When people first hear they have bipolar disorder, they may fear a future of limited options and instability, or that they’ll forever be on a mix of heavy medications.
But a diagnosis of this mental health condition doesn’t mean life will be different.
“With proper understanding and treatment, you can live a regular life, have normal relationships, pursue a fulfilling career and do anything anyone else can do. It doesn’t limit your abilities,” said Shariq Refai, MD, a psychiatrist with Baptist Behavioral Health. “A mental health professional can advise you on treatments based on your symptoms, and this may or may not require medications.”
Mood or mania?
Bipolar disorder, like other mental illnesses, is diagnosed with an in-depth evaluation by a mental health professional. The condition is marked by significant fluctuations in mood.
“Your mood can be on a spectrum from depression to mania,” Dr. Refai said. “The mania – feelings of euphoria or mood extremes – is what defines bipolar disorder and may result in erratic or impulsive behavior. A major factor can be staying awake or sleeping for just a few hours and still having a lot of energy.” The insomnia can last from a few days to more than a week.
“Mental illness is not discriminatory and can affect anyone, but if you have a family history of bipolar disorder, you are more likely to inherit it. This condition usually presents in early to mid-twenties,” Dr. Refai said.
Mood swings aren't always related to bipolar disorder and can be caused by many different things including stress, diet, depression, anxiety, lack of sleep or feeling overwhelmed. A proper assessment can get to the bottom of what’s contributing to the mood fluctuations.
In children, bipolar disorder may be misdiagnosed as attention deficit disorder (ADD). It’s important to see an expert for an evaluation.
There’s long been a stigma surrounding mental illness, which may inhibit some people from seeking help. It can affect your quality of life, making things feel meaningless. Dr. Refai stressed that this is not normal, and there is always help available.
“We all deal with some form of emotional distress for one reason or another, but we may not understand what someone else goes through,” he said. “When someone has never experienced bipolar disorder, and they only know what they hear or see on TV (which is often over-dramatized), it can create false impressions about bipolar disorder or any other mental illness.”
Making healthy choices offers benefits but isn’t a cure.
“One of the misconceptions people have is if they eat right, exercise, sleep well and remain social, they won’t have mood fluctuations or symptoms of bipolar disorder,” Dr. Refai said. “While a healthy lifestyle can help with mood, if you have bipolar disorder, you can have a manic episode at any time without the right treatment.”
If you think a loved one may be suffering from bipolar disorder, Dr. Refai recommended you voice your concerns about why you think they may need to seek help.
“It’s just as important to listen to what your loved one has to say and ask how you can help,” he said. “It’s best to suggest they see a mental health professional so they can live with a more stable mood.”