tends to provide a moderating influence on mood (e.g., helping mood to keep from sinking too low or too high). This influence takes on several different forms.
  • First, support takes the form of monitoring. Family and friends are in a perfect position to help those with bipolar disorder to monitor their moods.
  • Second, family and friends can persistently encourage patients to comply with bipolar treatment and professional recommendations.
  • Third, family and friends can help support bipolar patients by helping them to "reality-test".
  • Fourth, family and friends can initiate an intervention when necessary.

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How can family and friends help themselves in dealing with someone that has Bipolar Disorder?

  • Bipolar Disorder is a condition that affects the entire family - mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles, husbands and wives, and children.
  • Family members can do only so much to prevent those with bipolar disorder from entering into dangerous mood episodes. Beyond doing all they can to support the person, family members may also need to insulate themselves as best they can from the extremes of behavior that they may have to endure.
  • Family members can educate themselves as to the nature of bipolar symptoms so that the various behaviors that may occur will not surprise them.
  • Family members may participate in bipolar support groups or family therapy situations where they can talk about and process their experiences.
  • The family may find it useful to develop an ongoing relationship with a family therapist who can provide advice and crisis management services.

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News Articles

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  • 6 Reasons Bipolar Patients Don't Take Their Meds

    Not taking prescribed medications can lead to relapse, hospitalization and increased risk of suicide for people with bipolar disorder, yet many who have this condition do not take their medicines as prescribed. More...

  • Major Gene Study Looks at Origins of Bipolar Disorder

    Scientists report they have pinpointed 64 regions in the DNA of humans that increase a person's risk of bipolar disorder, more than twice the number previously identified. More...

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    • Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder Share Genetic Roots

      A trio of genome-wide studies – collectively the largest to date – has pinpointed a vast array of genetic variation that cumulatively may account for at least one third of the genetic risk for schizophrenia. One of the studies traced schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, in part, to the same chromosomal neighborhoods. More...

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