Overview Of Bipolar Disorder

With bipolar disorder, you can experience extreme highs and lows in your mood. These highs and lows are referred to as mania (or hypomania) and depression.

Mania is a state of extreme energy and erratic behavior. Depression is an intense sadness or lack of interest in engaging with life. These two extremes in mood fluctuate and can last anywhere from a few days to a several months.

Bipolar disorder is a disorder that causes people to experience episodic mood swings. These mood swings fall into three categories: mania, hypomania, and depression. Each of these episodes causes different symptoms that have a major impact on a person’s overall health and wellness. A person with bipolar disorder will often struggle with life challenges, including:

  • Emotional regulation
  • Relationships
  • Academic and career issues
  • Substance abuse
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Socialization issues

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

People often think that bipolar disorder develops when people do not know how to control themselves.

This is rarely the case.

There are several different contributing factors that can cause bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a disorder in which a person experiences severe mood swings.

These mood swings are different for everyone. Each person will have different experiences with the mood swings.

People develop bipolar disorder for different reasons.


Bipolar disorder is most often developed as a result of genetic influence. Genetics play can major role in the development and onset of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. This means that a person has a higher risk of developing bipolar disorder if he or she has a direct family member. A direct family member could be a parent, sibling, or grandparent.

It has also been found that a person may be at higher risk of bipolar disorder if there is a family history of mood disorders. In fact, an estimated 50% of people with bipolar disorder have a direct family member who suffers from a mood disorder.

Despite the strong genetic component that seems to be present in many cases, genetics are not the only contributing factor to the onset of bipolar disorder.

Environmental Influences

A person’s environment also plays a major role in the onset of bipolar disorder.

For example

A child who is brought up in an unstable environment is at higher risk of developing bipolar disorder.

Factors that may deem an environment unstable include:

  • Cases of neglect
  • Physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Living in a chaotic environment
  • Disciplinarian parents
  • Lack of safe space to express self in a healthy way
  • Malnutrition

A person can also develop bipolar disorder based on his or her environment as an adult. There are several factors that can trigger a case of bipolar disorder, including:

  • Difficulty adjusting to a new environment or living conditions
  • Difficulty coping with a life event, such as grief, a breakup, or job loss
  • Substance abuse or alcoholism
  • Witnessing or having to deal with a traumatic event

Biological Factors

Along with genetic and environmental influences, there may be biological influences that can contribute to the onset of bipolar disorder. Such biological factors include:

  • Cognitive impairment
  • Malnutrition
  • Substance abuse or alcoholism
  • Hormonal dysfunction

There has also been evidence that supports neurochemical imbalances being a major contributing factor in the onset of bipolar disorder. Many cases with bipolar disorder tend to exhibit a similar trend in their neurochemistry. That is altered levels of dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline. The imbalance of these three chemicals cause many symptoms found in bipolar disorder.

How Do These Causal Factors Affect One Another?

Research has found that in most cases, one of these circumstances alone is not sufficient to cause bipolar disorder. That means that often at least two causal factors are present.

For example

A person may be genetically pre-disposed to have bipolar disorder, but they grew up in a stable home where he or she learned healthy coping strategies for stress. He or she also does not suffer from other biological factors that may activate the disorder. This makes it unlikely that the person will suffer from the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

This may not be the case for all patients, but many need at least two causal factors present in their case to experience bipolar disorder.

Symptoms Of Bipolar Disorder

It can sometimes be difficult to appropriately diagnose bipolar disorder. It is often mistaken for conduct disorders, depression, deficit disorders or even PTSD.

Bipolar disorder has a standard set of symptoms, including:

  • Sleep issues
  • Changes in weight and appetite
  • Psychotic episodes (hallucinations and delusions)
  • Lack of self-awareness
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Episodic depressed mood
    • Loss of appetite, extreme sadness, despondence, feelings of hopelessness, etc.
    • Anxiety
    • Inability to focus on tasks
    • Lack of interest in enjoyable activities
  • Episodic manic mood
    • Impulsivity, high energy, racing thoughts, lowered inhibitions, irritability
    • Racing thoughts
    • Dangerous, impulsive or promiscuous behavior
    • Paranoia

Bipolar Disorder United States Map

Types And Effects Of Bipolar Disorder

Types And Effects Of Bipolar Disorder

There are two types of bipolar disorder:

  • Bipolar I: Having experienced both extremes of manic and depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar II: Having experienced hypomanic episodes along with depressive episodes. A hypomanic episode is a less intense form of a manic episode.

Each of these types result in emotional distress and have the potential to be damaging on the patient’s quality of life. Many people with bipolar disorder face many life struggles, including:

  • Relationship issues. Relationships are often affected with bipolar disorder. The mood swings cause the patient to behave in ways that sometimes seems confrontational or alarming to others, causing strained relationships.
  • Societal misconceptions. Many people understand bipolar disorder to be a dangerous and overbearing disorder, causing them to believe people who are bipolar are dangerous. Others believe that bipolar disorder is used as an excuse for the way that people who are bipolar behave. With these misconceptions it is easy for people with bipolar disorder to feel alienated from society.
  • Self-image and emotional issues. Bipolar creates many feelings that are difficult for the patient to understand. Those who suffer from bipolar disorder may feel out of control of their emotions or behavior, causing them to feel hopeless to ever be ‘normal’. They may also develop a poor self-image as they begin to feel misunderstood or stereotyped by others who do not understand what they are going through.
  • Stress management. Those who suffer from bipolar disorder have a difficult time managing stressful situations. Due to the chemical imbalances in the brain the patient’s perception of stress can be affected, causing the patient to develop poor stress management skills.

What Happens During A Manic Episode?

What Happens During A Manic Episode?

Manic episodes are a symptom of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a disorder in which a person will have severe and unexpected mood swings. A manic episode is considered the ‘high’ point on the bipolar spectrum. A manic episode causes a person to become very excitable and irritable. These episodes can last anywhere from a few days to several months.

During a manic episode a person will feel very energetic and restless. They will likely be irritable and talkative. Manic episodes cause a person to have racing and sometimes nonsensical thoughts. The manic person may set unattainable or unusual goals. They will experience delusions and paranoia. They may think people are trying to harm them in some way.

A person experiencing a manic episode will likely be unable to focus. They will be unreceptive to people trying to help them. They may even become aggressive toward people who express concern for them. They will sleep very little and will have the ability to stay awake for long periods of time. A person who is manic may seem to be on drugs of some kind because of these confusing and erratic behaviors.

Also, that manic person may make real-life poor decisions. Some examples are actually using drugs, or engaging in promiscuous or dangerous behavior. This is because during a manic episode a person will feel invincible. They will likely have a sense of exaggerated confidence. They may even believe they have abilities to engage in these activities with no risk of being hurt. This often causes tension with the manic person and concerned loved ones.

During a manic episode a person can also experience psychotic symptoms. Psychotic symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations: seeing or hearing things that are not there or do not exist. Symptoms of hallucinations include having imagined sensations throughout the body. Some examples are voices telling you unsettling things or seeing shadows or people who are not actually there. Hallucinations can also cause people to smell things that are not real or feel things that are not there.
  • Delusions: false or imagined perceptions of reality. Signs of delusions include paranoid behavior. Delusions also include grandiose beliefs in self. Finally, delusions can cause the belief of being betrayed by people close to them.
  • For example

    A manic person may believe that someone is trying to stalk, capture or harm them.

Sometimes people with bipolar disorder will not experience severe mania. They may instead experience episodes of deep depression. These people will also experience a high at times. Since the highs are not as extreme as manic episodes they are called hypomania. Hypomania simply means the symptoms of ‘mania’ are not as severe as the typical manic state. People who experience hypomania likely have a bipolar II diagnosis. Both mania and hypomania are serious situations. It has the potential to be dangerous to the manic person and people around them. That is why it is important to seek medical or psychiatric intervention.

How Does Bipolar Disorder Affect The Brain?

There are millions of people who currently suffer from bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that causes severe mood swings. These mood swings can range greatly. At one end, the mood swings can cause the patient to experience episodes of depression. This could include sadness, numbness, feeling hopeless, not interested in everyday activities. The other end is what is called Mania. This could cause excessive excitement, high energy, irregular behavior and irritability. It can be confusing for many people to understand why they act and feel they way they do.

Researchers work hard to understand the causes and risk factors of bipolar disorder. They have found the onset of bipolar disorder has a lot to do with brain chemistry.

Research suggests the problem lies within an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are messengers that send signals between the cells of the brain. The 3 main neurotransmitters are:

  • Serotonin – Responsible for mood regulation. Imbalances will cause an imbalanced mood. This results in depression or mania.
  • Norepinephrine – Triggers the stress response in the brain and body. Norepinephrine creates a state of heightened alertness and sensitivity. This is meant to signal danger. Imbalances can cause someone to be on edge and have a lot of nervous or excited energy. This is often seen in manic episodes. It can also be seen in a depressed mood because of the lack of interest in the patient’s environment.
  • Dopamine – Responsible for rewarding positive behavior (eating, exercising, sex) with a “feel-good” sensation. A person in manic state will feel the effects of too much dopamine. A person who is depressed may experience low levels of dopamine.

Each neurotransmitter has important roles in signaling different reactions through the brain. When they are out of balance, the person will experience severe mood swings. They could also show some strange behaviors.

For example

A person who is manic may be very talkative. They may also become very energetic and may not sleep for extended periods of time.

Someone who is depressed will show the opposite behaviors. They will not be interested in engaging with others. They may not seem motivated to work toward goals or even get out of bed. They will likely feel fatigued and sleep for extended periods of time.

Researchers have found certain medications can help the neurotransmitters stay in balance. Since it is a chemical imbalance, medication is needed to help regulate the brain. Such medications include:

  • Antidepressants – Balance neurotransmitter levels during depressive episodes
    • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) – Balance serotonin levels in the brain
    • Selective Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SNRIs) – Balance norepinephrine levels in the brain
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs) – Balance all three neurotransmitters.
  • Antipsychotics – Prevent severe symptoms like hallucinations and delusions during an episode. They are particularly effective during manic episodes.

It can sometimes take time to find the right medication, but once it is found the patient tends to feel better. For most effective results it is important for the patient also seek counseling. With counseling the patient will learn ways to manage episodes. It will also help the patient learn how to cope with the emotional issues and life stressors they face each day.

How Families Are Affected By Bipolar Disorder

A patient with bipolar disorder is not the only one who suffers from its symptoms and struggles.

If left untreated, bipolar disorder will negatively not only affect the patient. It will also affect the patient’s family, friends, and loved ones.

It is important for family and friends of patients with bipolar disorder to be well educated in what it means to have bipolar disorder. This includes knowing signs, symptoms, how it affects their loved one, and how to approach an episode.

How Families Are Affected By Bipolar Disorder

Living with bipolar disorder is a difficult thing to cope with. Bipolar disorder brings about many challenges for a person that can sometimes feel overwhelming. Bipolar disorder creates a great deal of discomfort for a patient. A patient will often find their social lives being affected by their symptoms.

He or she may develop strained relationships or begin hanging out with a different crowd of people. he or she may even withdraw from people altogether. It is important to consider how bipolar disorder affects a patient. It is also important to consider how it also affects the patient’s friends and family.

Common Ways Bipolar Disorder Affects Friends And Family


Bipolar disorder causes a person to act erratically, unpredictably, and out of character. It is not uncommon for friends and loved ones to be confused by the client’s episodes. This confusion will lead to concern.


Concern is a strong feeling that deeply affects a person when a loved one is involved. Witnessing episodic changes in a patient’s behavior can cause discomfort, concern, and frustration for a loved one. Nobody wants to see someone they care about go through such bizarre behaviors. Often, these feelings of concern and confusion can result in feelings of grief and stress.

Grief and Stress.

It is not uncommon for a loved one of a person with bipolar disorder to feel grief about the situation. This is due to several reasons, including:

  • The loved one may feel helpless.
  • The loved one may feel his or her loved one is slipping away.
  • The loved one may feel guilt about not understanding what is happening or how to cope with it.
  • There may be a shift in family dynamic and responsibilities that cause a loved one to harbor feelings of resentment.
  • The strain on the relationships and family dynamic can cause stress for each family member.
  • Feelings of frustration about the patient’s behavior may cause stress.

What To Do When Dealing With A Loved One With Bipolar Disorder

Educate Yourself.

Knowing what it means to have bipolar disorder and the symptoms of bipolar disorder can help to better understand the situation. Learning the signs and symptoms of episodes and bipolar disorder can help you understand the situation.

Develop A plan.

Having a plan is important when dealing with someone with bipolar disorder. Consider the following skills when developing a plan:

  • Know how to express your concerns with your loved one.
  • Know the signs of an episode.
  • Know who to call and what to do in the event of emergency.
  • Know when to react and respond to a potentially dangerous situation.

Seek Professional Support. When dealing with someone with bipolar disorder, it is okay to seek your own support. Consulting with a mental health professional can help you:

  • Understand how you are affected by your loved one’s bipolar disorder
  • Learn skills to cope with how it affects you
  • Learn how to address difficult situations with your loved one
  • Develop a plan to take care of yourself and your loved one

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness that can often be difficult to manage. Fortunately, from extensive research we have found great treatment success with a combination of:

  • Psychiatric medication to address the chemical imbalances associated with bipolar disorder. Common medications include: SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs, antidepressants, and antipsychotics.
  • Therapy to address the behavioral issues and other challenges that bipolar disorder creates. Common forms of therapy include: cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy.

Depending on the reason for the development of the disorder, the patient may also receive other forms of treatment, like:

  • Psychoanalysis
  • Behavioral therapy
  • Substance abuse treatment

Each case of bipolar disorder is different, which means it will be treated differently. Most cases of bipolar disorder are successful with a combination of both therapy and psychiatry.

Bipolar Disorder Stat

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