The Diagnosis and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, also known as bipolar affective disorder, manic-depressive illness, or affective psychosis, is a mental illness characterized by periods of elevated mood and periods of depression.[1][2] The elevated mood is significant and is known as mania or hypomania depending on the severity. During mania an individual feels or acts abnormally happy, energetic, or irritable.[1] They often make poorly thought out decisions with little regard to the consequences. The need for sleep is usually reduced.[2] During periods of depression there may be crying, poor eye contact with others, and a negative outlook on life.[1] The risk of suicide among those with the disorder is high at greater than 6% over 20 years, while self harm occurs in 30–40%.[1] Other mental health issues such as anxiety disorder and drug misuse are commonly associated.[1]

The cause is not clearly understood, but both genetic and environmental factors play a role. Typically many genes are involved. Environmental factors include long term stress and a history of childhood abuse.[1] It is divided into bipolar I disorder if there is at least one manic episode and bipolar II disorder if there are at least one hypomanic episode and one major depressive episode. In those with less severe symptoms of a prolonged duration the condition cyclothymic disorder may be present. If due to drugs or medical problems it is classified separately.[2] Other conditions that may present in a similar manner include: drug misuse, personality disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and schizophrenia as well as a number of medical conditions.[1]

Treatment commonly includes psychotherapy and medications such as mood stabilizers or antipsychotics. Examples of mood stabilizers that are commonly used include: lithium and anticonvulsants. Treatment in hospital against a person’s wishes may be required at times as people may be at risk to themselves or others yet refuse treatment. Severe behavioural problems may be managed with short term benzodiazepines or antipsychotics. In periods of mania it is recommended that antidepressants be stopped. If antidepressants are used for periods of depression they should be used with a mood stabilizer. Electroconvulsive therapy may be helpful in those who do not respond to other treatments. If treatments is stopped it is recommended that this be done slowly. Most people have social, financial or work related problem due to the disorder. These difficulties occur a quarter to a third of the time on average. The risk of death from natural causes such as heart disease is twice that of the general population. This is due to poor lifestyle choices and the side effects from medications.[1]

Sometimes, the person needs to be admitted to a behavioral correctional facility. In these instances, the individual’s needs will be met and tailored to on a day-to-day basis, and oftentimes these locations will feature such specialty items as behavioral health furniture to prevent anything being used for self-harm or to cause disruption or harm to others. This can be a fantastic short-term option whilst a treatment plan is worked out for the individual in question.

About 3% of people in the United States have bipolar disorder at some point in their life.[3] Lower rates of around 1% are found in other countries. The most common age at which symptoms begin is 25.[1] Rates appear to be similar in males as females.[4] The economic costs of the disorder has been estimated at $45 billion for the United States in 1991.[5] A large proportion of this was related to a higher number of missed work days estimated at 50 per year.[5] People with bipolar disorder often face problems with social stigma.[1]