Is Bipolar Real: Recognizing Signs, Symptoms, And What To Do About It

Reviewed by Tanya Harrell, PhD, LPC, NCC

Published 01/07/2021

It is natural for people to experience mood changes, but bipolar disorder people may experience such changes with various severity levels. You may wonder if bipolar disorder real if you know little about it. Mood swings or mood shifts characterize it. A person with bipolar could have depression or mania, but it varies. It affects how a person has relationships and manages tasks related to daily living. It is not clear why a person experiences severe shifts to their moods. While there is no cure, there are ways to manage symptoms to encourage a productive lifestyle.

Bipolar Disorder Explained

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What is bipolar disorder? It is a mood disorder that includes intense mood changes that may occur in cycles. Also known as manic depressive disorder or manic depression, it creates serious thinking, behavior, energy, and mood changes. A person with bipolar may experience more than just ordinary mood swings. The changes in behavior and emotions may affect daily living, including relationships, work, school, and interfere with the abilities to get tasks done.

During what is referred to as a manic episode, a person’s mood shifts could be severe enough to result in making drastic or abrupt decisions or engage in actions they usually wouldn’t do through their emotions. An example might include racking up charges on a credit card or deciding to quit a job by impulse. To others, people may not realize such symptoms are a problem or recognize a person is emotionally suffering. While bipolar has unique symptoms that make it stand out, it can be misdiagnosed with some symptoms creating confusion and making treatment more challenging.

What People May Not Understand About Bipolar Disorder

It is vital to distinguish truths and myths about bipolar disorder. Understanding the facts makes a difference when learning how to help yourself or someone you know with the condition. Some believe people with bipolar are unable to live an everyday life; this is false. People with the illness live full lives having families, careers, and great relationships with people they care about. They can do so with proper support and coping skills.

Some believe people with bipolar have severe depression or mania, not quite. Some have mania, and some are depressed, but some may not show symptoms or have mild symptoms go unrecognized. Another common myth is that people think bipolar affects just a person’s mood; this is false. A person’s ability to concentrate, sleep, eat, memory and self-esteem could be affected. It may lead to unhealthy behaviors like substance abuse and other health problems like anxiety and high blood pressure. Some even believe bipolar can’t be controlled beyond medication; this is also false. People use a combination of medication, self-help techniques, and therapy to create a treatment plan to manage symptoms, minimize stress, and ensure their wellbeing stays on the right track.

Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

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Facts about bipolar disorder include knowing the symptoms and what causes them. Symptoms of the disorder mainly include depression, mania, and hypomania. A person may feel excited or be on an emotional high full of energy. The symptoms also determine the type of bipolar a person has. For example, Bipolar I Disorder may include mania, manic depression, or a mix of both. Bipolar II Disorder includes severe depression and hypomania. A mild form of bipolar is known as Cyclothymia with mild mood swings and less severe depression or mania.

Signs of mania include feeling euphoric. A person may have a lot of energy, feel like they can do anything, and talk fast or switch topics quickly in conversations. People also experience difficulty sleeping, engage in risky behaviors, feel more important than others, and show aggression when others challenge their viewpoints. When mania is severe, it may include delusions, hallucinations, and psychosis. People with mania may not realize their behavior is different, but others may view it as unusual. Symptoms of mania less severe are called hypomania.

Bipolar depression symptoms may involve feelings of restlessness, guilt, irritability, and mood swings. Some gain weight, sleep more often and have slower physical and speaking movements. Some develop symptoms more severe that interfere with their ability to socialize and work. Other bipolar depression symptoms include fatigue, feeling empty or sad, mental and physical sluggishness, concentration and memory problems, and self-harm thoughts.

Since bipolar occurs with various symptoms, it can be challenging to diagnose. It helps to understand when, how often, and intensity of symptoms when they happen when determining a diagnosis.

What Causes Symptoms?

While there is no single cause for bipolar disorder, researchers believe some people could be genetically susceptible to developing it. Other studies have shown some experience physical changes in their brain as another possible cause. Hormonal imbalance, high-stress hormone levels, and thyroid problems could also contribute.

A person’s symptoms could be influenced by environmental factors, such as circumstances or personal events. Also known as triggers, they could lead to depression, mania, and new symptoms or worsen existing symptoms. Some people have symptoms without triggers. If someone is genetically vulnerable, stress may lead to symptoms. Substance abuse of drugs or alcohol may lead to an episode of depression. Certain medications such as antidepressants, cold medicine, or caffeine could trigger mania. Seasonal changes could lead to depressive episodes, and lack of sleep could trigger mania.

How Bipolar Affects Children, Women, And Men

There are interesting facts about bipolar disorder that include how it affects people in different age groups. While this condition is involved, it affects people differently due to various factors such as age, genetics, and childhood development. False information and misconceptions could discourage people from seeking treatment. Understanding how it affects people gives more insight into why it is crucial to get the facts straight.

Children may have the disorder, but symptoms become noticeable as young adults or late teens. In some cases, it is not as easy to detect in children due to their behavioral changes as they grow. Parents may notice such changes in their child, such as acting silly or being extremely happy. Some symptoms are similar to ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

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Teens may engage in risky behavior such as fighting, drinking, drug use, unprotected sex, or do poorly on school work. They may show moody behavior, act out, or have a short temper.  Some may also experience depressive symptoms. Some have thoughts about self-harm.

Women tend to have milder symptoms and are most often diagnosed during their 20s or 30s. Women are also at a higher risk of having bipolar, along with another medical condition like anxiety. Women face a higher risk of relapse due to hormonal changes related to events such as pregnancy or menstruation.

Men are likely diagnosed when they are older. Men are at a higher risk of experiencing severe episodes of mania, including acting out. Men are also less likely to seek help while at a higher risk of self-harm or engaging in risky behavior.

Treatment And Self-Help For Bipolar Disorder

Is it true treatment helps establish bipolar remission? Once a treatment plan is established, people with bipolar may see symptoms stabilize for weeks or months in some cases. There are different aspects of treatment to consider, including medication, therapy, and self-help techniques. Many learning to manage their symptoms find a combination of these options is most effective.

Medications include options to stabilize your mood for the short or long term. Many participate in counseling or therapy sessions to work through their emotions and find solutions to make it easier to cope. Therapy options such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and interpersonal therapy help understand your thinking patterns while working to change habits to manage your symptoms and live better. Other alternatives people found beneficial as part of their treatment include supplements, acupuncture, and sleep medicine.

Making changes to your lifestyle plays a significant role as part of self-help. It helps with accepting your diagnosis and conforming to your new reality. Lifestyle changes include setting a schedule for eating, sleeping, and exercising. You may gain awareness of mood changes when they occur. You may have a support system, including close family and friends that understand your diagnosis and treatment.

Helping yourself also means staying informed. Gain as much knowledge as possible about bipolar disorder. What you learn will assist you during recovery. Know ways to keep your stress levels down by avoiding situations that make you feel uncomfortable. Know who to turn to when you need encouragement. Getting help for symptoms as soon as they are recognized can make a difference. Treatment is long-term, and adjustments may be necessary if relapse occurs.

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Anytime you need support, someone is always available. If you have thoughts of harming yourself, you can get help. There are many sources available online, providing mental health support by phone, email, and text. An example includes support available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-278-TALK or visits their website.

It is essential to understand bipolar disorder facts because the condition affects people differently. Recognizing signs and symptoms is crucial to obtaining a proper diagnosis and effective treatment.