Bipolar disorder can be difficult to understand, difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat and difficult to cope with in a family. A person with bipolar disorder experiences periods of both mania (high energy, euphoria) and depression. This is different from the ups and downs we all experience normally. In bipolar disorder, these episodes last for several days and disrupt a person’s life. Bipolar disorder can develop at any age, but the average age of onset is 25. About 3% of the U.S. population is diagnosed with bipolar disorder annually.
To be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a person has to have experienced at least one depressive episode and one manic or hypomanic (a milder form of mania) episode. Because bipolar disorder shares characteristics common to other mental illnesses, it’s often misdiagnosed (as anxiety or unipolar depression, for example), so it’s important for a person experiencing symptoms to be evaluated by a trained psychologist or psychiatrist. Diagnosing bipolar disorder involves looking at a number of factors, including the severity and frequency of mood swings, behaviors, medical history, risk factors and any history of substance abuse.
Signs and symptoms
Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mania and depression, each of which has its own symptoms.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines mania as a “distinct period during which there is an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.” A manic episode must last at least a week with the mood including at least three of the characteristics listed below.
Symptoms of a manic mood
• High self-esteem
• Little need for sleep
• Increased rate of speech (talking fast)
• Flight of ideas
• Easily distracted
• Increased interest in goals or activities
• Psychomotor agitation (pacing, hand wringing, etc.)
• Increased pursuit of activities with a high risk of danger
A bipolar major depressive episode is defined by the DSM-5 as lasting at least two weeks and including at least four of the symptoms below, appearing as new or suddenly worse.
Symptoms of a major depressive episode
• Changes in appetite/ weight, sleep or psychomotor activity
• Decreased energy
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
• Trouble thinking, concentrating or making decisions
• Thoughts of death or suicidal plans or attempts
Teens with bipolar disorder may take more risks (sexually, physically or with drugs/alcohol), talk about death or suicide, have behavior problems at school, lose interest in sports and activities or have a drop in their academic performance.
Treatment for bipolar disorder usually includes a mix of approaches, such as medication, psychotherapy, learning personal strategies for managing moods and other supportive behaviors like meditation or praying.
How Crosswinds can help
Crosswinds partners with families who are experiencing the effects of bipolar disorder. Whether a parent, a spouse or a child has been diagnosed, Crosswinds counselors connect families to resources and appropriate medical care. Additionally, our counselors are trained to facilitate cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy to help manage symptoms and the impact of the illness on the entire family unit. Crosswinds educates families about bipolar disorder and helps clients implement self-management strategies. Our faith-based approach integrates spiritual disciplines, prayer and Biblical principles to add value and significance to families’ lives.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or exhibits symptoms you think could indicate bipolar disorder, Crosswinds is here to help. Contact us today: