Bipolar disorder is frequently used in everyday conversation, but is rarely done so accurately or appropriately. To mitigate some of the inappropriate usage of the term and improve understanding of what exactly bipolar disorder is, we have created a basic guide to bipolar disorder, including what it is and what it isn’t.
Bipolar Disorder Versus Depression
Bipolar disorder differs from depression in a few important ways, the most substantial of which being the duration of depressive episodes. In depression, symptoms remain for an indeterminate length of time that must exceed at least six weeks. These symptoms can include commonly thought of symptoms such as sadness and difficulty making decisions, but can also include anger, apathy, sleep changes, weight changes, and even personality changes.
Bipolar disorder has periods of depressive episodes, but these episodes come and go, and are replaced by manic periods, in which an individual may experience sleep deprivation, elevated rates of speech and thought, and spikes in feelings of euphoria, leading to reckless and potentially even hazardous behavior. While both feature depressive symptoms, the manner in which those symptoms are expressed is quite different.
Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
The two most significant symptoms of bipolar disorder—and the reason for the disorder’s name—are periods of mania and depression. During manic episodes, an individual will experience changes to mood that can include euphoria and ecstasy, or may merely seem slightly more elevated than usual. During manic episodes, people may speak more quickly, bounce rapidly from topic to topic, struggle to sleep, and struggle to stay still. In more severe cases, people may require hospitalization during manic episodes.
During depressive episodes, people with bipolar disorder may experience the standard symptoms of depression, which can include feeling low or unmotivated, feeling hopeless or apathetic, feeling as though it is difficult to complete standard tasks, and increased or decreased appetites and sleeping patterns.
Bipolar disorder has been mistakenly attached to personalities and behaviors that encompass a sudden and unexpected switch from one feeling to another. Someone who possesses avoidant attachment patterns, for instance, might be mistakenly referred to as “bipolar,” because they may seem to like or prefer someone one day, and express distaste or apathy the next. Someone who has borderline personality disorder may be mistakenly referred to as bipolar, because these individuals often exhibit rapid and unpredictable mood changes in a given day or week. These are not true indicators of bipolar disorder, however, because they do not follow the patterning required for a bipolar disorder diagnosis; namely, the presence of both manic and depressive episodes over an extended period of time.
Most Common Treatment Avenues
Bipolar disorder is usually treated through a combination of therapy and medication regimens. Although bipolar disorder is not usually treated entirely with therapy, talk therapy and cognitive therapies can help manage some of the effects of both the manic and depressive episodes unique to bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy can help people with bipolar disorder learn how to most effectively manage their symptoms and all of the after-effects of manic and depressive episodes. Therapy may help you develop self-care techniques and thought processing habits to soothe and smooth the transition between mania and depression.
Medication regimens for bipolar disorder are used to improve depressive symptoms and ease manic symptoms. These medications may be rotated according to the individual’s needs, but may also be delivered on an ongoing basis to have at the ready whenever symptoms arise.
Living with Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is generally considered a lifelong condition, and it differs in its treatment avenues and severity from other disorders that are often confused for bipolar disorder, including general depression and personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder. With treatment, people living with bipolar disorder can be expected to lead long, healthy, and fulfilling lives. Bipolar disorder symptoms are not always readily visible to friends and loved ones, and those with bipolar disorder may not easily share their diagnosis. Living with bipolar disorder can initially feel daunting, but improvements in care and treatment have made bipolar disorder a treatable condition with healthy outcomes.
Learn more about Bipolar Disorder here.