Bipolar Disorder & Manic Depression

Condition

Bipolar Disorder (also sometimes called manic depression) is a lifelong condition, requiring ongoing treatment. However, people suffering from bipolar disorder can learn to manage their mood swings and other symptoms with help from Mercy behavioral health specialists.

At Mercy, we want to keep you healthy and feeling your best. Physical health is important, but mental and emotional health are just as crucial to your overall well-being. 

Our board-certified specialists have experience with bipolar disorder and can help find the right treatment for you.

What is Bipolar Disorder? 

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health condition with extreme mood swings that causes emotional lows (depression) and highs (mania or hypomania).

These dramatic mood swings can affect sleep, energy levels, judgment and behavior. People with this disorder have a higher risk of suicide, cardiovascular disease and accidents.

Mood swings may occur rarely or several times a year. While most people experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, others may not.

Types of Bipolar Disorder

In general, bipolar disorder is defined by mood episodes. But there are a few different types of bipolar disorder, and each type has slightly different symptoms. According to the American Psychiatric Association, there are four major categories of Bipolar Disorder.

A type of bipolar characterized by depressive episodes and full manic episodes. Both types of episodes interfere severely with daily life.

A milder form of bipolar which involves depressive episodes and less extreme manic episodes (hypomania). Bipolar II still interferes with daily life, but the effects are less severe than with Bipolar I.

A rare disorder which involves mild but noticeable mood swings. The depressive and manic episodes are far milder than in bipolar disorder, but treatment is still recommended.

Bipolar Disorder Causes & Risk Factors

There’s no known single cause of bipolar disorder. However, there are many factors including genetics, medical history and environment that can contribute to bipolar. Some risk factors include:

  • Family history of bipolar or other mood disorders
  • Previous diagnosis of a mood disorder like depression
  • Trauma, stress or major life changes
  • Physical illness or use of certain medications 

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of bipolar disorder often begin when people are in their late teens or early twenties, but it’s also possible to notice symptoms developing earlier or later in life. Because bipolar involves episodes of both depression and mania, symptoms are most noticeable at these two extremes. 

Because depression can be a condition on its own, it’s important to watch for mood swings so your physician can determine if you have bipolar disorder or another mental condition. 

Keeping track of your moods and how extreme they are can help determine what kind of bipolar disorder you have. Common symptoms of mania include:

  • Extreme energy or excitement
  • Rapid speech or movement
  • Agitation, edginess or irritability
  • Risk-taking behavior, such as driving recklessly or spending more than you can afford
  • Bouts of increased activity or doing too many things at once
  • Feeling lack of need for sleep
  • Feeling jumpy or edgy for no reason

Manic episodes will be less extreme with Bipolar II and Cyclothymic disorder, so they’re often referred to as hypomanic episodes. Hypomania has the same characteristics as mania but will have a less significant effect on your life.

 

You may be able to recognize and control symptoms of hypomania on your own, but it’s still important that you seek treatment from a Mercy professional.

A manic breakdown or episode is an emotional state where an elevated or irritable mood exists for at least one week. The symptoms can disrupt your daily life and relationships. While manic episodes are not a disorder in themselves, they may be a symptom of bipolar and should be taken seriously.

 

Talk to your Mercy primary care physician and have a medical examination to rule out any underlying medical conditions. They can also refer you to Mercy Behavioral Health services for a mental health assessment to begin the diagnostic process.

Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis

Bipolar disorder can be emotionally draining and interfere with your daily life, so our goal is to help you feel your best throughout your life. At Mercy, we’ll help you diagnose in order to find the right treatment based on your symptoms. Diagnosing bipolar disorder requires different assessments for adults than children. A comprehensive bipolar disorder evaluation for adults may include the following.

The first step is to consult your Mercy primary care doctor for a physical exam and lab tests to identify any medical issues that could be causing your symptoms.

Following your medical examination, your doctor may refer you to a Mercy psychiatrist for a psychiatric assessment. The psychiatrist will talk to you about your thoughts, feelings and patterns of behavior. With your permission, family members may also be asked to share their perspectives on your symptoms.

To help with diagnosis and treatment planning, you may be asked to keep a daily record of your moods, sleep patterns or other symptoms.

Although the diagnosis of children and teenagers with bipolar disorder relies on the same criteria used for adults, children and teens have different patterns of symptoms and may not exactly match the diagnostic categories.

 

Also, children who have bipolar disorder often have other mental health conditions such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or behavior problems, which can complicate their diagnosis. The best way to determine if your child has bipolar disorder is to talk to their pediatrician. 

Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options

After you’ve been diagnosed, your Mercy provider can help find the right treatment for bipolar disorder. Depending on the type of bipolar disorder you have and the severity of your symptoms, your provider may recommend different types of treatment.

Bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that requires lifelong management. Medication is a common type of treatment for bipolar, however, there are different medications for different symptoms of manic depression. Your medications will likely take some trial and error to determine which type works best for you. Additionally, it's common for people with bipolar disorder to take more than one medication such as taking medication for agitation, anxiety, insomnia or depression. Some common types of medication include:

  • Mood-stabilizing medications – Lithium is a mood-stabilizing drug that can help control and prevent depressive and manic episodes. Antiseizure medications like Valproate are also effective in controlling mania. 
  • Neuroleptics – These medications are sometimes classified as antipsychotics, but they are also effective in treating bipolar disorder, mania and depression. 

Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can help people with a variety of mental health disorders including bipolar disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of talk therapy used for bipolar patients. CBT helps you become aware of inaccurate or negative thinking so you can view challenging situations more clearly and respond to them more positively.

 

It’s common to notice fewer symptoms within two weeks of starting therapy, but it may take weeks or months before the condition is completely controlled. Because of this delay, antipsychotic drugs may also be used to help control symptoms.

ECT involves a brief electrical stimulation of the brain while the patient is under anesthesia. ECT has been shown to provide rapid improvement in symptoms associated with severe mania. This type of treatment is especially helpful if medication hasn’t relieved your symptoms.

 

While not all treatments are available in all areas, Mercy offers a variety of services. Your Mercy behavioral health provider will help connect you with the best possible treatments for the management of bipolar disorder.

Managing Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic health condition that requires lifetime management. It’s possible to live a normal life, but it requires conscious effort. In addition to seeing your doctor and therapist regularly and taking medications as prescribed, you can work on these simple daily habits to positively impact your quality of life.

Be sure to get the right amount of sleep. Too little can trigger mania but too much can be a sign of depression. Limit caffeine as it can cause insomnia. Talk to your doctor if you have sleep issues.

In addition to other health benefits, exercise can help you manage stress and stabilize your mood.

Choosing the right foods can help regulate your energy and overall health. Talk to your doctor if you’re not sure where to start.

Don’t try to self-medicate. Substance use, including nicotine and caffeine, may intensify a mood disorder. Avoid substances particularly during rapid cycling.

Anxiety can worsen your mood so take steps to relax. Meditation, mindfulness and yoga may help. Or relax by listening to music or participating in activities you enjoy with positive people who support your healing journey.

It’s not uncommon for patients who have been in remission to have a reoccurrence of symptoms. Keep in mind that reoccurrence isn’t failure, just a temporary setback. Patients and families should learn to recognize symptom flare-ups and contact their Mercy provider before symptoms worsen. 

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