Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition involving severe mood, energy, and behavior shifts. While there is no one cause of the condition, various genetic, biological, and environmental factors may play a role in its development.
For individuals with bipolar disorder and their loved ones, learning more about these factors may help them understand the condition and identify how to manage it more effectively.
Possible Causes Of Bipolar Disorder
Below are some of the various factors that may contribute to the development of bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder is often considered a genetic mental illness, and research shows that people who have a first-degree relative with the condition have a higher risk of developing it themselves. Research into the genetics of bipolar disorder is ongoing, but some studies suggest that variations in genes may combine to increase the risk of developing bipolar disorder. According to other studies, 60% to 85% of all risk of developing the condition is genetic.
In addition to genetic factors, research suggests that differences in brain structure and functioning may cause the development of bipolar disorder, as there appear to be subtle physical differences in the brains of people with the condition.
An imbalance of brain chemicals may also contribute, as there is some evidence that a person may develop symptoms of bipolar disorder if they have an imbalance in the levels of one or more neurotransmitters, such as noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine, which are some of the chemicals responsible for controlling the brain’s functions.
A few medical conditions have also been closely associated with bipolar disorder. For example, bipolar disorder may occur in connection with multiple sclerosis, Cushing’s disease, or stroke.
Significant Losses Or Traumatic Events
When faced with a significant loss, such as the death of a close family member or loved one, some people experience shifts in their mood. Depression has been closely associated with the grieving process and is often considered a stage of grief. However, mania or hypomania can also follow a loss for people with bipolar disorders. Major losses and other traumatic events can affect mood, habits, and lifestyle and may incite a manic or depressive episode.
Other Life Stressors
People can develop various health challenges when under extreme stress. Medical conditions like gastrointestinal disorders may emerge as life stressors increase and could indicate a correlation with bipolar disorder. Similarly, stressors can incite the onset or worsening of bipolar disorder. A demanding job, a difficult divorce, or taking on too many responsibilities are a few stressors that may contribute to the development of this condition.
Substance misuse may increase the risk of bipolar disorder or cause an episode. Researchers have noted that bipolar disorder and alcohol use disorder often occur together, and alcohol can often cause mania or severe depression.
There has also been research into whether caffeine consumption impacts the course of bipolar disorder, but the research has not been conclusive.
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
Can You Prevent Bipolar Disorder?
There is no definitive way to prevent bipolar disorder. However, there are ways to keep the condition from worsening, and treatments are available for bipolar disorder to manage the condition. Treatment for bipolar disorder often includes a combination of approaches, such as talk therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle choices.
Healthy lifestyle habits that may help individuals manage the condition alongside professional treatment may include:
Eating a balanced diet
Reducing alcohol consumption
Getting adequate sleep
Reducing life stressors
Learning relaxation techniques to cope with unavoidable stressors
If you want to explore medication for bipolar disorder, talk to your doctor to examine your options and determine what might work best for you. In addition, consult a doctor before starting, changing, or stopping a medication.
Therapy is another treatment option for bipolar disorder, regardless of the subtype or cause. Talk therapy may help you develop coping strategies, make lifestyle changes, learn relaxation techniques, process a significant loss, and work through concerns that may be causing you distress. You can seek help from a therapist in person near you or connect with a licensed therapist online through a platform like BetterHelp.
Different people may have different preferences, but for some people with bipolar disorder, the symptoms that can arise during depressive episodes may make it difficult to leave the house for therapy. With online therapy, you can have sessions from the comfort of your home, which may be more convenient. In addition, online platforms may offer unique features, such as worksheets or group sessions, which can be included in a weekly or monthly subscription cost.
Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of online therapy for bipolar disorder, with one such study providing evidence of the efficacy of internet-based psychoeducation interventions for bipolar disorder in reducing depressive symptoms. Another study found that 95% of participants with bipolar disorder reported improved quality of life after treatment.
If you are interested in seeking therapy but depressive symptoms are making it difficult to commute to an appointment, online therapy may be a convenient alternative, as it allows you to have sessions from the comfort of your home.
Can you ever be normal with bipolar?
The term "normal" can be subjective and varies among individuals. However, many people with bipolar disorder lead fulfilling, productive lives with effective management and treatment. "Normal" in this context may refer to achieving a level of stability and functionality that allows individuals to engage in daily activities, pursue goals, and maintain positive relationships.
Can bipolar disorder go away?
Bipolar disorder is generally considered a chronic and lifelong condition. It typically involves recurrent episodes of mania or hypomania (elevated mood) and depression (low mood). While the causes of bipolar 1 and bipolar 2 disorders are somewhat unknown, both may be triggered by social factors, stressful life events, physical illnesses, and others. While bipolar disorder does not typically go away on its own, effective treatment and management strategies can significantly improve symptoms and allow individuals to lead fulfilling lives.
How do I know if I'm bipolar?
If you are wondering if you are bipolar, you may consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate assessment. While the exact cause of bipolar disorder may be unknown, a mental health professional has the training and expertise to properly diagnose and treat bipolar symptoms. That being said, here are some common signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder:
- Mood Swings: Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings. These include periods of mania or hypomania (elevated mood) and periods of depression (low mood). Mania involves symptoms like increased energy, impulsivity, and decreased need for sleep, while depression includes symptoms like sadness, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
- Changes in Activity and Energy Levels: During manic or hypomanic episodes, individuals may experience a significant increase in energy levels, restlessness, and a heightened sense of activity. In depressive episodes, there may be a decrease in energy, fatigue, and a lack of motivation.
- Sleep Disturbances: Changes in sleep patterns may be common. During manic episodes, individuals may require less sleep, while during depressive episodes, they may experience insomnia or excessive sleeping.
- Impulsivity: Impulsive behaviors, such as excessive spending, risky sexual activity, or making impulsive decisions with potentially negative consequences, may occur during manic or hypomanic episodes.
- Difficulty Concentrating: Both manic and depressive episodes can impact concentration and focus. Racing thoughts during manic episodes and cognitive slowing during depressive episodes are common.
- Changes in Appetite: Appetite changes, including increased or decreased eating, may be observed during a mood episode.
- Feelings of Elation or Hopelessness: During manic episodes, individuals may feel extremely elated, confident, and optimistic. During depressive episodes, there may be feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and a lack of interest in activities.
- Irritability: Irritability is common during both manic and depressive episodes.
How do you calm a person with bipolar disorder?
Caring for and supporting someone with bipolar disorder requires understanding and patience. Here are some strategies that may help calm a person with bipolar disorder:
- Stay Calm Yourself: Maintain a calm and composed demeanor. If you remain calm, it can help the person feel more secure and supported.
- Validate Their Feelings: Acknowledge the person's feelings without judgment. Let them know that you understand they are going through a challenging time.
- Encourage Self-Care: Remind the person to engage in self-care activities, such as getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and participating in activities they enjoy. Self-care may be important for mood stability.
- Encourage Medication Adherence: If the person is prescribed medication, encourage them to take it as prescribed. Medication adherence is a crucial aspect of managing bipolar disorder.
- Create a Safe Environment: Ensure that the environment is safe and free from potential stressors. Minimize unnecessary stimuli and create a calm and supportive space.
- Know Warning Signs: Be familiar with the person's warning signs of mood episodes and what triggers or causes bipolar disorder episodes. Understanding the early signs can help in taking preventive measures and seeking timely support.
- Seek Professional Help: If the person is in crisis or if their symptoms are severe, you may encourage them to seek professional help. You can offer to assist in making appointments or contacting their mental health provider.
Is bipolar a mental illness or disorder?
"Bipolar disorder" and "mental illness" are terms often used interchangeably, and bipolar disorder is indeed a type of mental illness. Mental illness is a broad term that encompasses various conditions affecting a person's thoughts, emotions, behavior, and overall mental well-being.
Bipolar disorder, specifically, is a mental health condition characterized by significant mood swings or episodes. Individuals with bipolar disorder experience periods of mania or hypomania (elevated mood) and periods of depression (low mood). These mood episodes can impact daily functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life. It may be important to note that for individuals with bipolar disorder, treatment with a mental health professional is often effective.
What is a person with bipolar disorder like?
Individuals with bipolar disorder can have diverse personalities, strengths, and challenges, just like anyone else. Bipolar disorder primarily affects mood, leading to periods of mania or hypomania (elevated mood) and periods of depression (low mood). The symptoms and characteristics of bipolar disorder can vary widely among individuals, and not everyone will experience the same features.
Here's an overview of how a person with bipolar disorder might be during different mood states:
Manic or Hypomanic Episodes:
- Elevated Mood: During manic or hypomanic episodes, a person may experience an elevated or irritable mood. They may feel excessively optimistic, have heightened self-esteem, and exhibit increased confidence.
- Increased Energy: There is often a significant increase in energy levels, leading to hyperactivity and a decreased need for sleep.
- Racing Thoughts: Thoughts may come rapidly, making it difficult to focus on one topic. The mind may jump from idea to idea, and individuals might feel a sense of urgency.
- Impulsivity: Manic episodes can lead to impulsive behaviors, such as excessive spending, risky sexual behaviors, or making impulsive decisions with potentially negative consequences.
- Low Mood: Depressive episodes are characterized by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest or pleasure in activities.
- Negative Thoughts: Individuals may experience negative thoughts about themselves, their abilities, or their future. This can include feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
- Difficulty Concentrating: Concentration and decision-making may become challenging. Cognitive slowing and difficulties with memory may also be present.
- Fatigue: A pervasive sense of fatigue and low energy is common, making it difficult to engage in daily activities.
Can a person with bipolar disorder live without medication?
The use of medication is a common and often important component of the treatment plan for bipolar disorder. Medications, such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and sometimes antidepressants, are prescribed to help manage mood swings, stabilize mood, and prevent the recurrence of manic or depressive episodes.
While medication can be highly effective in controlling symptoms and promoting stability, it's important to note that treatment decisions are individualized, and there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Some individuals with bipolar disorder may be able to manage their symptoms with medication, while others may require a combination of medication and other therapeutic interventions to manage the chemical imbalance.
What vitamins are good for people with bipolar disorder?
While a healthy diet is important for overall well-being, there is no specific vitamin or combination of vitamins proven to treat or cure bipolar disorder. However, certain nutritional strategies, such as adding omega-3s or vitamin D supplements, may contribute to overall health and support individuals with bipolar disorder as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet or adding supplements.
What happens if bipolar disorder is never treated?
If bipolar disorder is not treated, it can have significant and potentially serious consequences for the individual's well-being and quality of life. Some of the potential outcomes of untreated bipolar disorder include:
- Increased Severity and Frequency of Mood Episodes: Without treatment, bipolar episodes (manic, hypomanic, and depressive) may become more severe and occur more frequently. This can lead to greater disruptions in daily life and increased difficulty managing symptoms.
- Impaired Functioning: The untreated symptoms of bipolar disorder can interfere with a person's ability to perform daily activities, maintain employment, and sustain healthy relationships. The impact on social, occupational, and academic functioning can be significant.
- Risk of Substance Use: Individuals with untreated bipolar disorder may be at an increased risk of using substances such as alcohol or recreational drugs as a way of self-medicating to cope with mood swings or other symptoms.
- Relationship Strain: The mood swings and behavioral changes associated with untreated bipolar disorder can strain relationships with family members, friends, and colleagues. Communication difficulties, impulsivity, and other symptoms can contribute to interpersonal conflicts.
Bipolar disorder is a treatable condition. With appropriate and timely intervention, individuals with bipolar disorder can lead fulfilling lives, manage symptoms effectively, and reduce the impact of the disorder on their overall well-being. Seeking professional help, which may include using different medications, psychotherapy, and lifestyle adjustments, may be important for achieving stability and improving quality of life.
How long can a person with bipolar disorder live?
Individuals with bipolar disorder can live a normal lifespan with proper management and treatment. Bipolar disorder itself does not directly impact life expectancy. However, certain factors associated with bipolar disorder, such as an increased risk of co-occurring health conditions, lifestyle factors, and the potential for substance use, can influence overall health.
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