Bipolar Disorder: Causes, Effects, Treatments

-By Sania Patel

Bipolar Disorder

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention defines mental health as the emotions, psychological, and social aspects that make up one’s well-being. These parts can be greatly affected by internal and external conditions, which can further affect how certain people think, feel, and act. The state of one’s mental health can determine the structure of their daily life, their habits, relationships, physical health, and management of stress. Often, mental health is used as an overlying word to describe mental disorders and illnesses. Both mental illness and mental disorder refer to the same overlying theme, but differ slightly in their exact definition.

Mental disorders describe a state in which a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, and behavior is affected. Mental illnesses are the corresponding health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior. These effects can be short-term or chronic, depending on the type of disorder and treatment received.

When used in conversation, mental disorders are widely recognized and acknowledged. Some examples include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, autism, dementia, bipolar disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Mental disorders, or illnesses - the term can be used interchangeably - are extremely common in the United States. According to the American Psychiatric Association, nearly one in five (approximately 19 percent) of U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness. Of that number, another 4.1 percent suffer from a serious mental illness. Serious mental illnesses include mental, behavioral, or emotional disorders that result in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits the performance of daily activities.

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental health illness that causes extreme mood swings. An individual affected by this disorder will experience emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression). Mania and hypomania are two distinct types of episodes. Mania is more severe than hypomania, as it causes more noticeable physical and mental problems. It may also trigger psychosis that may require hospitalization. Both manic and hypomanic episodes include symptoms such as, abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired, increased activity, energy or agitation, decreased need for sleep, unusual talkativeness, racing thoughts, distractibility, poor decision making, and an exaggerated sense of well-being and euphoria.

On the other hand, bipolar patients also face major depressive episodes. They may face a depressed mood (such as feeling sad, emty, hopeless, or tearful). They may also have symptoms, such as, marked loss of interest, insomnia or sleeping too much, restlessness or slowed behavior, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness and inappropriate guilt. The most common symptoms are suicidal thoughts, a decreased ability to think or concentrate, and significant weight loss or weight gain. Both bipolar I and bipolar II disorders include similar features. Some of these features include anxious distress, melancholy, and psychosis. The timing of symptoms may depend on diagnostic labels - mixed or rapid cycling, and these cycles may be affected by environmental or biological changes (change with the seasons or pregnancy).

There are several types of bipolar and bipolar related disorders, including, Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder. Bipolar I disorder involves at least one manic episode that is preceded or followed by a hypomanic or major depressive episode. It is possible for the manic episode to involve a break from reality. Individuals with Bipolar II disorder face at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but never a manic episode. Finally, patients with cyclothymic disorder have had at least two years of many symptoms of hypomania and depression. Cyclothymic disorder is more common to affect children and teenagers, while bipolar disorders are often apparent in adults and the elderly. Each of these disorders are a completely different diagnosis and deserve specific treatment.

According to the National Health Service (NHS), the three main causes of bipolar disorder are a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics, and triggers. Dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline are some of the main brain chemicals that control the brain’s neurotransmitters. One or more neurotransmitters facing chemical imbalance can cause symptoms of bipolar disorder to develop. The NHS provides an example-

“…episodes of mania may occur when levels of noradrenaline are too high, and episodes of depression may be the result of noradrenaline levels becoming too low.”

The second main cause is genetics. There are some studies and medical evidence that looks towards genetics as a link to the development of bipolar disorder. This means that family members of a person with bipolar disorder are more likely to develop the mental condition themselves. Berit Kerner, an author for the National Library of Medicine, believes that there may be connections between the illness and the common single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNPs are notorious in their ability to mutate neurotransmitters and chemical levels within the brain, thus causing an imbalance of emotions.

Finally, triggers play a massive role in the development of bipolar disorder. A stressful situation or circumstance may involve symptoms associated with the mental illness. Some examples of stressful triggers inlcude the breakdown of a relationship, physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, and the death of a loved one. The mental condition may also be triggered by physical illness, sleep disturbances, and overwhelming problems in everyday life.

The effects of bipolar disorder are detrimental, as it affects how one feels constantly. The mood swings can cause issues in relationships and lead to a decrease in social interaction. Bipolar disorders can lead to increased self-harm, irregular sleep patterns, destructive behaviors, paranoia, extreme weight fluctuations, irritability, delusion, indesciveness, and an excessive desire for sex.

Overall, bipolar disorder is an extreme case of mood swings that is harmful to an individual’s physical and mental well being. There are many forms of treatment including therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Usually involving mood stabilizers, antidepressants, anti-anxiety, and antipsychotic medications, these prescription drugs are used to diminish the symptoms and effects of bipolar disorder on an individual’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Different forms of therapy are also used to treat the mental illness. Psychotherapy, or “talk therapy” has many different types involving, family-focus, psychoeducation, cognitive behavior, and interpersonal and social rhythm. Family focused therapy helps build a support system with loved ones, helping them recognize the beginning of an episode, while psychoeducation is used to teach family members about bipolar disorder and how to treat its progression. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is used to replace bad habits and negative triggers of bipolar disorder. Finally, interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPRST) is used to set up a daily routine for everything to keep one’s mood stable and develop a sense of independence from the disorder.

The last form of treatment involves a complete change in habits, tendencies, and comfort zones. Although lifestyle changes may cause anxiety for an individual who has bipolar disorder, it may lead to their overall benefit. Lifestyle changes are not meant to be monotonous challenges one must overcome, instead patients with bipolar disorder are encouraged to get regular exercise, stay on schedule for eating and sleeping, keep a diary, analyze their mood swings, find healthy hobbies or sports, and develop a social circle of supportive friends and family.

Overall, by implementing a nurturing combination of these three elements, an individual suffering from bipolar disorder develops independence and self-reliability. They are able to control themselves during mood swings, thus allowing them to trust themselves. This further helps the individual grow socially, and focus on their mental and physical wellbeing.