Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks, also known as manic-depressive illness. More than just a fleeting good or bad mood, the cycles of bipolar disorder last for days, weeks, or months. Unlike ordinary mood swings, the mood changes of bipolar disorder are so intense that they interfere with the ability to function. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be so such that it may result in damaged relationships, poor job or school performance, and even suicide. The good news is that bipolar disorder can be treated, and people with this illness can lead full and productive lives.

Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person’s life. Bipolar disorder is not easy to spot when it starts. The symptoms may seem like separate problems, not recognized as part of a larger problem. Some people have their first symptoms during childhood, while others may develop symptoms late in life. Some people suffer for years before they are properly diagnosed and treated.

During a manic episode, a person might impulsively quit a job, charge up huge amounts on credit cards, or feel rested after sleeping two hours. During a depressive episode, the same person might be too tired to get out of bed and full of self-loathing and hopelessness over being unemployed and in debt. Sometimes, a mood episode includes symptoms of both mania and depression. During a mixed state, symptoms often include agitation, trouble sleeping, major changes in appetite, and suicidal thinking. People in a mixed state may feel very sad or hopeless while feeling extremely energized.

Clinical Social Workers and others Mental Health Professionals usually diagnose mental disorders using guidelines from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM IV-R. According to the DSM, there are three basic types of bipolar disorder:
1.Bipolar I Disorder is mainly defined by manic or mixed episodes that last at least seven days, or by manic symptoms that are so severe that the person needs immediate hospital care. Usually, the person also has depressive episodes, typically lasting at least two weeks. The symptoms of mania or depression must be a major change from the person’s normal behavior.
2.Bipolar II Disorder is defined by a pattern of depressive episodes shifting back and forth with hypomanic episodes, but no full-blown manic or mixed episodes.

3.Cyclothymic Disorder, or Cyclothymic, is a mild form of bipolar disorder. People who have cyclothymic have episodes of hypomania that shift back and forth with mild depression for at least two years. However, the symptoms do not meet the diagnostic requirements for any other type of bipolar disorder

People with undiagnosed bipolar disorder will sometimes self-medicate with alcohol or drugs to try and relieve their symptoms. However, such solutions rarely provide the type of long-term relief most people desire. The right treatment for bipolar disorder helps to relieve symptoms, restore ability to function, fix problems the illness has caused at home and at work, and reduce the likelihood of recurrence. Treatment for bipolar conditions often includes the following: medication that will help minimize the symptoms and psychotherapy which is essential for dealing with the problems it has caused, including education for the client and family members as well as learning how to cope with difficult or uncomfortable feelings, repairing your relationships, managing stress, and regulating mood.

Irene M. Rodriguez, MS, CAP
Dynamic Counseling Group, LLC


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