About 6 million Americans have bipolar disorder. It’s a condition marked by moods that swing from out-of-control highs to despairing lows and back again. If left untreated, it can lead to school or work problems, relationship conflicts, and even suicide.
Fortunately, treatments are available for bipolar disorder. The up-and-down moods don’t have to rule your life.
Going to extremes
Bipolar disorder causes extreme swings in mood, energy, and ability to function, says the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The overly high moods are mania, and the overly low moods are depression. Often, normal periods exist in between. Some people have bipolar II disorder. Instead of extreme manic episodes, they experience milder mania.
Signs of mania:
Excessive feeling of elation
Less need for sleep
Racing thoughts and rapid speech
Signs of depression:
Long-lasting sad or empty mood
Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
Changes in appetite or weight
Sleeping too much or too little
Fatigue and decreased energy
Feelings of hopelessness
Thoughts of death or suicide
The main treatments for bipolar disorder are medication and talk therapy. Frequently, the two are combined. Because bipolar disorder is ongoing, treatment usually is long-term, the NIMH says.
Several medications are available to treat bipolar disorder. Lithium is used to level out mood swings. For people who aren’t helped by lithium, anticonvulsant drugs may be helpful.
Talk therapy is useful, as well. Behavioral therapy helps people change self-defeating thought patterns and behaviors. Interpersonal and social-rhythm therapy shows people how to improve relationships. It also stresses regular sleep schedules and daily routines to help ward off mania.
“In general, the outlook with the right treatment is good,” says Melvin McInnis, M.D., who treats and studies bipolar disorder in Ann Arbor, Mich. But, some symptoms may remain even after treatment. “For many people with bipolar disorder, a realistic goal is to be 80 percent well 80 percent of the time,” Dr. McInnis says.
Help for families
The whole family is affected when one person has bipolar disorder. If your loved one has the condition, learning more about it can help you cope. Talk with your doctor about resources, and consider joining a support group. By working together, families affected by bipolar disorder can manage the ups and downs of this roller coaster condition.