Bipolar Disorder

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Understanding Bipolar Disorder

We all have moments when stress, grief, or anger make it difficult for us to control our emotions. However, about 4.4% of people in the U.S. deal with a behavioral health condition that causes dramatic and unpredictable changes to their moods on a regular basis. Known as bipolar disorder, this affliction can make relationships, work, and other activities of daily living exceptionally challenging — if not impossible.

As leaders in mental health treatment, Guardian Recovery understands how difficult it can be to seek help for a behavioral health disorder. Our team of highly-trained mental health professionals combines clinical expertise with empathy and compassion to help you process your feelings and develop the tools to better cope with symptoms in the future. Contact us today to learn more about bipolar disorder treatment options near you. 

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes abnormal changes in a person’s mood, energy, activity levels, and concentration. These intense emotional states, or “episodes,” can last days to weeks. People with bipolar disorder can be abnormally happy or irritable (manic) or deeply sad (depressive) without anything happening to explain the change. 

Without proper treatment, these fluctuations can make it difficult to get along with people, hold down a job, and even carry out day-to-day tasks. However, when treated, people with bipolar disorder can lead full and productive lives.

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Are There Different Types of Bipolar Disorder?

There are three types of bipolar disorder, which are characterized by the intensity of the highs and lows a person experiences.
  • Bipolar I disorder — Manic episodes continue for at least seven days, occurring nearly every day for most of the day, or are so severe that the person needs immediate medical care. Depressive episodes usually occur as well, lasting at least two weeks. Some patients experience manic and depressive symptoms at the same time. 
  • Bipolar II disorder — People go through a pattern of depressive and hypomanic phases that are less severe than the manic episodes that accompany bipolar I disorder. However, bipolar II is not considered a milder form of bipolar I. It is a separate diagnosis.
  • Cyclothymic disorder — Also called cyclothymia. People have recurring hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not intense enough or last long enough to be considered hypomanic or depressive episodes.
  • Other specified and unspecified bipolar and related disorders — Symptoms of bipolar disorder that do not match the three above categories.

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Symptoms of Manic and Depressive Episodes

A manic episode can include these behaviors, feelings, and actions:

  • Elation or giddiness
  • Jumpiness or an abundance of nervous energy
  • Not sleeping
  • Engaging in risky or reckless behaviors
  • Loss of appetite
  • Racing thoughts
  • Talking incessantly
  • Feeling invincible

Hypomania includes these same symptoms but at a less severe intensity, allowing people to feel good without feeling out of control.

Depressive episodes are characterized by the following:

  • A feeling of hopelessness or despair
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep issues (too much or too little)
  • Weight gain
  • Loss of concentration and focus
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities

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The Role of the Brain & Neurotransmitters in Bipolar Disorder

The chemicals that control the brain’s functions are neurotransmitters and include noradrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine.

Researchers have found some evidence that an imbalance in one or more neurotransmitters may induce symptoms of bipolar disorder. There’s evidence that high levels of noradrenaline can cause episodes of mania, while low levels of noradrenaline may bring about depression.

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Can You Be Genetically Predisposed to Developing Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar Disorder and Genetics

There are conflicting thoughts on whether bipolar disorder is a genetic issue. Some studies indicate that a person may have an elevated risk of developing bipolar disorder if a family member has it. Others claim no definite proof that the disease is passed down through generations.

While there is no evidence that a single gene is responsible for bipolar disorder, several genetic and environmental factors are thought to trigger the condition. Those elements include:

  • Alcohol and drug dependence
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Physical illness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Death of a close family member or loved one
  • Overwhelming problems with money, work, relationships, or other stressors of everyday life
  • Trauma

How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect Day-to-Day Life?

The extreme range of emotions and behaviors one experiences with bipolar disorder can be highly disruptive to daily life. Daily routines are hard to follow, and social interactions are difficult to navigate. Bipolar disorder can disrupt relationships with family, friends, children, co-workers, bosses, and anyone a person comes in contact with. It can make working, going to school, or fulfilling responsibilities like child care virtually impossible.

As evidence, a 2022 NIH study of nearly 10,000 people with bipolar disorder revealed that 81% were unemployed and about 42% had a high school education.

Treatment & Management Approaches

While bipolar disorder can be a devastating condition, proper treatment helps many people improve their quality of life. High-quality treatment plans, like those offered by Guardian Recovery,  usually include a combination of medication and psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, specifically designed to address the unique needs of each mental health client.

Mood Stabilizers, Antidepressants, & Medications Used in Treatment

Several medications can help manage symptoms of bipolar disorder, but people sometimes need to try different types to see which works best. Guardian Recovery’s clinical staff will closely monitor the effect medication has on you and will make adjustments in dosage or type to develop a plan that works best for you.

Bipolar depression is often treated with antidepressants along with a mood stabilizer, as taking an antidepressant alone can cause a manic episode or rapid cycling. Mood stabilizers like lithium or valproate can help prevent or reduce the severity of mood episodes. Lithium can also decrease the risk of suicide. 

Antipsychotic medication, which alters brain chemistry to help reduce psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, delusions, and disordered thinking, is typically used as part of your treatment plan. You also may be prescribed medications for sleep or anxiety if appropriate.

Psychotherapies Used for Bipolar Disorder Treatment

Psychotherapy is often a practical part of bipolar treatment plans. Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy helps you identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Both people with bipolar disorder and their families can benefit from the support, education, and guidance psychotherapy provides.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often very effective in treating depression. It can also be adapted for treating insomnia and can be especially helpful as part of treatment for bipolar depression.

Other psychotherapies used to treat bipolar disorder include dialectical therapy, family therapy, and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), which was specifically designed for the treatment of bipolar disorder.

Helpful Lifestyle Changes When Living With Bipolar Disorder

In addition to medication and psychotherapy, healthy lifestyle changes can help manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

  • Get to know your stressors and triggers. Think about who you are with, what you are doing, what time of the day, and where you are when you are most likely to feel stress or get triggered. Keep in mind that some symptoms start slowly, so you may have to think back a few hours or days to pinpoint what prompted an episode of mania or depression.
  • Stay away from drugs and alcohol. These substances can disrupt emotional balance and interact with medications.
  • Get Into a routine. Establishing a routine can provide the structure and control to keep depression and mania at bay. Regular sleep, exercise, and eating patterns help regulate body rhythms and increase stability.
  • Live and learn. Symptoms often follow very specific patterns. Take the time to learn the patterns in your life that may trigger a manic or depressive episode. Reach out to family members or friends who can recognize early symptoms and request they bring them to your attention.
  • Form healthy relationships. Spending time with people who will look out for you can help stabilize your moods and your life. 
  • Keep a regular sleeping schedule. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Limit caffeine, which may disrupt sleep.
  • Eat well and get regular exercise. A healthy diet will provide proper nutrition, and exercise can help improve your mood.

Supporting Someone With Bipolar Disorder

If someone you care about is dealing with bipolar disorder, they need your support and acceptance, which can be difficult to give if their behavior is erratic. Here are a few things you can do to support someone with bipolar disorder. 

  • Recognize early symptoms. Episodes of mania and depression often come with warning signs. Get to know the behaviors that signal an episode in your loved one and encourage them to seek help early.
  • Communicate. Confronting problems head-on can be uncomfortable, yet it’s critical to healthy communication. Make time to talk about problems. 
  • React calmly and rationally. It’s essential to remain calm even when your family member rants uncontrollably at you or others. Give them your full attention and make them feel understood. 

Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition that lasts a lifetime. Episodes of mania and depression can recur, followed by periods of stability and calm, though some people have lingering symptoms. But, ongoing treatment, which may include medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes, can help manage symptoms and lead to a full and meaningful life.

Contact Us Today

Seeking treatment for a mental health disorder can feel overwhelming, but Guardian Recovery is available to walk you through every step of the process. Many of our compassionate and experienced staff members have been where you are now. Their experience provides us with a unique, empathetic perspective and allows for a deep level of understanding.  Your recovery journey begins when you contact us — we will immediately connect you with someone who can help. We understand that mental health disorder treatment is not a one-size-fits-all solution, and we are dedicated to helping you find the treatment option that makes the most sense for your unique clinical needs. Contact us today to begin your personal journey of recovery. 

Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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