FAQs About Bipolar Disorder

What is bipolar disorder? Whether you suspect you have this mental illness or you have a recent diagnosis, take a look at the top questions patients have about bipolar disease and its treatment.

Is Bipolar Disorder Common?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 51.5 million adults in the United States have a mental illness. More than 13 million of these adults have what’s considered a serious mental illness. These illnesses represent a broad range of disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorders. In their lifetimes, 4.4 percent of American adults experience bipolar diseases.

Are Bipolar Disorders and Depression the Same?

Simply stated — no. While depression is a symptom of bipolar disease, it isn’t the only (or often primary) issue people with this disorder experience.

Depression is more than temporary sadness. Most people have blue or down periods due to stressful life events during their lifetime. Sadness due to a disappointing first date or failed test at school is real. But it isn’t depression or bipolar disorder. People with clinical depression experience persistent or chronic sadness and loss of interest (in normal activities or relationships) that doesn’t go away on its own or with time.

Bipolar disease can also cause the same feelings of persistent sadness or loss of interest. Along with depressive feelings, people with bipolar disorder also experience other intense emotions. These include excessively elevated, energized, or even irritable feelings. This means you may feel like you’re on a roller coaster of down/depressive and up/elated periods.

Are All Types of Bipolar Disorder the Same?

The answer to this question is also no. While the symptoms of bipolar disease include marked shifts in mood between depression and manic or elevated/energized feelings, different people experience different types of episodes.

The three primary types of bipolar disease are bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymic disorder. People with bipolar I disorder typically experience manic (or up/energized) episodes for seven or more days or have symptoms that are severe enough to require immediate hospital-based treatment/care. Bipolar I disorder also causes depressive episodes that can last for two weeks or more.

Bipolar II disorder also includes up and down episodes. But if you have this type of disease, you may not have the severe mania that some people with bipolar I experience.

Unlike bipolar I and II disorders, cyclothymic disorder includes symptoms that tend to last significantly longer. Instead of a few weeks of depression, people with this disease may experience this type of symptom for up to two years.

Are All Symptoms Severe?

While the symptoms of bipolar disorder are noticeable (to the patient and often to others), it is possible to experience a range of extremes. Some patients with bipolar II disorder may have hypomania — or a mania/elation with less severe emotions.

The possibility for a range of symptom severity makes a professional diagnosis necessary. What may seem like a normal happy phase to you, could look like mild mania to others. If you, or those closest to you, feel like your mood changes are or are bordering on extreme, talk to a mental health professional. A psychiatric or mental health provider is trained to spot the sometimes subtle differences in mood and understands the full range of potential symptoms.

Can You Treat Bipolar Disorders?

Diagnosis is the first step to treatment. After a mental health professional diagnoses this disorder and the type, they will create a treatment plan for the individual patient. This means your course of treatment may differ from another patient, friend, or relative. Treatment options include therapy, medications, and a combination of therapy and medication.

Do you need help with a bipolar diagnosis? Contact Psyche for more information.

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