By Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT
Bipolar disorder is characterized as a mood disorder, often referred to as manic-depressive disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder which carries a psychiatric diagnosis. Persons with bipolar disorder may experience periods of deep depression with breaks of mania as a complete mood shift. People with bipolar disorder often have cycles of elevated and depressed mood that fit the description of “manic depression.” Typically, when a person’s illness follows this classic pattern of elevated mood, depressed mood, hyperactivity, impulsivity, low energy, etc., recognizing and diagnosing bipolar disorder can be relatively easy.
Like most mental illnesses, the symptoms for bipolar disorder can be more pronounced or present themselves differently from person to person. It is important to both understand and remember that bipolar disorder is marked by extreme mood “swings” on one’s “emotional pole” between intense euphoria and severe depression.
Common Characteristics of Bipolar Disorder Include:
· Racing thoughts
· Rapid or pressured speech
· Flight of ideas
· Euphoria (part of manic cycling)
· Suicidal thoughts/suicidal ideations
· Loss of interests in things once enjoyed
· Low energy
· Bursts of energy
· Gambling, excessive shopping, or overall overspending
· Feelings of guilt
· Angry mood without identifiable source/irritability
· Careless use of drugs, alcohol, or both (self-medicating)
· Marked changes in sleeping or eating patterns (sleeping or eating too much or too little)
· Changes in work performance, i.e., missing work, deadlines, underperforming, etc.
· Pain without any identifiable cause
· Chronic sadness
· Intense feelings of hopelessness
· Distorted perception of events
I began my work with a young woman named Ann 2 years ago, following what Ann describes as “strong” encouragement from her employers. As per Ann she was given no choice regarding her desire to seek or secure therapy. Ann insisted she was being “bullied” into attending therapy to avoid losing her job. During our initial phase of work together Ann appeared to be both confused and resentful regarding her employer’s insistence that she needed to “talk to someone”. She attributes her employers “insistence” to a recent meeting she had been entrusted to coordinate. Although, Ann recognizes and accepts she had failed to answer some of the key questions addressed to her during the meeting, she maintained the meeting was a success overall. However, Ann was shocked when she had been called into her supervisor’s office the following morning to discuss her “outrageous behavior” during the meeting. According to Ann, her supervisor suggested her behavior during the meeting was bizarre, she appeared to “speak extremely fast”, “drift from topic to topic”, was “disorganized”, “paced around the room repeatedly” during her presentation, and “behaved provocatively” toward male staff members. In contrast to her supervisors account of the meeting, Ann thought she presented herself “well”, “showed quick wit”, and “touched on the topics that were most relevant to the mission of the organization”.
Upon further work with Ann she disclosed she had been raised in foster care for most of her life. During her placement in care Ann reports being prescribed “medications to treat anxiety and depression”. However, once she aged out of care she no longer maintained her therapeutic appointments, nor did she feel the need to continue taking the medications prescribed. Ann was not able to remember the name of the medications being prescribed or clinical diagnosis. She remembers becoming “disorganized”, “anxious”, “sexually aggressive with men”, and a little “flighty” during times of intense stress.
Effective treatment for bipolar disorder can make a significant impact in the lives of people with the disorder. Appropriate treatment of bipolar disorder can help those struggling with the disorder gain better control of their mood swings and other bipolar symptoms. An effective treatment plan usually includes a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Unfortunately, bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness, but remission and reprieve from symptoms is possible. Persons with bipolar disorder experience episodes of mania and depression that typically return over time. Between episodes, many people with bipolar disorder are free of mood changes, but some people may have lingering symptoms.