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What Is Bipolar Disorder?

April 28, 2018

Catherine Zeta-Jones, Carrie Fisher, and Demi Lovato are among the celebrities to recently share their struggles with bipolar disorder but what is it exactly?

First, we should take a look at the big picture. Psychiatric diagnoses fall into several categories: mood disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, substance-related disorders, and others.

Bipolar disorder is one type of mood disorder. Others include depressive disorders, dysthymic disorder (a milder form of chronic depression), and cyclothymic disorder (frequent periods of highs and lows that are not severe).

There are different types of bipolar disorders; the two main types are Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder. Both include symptoms of mania or hypomania and may include periods of depression.

Bipolar I

Bipolar I is the more severe type. People who have this disorder experience manic episodes – distinct periods that may be marked by expansive mood, need little sleep but feel well-rested, may develop grandiose notions, hallucinations, delusions, racing thoughts, pressured speech, intense activity, and poor judgment.

Such disturbances cause marked impairment in sufferers’ work, home, and social functioning. Actress Carrie Fisher told USA Today, “A manic phase is not predictable… The last time, I hacked off my hair, got a tattoo, and wanted to convert to Judaism.” People who have Bipolar I Disorder may also experience episodes of depression.

Bipolar II

Bipolar II Disorder is a milder version of Bipolar I. Sufferers may experience symptoms similar to manic episodes, but are less severe. These are called hypomanic episodes. People who have Bipolar II do not
have hallucinations or delusions, and their symptoms are not severe enough to markedly impair their work or social functioning.

Bipolar I and II are thought to manifest in people who have a genetic predisposition. Even so, some stressors can worsen the symptoms, but they can be minimized. For example, Catherine Zeta-Jones told the press that stress from her husband’s illness worsened her Bipolar II symptoms. She wisely obtained treatment soon after her husband’s medical condition improved. Another common problem that can worsen bipolar symptoms is a lack of quality sleep. Quality sleep is much more important than most people realize. In our country, people often sacrifice sleep in order to take care of other matters.

Treatment for Bipolar Disorder

Mood-stabilizing medications are usually beneficial in treating these disorders. However, practicing good daily self-care can be one of the best deterrents in minimizing hypomanic episodes. This involves maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, using good talking/listening boundaries in interactions, maintaining self-esteem without going “one-up” or “one-down,” and minimizing stress.

Thanks to the recent rash of celebrities talking with the press about their struggles with bipolar disorders, more people in public may feel safer seeking treatment for their illnesses.

Shelley Uram, MD is a Harvard-trained, triple board-certified psychiatrist who speaks nationally and internationally on psychological trauma, the underpinnings of depression/anxiety, and spirituality. Dr. Uram conducts lectures, workshops, and seminars to audiences across the United States and co-facilitates lectures and workshops with Pia Mellody. At The Meadows, Dr. Uram used to conduct many patient lectures and provided ongoing training and consultation to the medical and clinical staff. Dr. Uram is a Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Arizona College of Medicine and treats patients at her office in Phoenix, Arizona.