Bipolar disorder, for many who experience it, is sort of like a slow-moving roller coaster: there are ups, there are downs, but there are also periods of in-between or seeming normalcy that can make peaks feel all the more disorienting and out of control.
Living with bipolar disorder is no easy task, especially if you’ve not received an appropriate diagnosis or started a treatment plan. If you suspect you may be experiencing bipolar disorder symptoms, it may benefit you significantly to take some time to reflect upon, and then act on, your experiences with the support of an online therapist.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that results in extreme shifts in mood. This includes emotional highs (mania or hypomania) at one point and lows (depression) at other periods. The disorder was formerly called manic depression but has since been updated to more accurately describe the disorder and distinguish it from other mental illnesses.
During bouts of bipolar depression or low points, those with bipolar disorder may experience feelings of sadness, helplessness, and a loss of interest in activities, even those that used to be enjoyable. When one’s mood shifts to mania or hypomania (less extreme than mania), one may feel full of energy, euphoric, or unusually irritable. These mood swings can have a serious impact on one’s life, affecting sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior, and the ability to think clearly. People with bipolar disorder may have trouble managing everyday tasks at work, school, or even maintaining relationships.
Mood swing episodes may occur rarely or multiple times a year. While most people will experience some emotional symptoms between episodes, some may not experience any. Bipolar depression typically lasts at least two weeks. Other times, a high (manic) episode can last for several days or weeks.
Bipolar disorder is not a rare mental health condition. 2.8 percent of U.S. adults — or about 5 million people — have been diagnosed with it. It typically develops during the teen years or early adulthood. The average age for people diagnosed with bipolar disorder is around 25 years old.
Although bipolar spectrum disorders are lifelong conditions, it’s possible to manage mood swings and other symptoms by following a treatment plan. In most cases, bipolar disorder is successfully treated by psychological counseling (psychotherapy), and sometimes anti-anxiety medications.
If you suspect you may have bipolar disorder, it can be very validating and beneficial to further explore your symptoms. Taking a bipolar self-test or an official diagnostic exam can give you important insight into just how bipolar disorder impacts your life.
Numerous resources meant to “test” whether or not an individual has bipolar disorder (or other mental health issues) exist online, but it’s important to note that these sorts of tests do not replace professional testing and are unable to diagnose bipolar disorder on their own.
They can be a good way to become familiar with various symptoms associated with bipolar disorder and reflect upon how your experiences have affected your well-being. The more you can understand your potential bipolar disorder, the better; having a lot to share with your doctor or therapist will likely make the diagnostic and treatment process easier.
Regardless, if you’d like to take a bipolar disorder test, your first step should be to seek out a licensed healthcare professional. Once you’ve expressed your concerns, you and your professional can begin exploring what sort of testing might be appropriate as a diagnostic tool.
A screening test is done to detect potential health disorders or diseases in people who do not have any symptoms of disease or a mental health condition.
The goal of screening is early detection and lifestyle changes or surveillance. This helps reduce the risk of disease or detect it early enough to treat it most effectively. They are not considered diagnostic but are instead used to identify a subset of the population who should have additional testing to determine the presence or absence of disease.
The most common screening test for Bipolar Disorder is the Mood Disorder Questionnaire (MDQ), though there are many other tests that mental health providers use. Typically a bipolar disorder test will ask the participant a variety of questions to determine if an individual is experiencing symptoms of manic or depressive episodes.
Be sure to consult a licensed mental health professional regarding the appropriate timing and frequency of the screening test based on age, overall health, and medical history. It’s important to answer each question carefully and thoroughly. Before one’s appointment, it’s helpful to make a list of:
When working on a diagnosis for bipolar disorder, the usual method most professionals follow is first to rule out other medical conditions or disorders.
To understand the condition better, the healthcare provider will:
If the healthcare provider does not find a medical issue or cause, they may refer the patient to a mental health professional like a psychiatrist or psychologist. A mental health professional may prescribe a treatment plan to treat the condition. A psychologist can also teach techniques to help recognize and manage shifts in mood.
Getting a proper diagnosis may take multiple sessions or examinations. The symptoms of bipolar disorder tend to overlap with those of other mental disorders and mental health issues, like anxiety, so professionals need to do their due diligence and rule out any other concerns.
Having a good feel for what sort of concerning symptoms you’re experiencing can help speed up how long it takes to receive an accurate diagnosis. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the following symptoms before your visit.
Mania and hypomania are two distinct types of episodes, but they have the same symptoms. Mania is more severe than hypomania and causes more noticeable problems at home, work, school, or related social activities. The individual may also face difficulties in maintaining and managing personal and professional relationships. Mania may also trigger a break from reality (psychosis) and require hospitalization.
Both a manic and a hypomanic episode include three or more of these symptoms:
A major depressive episode includes severe symptoms that cause noticeable difficulty in day-to-day activities. This affects almost all areas of life, including work, school, social activities, or relationships.
An episode may include the following symptoms:
There are four types of bipolar disorder an individual may be diagnosed with, and each has slightly different criteria, as outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). For these to be diagnosed, the criteria have to be filled for at least one episode of mania. The psychiatrist, therapist, or psychologist will help identify the type of bipolar disorder based on their psychological evaluation exams.
The symptoms of the episodes also should not be attributable to schizophrenia or other mental health problems falling under the category of a psychotic disorder or schizophrenia spectrum disorder.
The best way to manage bipolar disorder and its symptoms are long-term treatment. Healthcare providers usually prescribe a combination of psychotherapy and at-home therapies.
Psychotherapy is a key part of treating bipolar disorder. It involves the use of psychological methods to help a person change behavior and overcome problems in desired ways. It can be carried out in an individual, family, or group setting.
Some psychotherapies that may be helpful include:
Several different medications are typically prescribed to help with the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Medication may include mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and antipsychotics. Antianxiety medications may also be prescribed in some cases, as anxiety is a common comorbid condition in individuals with bipolar disorder. Always consult with your healthcare professional before starting or stopping the medication.
There are several steps you can take to create lifestyle changes that can help stop cycles of behavior that make bipolar disorder worse.
Here are some steps to take:
If you or your loved ones are facing bipolar disorder or are interested in learning more about the condition, help is available. You can make use of multiple online resources like BetterHelp (for adults) or TeenCounseling (for those under 18).
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