Bipolar disorder can best be compared to a mountain range. With high peaks of euphoria and deep valleys of depression, this disorder has periods of “high”, or manic stages, and periods of low, or depressed stages, with some periods of normal in between. For many people this disorder begins in the adolescent stage of life and continues throughout the person’s adult life. Often people suffer needlessly for years or even decades without even recognizing that they have the disorder. As long as people are informed of the disorder this suffering can be avoided. Bipolar disorder can be recognized by many signs, has many treatment options, but awareness is the key to the treatment.
One symptom of bipolar disorder is severe irritability and mood swings. The teen “snapping” at his or her parents, common in most households, can now be taken as a sign of depression. Of course, most teens that have bipolar disorder do not have parents to snap at. This is due to the trend of sorts that severe neglect is a major cause of this affliction. Early trauma can lead to a life of unhappy irritability and mood swings. A “bad attitude” can be an after effect of these early life traumas and abuses. An example of this is Lauren: at four years old she had been chained to a car door and while chained was attempting to care for her younger brother who was then two years old. Her mother, a cocaine abuser, had not tended to the children in several days. Various family members undertook the task of caring for her, but her forceful and unmanageable tendencies wore them down and they were forced to pass her on to another relative. Mood swings are also common among those suffering from bipolar disorder. These are more drastic than those normal people experience. Normal teenagers have mood swings quite frequently; the causes can range from trouble with family, friends and boy or girl friends. These things can also cause mood swings of those suffering from manic depression, however, on a very different scale. Problems are amplified and often the beginning signs are withdrawal from family and friends, sleeping more, and trouble in school. Spotting the difference between mood swings that need to be taken seriously can be a life-altering decision made by a professional. Treatments such as electroconvulsive therapy can improve the mental state of those with this disorder.
There are many signs of the manic stage of bipolar disorder. Some of these are apparent and, on the other hand, many are discreet. An increased energy, activity and restlessness occur, along with racing thoughts and rapid talking. A person experiencing mania has an excessive “high”, or euphoric outlook on life, and an unrealistic belief in their own abilities and powers. This person may also have a decreased need for sleep. Many times a person in the manic stage is extremely irritable and easily distracted. This person shows uncharacteristically poor judgement and a sustained period of behavior that is different from their usual self. A manic person, along with all of these experiences an increase in sexual drive, abuse of drugs (particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications), aggressive behavior, and a denial that anything is wrong. These can all be serous signs of a problem and could possibly be life threatening.
There are also many signs of depression that can be looked for. These can include a persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood, with feelings that one is hopeless. A depressed person feels restless and irritable, and is plagued by a constant feeling of fatigue. Depression makes it difficult to concentrate on and remember things, thus making decision making a difficult process. A person in this state may also feel as if they are worthless and helpless. A loss of interest in pleasurable activities occurs, this can also include sex. Depression can also lead to loss of appetite and weight, however sometimes it can lead to weight gain, and can lead to chronic pain and bodily symptoms not associated with a physical disease. A very unfortunate sign of depression can be suicidal thoughts, and sometimes these lead to suicidal attempts. It is very important that these signs be recognized.
An early sign of bipolar disorder can be hypomania. During this state a person shows a high level of energy, excessive moodiness or irritability, and impulsive or reckless behavior. When family and friends learn to recognize these mood swings, many time the person will deny that anything is wrong. This is due to the fact that hypomania can feel good to the person experiencing it. Sometimes bipolar disorder takes on the look of other problems, thus masquerades. For example it may seem that the person just has a drug or alcohol problem, or perhaps this person is just having problems at school or work. However, on closer examination, it is in fact bipolar disorder. If a person experiencing bipolar disorder does not receive treatment, the disorder can worsen, In this case it could break out into a full-fledged mania and a clinical depression.
Thoughts of death and suicidal tendencies are common among those with bipolar disorder. The constant nagging notion that it is an easy way out of a world filled with pain and hardships is hard to ignore. A sense of hopelessness and failure can make suicide out to be a way to cure the pain and free the individual from the tragedies of their daily life. They rationalize that it will relieve relatives of the burden of caretaking. Treatments do exist for this symptom that often turns into a wake up call for relatives. Attempted suicides have a way of bringing light to problems these teenagers may be having. Sure-fire attention getters, they should be taken as a cry for help. Suicide can be a glorified way out. It has a tempting finality to it, and end to all pain and suffering.
Most of the people with bipolar disorder can be treated and successfully helped. There are drugs out today that can help stabilize the moods swings brought on by this disorder. One such medication is lithium. This drug is very effective at controlling the mania and preventing the recurrence of both the manic and depressive episodes. Carbamazepine and valproate, mood stabilizing anticonlvulsants have also bee found very useful, most recently. These are especially useful with hard to manage bipolar episodes. Many times these are combined with the lithium for a maximum effect. These are used on both children and adults alike. For the depression, many types of antidepressants can be used in junction with the lithium, carbamazepine, and valproate.
There are also many treatments of bipolar disorder that do not involve drugs, or can be used along with the drugs. One such method would be ECT, or electroconvulsive therapy. Many times psychotherapy is used. This helps by providing support, education, and guidance to the patient and their family. Constructing a life chart of mood symptoms, medications, and life events may also be helpful for the health care professional to treat the illness more effectively. Because bipolar disorder is recurrent, a long-term preventive treatment is recommended, and is almost always indicated.
Many places are available for someone with bipolar disorder to turn to for help. Anyone with the disorder should seek the care of a psychiatrist who is skilled in that disease. Other mental health professions, such as psychiatrists, and psychiatric social workers, can assist with additional approaches to the treatment. University or medical school programs can assist, as well as health maintenance organizations. A few more places one can turn to for help are hospital departments of psychiatry, private psychiatric offices and clinics, and offices of family physicians, internists, and pediatricians.
People with this disorder do not recognize how impaired they are. They sometimes blame their problems on some other cause than a mental illness. For this reason people with bipolar disorder need encouragement from their family and friends to seek treatment. Anyone who is considering suicide needs immediate attention. With the appropriate help it is possible to overcome these suicidal tendencies. It is also important for the patients to understand that this disorder will not just go away, and that treatment is required to keep the disease under control.
Bipolar disorder is a very serious disease affecting at least two million Americans a year. It is very important that people become aware of this disorder so that it can be treated, so that needless suffering does not occur. It is possible that there are people all around us suffering and no one even notices them. There are so many technological advances in the world today to better our lives and it is important that we a re aware so that we can take the utmost advantage of them.
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