Bipolar Disorder FAQs

bipolar-iconA diagnosis of bipolar disorder in yourself or a loved one can feel overwhelming. Below are some of the most often asked questions about bipolar disorder symptoms and treatments at Ascension Seton Behavioral Health. If you have a question that’s not answered here, please don’t hesitate to call us at 512-324-2039 or contact us online.

What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder (BPD) is a mental illness that includes extreme behavior and mood swings. Once called manic-depressive disorder, those with BPD go back and forth between mania and depression. These changes can happen rapidly or over the course of several weeks or months.

Is there more than one type of bipolar disorder?

The most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (known as the DSM for short) lists four types of BPD:

  • Bipolar I has one or more episodes of mania, with or without a swing into a depressive episode.
  • Bipolar II includes more manic episodes as well as one or more episodes of depression.
  • Cyclothymia is a pattern of switching between mild mania and mild depression that lasts for at least a year.
  • Bipolar disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) includes a range of typical bipolar symptoms that may not fit standard definitions. For example, rapid cycling in episodes that last less than a day can occur.

What causes bipolar disorder to develop?

The main cause for BPD is thought to be an imbalance in neurotransmitter levels. Neurotransmitters are chemicals within the brain that seem to affect a number of mood disorders. However, other factors may lead to the onset of BPD as well. These can include a physical difference in the brain, hormone levels, genetics, and significant stress, abuse or trauma.

What are some common bipolar disorder symptoms?

The main characteristic of bipolar disorder is a swing in moods from high (mania) to low (depression). Sometimes these may be mild but noticeable shifts. Other episodes can be extreme in nature. BPD patients in a manic episode may make impulsive decisions and engage in dangerous behavior. Or, they may simply experience an upswing in creativity and energy level. During a depressive episode, feelings of extreme sadness and worthlessness may interfere with work or home life. Suicidal thoughts may also occur.

Is BPD dangerous?

Bipolar disorder is a potentially serious mental illness that can worsen if left untreated. During manic episodes, those with BPD may engage in risky behavior such as unsafe sex or drug use. A depressive episode could include self-harm. A high percentage of undiagnosed BPD patients develop alcohol and drug addiction. Other mental health concerns can also be seen in those with BPD. As with any mental illness, proper treatment of bipolar symptoms is a must for seeing a better quality of life.

How is BPD treated?

One of the hardest parts of effectively treating BPD is making an accurate diagnosis. BPD patients are more likely to seek help while in a depressive phase. This can lead to a misdiagnosis of clinical depression. With an increased awareness of bipolar disorder symptoms, bipolar depression is now becoming more often recognized as part of BPD. Once a pattern is seen in combination with mania, better treatment can take place.

Treatment for bipolar disorder can include mood-stabilizing medication. It’s also important to look at potential underlying physical causes (such as a hormone imbalance). Patients should learn how to track and predict their mood cycle and triggers and receive ongoing education and behavioral therapy. Continued active support for those with BPD and their families is also helpful for recovery.

Why is therapy a necessary part of BPD treatment?

Mood stabilizing medication is an important aspect of managing bipolar disorder symptoms. However, some patients may have trouble remembering to take a daily pill, or may not want to. That’s why recognizing behavior patterns is also important. This can help you feel better prepared for an upcoming manic or depressive episode and feel more in control about what to expect. Therapy helps empower patients by giving support in ways medication cannot.

Will I have to be hospitalized for BPD during a manic or depressive episode?

Both inpatient and outpatient bipolar disorder treatment options are available from Ascension Seton Behavioral Health. Outpatient programs use behavioral therapy to manage impulsive behavior. Inpatient mental health services begin with medical evaluation and treatment planning. Supportive individual and group care are also included. Help with transition during and following your return to normal daily life is also needed to help cope with bipolar disorder symptoms.

Is a normal life possible when living with BPD?

Long-term care of bipolar disorder symptoms requires a strong commitment from the patient as well as supportive friends and family. One of the biggest challenges in treating BPD lies in getting consistent care, as those with BPD may make poor decisions during either a manic or depressive episode. However, a sense of community can help keeps patients from feeling isolated or helpless. This together with other treatments allow BPD to be treated in a way that allows enjoyment of a full and happy life.