The All-In-One Guide To Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is a mental disease that’s characterized by severe mood swings. This can be from high to low or from low to high. During high times, you will experience mania and at low times you will experience depression. You might even have a combination of both high and low moods simultaneously, making you feel manic and depressed at the same time.

A lot of people have bipolar disorder. In a 2005 research, it was found that 2.6% of the people living in the U.S. (26 million people) have been diagnosed with this disorder. It’s more likely for women to get this disease than men, though the reasons for this are not yet clear. In addition, even though children might get symptoms of this disease, most people tend to notice signs of this disorder when they are in their late teens or early adult years.

It can be quite hard to tell if someone has this disorder, but there are some signs that you should check for.

Bipolar Disorder Symptoms

It can be quite challenging to tell if someone has this illness because the symptoms that it has are similar to symptoms of other diseases.

Bipolar symptoms can be largely divided into two: those for mania and those for depression.

7 Signs of Mania

Here are the 7 main signs of bipolar disorder when you have mania:

  • Feeling too happy for an extended time period
  • A reduced desire to sleep
  • Racing thoughts, which often lead someone to talk too fast
  • Being quite fidgety and rash
  • Getting easily sidetracked
  • Being arrogant about things you can do
  • Being engaged in dangerous actions, such as impulsive sex, betting with all the cash that you have or going on shopping sprees.

7 Signs of Depression

Here are the main signs of depression when one is suffering from bipolar disorder.

  • Being depressed and gloomy for extended periods of time
  • Being withdrawn from friends and family
  • Not being interested in things that you liked to do before
  • Experiencing a drastic change in your appetite
  • Loss of energy and feeling exhausted
  • Not being able to focus, remember things or make decisions
  • Thinking about death a lot and even trying to commit suicide

Suicide Prevention

In case you suspect that someone is in danger of harming themselves or another person, here is what you need to do:

  • Call 911 or local emergency teams
  • Do not leave the person alone until help arrives
  • Get rid of any dangerous objects that can be used to cause harm, such as knives, firearms, and medications.
  • Listen to the person in a non-judgmental way without threatening or arguing with them

In case you think that someone is thinking about committing suicide:

Call a suicide prevention line or a crisis center for help. You can call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 800-273-8255.

Testing for Bipolar Disorder

People who suffer from bipolar disorder experience intense emotions that greatly vary from the usual emotions that they normally have. These shifts in mood affect their everyday life.

It’s not easy to test for bipolar disorder since it just doesn’t involve giving the patient multiple choice questions or doing a blood test. The doctor will have to use multiple methods in order to come up with a diagnosis since there is no singular test that one can take to diagnose the problem

Preparing for a Diagnosis

In most cases, you might experience an intense shift in your mood that might leave you confused and you may suspect that everything is not quite right with you. However, you might not quite know what is wrong.

You might feel quite sad and hopeless. You might even feel overwhelmed by misery at one moment but the next moment you feel quite energetic and optimistic.

It is quite normal to feel sad at times and be in a good mood at other times. This is normal as it is a result of everyday stresses. What distinguishes bipolar disorder from this normal shift in mood is the intensity of the emotions felt. You will notice that you are not behaving normally but you will feel quite helpless to do something about it. The people around you will also observe these changes. When you are having manic episodes, you will be such in a great mood that you will not understand why people are concerned about you. This is until your mood shifts for the worse.

In case you observe that you suffer from extreme mood swings, do not ignore this. Consult a doctor, particularly if you are having suicidal thoughts.

Ruling Out Other Illnesses

When you consult a doctor in relation to your extreme mood swings, the doctor is going to carry out a number of lab tests. This includes a thyroid test and urinalysis. This will help the doctor to know whether other factors are what is causing your problems.

A thyroid test is necessary since your thyroid gland produces hormones that affect the functionality of the rest of your body. In case your thyroid has a problem, for instance, if it is secreting low amounts of hormones, this will lead to hypothyroidism. This will cause your brain not to work right. Consequently, you might suffer from depression or a mood disorder.

Thyroid issues can cause symptoms that are similar to those caused by bipolar disorder. There are some medications that might cause side effects that are similar to those of bipolar disorder. To rule out these possibilities, your doctor will refer you to a mental health professional.


There is a possibility of bipolar disorder being misdiagnosed, particularly during the early stages, when one is in their teen years. In case of a misdiagnosis, this condition can get worse, as a result of taking the wrong medication.

Other things that can lead to a misdiagnosis is a discrepancy in the behavior and episodes experienced. A lot of people usually seek treatment when they get depressed but not when in a manic state.

A 2006 research study that was published in Psychiatry showed that 69% of cases are misdiagnosed. For a third of these people, they don’t get a proper diagnosis for at least 10 years or more.

This condition has symptoms that are akin to symptoms of other disorders, such as unipolar (major) depression, eating disorders, ADHD, anxiety, OCD or a personality disorder. Factors that strongly increase the chances of a right diagnosis includes the doctor knowing your family’s medical history, frequent depression episodes and a mood disorder questionnaire.

Mental Health Evaluation

A psychologist or psychiatrist can diagnose whether you have a mental illness. This is often done by them asking you various questions about the state of your mental health. They will ask about the symptoms you are experiencing and how these affect your life. They will question about bipolar risk factors, like ask questions about your family medical history and if you have a history of drug abuse.

For the bipolar disorder to be diagnosed correctly, you must experience at least one manic and one depressive episode. The mental health professional will ask you how you feel when you are having these episodes. They will also ask how long these episodes last and whether you can control yourself when having an episode. They will also want to talk to your close family and friends, with your permission of course. They will consider your medical history as well as any medications that you might currently be on.

Doctors usually refer to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to come up with an accurate diagnosis of the disorder.

Types of Bipolar Disorder and Their Symptoms

There are four kinds of common bipolar disorder. Two of these get misdiagnosed quite often.

Bipolar I

This disorder is often characterized by manic episodes that are quite extreme. It is usually quite clear that the person is having a manic episode.  The person can quickly get out of control. If they do not get immediate medical attention, they are quite likely to end up in the emergency room.

For someone to be diagnosed with this condition, it is a must that they have experienced manic episodes. A manic episode is usually characterized by:

  • The person having moods and behaviors that greatly differ from his normal behavior
  • They should have a manic episode for a large part of the day and get the episodes on a daily basis
  • Have an episode that lasts for at least one week or is so severe to the extent that the person needs urgent medical care.

Even though people with bipolar disorder I also get depressive episodes, it is not a must for them to experience depression or them to be diagnosed with this condition.

Bipolar II

There are more cases of bipolar II as compared to bipolar I. In this case, the manic episodes are not so intense and are referred to as hypomania symptoms. Patients also experience depressive episodes.

A lot of people who have this problem often do not even know it. It is other people who notice that they have a problem and convince them to seek medical attention.

Rarer Types of Bipolar Disorder

There are other kinds of bipolar disorders that are rare. In Cyclothymic disorder, patients experience moods swings similar to those experienced by people who have bipolar I and bipolar II. However, these mood swings tend to be less severe. A person who has Cyclothymic disorder can function as usual even without being on medication though it can be quite challenging. With time, the person’s shifts in mood might graduate to bipolar I and bipolar II.

When it is said that someone has bipolar disorder without specification of what kind they have, it simply means that they have bipolar symptoms. However, the symptoms might not be adequate enough to accurately diagnose which particular kind of bipolar disorder that they have.

Bipolar Disorder and Other Illnesses

It can be hard to diagnose bipolar disorder since this disorder presents symptoms that are similar to those of other diseases. In addition, someone suffering from the disorder might also have other diseases, such as an eating disorder, drug abuse or anxiety. People with this disorder are also at risk of suffering from migraines, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, thyroid problems among many other illnesses.

Psychosis. In some cases, people who have intense manic and depressive episodes might also have psychosis symptoms as well, like hallucinations and delusions. The signs of psychosis tend to match the intense emotions of individuals who have bipolar, for instance:

  • An individual who is experiencing psychotic symptoms while they are having a manic episode might start to think that they are a celebrity or rich or they have special abilities.
  • An individual who is experiencing psychotic symptoms when they are having a depressive episode might tend to believe that they are completely poor, ruined or they have done something illegal.

Consequently, people who have psychotic symptoms in addition to bipolar disorder might get misdiagnosed with schizophrenia.

Bipolar Diagnosis and Treatment

Once a bipolar diagnosis has been made, then a treatment plan is formulated.

Bipolar Diagnosis

Bipolar diagnosis is more likely to be made if you experience intense periods of mania. Individuals who have hypomania might get more animated than usual, be overconfident, and have lots of ideas and not sleep a lot. It is quite rare for someone to complain about such things.

The probability is that you will only get help if you are suffering from depression. This means that the doctor will not be able to see the manic side of you.

Bipolar Treatment

Once you have been diagnosed with bipolar, the doctor will come up with a treatment plan. This includes:

  • Taking medicine
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Rehabilitation from drug abuse
  • Electroconvulsive therapy

Generally, a licensed psychiatrist is the one who will oversee your treatment. They might work in liaison with a psychiatric nurse, social worker or psychologist.

  • Electroconvulsive Therapy. If you have a severe kind of bipolar disorder that is not responding to other kinds of treatment, then this is the best option for you. It can also be used in cases where it is too risky to use medication, such as when an individual is pregnant. Some of the side effects of ECT include being disoriented and confused and loss of memory. Before undergoing ECT, make sure to talk to a health professional about the benefits and risk of this disease.
  • Sleeping Medications. People with bipolar disorder tend to suffer from insomnia. Treatment is quite helpful in such cases. This requires taking medication. If the prescribed medicines do not work, then it might be in order for the doctor to change your medication.
  • Keep a Life Chart. Have a chart that will help you track your moods, sleep patterns and treatment. This will make a great difference when it comes to your treatment since you know what you will be dealing with. It will also help to know how well you are responding to treatment.

Is Treatment for Bipolar I Different from Treatment for Bipolar II?

Bipolar disorder was previously known as manic-depression. It is generally treated using medication and psychotherapy, regardless of the kind of bipolar that you have. Bipolar II is not a less severe form of bipolar I, rather, it is a different diagnosis.

Individuals who have bipolar I can have severe manic episodes, which can be quite a risk. On the other hand, people with bipolar disorder II tend to be depressed for long periods of time. This can result in great damage leading to major consequences.

The prescriptions that you get and the dosage will depend on the kind of symptoms that you have and their severity.


Psychotherapy, otherwise known as talk therapy can be quite helpful when it is coupled together with medication. This is a great way to provide support and guidance to people who have this disorder together with their families. Some psychotherapy treatments that are used include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Family-focused therapy
  • Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy
  • Psychoeducation


There is no known way of preventing this disorder. However, it is advisable to get it treated as soon as you notice the symptoms, so as to prevent the disease from getting worse.

Once you have been diagnosed with this illness, you can take some steps to prevent minor symptoms from getting worse.

  • Don’t ignore the warning signs. Once you have learned signs that show you are about to get an episode or what your triggers are, act when you notice these signs so that the situation does not get out of hand. Call your doctor immediately. It is also advisable that you let your close family members know what signs to be on the lookout for.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. Stop abusing alcohol and drugs as they can make your symptoms worse.
  • Stick to your medications. Once you start taking medications do not stop using them or do not reduce your dosage unless you have been advised by the doctor to do so. When you stop taking your medicines, you might experience withdrawal, which will make your symptoms worse.

Risk Factors

There is no one single factor that has been identified as the cause of this disease. Chances are that there are many multiple factors that affect the development of this disease.

  • Brain Structure and Functioning. According to research studies, the brain of people who have bipolar disorder differ from the brain of normal people or individuals who have other kinds of mental disease. Scientists are still learning more about these differences and also getting lots of data from genetic studies. This will give them a better understanding of this disease and what kind of treatment will work best.
  • Genetics. There are some people who are more predisposed to getting this condition as compared to others on the basis of their genes. But genes are not the only risk factor. This is given the fact that even if one twin gets the disease, it does not necessarily mean that the other twin will also get it. This is given that twins tend to have similar genes.
  • Family History. This disease tends to run in families. People who have siblings or parents who have this mental condition are at a higher risk of developing it as compared to families where no one in the family has it. Nevertheless, lots of people have a history of bipolar disorder in their family line but they do not get the condition.

Talk to Your Doctor

In case you suspect that one of your family members has bipolar disorder, consult a doctor. This illness can only be diagnosed by a trained mental health practitioner. Once the diagnosis is made, then it is important to start treatment immediately. Once treatment is started, then it is possible to get the symptoms of this disease under control. This will lead to a more satisfying and fulfilled life.

Can Bipolar Disorder Be Cured?

This disease cannot be cured but it can be managed through behavioral therapy, bipolar medication, and mood stabilizers. This makes it possible to live a normal life, even if you have this condition. Just realize that this is a lifelong condition and there are high chances of reoccurrences. To prevent the disease from getting out of control, make sure to go to your doctor as required and take all your prescribed medications. This will minimize cases of severe episodes.

Moreover, you can join support groups for people who have bipolar disorder and their family members. This provides a great discussion platform, where you can learn a great deal about this condition and how to manage it and support someone who has it. According to research, social support significantly increases the chances of someone with this condition getting a job as compared to individuals who do not attend support groups.

Can Behavioral Counseling Help People with Bipolar Disorder?

There are different kinds of talk therapy that people who suffer from bipolar disorder might find to be quite helpful in preventing or coping with mood swings:

  • Individual Counseling. During sessions with a psychotherapist who has specialized in bipolar disorders, the needs of the patient will be brought up and dealt with. This includes discussing things like how the patient can identify an episode, accepting the diagnosis, managing stress, providing more information about the condition and intervention strategies that can be used.
  • Family Counseling. Since the family of the patient is also usually affected, they need outpatient counseling. Some of the things they will learn include identifying signs of an episode and getting more information about the disease.
  • Group Counseling. During these sessions, individuals can share their feelings and coping strategies.

Symptoms in Children and Teens

Kids and teens might become irritable, while adults tend to get depressed. In addition, while children might fail to reach the developmental weight for children their age, adults tend to lose weight. When having a manic episode, children will tend to goof around and be in an elevated mood to the extent of being inappropriate. This might be more pronounced in parties and other social occasions.

If you observe this happening at home or in school in a context that is not suitable, this could be a classic sign of bipolar disorder. Kids might also be oblivious to danger or overestimate their abilities to the point of engaging in risky behavior or taking on projects that are much bigger than they can handle. The child might also get too preoccupied with sex to an extent that is not developmentally suitable (assuming that they have not been sexually molested).

Bipolar Disorder and Alcoholism

Bipolar disorder and alcoholism are usually linked together, even though it is not clear why this is so.

  • Inherited Traits. Genetic factors are quite likely to affect the brain chemistry behind the bipolar disorder. These traits can also affect how the brain responds to drugs and alcohol. This enhances the risk of alcoholism and drug addiction.
  • Anxiety and Depression. Some people’s way of coping with depression, anxiety and other signs of bipolar disorder is by drinking. This might seem to help in the short term but it will do more damage in the long term. This can lead the person to drink more, consequently engaging in a cycle of drinking and depression.
  • Mania. Manic episodes are characterized by hyperactivity and an elevated mood. This can lead to recklessness and drug abuse and alcoholism.

Bipolar disorder and drug and alcohol abuse is a bad combination. Having a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and alcoholism is referred to as a dual diagnosis. You will need to be treated by mental health care workers, who have specialized in treating both of these conditions.

Do Bipolar Medications Make You Gain Weight Gain?

Some of the medicines that are used to treat this disease can result in increased appetite or change your body metabolism, such that you end up gaining weight.

How the medication affects you varies from individual to individual. Therefore, it is best to experiment with different medications and observe how they affect you.

Bipolar medicines include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics.

  • Mood Stabilizers. These include Lithobid, Depakene, Depakote, Tegretol, Equetro, and Lamictal. All these medications are known to make you gain weight apart from Lamictal.
  • Antipsychotics. These include Zyprexa, Risperdal, Seroquel, Abilify, Geodon, Latuda, Vraylar, and Saphris.
  • Antidepressants can be used in combination with mood stabilizers and antipsychotic drugs. When used alone, antidepressants can result in mania or rapid cycling in people who have bipolar disorder. There are some antidepressants that tend to cause weight gain, while others don’t. Talk to your psychiatrist about your concerns.
  • Anti-depressants can also be combined with antipsychotic medicines to treat depression and as a mood stabilizer. Symbyax is a medicine that combines fluoxetine, which is an antidepressant, with antipsychotic olanzapine and is considered to cause more weight gain.

In some cases, most of these medications when taken alone will not cause weight gain, however, when taken in combination with other medicines they will result in weight gain. Most people need more than one medication to deal with this disease.

If you are struggling with weight gain, talk to your mental health professional and ask them how to deal with the weight gain. You can also try healthy eating, exercising and psychotherapy to keep you in good physical and mental health.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy. In such a case, you will work with a psychotherapist in an organized manner and have a number of sessions with them. CBT will highlight any inaccurate or pessimistic thought patterns that you might have. This puts you in a position where you can view life challenges in a more realistic manner and respond to them appropriately.

CBT can also be used to treat other mental health illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and eating disorders. CBT can also be used to treat other people who might not have a mental illness but might be stressed out.

Why CBT?

CBT can be used to treat different problems. It is mostly used because it can quickly help you to pinpoint the main problem and how to deal with it. You only need to go for a few sessions, as compared to other treatment plans.

CBT can be used to deal with a lot of emotional problems such as:

  • Managing signs of mental disorders
  • Averting signs of mental relapse
  • Treating mental illness when medications are not working or cannot be used for whatever reason
  • Learning life skills on how to deal with challenging situations in life
  • Figuring out ways to control your emotions
  • Learning to resolve conflicts and developing good communication skills
  • Knowing how to handle loss and grief
  • Getting over emotional trauma as a result of abuse
  • Handling a medical problem
  • Controlling prolonged symptoms of physical illness

Mental disorders that will improve when treated with CBT include:

  • Insomnia
  • Sexual disorders
  • Depression
  • bipolar disorder
  • Nervousness
  • paranoia
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Eating disorder
  • Drug abuse
  • Schizophrenia
  • PTSD

There are situations where CBT will work best when it is used in combination with other methods, such as antidepressants and other medicines.


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