Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that causes extreme changes in mood and behavior. These shifts can be very high and happy, or very low and sad. It often starts showing up when someone is a teenager or young adult.1 Living with bipolar disorder means needing treatments forever. But, following the treatment plan can make life better.

Key Takeaways

  • Bipolar disorder involves cycles of manic and depressive episodes.
  • Diagnosis often occurs during late adolescence or early adulthood.
  • Treatment typically involves a combination of medications and psychotherapy.
  • Consistent treatment and self-care are crucial for managing bipolar disorder.
  • With the right support, many people with bipolar disorder can lead fulfilling lives.

Understanding Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a mental health issue known for big changes in mood, energy, and how active you are. It’s usually found in people’s late teens or early twenties.1 There are three kinds: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder.

Bipolar I has strong manic episodes for at least 7 days. These are often followed by deep depressive episodes lasting 2 weeks.1 Bipolar II has more depressive times and less intense hypomanic times.1 Cyclothymic brings on many hypomanic and depressive symptoms that are not as severe as in the other two.1 Sometimes, a person will show signs not fitting the usual types.1

Knowing the various bipolar types is vital for correct diagnosis and treatment. Many who have it also face other issues like anxiety, ADHD, addiction, or eating problems.1 Others can have psychotic signs during their worst manic or depressive times.1

Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder

Diagnosing bipolar disorder needs a deep look. It starts with a checkup and looking at someone’s moods and actions. We use the DSM-5, a guide from the American Psychiatric Association, to help us figure it out.2

Physical Exam and Psychiatric Assessment

First, a doctor checks for other health problems. They want to eliminate those as reasons for the symptoms. Then, a mental health expert talks to the person to understand their mood swings, energy, and what they think.2

Mood Charting

Mood charting is key. It means keeping track of how they feel, their energy level, and what they do every day. This helps spot if certain events or feelings make their condition clear.2

Diagnostic Criteria

The DSM-5’s rules help decide if someone has bipolar disorder. They look for times when a person was very high (manic) or very low (depressive). The changes in energy levels are telling signs too.23

Diagnosis in Children and Teenagers

Finding bipolar disorder in young people can be harder. Their symptoms might not match the adult standards perfectly.2 They might also seem like they have ADHD or are just acting out. In these cases, seeing a child psychiatrist with knowledge of bipolar disorder is smart.2

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

Treating bipolar disorder uses medications and psychotherapy together. This helps manage symptoms and avoid relapses. It also supports a good quality of life for those with the disorder.2


Mood stabilizers like lithium, valproic acid, and lamotrigine are common. Antipsychotics such as olanzapine and antidepressants might also be used.2 Figuring out the best meds can take time. Each person may need a different mix before finding what works best.2


Psychotherapy is critical for managing bipolar disorder. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal and social rhythm therapy (IPSRT), and family-focused therapy offer skills for handling the disorder. They can improve how you express yourself and enhance self-care.2

Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) might be used when other treatments don’t work. It’s a process where controlled electric currents are sent through the brain. This can help balance mood and reduce severe symptoms.2

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a newer option for those unresponsive to traditional treatments. It uses magnetic fields to stimulate the brain. The goal is to better manage mood swings and lessen symptoms.2

Working closely with healthcare teams is vital for figuring out the best treatment. Each person’s treatment plan should be unique. It should cater to their specific symptoms and needs.2

Managing Bipolar Disorder: Lifestyle Changes

If you have bipolar disorder, daily routines are key to balance. Stick to the same times for sleep, meals, and meeting up with friends. This helps keep your mood steady.4

On top of that, exercise is super important. Even just 30 minutes of movement each day can lift your spirits and help you sleep better.5

Building Structure and Routine

Having a routine you follow every day is a big help. Keeping your sleep and meal times steady can stop mood swings. It’s great for your energy and focus, too.4

Exercise and Physical Activity

Moving your body regularly with activities like walking or yoga is a game-changer. This kind of exercise is known to make you feel better, give you more energy, and improve your sleep.5 It should definitely be part of your treatment plan.

Monitoring Mood and Recognizing Warning Signs

Watching your mood closely is important. If you see signs of a mood swing early, you can do something about it. Keeping a mood journal can help you spot patterns and avoid big mood changes.4 Don’t wait until it’s too late.

monitoring mood

By making these lifestyle changes, you can help manage your bipolar disorder. This way, you get to enjoy life more.5

Developing a Wellness Toolbox

For those with bipolar disorder, a wellness toolbox is key to handling their condition better. This toolbox should have different coping methods. It should also include a strong support group for dealing with the highs and lows of the disorder.6

Coping Techniques

It’s important to have various ways to deal with mood swings. Things like talking to someone who understands, making sure you sleep well, and cutting back on stress can help.4 Activities such as riding a bike, taking quiet walks, and exercises to stay mindful are also great tools for staying well.6

Support System

A good support network is crucial for managing bipolar disorder. Family, close friends, support groups, and mental health experts can be part of this network.4 Joining support groups, taking art classes, and helping out at a garden can help broaden your support circle.6 Studies highlight the importance of strong support for people with bipolar disorder. It can help lower depression and improve their wellbeing.4

Creating a full wellness toolbox helps those with bipolar disorder in many ways. It helps manage symptoms, avoid setbacks, and increase life quality.64

Bipolar Disorder: Types and Symptoms

There are three main types of bipolar disorder. They are Bipolar I, Bipolar II, and Cyclothymic disorder.1 Bipolar I is known for its full manic episodes that last at least 7 days. It also has depressive episodes that last about 2 weeks.1 Bipolar II doesn’t have full manic episodes, but people experience hypomanic episodes that are less severe.1 Finally, Cyclothymic disorder includes hypo manic and depressive symptoms, but these are not full episodes.1

Bipolar disorder is often found in late teens or early 20s. It requires treatment for life.1 Manic episodes show as high energy, little sleep, fast thoughts, and risky actions.1 When in a depressive state, people feel down, have no interest, change in sleep, and think about death.1

Diagnosing and treating bipolar disorder early is very important.1 Many with this condition also face anxiety or use harmful substances.1 Treatment uses medication and therapy. Mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and cognitive therapy are key.1 In very bad situations, electroconvulsive therapy might be needed.1

Risk Factors for Bipolar Disorder

Many things can lead to bipolar disorder. If your close family has it, your risk is higher.7 This means parents or siblings with bipolar disorder can up your chances.7 Also, big stresses or traumatic events can kickstart the condition’s first signs.7

Using drugs or having other mental health issues, like anxiety and eating disorders, might increase your risk too.7 Shockingly, 60% of those with bipolar disorder also have a substance issue.8 Left untreated, bipolar disorder can make daily life hard and lead to severe problems, even death by suicide.7

Yet, stepping in early with the right help can stop the condition from getting worse.7 Watching for early warning signs, staying away from drugs, and taking prescribed medicines can make a big difference. These steps might keep mild symptoms from turning into full-blown mania or depression episodes.7

Risk FactorDescription
Family HistoryHaving a first-degree relative with bipolar disorder increases the risk.7
Stress and TraumaHigh levels of stress and major life changes or traumatic events can trigger the first episode.7
Co-occurring ConditionsSubstance abuse, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and eating disorders can contribute to the development of bipolar disorder.7
Age of OnsetBipolar disorder is typically diagnosed in the teenage years or early 20s.7 The average age of onset is 25, with symptoms usually occurring in older teenagers or young adults.8
GenderMen and women seem to be affected equally by bipolar disorder.8

Bipolar Disorder: Diagnosis and Evaluation

Diagnosing bipolar disorder means having a physical check-up, talking about your feelings with a doctor, and keeping track of your moods.2 Doctors look at how your mood changes which might follow a certain pattern to decide if you have bipolar disorder.1 It can be harder to figure out if kids or teens have it because their symptoms might not be the same as in adults.2

If a child is diagnosed, it’s usually based on signs similar to adults. But, it’s not always straightforward. This is because their symptoms might be a bit different.2 Often, children with bipolar disorder have other issues like ADHD or have problems with behaving. This makes it even trickier to diagnose.2

Bipolar I DisorderBipolar II DisorderCyclothymic Disorder
Characterized by manic episodes lasting at least 7 days, usually accompanied by depressive episodes lasting at least 2 weeks.1Involves patterns of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes.1Involves recurring hypomanic and depressive symptoms that do not meet the criteria for full-blown episodes.1

Most of the time, bipolar disorder starts when someone is a teenager or young adult.1 If a person goes through many mood changes in a year, like having lots of high or low days, they might have rapid cycling.1 People with this disorder may also deal with anxiety, ADHD, or struggles with drugs or eating.1 Getting the right diagnosis early is very important for treatment to work well, especially for young people.1

diagnosing bipolar disorder

Medication Management for Bipolar Disorder

Taking meds is crucial for managing bipolar disorder. Doctors often prescribe mood stabilizers such as lithium, valproic acid, and lamotrigine. They might also suggest antipsychotics and antidepressants.2 But, it can take time to find what works best for you because everyone is different.2 Always follow your doctor’s instructions, even when you feel OK. And, tell your doctor about any side effects.

9 In the UK, lithium is commonly used to manage bipolar disorder. It’s usually taken for six months or more to help even out mood swings.9 You’ll need blood tests every three months to check on your levels and avoid side effects.9 Doctors might also use other medicines like carbamazepine, lamotrigine, and valproate to help stabilize moods.9 Women who take valproate should know about the risks during pregnancy.

9 Antipsychotics such as haloperidol, olanzapine, quetiapine, and risperidone can be given to ease mania or as a long-term solution.9 If you’re on antipsychotics, you need regular medical checks, especially if you have diabetes.9 Antidepressants are used very carefully alongside mood stabilizers to lower the chance of a setback.

10 For Bipolar Affective Disorder, options include lithium, valproate, lamotrigine, and others. These meds can play a big role in keeping the condition under control.10 Lithium, for example, is known to help during acute episodes and cut down on the chances of a relapse. It also can lower the risk of suicide in these patients.

MedicationUse in Bipolar DisorderPotential Side Effects
LithiumMood stabilizer, treats mania and depression, prevents relapse9Tremor, weight gain, thyroid issues, kidney problems
Valproic AcidMood stabilizer, treats mania and depression9Nausea, weight gain, liver problems, birth defects
LamotrigineMood stabilizer, treats depression9Rash, dizziness, blurred vision
OlanzapineAntipsychotic, treats mania9Weight gain, drowsiness, increased cholesterol
QuetiapineAntipsychotic, treats mania and depression9Sedation, weight gain, metabolic changes

Psychotherapy for Bipolar Disorder

Psychotherapy is key in treating bipolar disorder. It’s often combined with medicine. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) finds and changes negative thoughts and actions.11 Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) helps keep daily routines stable. It’s important for managing the disorder.12 Family therapy boosts how families talk and support each other.12 These therapies give important skills and strategies for those with bipolar disorder.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) works well for bipolar disorder. It targets and reworks negative thoughts and behaviors. These can cause mood swings.11 Learning to spot and challenge these thoughts during highs and lows helps. This way, people learn to handle their symptoms better.

Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT)

Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy (IPSRT) strives to regulate daily life for those with bipolar disorder.12 It includes recording sleep, wake times, and activities. This helps find and fix patterns affecting mood.

Family-Focused Therapy

Family therapy is especially helpful for those with bipolar disorder.12 It’s about making families communicate, solve problems, and support each other better. Including family in treatment gives extra help. It supports better management of the disorder.

The right psychotherapy and other treatments offer skills and strategies for people with bipolar disorder.111213 Working with mental health experts is crucial. This helps people with the disorder live better lives.

Creating a Crisis Plan

Sometimes, despite efforts, one may have a severe mood episode with [crisis plan for bipolar disorder]. A crisis plan can help keep things in check and make sure the right care happens.14 This has been proven to lower the episode’s intensity for those with bipolar disorder.

Your crisis plan should have contacts for emergencies, a list of medicines, signs that others need to step in, and what care you prefer.15 It’s wise to make a plan that deals with both manic and depressive episodes if you have bipolar disorder.

Knowing what can set off a mood swing and spotting warning signs early are key.14 If you share how you feel before things get too tough, studies say you’ll likely get better support. A good crisis plan means you get help when you need it most.

Having strong people around you is vital for better crisis outcomes with [crisis plan for bipolar disorder].14 If you have a solid support group, chances are you’ll bounce back faster than if you’re going through it alone.

Aspect of Crisis PlanImportance
Emergency ContactsEnsures immediate access to help and support during a crisis
Medication ListProvides healthcare providers with crucial information to guide treatment
Symptom RecognitionAllows for early identification of a crisis and timely intervention
Treatment PreferencesEnsures care aligned with the individual’s needs and values
Support SystemOffers emotional, practical, and medical assistance during a crisis

Creating a strong [crisis plan for bipolar disorder] lets you stay in charge, get the care you need, and do better in tough times. This way, you can improve how you handle crises and your overall life quality with bipolar disorder.

Living with Bipolar Disorder: Support and Self-Care

Living with bipolar disorder means more than just getting professional help. It’s crucial to have a strong support system and take care of yourself. 4 This includes taking the right medicine and going to therapy.

Knowing the signs of mania or depression early is key. Things like extra stress, money issues, or not sleeping well can signal a problem. 4 Having a set of tools and activities for managing your mood helps a lot. 4 It’s also smart to make a plan for what to do if things get really bad. This plan should have your meds and who to call in an emergency. 4

Having friends and family around makes a big difference. 4 A study in 2017 showed that taking care of yourself can make life better. People felt less sad, stressed, and anxious. 16 Things like enough sleep, good food, and staying active help keep your mood steady. 4 With the right mix of help, support, and taking care of yourself, living well with bipolar disorder is very possible.

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