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The Mood Roller Coaster: Understanding Bipolar Disorders

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Variations in our moods and energy levels are normal. We all have our share of days when we feel happy and excited, days when we feel sad and down, and even days when we feel both. On our “happy days,” we may feel invigorated, joyful and have an extra dose of self-confidence. On our “down days,” we might feel blue, less energetic and may have fleeting moments of sadness. For most people, variations in their mood and energy do not prevent them from taking care of their daily responsibilities or interfere with their relationships and careers. Their “swings” in mood are far and few between. People with bipolar disorder, on the other hand, have significant and frequent variations in their moods and energy levels. They rapidly go back and forth between periods of feeling very “high” to periods of feeling very “low”. The disease is called bipolar disorder because the person affected with it alternates between two completely opposite poles: euphoric happiness and extreme sadness. Bipolar disorder affects men and women equally. The average age of onset is between late teens to early 20’s. The disease has also been shown to run in families, so a person that has a relative diagnosed with bipolar disorder has a higher risk of developing the disorder at some point during his or her lifetime.

There are two types of bipolar disorders: bipolar type I and bipolar type II. In bipolar type I, the person has had at least one manic mood along with periods of major depression. A manic mood is described as feeling “unusually high” and euphoric. Some people during a manic period will go on shopping sprees, gamble, drink more alcohol than usual, participate in recreational drug use, and have numerous and risky sexual encounters. They may also experience disturbances with their sleep, have racing thoughts, and become hyper-verbal. A manic period can also be experienced as a persistent irritable mood.

Bipolar type II disorder is less extreme than bipolar type I. People with bipolar type II have never had a full manic episode. Instead, they experience elevated moods (hypo-mania) and high energy with periods of depression, but their “highs” are not as extreme as they are in bipolar type I disorder.  And people with bipolar disorder type II are often wrongly diagnosed with clinical depression. Furthermore, in both bipolar type I and bipolar type II, manic states can occur in rapid succession to depressive moods, and this is called a “mixed” state.

The good news is that with proper treatment, often including medications, this disease can be effectively managed. A combination of mood stabilizers, psychotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be the most successful combination of treatment. Psychotherapy and CBT aims to alleviate core symptoms by helping the individual to recognize mood triggers, reduce negative expressed and felt emotions, and practice coping strategies that may lead to remission.

It is important to get an evaluation by a mental health professional if you think you have either bipolar type I or bipolar type II disorder. Below are four tips to help those with bipolar type I and bipolar type II disorder:

1. Make sure you get enough sleep. Not getting proper rest can trigger a manic episode.

2. Get regular physical exercise. Exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression.

3. Make sure you have a plan in place for when your symptoms return. This will help reduce the severity of consequences that can occur in a manic or depressive state.

4. Join a support group. Getting support from other people diagnosed with bipolar disorder can help decrease feelings of isolation. A support group can also give you the chance to learn new strategies for coping with your symptoms.

Do you have bipolar type I or bipolar type II disorder? Do you have a loved one that has been diagnosed with this disorder? Do you have useful tips to share? I would like to hear from you.

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