Bipolar Disorder - Handel Behavioral Health
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Bipolar Disorder

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Amy Mauro

The word bipolar means two extremes. 

For the 46 million people living with bipolar disorder (BD) around the world, the shifts in mood from severe depression, to mania, and a range of emotions in between, can make life feel unpredictable and often extreme. 

That being said, living with BD is uniquely personal experience. 

BD is a form of neurodivergence, which means that people living with BD engage with the world in ways that are uniquely different from the neurotypical experience. 

While neurotypical individuals can be affected by mood swings, people with BD experience heightened emotions and depressive states often so intense that they can interfere with everyday life. A person’s energy levels, thought patterns, and behaviors can also all be impacted by BD.

More so, each type of BD, including: Bipolar I, Bipolar II, Cyclothymic disorder, and other specified and other unspecified bipolar and related disorders, have their own characteristics. 

With an accurate diagnosis, and individualized treatment plan that may involve psychotherapy, education, self-management skills, external social support, and medication, people with BD can live to their fullest potential. 

Whether you’re seeking therapy for yourself or your loved one, or you want to learn more about supporting someone with bipolar disorder, our trained clinicians are here to support you. 

Handel Behavioral Health serves clients from all walks of life, all over the state of Massachusetts. We offer in-person therapy from our offices in Amherst, Springfield, Wilbraham, Natick, and Franklin. We also offer online tele-therapy services to accommodate your schedule and preferences.

To schedule an appointment with one of our trained therapists in Massachusetts, please call us at (413) 343-4357.

To learn more about what bipolar disorder is, including types, traits, and treatment, please read on.

What are Bipolar Disorders?

Bipolar disorder is a psychiatric diagnosis used to describe a brain condition that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy levels, thought patterns, and behaviors. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, people with BD experience intense emotional states, called mood episodes, which typically last during distinct periods of days to weeks. These episodes are distinguished as manic/hypomanic or depressive. 

People with BD typically experience stable or neutral moods in between episodes.

Traits of Bipolar Disorder:

Traits and their severity vary from person to person. Someone might experience extreme depressive or manic states, but they can also have extended periods of time without showing traits. 

A person can also experience mixed episodes, or a mixed state, where they feel both the traits of depression, plus mania or hypomania at the same time. 

Mania: For a person to be diagnosed with BD, they must have experienced at least one manic episode or hypomania. 

Manic episodes, or extreme highs, can make a person range from feeling irritable to invincible. 

Hypomania involves milder forms of mania, and many people with hypomania can function in social settings without disruption. 

Traits of mania can involve: 

  • Feeling elated or “high” beyond ordinary feelings of joy 
  • Sleeplessness 
  • Rapid thoughts
  • Impulsive actions 
  • Changes in appetite
  • Full of new and exciting ideas
  • Moving rapidly from one idea to another
  • Speaking very quickly
  • Hearing voices that others can’t hear
  • Extreme irritability
  • Easily distracted and struggle to focus on one topic at a time
  • “Grandiose” ideas where the person feels exceptionally talented or powerful 
  • Engaging in risky behavior: spending a lot of money, gambling, unprotected sex with multiple partners, etc. 

Depression: Some people with BD will experience one or more depressive episodes. The traits of depression typically mirror Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). 

Traits of depression can involve: 

  • Feeling sad, hopeless, or worthless almost everyday
  • Taking longer than usual to complete tasks
  • Loss of interest in hobbies 
  • Feeling worthless or excessively guilty
  • Changes in sleep patterns: sleeping more or less than usual
  • Changes in appetite: eating more or less than usual
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Restlessness or slowness 
  • Thoughts of death or suicide 

Psychotic traits, such as hallucinations or delusions, may also occur during severe episodes of mania. These traits typically mirror a person’s extreme mood.

What are the 4 Types of Bipolar Disorder?

There are four types of bipolar disorder and each carries their own characteristics: 

1. Bipolar I Disorder: Most people diagnosed with bipolar I experience episodes of both mania and severe depression, though an episode of depression is not necessary for a diagnosis. 

To be diagnosed with bipolar I, the manic episode must last at least 7 days or be so extreme that hospitalization is required. 

2. Bipolar II Disorder: A subset of BD in which someone experiences at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but never a “full” manic episode.

A hypomanic episode is characterized by less severe manic traits that last four days in a row, rather than a full week. 

3. Cyclothymic Disorder or Cyclothymia: A chronically unstable mood state in which people frequently experience hypomania and mild depression for at least two years. People with cyclothymia experience emotional ups and downs but traits are less severe than bipolar disorder I and II. 

4. Bipolar Disorder, “other specified” and “unspecified:” A person does not meet the criteria for bipolar II, or cyclothymia but still experiences periods of clinically significant abnormal mood elevation.

What Does Treatment for Bipolar Disorder Involve?

With the appropriate treatment plan, which may involve psychotherapy, education, medication management, and lifestyle adjustments, people with BD can start reducing depressive symptoms and preventing future mood changes. 

The following are effective forms of therapy for BD: 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Focus on how one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influence each other. Learn how to identify, challenge, and replace negative assumptions and thought patterns with more adaptive thoughts.

Dialectical-Behavioral Therapy: Teaches mindfulness and acceptance skills: the ability to experience present moment thoughts, emotions, and their accompanying physical sensations without judgment. 

Interpersonal Therapy: Reflect on and gain insight into one’s personal relationships. Learn how one’s thoughts, actions, and feelings affect relationships, and vice versa. Learn how to communicate effectively and develop a solid support system, or repair a damaged support system.

Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy: Develop a daily record of bedtimes, wake times, activities, and the effects of changes in these routines on one’s mood. Learn how to regulate daily routines and sleep cycles with the goal of stabilizing one’s mood. 

Individual Psychoeducation: Learn how to spot one’s warning signs, and develop adaptive coping strategies.

Family Focused Therapy: Work as a family to identify behavioral traits, warning signs and risks for maladaptive behavior, and build communication and problem solving skills. 

Medication Management: Numerous medications are used to manage BD. The appropriate type of medication and dosage will depend on one’s particular traits.

Beyond treatment, everyday changes such as regular exercise, good sleep habits, and sobriety from drugs and alcohol can contribute to mood stabilization, without reducing a person’s ability to experience emotions.

The Take-Away

If you or your loved one is struggling with bipolar disorder, it’s imperative to seek support from a trained mental health professional. With an accurate diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan, you can learn how to manage your traits and move through your life with more ease and joy. 

Our trained mental health professionals in Amherst, West Springfield, Franklin, Natick, Wilbraham and online across the state of Massachusetts offer ongoing support, counseling services, as well as medication management.

To schedule an appointment, please call us today at (413) 343-4357 or request an appointment online.

About The Author

Nettie Hoagland Headshot

Nettie Hoagland is a writer with experience in local news reporting, nonprofit communications, and community development. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in Media Studies, Journalism, and Digital Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Vermont. Nettie believes in the healing power of the arts to create connection and community. She is passionate about using writing as an instrument for personal and social growth in the field of mental health. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY.

Kaitlin Corson Headshot

Kaitlin received her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Boston University School of Medicine. Kaitlin has experience working with individuals who have a wide variety of identities, cultures and diagnoses, including working with criminal justice involved individuals. Her experience includes providing individual therapy, group therapy and crisis intervention in acute settings. More About Author →

James Gardner Headshot

Jim is an LICSW with a Ph.D. from the Smith College in clinical social work. He not only focuses on an individual’s mental health, but considers the role of the social environment that affects an individual. After receiving his MSW in 1982, he served at the D St. clinic in South Boston for 28 years. And as a person in recovery for over 10 years he is personally acquainted with the struggles related to maintenance of sobriety. More About Author →

Greg Handel Headshot

Greg has more than 35 years of experience providing positive life supports for individuals, couples and families. He has worked in several different environments including inpatient and outpatient mental health centers, rehabilitation facilities, congregate residential settings and in private practice. More About Author →