Bipolar disorder is a complex and destabilizing mental health disorder that requires specialized interventions and psychiatric expertise to adequately manage. Those individuals living with bipolar disorder struggle daily with the challenges related to this confounding and unpredictable mental health condition.
There are different types of bipolar disorder with unique features, but the prevailing characteristics revolve around intense mood swings, shifting from manic episodes to depressive episodes. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong diagnosis, but with expert care and medication compliance it is possible to achieve normal functioning.
That said, there is a high degree of instability associated with bipolar disorder. Mood swings can escalate to such a degree that they become debilitating. When the disorder becomes so disruptive to daily functioning it may constitute a psychiatric crisis. Knowing the warning signs of a bipolar meltdown can help prevent such a crisis.
About Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder features extreme shifts in mood that are unpredictable and often disruptive to daily functioning. Changes in sleep patterns, eating habits, emotions, and behaviors accompany the mood swings. Individuals with bipolar disorder shift from manic to depressive episodes periodically, often without any predictable pattern. In most cases, bipolar disorder emerges in the teen or early adult years, and affects approximately 5.7 million people, according to statistics provided by the National Institute on Mental Illness. Of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder, more than 80% will have a severe form of the mental health disorder.
It is not yet totally understood how someone develops bipolar disorder. Some of the factors that are recognized as potential causes include a family history of bipolar disorder or mental illness, a problem in brain chemistry that affects mood regulation, a history of trauma or abuse. Certain substances, such as alcohol, hallucinogenics, benzodiazepines, and certain heart and blood pressure medications have been found to provoke symptoms of bipolar, if not the illness itself. Ongoing research is getting closer to understanding the genetic link or brain regulation issue that can cause bipolar disorder.
- Elated, euphoric mood
- Abundance of energy
- Increased activity levels
- Rapid speech
- Feeling jumpy
- Racing thoughts
- Engage in high-risk behaviors
- Take on multiple tasks at once
Managing a manic episode
At the outset of a manic episode the individual may find their symptoms getting out of control. Abnormal energy levels may prevent someone from sitting still and completing assignments at school or work. Minimal sleep over several days can impact health and wellness. Impulsive behavior can result in high-risk situations that lead to injury or material damage.
When the symptoms of a manic episode emerge there may be a very short window to proactively manage the oncoming symptoms, which is why it helps to recognize the warning signs of a bipolar meltdown. Seeking out the help of a support system such as a doctor or therapist can help prevent an episode from becoming full-fledged. Taking these proactive steps might help prevent a manic episode:
- Medication compliance
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs
- Using relaxation techniques
- Continue with outpatient therapy
- Feeling sad, hopeless, empty
- Very low energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Decreased activity level
- Overeating or under-eating
- Excessive worry
- Lack of joy or pleasure
- Sleep disturbance
- Excessive fatigue
- Thoughts of suicide
Managing a depressive episode:
Possibly a stressful or sad event has triggered the episode, but many times it is just a characteristic of bipolar disorder to experience these sporadic bouts of depression. Because bipolar depression can be extreme, it is essential to identify the signs as early as possible that a depressive disorder is emerging.
As with the prevention of a manic episode, being aware of the signs of depression is a proactive response to identifying a bipolar depressive episode. When the patterns emerge, such as sleep problems, extreme fatigue, a change in eating habits, and persistent feelings of sadness, it is important to see the doctor, and also avoid alcohol and drugs. The doctor may make a change in medications or prescribe additional CBT therapy.
Different Types of Bipolar Disorder
There are four different types of bipolar disorder with varied features in terms of which mood episode is predominant. These types include:
Bipolar I Disorder. Bipolar I is the most common and most severe form of bipolar disorder, characterized by manic episodes that last for at least seven days or with manic symptoms so severe that acute stabilization in a hospital setting is necessary. The depressive episodes may last two weeks or more.
Bipolar II Disorder. Bipolar II is defined by a pattern of manic and depressive episodes, but not to the same severity of Bipolar I.
Cyclothymic Disorder. Cyclothymic Disorder, or cyclothymia, is features repeated periods of manic symptoms and depressive symptoms lasting at least two years, however the symptoms do not reach the diagnostic criteria for manic or depressive episodes.
Other Specified and Unspecified Bipolar Disorders. This category includes bipolar disorder symptoms that do not fit into the above categories.
What to Expect in Residential Bipolar Disorder
Even knowing the warning signs of a bipolar meltdown, some individuals with this disorder may find that their efforts to manage it through outpatient practitioners are unsuccessful. Deteriorating bipolar disorder can become debilitating, with serious impairment in daily functioning and a significant reduction in quality of life.
Residential treatment provides a space for healing. In this setting, the individual will be free from external triggers that agitate the disorder, allowing them to attain a sense of calm while receiving specialized treatment. Treatment for bipolar disorder includes the following:
Medication: Mood stabilizing medications, such as antipsychotics and antidepressants, are the most commonly prescribed drugs for treating bipolar disorder. The specific type of bipolar disorder will dictate the medications. Lithium is the predominant medication prescribed for controlling bipolar disorder, in addition to anticonvulsants and SSRIs. Medication compliance is essential for maintaining emotional stability.
Psychotherapy: Thoughts can influence behaviors, and negative thoughts can lead to self-destructive behaviors. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most commonly used form of psychotherapy for treating bipolar disorder. CBT therapists will guide the individual to identify thought distortions or triggers that lead to the disruptive behaviors, and help them change these destructive thought patterns.
Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy. IPSRT provide life skills that helps the patient learn how to better predict and manage the bipolar episodes. This therapy focuses on the importance of maintaining a consistent daily routine, in addition to improving interpersonal relations and stress management.
Holistic: Experiential and holistic therapies can aid in the healing of severe bipolar disorder symptoms and promote overall wellness. These activities might include massage therapy, yoga, deep breathing techniques, practicing mindfulness, guided meditation, and aromatherapy.
Lifestyle: Because establishing a healthy routine is an essential aspect of managing bipolar disorder, inpatient treatment centers will counsel patients on diet and exercise. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule, getting regular exercise, eating nutritiously, and managing stress are all intrinsic to achieving stability and reducing the probability of a relapse.
Minimizing Bipolar Disorder Relapse
Although there is no cure for bipolar disorder, the condition can be managed using a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle adjustments. By being vigilant and proactive with these interventions, an individual can expect to enjoy more stability and overall wellness while living a productive life.
Following residential treatment, it is helpful to continue to integrate the holistic methods introduced there into daily life. These practices help to regulate stress, which is a trigger for bipolar. In addition to the relaxation methods, using the new thought and behavior patterns learned through CBT training becomes a foundational coping mechanism. Continuing to receive ongoing outpatient therapy is another aftercare effort that should be included following inpatient treatment.
Bipolar disorder doesn’t only impact the individual, but also affects those within their orbit. Bipolar support groups can be very helpful to both the individual with the disorder and their loved ones, as these groups offer helpful tips and strategies for family members managing life alongside someone struggling with bipolar disorder. Not only with the family support help the family better understand their loved one’s BPD, but it can help to foster a calmer and better functioning family dynamic.
An important aspect of maintaining quality of life following treatment is learning how to spot the warning signs of a bipolar meltdown. Even the most diligent adherence to ongoing continuing care efforts, a relapse is still a possibility. In fact, according to a study published in the Iranian Journal of Psychiatry, at least 75% of those with bipolar disorder will experience relapse. Some warning signs include sleep disturbance, increasing irritability, restlessness, trouble concentrating, isolating behaviors, feeling “flat,” and suicidal thoughts.
Can Bipolar Disorder Become a Disability?
In severe cases of bipolar disorder, where the individual is so impaired by the disorder that they are unable to function effectively on the job, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits may be available. There are various considerations the Social Security Administration will review prior to approving benefits, but knowing that a bipolar disability may warrant SSDI benefits provides peace of mind to individuals with extreme cases.
The SSA Blue Book details the evaluation criteria that will determine whether the person meets the eligibility threshold. Generally, benefits will be considered if impairment exists in the work environment after a history of consistent manic and/or depressive episodes resulting in two of the following three restrictions:
- Severe limitation of daily activity
- Inability to interact normally with coworkers or management
- Deterioration of mental health despite treatment that helped previously
Regardless of whether the applicant for SSDI meets the above criteria, they can still qualify if they have a medical history that documents a minimum of two years with a diagnosed affective (mood) disorder, including bipolar disorder.
Elevation Behavioral Health Treats Bipolar Disorder
Elevation Behavioral Health is a Los Angeles-based residential mental health center that offers a wide array of services for individuals in need of more intensive intervention for bipolar disorder. Using a blend of evidence-based and holistic treatment methods offers a more comprehensive approach. The beautiful private facility offers upscale accommodations and spa-like amenities, which enhance the overall treatment experience. For more details about our treatment program for bipolar disorder, please reach out to Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 561-0868.