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Bipolar Disorder Facts
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that has gained huge levels of notoriety over the past years. Characters with the diagnosis portrayed in movies, TV shows, and books have popularized aspects of bipolar disorder. Many people recognize the name and may even know someone with the illness. Typically, having increased awareness of a mental health disorder adds clarity and understanding which reduces the stigma.
Unfortunately, with bipolar disorder, this is not always the case. The notoriety has bred misunderstandings and faulty perceptions about what bipolar disorder is and how people with bipolar disorder behave. To gain enlightenment on the issue, look past the myths to find the bipolar disorder facts. What are the signs of bipolar, truly?
1. Bipolar Is Marked by Periods of Highs…
When people imagine someone with bipolar disorder, they likely picture someone in the midst of a manic episode. During a manic episode, someone usually feels very happy and very energetic with decreased need for sleep as they are driven to engage in impulsively pleasurable activities like spending money, having sex, using drugs, and other risky behaviors. Some people will have hypomanic episodes that are less intense and marked by quick rate of speech and distractibility. Manic episodes can last about a week with hypomanic episodes lasting about 4 days.
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2. …And Periods of Lows
The other side of the mania is the depression. This is why bipolar disorder used to be called manic depression. People with bipolar disorder will commonly spend much more of their time being depressed than manic. A depressive episode will be marked by feeling sad or irritable, feeling worthless or guilty, having less interested in things, less energy, and less concentration. People also report having changes in sleeping and eating habits. These symptoms need to last for two weeks to qualify as a depressive episode, but they usually last much longer.
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3. There Is No Test for Bipolar Disorder
It would be much simpler if you could take a blood test, X-ray, or written exam to determine if you meet criteria for bipolar disorder, but this is not the case. The only way you can receive the diagnosis is from a trained mental health professional like a psychiatrist or therapist. They will interview you to gain information regarding your history and current symptoms to compare your responses to the criteria created by the American Psychiatric Association. Avoid diagnosing yourself or allowing friends and family members to do it for you. Unless they have an advanced education in mental health, leave the diagnosing to the professionals.
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4. Bipolar Is Multifaceted
Bipolar disorder comes in several varieties based on the level of mania endorsed. Bipolar I is marked by full manic episodes and bipolar II is marked by hypomanic episodes with depressive episodes accompanying each. Beyond that, there are nine bipolar specifiers that describe the condition in more detail.
These include types of bipolar disorder with rapid cycling, with bipolar psychosis features, with peripartum onset, with seasonal pattern, and others. These variations illustrate that bipolar disorder presents much differently from person to person depending on the specifier. It also shows that the disorder can be influenced by a range of changes including pregnancy and the time of year.
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5. "Rapid Cycling" Isn't so Rapid
Some people have the misunderstanding that “rapid cycling” bipolar disorder means that moods are constantly fluctuating between mania and depression with several distinct episodes occurring in a day. This is not the case. Since hypomanic or manic episodes need at least 4 days and depressive episodes need at least two weeks to qualify, multiple episodes in one day are impossible. People typically have periods of highs and lows during a day regardless of bipolar disorder. Rapid cycling only means that you have four or more total episodes during a year.
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6. Treatment Can Work, but It Takes Time
Prescribed medication for bipolar disorder is highly effective, but it may take a bit of trial and error to arrive at the best medication or combination of medications. Since bipolar disorder is so multifaceted and a person’s individual chemistry is so complex, not all medications work similarly for all people. The prescriber will make adjustments before finding the best option for the situation. Likewise, therapy might be lacking high value initially because of unfamiliarity or symptom changes. In either case, maintaining consistency to the recommended treatment will be essential for improved symptoms.
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7. Men and Women Are Equally Diagnosed
It may seem like men are diagnosed with bipolar disorder at drastically higher rates than women, but this is not true. In fact, men only slightly outnumber women by a ratio of 1.1 men to every one woman. Bipolar does not discriminate on the basis of sex.
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8. Bipolar Disorder Has a Strong Genetic Relationship
Even though bipolar disorder doesn’t differentiate based on sex, it does target people based on family history. This is displayed in the fact that having a close family member with bipolar I or bipolar II disorder makes you 10 times more likely to have the condition yourself. The association becomes stronger and weaker based on the connection, so that having a parent with bipolar will be more impactful than a third cousin with the illness.
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9. Symptoms Can Present at Any Age
The average age that people will experience their first manic, hypomanic, or depressive episode is 18. It is possible for people to have an onset of symptoms in their 60s or later. This also means that children under 18 can undergo their first major mood episode. In either case, it remains important to allow diagnosis under the care of a mental health professional while taking the person’s developmental state into account. Teenagers are prone to strong mood changes, irritability, and changes in sleep habits, but this does not prove that they have bipolar disorder.
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10. Someone with Bipolar Disorder Is 15 times More Likely to Attempt Suicide than Someone without It
This stat may be alarming, but it is true. People with bipolar are much more likely to attempt suicide at least once in their life. People that spend more time being depressed during the year and have a recent suicide attempt are more likely to attempt or complete suicide. Rather than being depressing or discouraging, hopefully this fact will motivate people with bipolar disorder to seek the treatment they need and deserve. Untreated symptoms only worsen.