Less common than depression or anxiety disorders, about 1% of the population suffers from bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is characterized by periods of drastic mood swings that can last hours, days, or months. There are two main types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I, commonly called “manic-depression,” is the less common of the two types, but is more severe and dangerous. During a manic episode, your behavior may become impulsive, wild, and erratic: you may engage in risky sexual activities, uncontrolled spending, and inappropriate public displays of exhibitionism, uncontrolled rage, or acts of daring. At the extreme, manic episodes can resemble psychosis: you may have delusions of grandeur or paranoia. In these extreme ranges, hospitalization is sometimes required to protect the person from highly dangerous actions. Depressive episodes can have a sudden onset and be quite severe: suicide is relatively common among people with Bipolar I, and hospitalization can be required during a depressive episode as well.
Bipolar II occurs more frequently than Bipolar I, but it is the least known form of bipolar disorder and often undiagnosed even by therapists, counselors, and psychiatrists. People who suffer from this may have rapid thoughts and increased energy during their “up” periods (called hypomania). They usually appear to others as simply effective, high-energy people, because they don’t exhibit the more dramatic behaviors associated with Bipolar I. Individuals with Bipolar II typically seek treatment during a depressed period with the most common misdiagnosis is actually Major Depression. Both Bipolar I and Bipolar II sufferers usually alternate between manic or hypomanic episodes and depression, but the episodes often last a very long time, and one or the other may predominate. A less common but also serious form of Bipolar Disorder is called “rapid cycling”: in this form, manic/hypomanic episodes alternate with depressive periods often several times per day or even per hour. Although all types of mood disorders probably have biological roots, Bipolar Disorder is truly a “brain disease”: often sufferers find that once their disorder is under control they are relatively free of psychological problems.
The common misdiagnosis of Bipolar Diagnosis causes unnecessary suffering at the minimum and, at worst, can make the disease more severe. Therapists sometimes dismiss bipolar patients as suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder, generally considered untreatable. Other times, especially with Bipolar II, the person will be given SSRI antidepressant medication that can actually worsen the disease. For these reasons, half the battle in combating Bipolar Disorder is obtaining an accurate assessment.
The Oak & Associates, LLC therapists have extensive experience working with Bipolar Disorder, and therefore we are highly skilled in both diagnosis and treatment. Early treatment for bipolar disorder is very important because of a phenomenon called the “kindling effect”. Small episodes of “cycling,” if untreated, can trigger large-scale episodes that occur more often, are more severe, and are more resistant to treatment–just as a raging forest fire can be started from a single match and dry tinder. Medication is usually necessary to treat any form of Bipolar Disorder, and so we have long-standing working relationships with a select few psycho-pharmacologists who are expert in treating this disease.
However, medication alone is rarely enough. If you suffer from any type of bipolar disorder, we will help you and your family toward understanding the disease and its significance and come to grips with the fact that you have a condition that may require lifelong medication. We can help you identify your own “cycling patterns” so that you prevent the extreme ranges of your mood swings and/or know when it’s time to get your medication fine-tuned. Structure and routine in daily life activities help to manage bipolar disorder, and so we focus on helping you make changes in your life that stabilize you. If you have Bipolar Disorder, we will help you lead a perfectly normal and productive life despite your disease; indeed, research indicates that people with this condition are often more creative and imaginative than the average person.