Bipolar disorder treatment: Am I bipolar?

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What is bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a complex mental health condition that can have severe effects on your day-to-day life. Similarities to other conditions, like depression, can sometimes make bipolar disorder hard to diagnose, further complicating your ability to manage your symptoms.
Living with bipolar disorder can make day-to-day life challenging, and though you might not feel like healing is possible, treatment can be incredibly effective. Continuous care can minimize and/or prevent mood episodes for the vast majority of people with bipolar disorder, even those with the most severe forms.
If you think you have bipolar disorder, the first step to feeling better is getting a clinical diagnosis from a qualified mental healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. Professional support can help you manage your symptoms, and can make a dramatic difference in your overall mental wellness.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition characterized by intense swings in a person’s mood, energy levels, behavior, and ability to function. These swings, or episodes, typically last days or weeks at a time. Episodes can range from extreme emotional “highs” (mania) involving euphoric, energized, or irritable behavior to “lows” (depression) involving intense hopelessness or indifference.
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What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

Most people experience mood swings; this is not necessarily a sign of bipolar disorder. In particular, mood changes that last hours, rather than days or weeks, can be a sign of other mental health conditions; they also may not be a sign of a mental health condition at all. Experiencing “highs” and “lows” can be a normal part of life for everyone.
Bipolar disorder, however, can cause symptoms that regularly interfere with your ability to live your life and get things done. These may include symptoms of mania, hypomania, and/or depression. Your friends or family may notice these symptoms and recognize that they are unusual for you.
Symptoms of mania
Symptoms of bipolar mania may make you feel good at first, but quickly become uncomfortable and erratic. They may last 7 days or longer, and may be severe enough to require hospitalization. These symptoms include:
  • Feelings of elation or extreme irritability
  • A decreased need for sleep
  • A sense of well-being that exceeds reality (euphoria); a feeling of invincibility
  • Talkativeness or faster speech that seems out of character
  • Irrational thoughts
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Poor decision making (spending sprees, reckless driving); risky or out-of-control behavior
Symptoms of hypomania
Hypomania has milder symptoms than mania, and hypomanic periods may last fewer than 7 days. Often, people are unaware they are in a hypomanic episode, as they may feel very good and motivated to get things done, without experiencing the major disruptions in day-to-day life that mania can cause.
Still, friends and loved ones may sometimes recognize changes in behavior that signify a hypomanic episode.
Symptoms of depression
Symptoms of bipolar depression are much more extreme than just “feeling down.” They may last 2 weeks or longer and include:
  • Feeling very down, sad, or anxious
  • Lack of interest or enjoyment in activities
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Lack of focus or concentration, slowed behavior
  • Decrease or increase in appetite
  • Decrease or increase in sleep
  • Excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Suicidal thoughts or frequent thoughts of death
People with bipolar mania or depression may also experience symptoms of psychosis, including delusions, false beliefs, or hallucinations. Hypomania does not include psychotic symptoms. Virtual treatment is a good option in some cases. For more severe symptoms, your psychiatrist might recommend in-person or hybrid care outside Talkiatry.
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What are the types of bipolar disorder?

There are several types of bipolar disorder, including bipolar I, bipolar II, and cyclothymia.
  • Bipolar I involves one or more episodes of mania. Mania is an extreme increase in energy and/or abnormally elevated mood that may last over 7 days. It can include feelings of euphoria (a sense of well-being that exceeds reality) or intense irritability, and can cause sleep and behavior changes that are noticeable by others. Most people with bipolar I also experience episodes of depression, although not everyone does. There may be neutral periods in between.
  • Bipolar II does not involve mania—instead, people with bipolar II tend to shift between periods of depression and periods of hypomania, a milder form of mania. There may be neutral periods in between.
  • Cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder is a rare form of bipolar disorder in which a person experiences milder “highs” and “lows” than bipolar I or II; specifically, they shift between mild depression and hypomania. There may be neutral periods, as well.
While bipolar I is often recognizable because of manic symptoms, bipolar II can be a little trickier to identify. Many people with bipolar II first seek out treatment during a depressive episode. They may not realize they are also having hypomanic episodes, which can lead them to be misdiagnosed with depression. That’s why it’s so important to have symptoms evaluated by a qualified mental health professional, who will take a careful history to provide an accurate diagnosis.
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What is the difference between bipolar disorder and manic depression?

There’s no difference. Manic depression, or manic-depressive disorder, is an outdated term for bipolar disorder.
The condition was renamed “bipolar disorder” because “manic depression” was often confused with other forms of depression, and “manic” can carry negative stigma, as well as associations with other mental health conditions
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What causes bipolar disorder?

The exact cause of bipolar disorder is still unknown. Researchers believe there’s a strong genetic component—between 80 and 90% of people with bipolar disorder have a relative with depression or bipolar disorder.
Additional risk factors for bipolar disorder include:
  • Extreme stress, for instance as a result of abuse, the loss of a close family member, or the end of a relationship
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
In addition, people with bipolar disorder may have other conditions (comorbidities), like:
  • Substance use disorders
  • ADHD
  • Anxiety disorders
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How does Talkiatry treat bipolar disorder?

Bipolar disorder has no cure, but treatment can drastically improve your symptoms. Most commonly, bipolar disorder is managed with a combination of medication and supportive therapy. Cyclothymia, although it’s considered “milder” than bipolar I or II, is generally treated the same way.
The first step in treating bipolar disorder is getting a clinical diagnosis from a qualified healthcare professional, like a psychiatrist. With Talkiatry, you can see a psychiatrist from the comfort of your home and within days of reaching out to us.
Here’s what to expect in your first visit:
Evaluation: During your first visit with a Talkiatry psychiatrist, you’ll get to meet each other and answer questions about your current symptoms, personal history, medical history, and mental health goals. Your psychiatrist will listen to what you're going through and make sure that virtual care at Talkiatry is the best fit for you.
Diagnosis: Based on the information you’ve shared, your psychiatrist will be able to provide a diagnosis of your condition, if you have one. Getting a diagnosis can feel scary, but it can also feel validating to finally put a name to what you've been experiencing. Your psychiatrist will help you navigate any emotions that come up and work with you on a path to move forward.
Treatment plan: You’ll collaborate with your psychiatrist on the best way to manage your symptoms. If medication is appropriate, you’ll discuss your options, including the benefits and potential side effects of each medication. Your psychiatrist will provide supportive therapy throughout your session, and may also recommend working with one of our therapists. Our therapists partner with our psychiatrists to provide collaborative care.
To get started, take our free online assessment, to see if Talkiatry is right for you and get matched with a psychiatrist.  
Medication management
The most common medications used to treat bipolar disorder are mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Mood stabilizers work by decreasing abnormal activity in the brain, which can eliminate and/or reduce the severity of mood episodes.
In people with depressive episodes, an antidepressant may also be added. It may take several weeks for a mood stabilizer or antidepressant to reach full effect. If you don’t respond to one medication, you may respond to another, so it’s important to work with a psychiatrist who can make adjustments based on your personal situation. Ongoing treatment—taking your medication consistently, even when you feel well—is key to managing your condition and keeping your symptoms under control.
Therapy can be an important tool to help people with bipolar disorder to manage their symptoms. Psychoeducation is one type of therapy that can be useful, both for people with bipolar disorder and their families. The goal is to gain knowledge about the condition and its treatment, so you, your loved ones, and your psychiatrist can work together to achieve the best possible outcome.
In addition, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be helpful with people with bipolar disorder. This form of therapy aims to help you identify patterns of thinking around your condition and its symptoms, along with helping you understand exactly how your thoughts affect your actions.
At Talkiatry, we schedule 60 minutes for your initial visit and typically 30 minutes for follow-up visits, which allows us to incorporate supportive therapy into your psychiatry appointments. If you and your psychiatrist feel you’d benefit from additional therapy, you can work with one of Talkiatry's therapists, if available or our psychiatrist can provide a referral.
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How to get started

If you have or think you might have bipolar disorder, Talkiatry can help. Here’s how to get started:
Tip #2
If Talkiatry is a fit for your needs, complete your first visit.
Expect to hear a bit about your psychiatrist’s background, and then to share exactly what brought you in. You may be asked about your medical history, day-to-day life, and goals and expectations for treatment. If you’re nervous about a particular element of treatment—say, taking mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder—we want to hear about that, too! Your Talkiatry psychiatrist knows that the best treatment plan is the one you’ll stick to, so they’ll work with you to make sure Talkiatry is the best fit for you and come up with a plan you're comfortable with.
Tip #3
Receive your personalized treatment plan, which may include a combination of medication and supportive therapy.
Tip #4
Continuous care will include adjusting your bipolar disorder treatment plan as needed.
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About Talkiatry

Talkiatry is a national psychiatry practice that provides in-network, virtual care. Co-founded by a patient and a triple-board-certified psychiatrist, Talkiatry has over 300 doctors, 100 insurance partners, and first visits available in days. We treat patients with a range of mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder. Get started with a short online assessment.
The information in this article is for educational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.
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