Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bipolar Disorder part 1

This week I was intrigued by the Bipolar Beat blog post on strategies for families and couples where one person has bipolar disorder. One tip is to “Identify the problem as the illness not the person” and I couldn’t agree more. Here’s a link to Bipolar Beat’s full post.

For a basic overview of bipolar disorder, see the facts, symptoms, and ways to help we’ve posted below.

For a more personal account of living with the illness, come see one of our performances. Each of our productions has a true story of someone’s experiences with bipolar at a different stage in life –- Rose is diagnosed as a college student, Joanna shines light on her perspective as a teenager, and Lisa shares her experiences looking back at over a decade of living with the illness and learning how to “not only survive, but to thrive.”

Bipolar Disorder


Bipolar disorder is more than a mood swing. It is a treatable medical illness, a brain disorder, marked by EXTREME changes in mood, thought, energy, and behavior that disrupt normal activities. It is also known as manic depression because a person swings from mania to depression.

Bipolar disorder is a chronic and generally life-long condition with recurring episodes that often begin in adolescence or early adulthood, and occasionally begin in childhood. The illness tends to run in families.

Bipolar disorder is characterized by episodes of mania and depression that can last from days to months. Refer to the signs and symptoms of depression (the other “pole” in bipolar disorder) from the post on September 1st.


Mania is the word that describes the activated phase of bipolar disorder. The symptoms of mania may include:

  • MOOD – Abnormally elevated, expansive, high OR irritable, critical or argumentative

  • BODY – Decreased need for sleep, insomnia, increased appetite or sudden weight loss, increased sexual drive (hyper sexuality); in psychotic stage – catatonic

  • BEHAVIOR – impulsive, intrusive, uninhibited, increased goal setting/creativity, anger/rage, disorganized/easily distracted, recklessness: spending money, bad business investments, sexual misadventures, no concern about consequences of behavior; in psychotic stage – grossly disorganized

  • THINKING – inflated self-concept, pressured speech, racing thoughts or flight of ideas, rapid shifts of attention, poor concentration, memory distortion, lack of insight; in psychotic stage - delusional

  • SENSES – lowering of Central Nervous System excitability, seeks over stimulation


If the person is in crisis:

  • Stay calm. Talk slowly and use a reassuring tone of voice.
  • Realize you may have trouble communicating with this individual. Ask simple questions. Repeat them if necessary, using the same words each time.
  • Don’t take the individual’s actions or hurtful words personally.
  • Say, “I’m here. I care. I want to help. How can I help you?”
  • Don’t handle the crisis alone. Get assistance from the school social worker, principal, or people from a local support group to help you.
  • If the person threatens or tries to take his/her own life or hurt themselves or others, sees or hear things (hallucinations), believes things that are not true (delusions), has not eaten or slept for several days, or is unable to care for themselves, do not hesitate to get them hospitalization-based assistance.

If they are not in a crisis and seek your assistance:

  • Help the person understand what his/her symptoms and triggers are so that they can be better managed.
  • If they are on medication, remind them that even though they may be feeling better now, the medication is part of what is helping them feel that way. Encourage them to continue with their medication regimen.
  • Get educated about the illness so you can separate the illness from the person.
Thanks for reading. We appreciate your comments, and wish you a healthy day.

~"Support Star" image attributed to Flckr user Chambo25 with a CreativeCommon license


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