Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder characterized by significant, intense fluctuations in mood. It often emerges during adolescence or early adulthood and is very commonly first diagnosed during the college years. Some variation in mood is normal; however, it is important to differentiate normal shifts in emotional states from that characteristic of bipolar disorder. Normal mood variability is mild, predictable, or when more intense, relates to a clear trigger in the person’s life. Individuals with bipolar disorder often cannot identify a clear trigger for the new emotional state and tend to experience the mood as extreme or out of control. Bipolar disorder involves fluctuations between several mood states: a period of Major Depression, and a period involving elevated mood referred to as Mania or Hypomania.
During a major depressive Episode, the person may lose interest in activities, feel depressed and experience a variety of other symptoms such as problems concentrating, issues with motivation, hopelessness, and its most extreme, thoughts of suicide or death. Depression is a significant part of bipolar disorder in that most people with bipolar disorder experience more time depressed than in an elevated state.
Almost everyone with a bipolar disorder experiences hypomania, a mood state characterized by increased energy and activity. Hypomanic symptoms include increased productivity, rapid thoughts, inflated self-esteem, impulsivity, especially related to pleasurable and high-risk behaviors (shopping sprees, increased sexual hook-ups, increased substance use), being more talkative than is typical, and a decreased need for sleep. It is typical that individuals in this mood state initially may enjoy these symptoms; however, hypomanic states also include intense irritability and restlessness. The person may soon come to feel agitated and out of control. In some cases, hypomanic episodes escalate in intensity and progress towards a full manic episode.
Mania is a period of intense mood elevation and is potentially very dangerous. People feel out of control, act unpredictably and impulsively and can be a danger to themselves. While some symptoms overlap with hypomanic states (rapid speech, accelerated thought), the person experiencing a manic episode is not feeling euphoric. Symptoms can include dramatically reduced need for sleep, or an inability to sleep, loss of judgment, and symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations (e.g. hearing voices, believing something is there that isn’t) or delusions (persistent, false beliefs such as being convinced he/she leads the country, is a famous musician, etc.)
HOW TO COPE WITH BIPOLAR
The following strategies can be helpful when dealing with bipolar disorder:
- Get help from a professional- Seeking help from a mental health professional can make a huge difference in the quality of life. Without effective treatment, manic and depressive episodes tend to occur more frequently and are more severe.
- Create a structured life to help manage stress--Create a schedule for yourself that includes good nutrition and regular exercise
- Prioritize your sleep- Too much or too little sleep can have a significant impact on your mood. Focus on getting eight hours a night and retiring and waking up at the same time every day.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs they interfere with mood stability; mood stability is essential for preventing depressive, hypomanic, and manic episodes. Find activities in your life that are fun, pleasurable and that do not involve drugs or alcohol.
- Keep a mood chart and make a plan- Becoming aware of symptoms or precursors to mood changes can be a useful tool in maintaining health. Have a clear plan of action at the earliest signs of a change in mood, such as making an appointment with your mental health provider or contacting a support person.
- Hold Hope- While bipolar disorder can be serious, it can also be well managed with treatment and lifestyle practices.
HOW TO GET HELP
Free, confidential counseling is available at the University Counseling Center, 206 Health Services Building, 610-519-4050.
For informational purposes only, the University Counseling Center offers access to online, anonymous Self-Assessment Tools. These resources are provided by third-parties unaffiliated with Villanova and the results are not shared with the University. These screenings are not a substitute for a complete evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. For personal assistance, please call the Counseling Center at 610-519-4050 for an appointment.