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By Dr. Geoffrey Booth Founder of LifeSync Malibu
Do you have a loved one who suffers from bipolar disorder, but aren’t quite sure how to help them? How do you talk to someone about their illness, and how to you know where to send someone with bipolar? For these answers, please read on.
What is Bipolar Disorder?
You need to first learn about bipolar disorder before you can understand the needs of someone with this mental health condition. Bipolar disorder presents as a complex and frequently challenging-to-manage form of mental illness.
To formulate an effective treatment approach, it is essential that the initial assessment and diagnosis be accurate. This isn’t always easy, as there are four distinct types of bipolar:
- Bipolar I. This is the most common form of bipolar disorder. In Bipolar I, manic episodes endure for a minimum of seven days or reach a severity necessitating hospitalization. Depressive episodes may last two weeks or longer.
- Bipolar II. This type of bipolar disorder involves experiencing at least one depressive episode and one hypomanic episode, which is a less severe form of mania. In Bipolar II, there is a higher prevalence of symptoms associated with depression.
- Cyclothymic. This form of bipolar is defined by its persistence, as periods of mania and depression can last two years or longer. However, symptoms do not reach the criteria for manic or depressive episodes.
- Unspecified. If the symptoms deviate from those seen in other types of bipolar disorders but still include manic features, a distinct category is assigned. This is called bipolar disorder and not otherwise specified.
What Are the Signs of Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar is often difficult to diagnose because the symptoms of low mood and mania can vary depending on the type. In general, the symptoms of bipolar fall into two main camps, mania and depression:
Mania symptoms. Indicators of a manic or hypomanic episode may include:
- High energy
- Racing thoughts and unable to stay focused.
- Rapid speech pattern.
- Aggressive behavior.
- Extreme irritability.
- Poor judgment.
- Decreased need for sleep.
- Impulsive or high-risk behaviors.
Depression symptoms. The signs of a depressive episode may include:
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty most of the time.
- Intense fatigue.
- Trouble concentrating.
- Change in eating habits.
- Anxiety or excessive worrying.
- Feeling worthless.
- Loss of interest in engaging in usual activities.
- Sleep problems.
- Thoughts of suicide.
How Bipolar Mood States Impact Someone
It is sometimes hard to understand how it must feel to have bipolar disorder. Consider these features of the manic and depressive mood states:
How mania feels. During a manic episode, individuals often experience a sense of being out of control. They have a burst of energy and want to tackle multiple projects all at once, and quickly feel overwhelmed. Often, none of these projects is ever completed. Racing, ruminating thoughts make it hard to concentrate at work or to focus at school. Also, someone in a manic state may feel invincible, leading to engaging in risky behaviors.
How depression feels. When the person is in a depressive episode, they tend to become very negative, often causing feelings of hopelessness. Being in this mood state may cause the person to feel like giving up on their goals, and even life. While in the depression, it is common for the person to feel sluggish and fatigued, and thinking is foggy and unfocused.
Bipolar and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder
Those who struggle with the intense mood states that accompany bipolar may look for ways to relieve their suffering. This relief is often found in the form of drugs or alcohol. There have been several studies that show a majority of patients with bipolar have a co-occurring substance use disorder, such as alcohol or illicit drug use.
While hoping to manage symptoms with alcohol or drugs, too often find themselves with co-occurring substance use disorder. The problem with this is that the substance can enhance the already intense symptoms, making the person feel even worse. Additionally, it can contribute to serious health issues and, naturally, addiction.
When researching where to send someone with bipolar, keep this in mind. If they have a co-occurring substance use disorder they will require the expertise of a dual diagnosis treatment program.
How to Help Someone with Bipolar Disorder
Although bipolar disorder is difficult to live with, there are some actions loved ones can take to offer support. These include:
- Be willing to listen. People with bipolar are sometimes marginalized or ignored due to their unpredictable behaviors. Be sure you don’t do that. Instead, offer an compassionate ear when they feel a need to open up about their struggles with the disorder.
- Learn about bipolar. Bipolar is a complex mental health disorder. The more you educate yourself about bipolar disorder, the better equipped you’ll be to support a loved one.
- Know when they need help. It’s right to gently guide the person toward treatment, but sometimes a higher level of care is needed. If your loved one is experiencing a serious episode or suicide attempt, do reach out for expert help.
- Be prepared. Make a plan with other family members for steps to take if or when the loved one experiences a serious and concerning mood state. Family members can guide them through coping techniques when they feel an episode is imminent. When a serious event occurs, have a plan in place to call for emergency assistance.
- Be engaged in their treatment. If your loved one has agreed to receive either outpatient or inpatient treatment, offer to join them for family group.
Where Do Bipolar People Go For Help
Once your loved one has agreed to get some help, the first step is a psychological evaluation. This is a meeting with a therapist who will gather the details about symptoms, quality of life, and impairment. Physical health and mental health history are also reviewed. During this initial meeting, it can be determined whether a co-occurring substance problem is present.
After the interview and assessment are completed, the treatment plan is developed. Treatment will be tailored to the exact type of bipolar and any other unique features, such as addiction.
An outpatient program offers a level of care that is helpful for someone with a mild to moderate disorder. An inpatient program offers a more intensive approach to treatment, often provided in settings like residential treatment centers. If a substance use disorder is identified, dual diagnosis treatment will be prescribed.
The diagnosis determines the severity of the disorder and recommendations for treatment. Bipolar treatment is available in both outpatient and inpatient settings, so the diagnosis determines where to send someone with bipolar.
LifeSync Malibu Residential Treatment for Primary Mental Health and Dual Diagnosis
LifeSync Malibu provides luxury residential treatment for someone with bipolar disorder. If your loved one has been diagnosed with moderate to severe bipolar, or dual diagnosis, please call today for help at (866) 491-4426.