For people with bipolar disorder, holding down a job can be challenging. Interpersonal communication can hinder job performance, as well as a sudden onset of symptoms. “Mood fluctuations from untreated bipolar disorder can impair the ability to complete tasks or projects,” explains psychiatrist Alan Prossin, MBBS, a clinical lecturer in the department of psychiatry at […]
When it comes to mental illness, there are plenty of stereotypes. But in reality, mood disorders can be hard to pinpoint-particularly in people with bipolar disorder symptoms.
“Chalking it up to moodiness or trouble at work or tiredness is pretty common,” says Carrie Bearden, PhD, an associate professor in residence of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and psychology at the David Geffen School of Medical at UCLA.
Here are 8 signs that your mood problems may be more than just a personality quirk:
Bipolar disorder is characterized by up-and-down episodes of mania and depression. During a manic phase, some patients can have a total break from reality. Hypomania, which is also a symptom of the disorder, is a high-energy state in which a person feels exuberant but hasn’t lost his or her grip on reality.
Inability to complete tasks
Having a house full of half-completed projects is a hallmark of bipolar disorder. People who can harness their energy when they are in a hypomanic phase can be really productive. Some often go from task to task, planning grand, unrealistic projects that are never finished before moving on to something else.
A person who is in a bipolar depressive state is going to look just like someone who has depression. They have the same problems with energy, appetite, sleep, and focus as others who have depression.
Unfortunately, typical antidepressants alone don’t work well in patients who are bipolar. They can even make people cycle more frequently, worsening their condition.
Some people with this condition suffer from “mixed mania,” where they experience symptoms of mania and depression at the same time. During this state, they are often extremely irritable. Moodiness often becomes so severe that it interferes with their relationships and they can’t control it.
Some people are naturally talkative; we all know a “motor mouth” or “Chatty Cathy”. But “pressured speech” is one of the most common symptoms of bipolar disorder.
The person will talk rapidly and if you try to speak, they will likely just talk over you. They will also sometimes jump around from topic to topic.
Trouble at work
People with this disorder often have difficulty in the workplace because so many of their symptoms can interfere with their ability to show up for work, do their job, and interact productively with others.
Alcohol or drug abuse
About 50% of people with bipolar disorder also have a substance abuse problem, particularly alcohol abuse, Dr. Bearden says. Many people will drink when they are in a manic phase to slow themselves down, and use alcohol to improve their mood when they are depressed.
When they are in a manic phase, people with bipolar disorder can have an inflated self-esteem.
Two of the most common types of behavior that can result from this are spending sprees and unusual sexual behavior. During this episode they exhibited behavior that is not consistent with what they would do normally.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, over five million people in the United States currently have Bipolar Disorder. This mental illness causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, but can often be balanced through therapy and medicine. When most people think of this illness, they associate negative thoughts with it. What if those people diagnosed with bipolar could use this diagnosis to their advantage? There truly is a positive to every situation and a bipolar diagnosis is no different. Below are a few ways to find a “light” at the end of the “bipolar tunnel”:
- They work harder towards reaching goals. According to Dr. Sheri Johnson at UC Berkeley who has done extensive research on the disorder, “They tend to work hard toward such goals and refuse to give up long after ‘normal’ people do.” If one works harder towards reaching a goal, they may have a better chance of achieving it, and thus having success.
- They tend to be more creative. Dr. Terrance Ketter, who teaches at Stanford School of Medicine, has come to find through his studies that people who are bipolar tend to be exceptionally more creative than others through several different ways including their art and writing skills.
- People with Bipolar Disorder are more driven. Dr. Michael Freeman at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine states that people can use their disorder as a gift rather than a curse with proper treatment. Some of history’s greatest politicians, filmmakers, generals and businesspeople have a tie to mental illness and bipolar disorder.
People who live with any mental illness are often labeled as potentially violent, even if they have never had any history of violence or any apparent violent tendencies. This stigma can be especially strong when it is applied to people with bipolar disorder, which can be an alarming disorder that is often misunderstood by others. It has been estimated by some that between 11 and 16 percent of people with bipolar disorder have had a violent episode. These typically occur during extreme moods or because of drug or alcohol use. However, there are many people with bipolar who are never violent. Knowing which bipolar symptoms of depression and mania to watch out for may help to avoid dangerous situations.
While having bipolar disorder does not make violence more likely, there are situations which, when combined with bipolar disorder, can increase the risk of violence. These can include:
- Drug or Alcohol Abuse: Substance use is common among people with mental illnesses. Drugs and alcohol can, unfortunately, make violent episodes more likely and may also put people in situations where violence is the norm.
- High Emotional Stress: Situations such as losing a loved one or ending a relationship can cause periods of great emotional stress or distress, which may trigger mood swings that can increase the risk of violence.
Actually, people with bipolar disorder may be more of a threat to themselves than anyone else. Innocent bystanders may be worrying unnecessarily about their own safety when the reality is that bipolar disorder can bring more damage to the person living with it than anyone else. These risks include:
- Suicide or attempted suicide: People with bipolar disorder are close to nine times more likely to commit suicide than their peers.
- Cutting: Occasionally, people with bipolar disorder will cut or deliberately hurt themselves.
- Non-physical damage: During manic episodes, those with bipolar, may do a lot of “violence” to their own financial situation, relationships, and other elements of their lives as they act on impulse and pursue high risk behaviors.
- Drug of Alcohol Abuse: “People with bipolar [disorder] are also at higher risk of developing substance abuse or dependence,” explains Dr. Peterson, MD, PhD. People with bipolar are at a higher risk of having a manic or depressed episodes when they are abusing drugs or alcohol. Data suggests that 46% of people with bipolar disorder are dependent on alcohol and 41% are dependent on other drugs.
With its mood swings, shifting energy levels, sleep difficulties and anxiety, bipolar disorder can feel extremely overwhelming. Managing bipolar and its symptoms can feel never-ending; however, by taking small, feasible steps every day, you can start to feel better and get better. Here are a few strategies to help manage your bipolar disorder:
- Seek Professional Help: If you are not receiving any treatment for your bipolar disorder, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Medication is crucial for managing bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy is also important for helping you to better understand your symptoms and learning effective coping skills.
- Take Medication as Prescribed: When taking medication, make sure to follow your doctor’s precise instructions. Never discontinue your medication on your own. It can worsen your symptoms and trigger an episode. If you are struggling with side effects or other concerns, speak with your doctor. You have every right to voice your questions and concerns and doing so will help you find the most effective treatment for you.
- Organize Your Medication: To make it easy for you to take your medication, prefill a few pillboxes at a time and keep them in different places such as your car, purse and kitchen. This way you will always have your medication at-hand in convenient spots.
- Create a Bedtime Routine: Sleep is critical for those with bipolar disorder. Sleep deprivation is also one of the most common triggers for a manic episode. Having a regular sleep schedule is very important for people with bipolar disorder and this should be followed meticulously.
- Chart Your Symptoms: Keep a daily chart of your mood, sleep, irritability, anxiety, exercise and other important symptoms and/or habits. This can be a helpful way to prevent or lessen a mood episode and will provide you with information about your personal symptoms and how they manifest. It can also help you to spot patterns.
- Focus on the Present: “Focusing on the present, rather than allowing yourself to get stuck in thoughts of the past and future…help to reduce the emotional pain in your life,” according to Sheri Van Dijk, a psychotherapist. It can also help you to notice racing thoughts and take healthy action more quickly. One way for you to pay attention to the present is by focusing on your breath. “Notice when your attention wanders, bring it back to the breath, and accept whatever comes into your awareness.”
Many people with bipolar disorder deliberately hurt themselves by tactics such as cutting, burning, punching, and pulling out hair. Women are much more likely than men to cut themselves, but people of all races and all backgrounds engage in the behavior.
If you have a loved one with bipolar disorder who engages in self-injury, it’s important to learn why she does it, what mood episodes may foster the behavior, and what you can do to help.
Bipolar Disorder and Cutting: Why?
You may be surprised to learn why people living with bipolar disorder cut themselves. With cutting, it’s a tension release phenomenon not suicidal behavior. In people living with bipolar disorder, cutting is more common during what is known as a “mixed phase,” during which the patient is experiencing manic and depressive symptoms. Any phase of bipolar disorder can lead to use of alcohol and drugs and when you already have depression or any of the major mood episodes, you are also much more prone to cause self-injury.
Bipolar Disorder and Cutting: How Can Parents and Caregivers Help?
Cutting is such a serious and frightening behavior that you may feel helpless. However there are some positive steps you can take as a caregiver to control her bipolar disorder, which in turn may help control her cutting behaviors:
- Be calm and supportive. Although living with a loved one with bipolar disorder can be very frustrating, it is very important not to show that frustration to her or to be critical. Encourage your loved one to stay on medication and finish either school or maintain jobs.
- Help identify mood changes. Another important role you can take is to go to doctor’s appointments with your loved one and learn how to recognize signals that she is starting a mood episode. Sometimes family members can identify when the bipolar loved one is beginning a bipolar phase even when she can’t.
If you see any signs that a loved one with bipolar disorder is cutting or otherwise injuring herself, tell her doctor immediately. Together you can figure out the best way to help.
Sharing your bipolar diagnosis can be emotional and challenging. However, bipolar disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, and if you are proactive about starting the conversation, you will set a positive tone, whether you are breaking the news to a family member, your boss, or even a new love interest. There are many reasons you should be open about bipolar disorder. “If patients carry their diagnosis around as a secret, it becomes a burden and they may feel even worried and alarmed that people are going to find out,” says psychiatrist Daniel Wilson, MD. Sharing can lighten your emotional load. Once you have decided that it is time to tell others about your bipolar disorder, planning the conversation can be challenging. Here is a step by step guide to help:
- Pick a calm moment: Many times, this conversation is forced by a crisis. “It’s better to have the conversation when the person is feeling well,” Wilson says. Share your diagnosis before another episode requires your immediate response. If you are able to choose the location, pick a place where you feel comfortable and one that gives you and everyone involved privacy.
- Practice: Make a trial run of your conversation by practicing it with your therapist or a friend who already knows.
- Fine-tune for your audience: Your exact words will be different if you are talking to a family member, a co-worker or a romantic partner, so make sure to plan accordingly.
- Be a teacher: There is a very good chance that the person you are talking to doesn’t know much about bipolar disorder. Come prepared with helpful information for them. Bring some pamphlets or contact information for a support group that you think would help them.
- Shut out stigma: You may be able to help your loved one better understand the implications of your diagnosis if you use a disease analogy. “I like to compare it to an overactive thyroid,” says Wilson. “Clearly you want to treat that condition.”
- Make Amends: If it is appropriate, you may want to acknowledge damage done by any past behavior that was caused by your bipolar symptoms.
- Give them time: People handle situations differently. Some are very open and flexible, while others can have a hard time digesting your news. “It’s often helpful to have a cooling-off period, letting people go their own way for a while,” says Wilson.
- Accept their responses: Sharing your diagnosis may leave you feeling vulnerable and unfortunately, not everyone will respond the way you wish they would. If you are upset about the response that your sharing received, talk with your therapist.
A new brain scan just might have the answer! According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburg, a new type of brain scan that measures blood flow in the brain might be able to help better diagnose bipolar disorder at an early stage and further distinguish the disorder from depression. Researchers evaluated 44 females, with 18 of the participants having bipolar disorder, 18 with clinical depression and 18 who were healthy individuals who acted as the control group. The participants were all experiencing a depressive episode as they were being assessed for the study. The new imaging method that was used is known as arterial spin labeling, which was designed to non-invasively measure blood flow in brain regions associated with depression. The researchers also used a novel analytical method known as pattern recognition analysis that allowed them to individualize brain differences.
The researchers found that they could identify with over 80% accuracy which of the participants were depressed and which of them had bipolar depression. Finding a correct diagnosis can often be difficult for a variety of reasons, including miscommunication between the patient and the doctor. Such as, patients with bipolar disorder sometimes interpret their manic phases as normal and will not discuss them with their doctors. Their findings also suggest that researchers may be able to predict future bipolar behavior in younger adults who are still symptom free, allowing for earlier and more accurate treatment.
Earlier and more accurate diagnosis can make a major difference for patients and their families. It may even save lives. These promising findings reveal the importance of neuro-imaging and its ability to help identify biological markers that are associated with mental health disorders. More testing of these new technologies in a larger sample and in a multi-center study are underway to gather more information.
Individuals who suffer from bipolar disorder face many phases in this illness. Some include: mania, depression, mixed episode, rapid cycling and seasonal pattern. With the summer coming to a close and the fall just around the corner, the weather is going to change. Bipolar disorder is similar to this because with the change of seasons and weather, comes the changing of moods. According to psychcentral.com, seasonal pattern is defined as: “mood disorders that seem to be triggered by a particular season of the year”. So you may be asking yourself: what can I do to manage the seasonal pattern within bipolar disorder?
Here are 4 small steps in order to do so.
• Remind yourself that these racing thoughts are a part of the illness. If you suffer from bipolar disorder, then you may often have thoughts that race to the “worst case scenario”. For instance: you see a happy couple and they are single. Instead of being happy for someone else, you begin to feel bad and think you will be alone forever and never find anyone. You must give yourself positive affirmations and remind yourself that you will be happy if you allow yourself to be.
• Know that you can find happiness year-round, regardless of weather. Getting used to the weather changes may take a little longer then people who are not bipolar, but know you will adjust, and it will get better. Make sure you are taking your medication properly, and that you talk with someone you trust about any trails or tribulations you may be facing during the season and weather change.
• Keep a chart of your symptoms. If there are certain factors that trigger your mood during the season change, write them down. Writing them down will help keep track of what set off your mood, so maybe you can avoid these factors and it will result in a balance of your moods.
• Focus on what is happening right now. Do not worry or stress yourself out on what is going on tomorrow, next week or next month and just focus on today. You have no control on the future, so do not waste time becoming anxious about it.
Sharing a life with someone who has a mental health problem like bipolar disorder can be frustrating, rewarding, and overwhelming. Many times you may not know what to expect because your partner suffers from intense highs and lows. If you have children, you may have to be the absolute caretaker when your partner is struggling from depression or mania. It’s important to acknowledge the role that the spouse of someone with bipolar disorder plays, because it can be very difficult.
• Step 1:
Show your spouse that you still love them. People with bipolar disorder are often scared and lonely, so they struggle with feelings of worthlessness. It’s vital that you let your loved one know you care. Your spouse should know that you’ll give enough emotional support, so share how much you care for your spouse and do so often. This is an enormous help to most people with bipolar disorder.
• Step 2:
Educate everyone in the family. Learn everything you can about bipolar disorder and make sure other family members learn the same information. Everyone in the household should be aware of the symptoms of bipolar disorder, treatment options, side effects of medication, and complications of the condition. This way, everyone understands what the bipolar family member is going through and can watch for signs of mental distress.
• Step 3:
Take control of treatment. Your spouse may not be motivated to seek out help. In that case, it’s up to you to seek out qualified psychologists and psychiatrists in your area for your loved one to see. You’ll also need to schedule appointments and be aware of medications that he or she takes. This can sometimes be a full-time job, especially if your loved one has sever bipolar needs. In order to take some of the burden off of you, train one or more other family members to take over these duties when you really need a break.
• Step 4:
Have a plan of action. Even with the best treatment program, it may take an unexpected turn for the worse one day. If your spouse ever becomes suicidal, you and your family should know what to do to help him. Your plan should include a list of medical professionals to call and one or two hospitals where you can take them if it becomes necessary.