Bipolar Disorder: The Truth & How It Can Be Confused With Depression

It occurs and develops through time, but most of the time, it is left undiagnosed. It affects around 5.7 million American adults, which means that there is a chance you have loved ones suffering from it. It is a term widely (and loosely) used, but is rarely understood. This is bipolar disorder.

A Background On Bipolar Disorder

It used to be known as manic depression. Bipolar disorder causes anyone who has it to have extreme and unusual shifts in their energy, mood, and activity levels.

This is not just your usual hormonal or stress-induced mood swings, and definitely falls far from the usual sugar rush. This reaches a level that can affect the way a person functions in everyday life.

This illness comes in four forms:

  • Bipolar I Disorder

This is defined by manic episodes that can reach up to 7 days, sometimes reaching a severe level that the person suffering from it would have to be hospitalized. This is not just about having extreme mania or intense energy levels – it also involves depression at different stages added to the mix.

  • Bipolar II Disorder

This shows a clear pattern of both depressive and manic episodes, but not in an intensity similar to that of someone with Bipolar I disorder.

  • Cyclothymic Disorder

This involves a number of periods of depression and hypomania that stretches over a period of 2 years, although for children and adolescents, only a year is needed to be categorized under this group.

  • Other Bipolar and Related Disorders

Anything related to the symptoms above but do not necessarily fall under any of the three previously discussed categories.

Seeing that this disorder comes in so many forms, it makes you realize how challenging it truly can be to figure out if you or someone you know suffers from bipolar disorder. In fact, a lot of people already have it, but are unaware of the fact. This is where the need for knowledge and information about the illness steps in.

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms may vary, but you should be able to notice simple changes in a person’s attitude, mood, energy and activity over a period of time. From here, you can tell if a person needs help.

A person with bipolar disorder would often display intense emotions, sometimes shifting from one to the next. You can see them showing extreme joy one minute and switch to intense anger in a snap. Sleeping patterns are also affected.

Here are some of the clear signs that someone is having a manic episode:

  • Extreme elation
  • Extreme energy levels
  • Increased activity levels
  • Feeling extremely jumpy or wired
  • Talking really fast about a number of things
  • Being extremely irritable, agitated, or touchy
  • Urges to do a number of things all at the same time
  • Taking on severe risks like spending an unusual amount of money in one go or being sexually reckless
  • Trouble sleeping

People with bipolar episodes also experience bouts of depression. Here are some signs of a depressive episode:

  • Feeling hopeless or extremely sad
  • Little to no energy
  • Decrease in activity levels
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Unable to enjoy anything
  • Feeling empty or worried
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Becoming forgetful
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Thoughts about suicide or death in general

Now you have to understand that a bipolar could show both manic and depressive symptoms, sometimes abruptly, sometimes over a period of time. Also, you do not need to wait until someone shows severe mania.

In fact, someone may show hypomania (a less severe manic episode) and be productive compared to the person’s usual performance.

The Weight of Proper Diagnosis

Seeing all the signs and symptoms of a possible bipolar disorder, you can probably tell where the challenge comes from.

If you (or someone you know) have bipolar disorder then you can also display different signs that are related to other related mental illnesses, like anxiety, ADHD, psychosis, or substance abuse.

This is where it usually gets tricky.

Different mental illnesses require different forms of treatment. Diagnose bipolar disorder incorrectly, and you have a huge problem on your hands.

Another challenge here is that you may only seek help when you show signs of depression, and not when you experience mania.

Because of this, if you have bipolar disorder you can sometimes be misdiagnosed with major depression and do not get the specific kind of help that you need.

The Risk Factors

Just as any other mental illness, there are different things that could heighten the risk of having bipolar disorder.

  • First degree relatives who also have bipolar disorder
  • Extreme stress
  • Alcohol or drug abuse
  • Major shifts in life, like traumatic experiences or the death of a loved one

Any of these could immediately trigger the start of manic or depressive episodes imminent in bipolar disorder. Should you know anybody who has these signs, or should you have these same factors in your life as well, make sure you keep a lookout for the symptoms.

Fighting The Illness

The moment you decide to take that step towards redemption, understand that the treatments and drugs alone will not help. There are lifestyle changes that you would have to make, as well as allowances in the people you surround yourself with.

Here are a few strategies that could help you cope with it:

  • Learn more about bipolar disorder. The more you educate yourself, the more equipped you are in fighting this battle.
  • Set goals and focus on them. Set a few recovery goals in mind. You can figure out how to reach out to someone who was affected by your severe mood swings and repair that relationship. The goals may vary. The important thing is to constantly think about these goals and pour your heart out into making them happen.
  • Find a support group. Nobody knows what you’re going through except for people who are going through the same thing themselves. Find support groups for people with bipolar disorder in your area and have a few additional hands that would hold yours throughout the recovery stage.
  • Find healthy outlets. Steer away from the usual triggers, like drinking or partying and find healthier activities. You can workout or take up a new hobby.
  • Study stress management. Find ways to relax and learn how to manage your stress levels. Remember that life will always throw challenges at you – it’s a matter of knowing how to face these challenges that makes the difference.

It’s a challenging fight, but it’s definitely worth fighting. Bipolar disorder may take a lot from you, but bouncing back and recovering from it can open up opportunities that you may never have if you haven’t gone through the process.