The Beginners Bipolar Guide


We have prepared this guide for people new to bipolar disorder. It is a brief overview of the basic elements of the disorder and addresses frequently asked questions.
For more detailed information please consult our Bipolar Encyclopedia and Articles and Info Section.

What is Bipolar Disorder?
Who gets it and how?
How is it diagnosed?
What Is Depression?
What is Mania?
What Is Hypo mania?
What's the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II?
What is rapid cycling?
What is a mixed state?
Is it curable?
How is it treated?
Where do I go for help?
Is hospitalization necessary?
What can family members do to help?



What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder, the modern day term for manic-depressive disorder, is a serious medical condition that is chemically and biologically based in the brain. A simple description is that the disorder is like a malfunctioning regulator of the brain's chemicals that manifests as abnormal behavior in terms of mood swings between manic states, depressive states and sometime mixed states. Although environmental and/or social conditions can contribute to a mood swing or state it is uncontrollable by the patient.
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Who gets it and how?
Formal statistics indicate there are 2 million americans or about 1% of the population that have the disorder. However, experts in the field are now beginning to believe that the figure is more like 7%. It affects all races and sex equally.  Bipolar is not contagious or a disease. Little is known of the cause but hereditary factors are believed to be involved.
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How is it diagnosed?
Bipolar Disorder is difficult to diagnose because many of the symptoms mimic other disorders or conditions such as thyroid malfunctioning and it's onset is usually during the late teens when radical behavior is common. Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder must be made by a mental health professional and fall within the diagnostic criteria of the DSM-IV published by the  American Psychiatric Association. 
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What is Depression?
Everyone has felt depression at some point in their lives. However, if the depression lasts more than two weeks and doesn't seem to be proportional to a cause or attached to a cause at all, then more in likely the person is experiencing a major depression. Typically, Bipolar people find themselves unable to get out of bed for days at a time and may bypass personal hygiene. Major/Clinical Depression can be dangerous because it creates an overwhelming sense of worthlessness and desperation that makes conditions ripe for suicidal thoughts and actions. For a complete list of symptoms look under bipolar basics in our info section.
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What is Mania?
Mania is best described by the symptoms. They include insomnia, pressured or rapid speech, grandiosity, Typical behavioral patterns are uncontrollable spending,  sexual promiscuity as well as other risky behaviors with no thought of consequences. Sometime people in a manic state can become psychotic, lose touch with reality, and in extreme cases can become delusion. For a complete list of symptoms look under bipolar basics in our info section.
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What is Hypo mania?
Hypo means small or mild. Hypo mania is a mild mania. Hypo manic symptoms are basically the same as mania but are general confined to only a few and there are no psychotic or delusion features.
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What's the difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II?
The difference is basically the degree of mania.  Both have depressive episodes but Bipolar II only experiences hypo manic episodes and not full manic episodes.

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What is Rapid Cycling?
The time it takes to swing from a depression to a mania and back is considered a cycle.  Normally a cycle occurs over years, but a cycle can go a quick as within a few months, days or even hours.
This known as rapid cycling which can be especially debilitating to the patient and is often induced by some anti-depressants.
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What is a Mixed State?
A mixed state is when the patient experiences symptoms of both mania and depression and the same time. An example would be rapid thoughts, which is manic, but those thoughts are of death and suicide which is depressive. 
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Is it Curable?
No.  Once the disorder develops it's there for life and must be dealt with otherwise it typically gets more severe over time. However, with the use of therapy and modern medications the bipolar person can lead a fairly normal life. Today, research and development of new treatments and medications is active and ongoing making it easier and easier to deal with.
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How is it treated?
Therapy and medications are the key to controlling bipolar disorder. A drug regime is needed first to offset the chemical imbalance in the brain, reduce or eliminate the mood swings and provide balance. Normally, the core of a drug regimen is a mood stabilizer.  Typically this has been lithium. However, in the last few decades anticonvulsants, such as Depakote, have been discovered to be effective mood stabilizers as well.  Sometimes in addition to a mood stabilizers, anti-depressants are prescribed as well as anti psychotics. It is important to know that there are a variety of all these types of medications available and no one responds exactly the same to them in terms of their effectiveness and side effects. So it may take time to find the right medications that work for the patient.
Other than medications, therapy is also necessary to help control the disorder. Bipolar disorder, primarily because of the negative behaviors the mood swings create, is a breeding ground for developing deep rooted feelings of regret, remorse and guilt. Also, Stress can trigger mood swings.  Therefore, environmental factors are important to control by setting boundaries to avoid them and to develop cognitive behaviors that help to cope with them. Also, there are issues with acceptance and the dependence on medications to maintain balance.
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Where do I go for help?
Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize in psychiatric disorders and are the ones who primarily prescribe drugs. Many of them also provide talk therapy but generally that is done by a psychologist who holds of Ph.D. or a therapist / mental health counselor who has a masters level education. To find these professionals that specialize in mood disorders, contact with your local mental health agency or hospital. There are also online doctor finders provided be the American Medical Association and The American Psychological Association.  You can find links to these in our web links section.
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Is hospitalization necessary?
It might be, If the patient is in a psychotic, delusion or suicidal state, hospitalization may be necessary to get the patient balanced. This is usually attainable in a matter of days, but in some cases it may take weeks or months.  Hospitalization should not be considered a shameful thing.  It is important to get back to a normal state in order to control the disorder and live with it.  Hospitalization, if needed, may not only occur at the point of diagnosis but and different times when treatment drastically fails.
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What can family members do to help?
Patients, understanding and support are the main thing a family member can do. This is not always easy. One helpful keys is to remember that the behaviors of the patient are because of the disorder and not because of who they are.  Another important function is to help create and protect a nurturing stress free environment.  The disorder is just as rough on the family member as the patient so to be supportive is mutually beneficial. However, it is important that the patient lives a normal life filled with responsibility.  What can be considered a loving and caring gesture can easily become enabling and prevent the patient to full cope with their disorder.  It is ultimately their responsibility to control the disorder, so they must have to cope and live with the consequences of their actions. A family member is actually doing a dis service to the patient if their always bailing them out of situations, such as overspending.
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