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What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder might be more stigmatized than any other mental health disorder. The term is also used incorrectly by many and by the media, leading people to think that someone who simply changes mood quickly is “bipolar.” These misconceptions can make life for those with the disorder difficult and even prevent some from getting the help they need.

Types of Bipolar Disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II

Bipolar disorder comes in two forms: Bipolar I and Bipolar II.

In Bipolar I, patients experience mania that is at least one week in duration and depression that is at least two weeks in duration. In some cases, mental health professionals may give someone a diagnosis of Bipolar I when these episodes are shorter but intense enough to put that person in the hospital.

In Bipolar II, each stage is shorter, and the symptoms can be less intense. While it may be less severe, Bipolar II patients still need the same support, compassion, and quality of care as those with Bipolar I.

The Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

A photo of a couple with two children.

Bipolar disorder causes manic moods in which patients become so manic that they stop taking care of the basic things in life, ignoring work, family, and even money. Manic stages can involve impulsive behavior that puts the individual and those around him at risk.

These patients also experience stages of deep depression, the polar opposite of their manic behaviors. Depressive stages can involve suicidal ideation and put patients at risk, as well.

These swings do not happen for a few moments or even a few days, but for weeks at end in some cases.

Manic Symptoms

  • Excessive energy levels
  • Feelings of extreme elation
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability with others
  • Racing thoughts
  • Excessive risk taking

Depressive Symptoms

  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Low energy levels
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Disordered eating
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of emptiness and detachment
  • Avoidance of favorite activities
  • Suicidal thoughts

Cyclothymic Disorder

Cyclothymic disorder also involves manic and depressive stages, but to a lesser degree than those experienced in bipolar disorder. These down and up swings may not occur as frequently throughout the year, either. When treating cyclothymic disorder, mental health professionals use many of the interventions they use with bipolar disorder.

Is There a Bipolar Test?

You cannot test for bipolar disorder with a blood test or a brain scan. The only way for a mental health professional to diagnose this disorder is to assess the patient in a clinical setting.

While therapists play a crucial role in assessing and supporting individuals with mental health concerns, diagnosing bipolar disorder typically requires the expertise of a licensed mental health professional with specific training in diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, such as a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist. These professionals have the knowledge and skills to conduct comprehensive assessments, review medical and psychiatric history, consider the duration and severity of symptoms, and differentiate between various mental health conditions.

Therapists, such as licensed counselors or social workers, may play a role in observing and discussing symptoms, but a definitive diagnosis of bipolar disorder typically involves a more in-depth evaluation by a psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. These professionals often use standardized diagnostic criteria (such as the criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5) to make accurate diagnoses.

If you have symptoms that makes you believe you may have Bipolar Disorder it is best to seek out a trained medical professional for a formal Bipolar Disorder testing and evaluation.

Comorbid Conditions

In many cases, a mental health professional may want to run a differential diagnosis. This is done to identify whether other comorbid disorders are involved, such as psychosis or addiction, and also to rule out other disorders that can cause symptoms similar to those in bipolar disorder.

This process is just like the core diagnostic procedure. Patients answer questions, fill out questionnaires, and create an overall picture of their mental health for the therapist.

How Many People Have Bipolar Disorder?

It is estimated that 2.6 percent of American adults have this disorder, which translates into around 5.7 million people. In other words, two or three people out of 100 have this disorder.

Research is much less clear when it comes to younger people. While some believe that as many as 750,000 children have bipolar disorder, there is no consensus on the diagnostic criteria used to diagnose children.

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

Some people do have greater risk factors when it comes to developing this disorder. Those with a specific gene variant may be prone to it, for example, and it tends to run in a family. Despite this genetic risk factor, almost anyone can develop bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options

Find Bipolar Disorder Treatment at LifeStance Health

LifeStance Health offers comprehensive treatment plans for people with Bipolar Disorder. Depending on the patient’s needs, this may include medication management as well as a variety of therapy types.

LifeStance also offers telehealth appointments (remote visits) as an option for patients who cannot leave home. Being unable to come into the office should not prohibit anyone from receiving treatment for their Bipolar Disorder. LifeStance telehealth treatment for Bipolar Disorder is just as rigorous and compassionate as our in-office treatments.