Learning to recognize bipolar depression symptoms can help you make a distinction between very different types of depression.
Bipolar is often not thought of as depression at all, because of the way sufferers fluctuate between high and low moods. Also known as ‘manic depression,’ bipolar sufferers tend to swing between periods of high activity and periods that resemble major depression.
By contrast, major depression or clinical depression involves only prolonged low moods and does not include elevated, ‘manic’ episodes.
One of the first steps in recognizing bipolar depression symptoms is learning to notice bipolar behavior when it happens.
- We’ll start here by covering bipolar behavior, then move on to how medical professionals formally diagnose bipolar depression.
- We’ll then look at how bipolar depression symptoms are treated through psychotherapy, medication and alternative therapies.
Bipolar Behavior Signs to Look for
So what constitutes bipolar behavior? What are the signs to look for to determine if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from bipolar depression?
As the name of the disorder suggests, it’s characterized by the difference between extremes of emotion.
A bipolar sufferer will typically change in emotional state rapidly, often without any major influence from the outside.
The change in moods is not simply a switch from ‘happy’ to ‘sad,’ as many people mistakenly assume.
Mania: The ‘Down’ Moods
The ‘down’ moods of a bipolar person can include any of these behaviors and symptoms:
- Suicidal thoughts
- Sense that life is meaningless
- Lack of enjoyment from activities that used to be fun
- Loss of sex drive
- Social anxiety
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleeping pattern (insomnia or excessive sleep)
Depression: The ‘Up’ Moods
By contrast, the ‘up’ moods are characterized by the following symptoms:
- Increased energy (often coupled with insomnia)
- Heightened mood
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increase in speed of speech
- Increase in sex drive
- Difficulty making decisions
If you or someone you know swings between these two groups of behaviors, it’s possible that bipolar disorder may be the problem.
The Elusive Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis
So how do medical professionals actually diagnose bipolar? After all, many of the symptoms are similar or identical to those experienced by people with clinical depression.
This is why it’s important to identify the severity and frequency of ‘manic’ episodes as well as depressive episodes before an accurate diagnosis can be made.
Bipolar Isn’t Easily Objectively Measurable
As with many other forms of mental disorder, the diagnosis of bipolar is based largely on self-tests – the sufferer’s own experiences are the basis for the diagnosis.
It’s not possible to determine if a patient is bipolar by simply administering physical tests, because the disorder is related to the content of the person’s own consciousness.
However, sometimes physical tests can be carried out to confirm physical problems which may be a symptom of bipolar disorder, or which may explain a patient’s symptoms as an alternative to the diagnosis of bipolar.
This is to ensure the patient isn’t diagnosed with bipolar when she is actually suffering from a physical illness that produces similar symptoms.
That said, medical professionals will observe someone whose own self-tests fit the description of a bipolar sufferer, and make objective observations based on set criteria for diagnosis. These criteria will come from one of several widely used mental health handbooks.
Why Bipolar often Flies Unnoticed under the Radar for Years and Years
Bipolar depression is a disorder which commonly goes undiagnosed for long periods of time, purely because sufferers or people close to them don’t understand and recognize the symptoms.
Bipolar is often dismissed as being simply part of someone’s personality. By learning to recognize these behaviors and symptoms in yourself or others, you can minimize the negative effects of bipolar in your life.
Bipolar Sub-Classes: Bipolar I and Bipolar II
The main difference between the two is the frequency and severity of depressive episodes.
- Bipolar I is dominated by manic episodes, and may be diagnosed without any instances of depression at all, although this is rare.
- Bipolar II, on the other hand, tends to be dominated more by depressive episodes.
Bipolar Depression Treatment Options
Bipolar depression treatment typically consists of a combination of mood stabilizing drugs, antidepressants and ongoing therapy.
In addition to those, many sufferers make lifestyle changes once they come to understand their condition and get a clear idea of what can cause a manic-depressive episode to begin and how to deal with it when it happens.
Therapy Works on Many Levels: as Education, Improving Self Understanding and Strengthening Family Bonds
One of the major benefits of therapy in treating bipolar is actually its role in educating patients about their condition and the way their medication works.
Many bipolar sufferers are resistant to the idea of taking medication on a regular basis, and even once treatment has been prescribed they fail to deal with episodes when they arise because they remain in denial about the onset of a manic or depressive episode.
By educating patients on exactly what bipolar is and how the medications help, many patients are encouraged to develop better habits around taking their pills when they need them most.
But on another level, therapy helps patients understand the psychological causes of their illness, so they can make progress in improving their lives independent of medication.
It can also help reduce the impact bipolar has within a family environment. When someone in a family suffers from bipolar, their behavior often creates huge tensions with other family members.
It’s difficult for other family members to react in the right way to the bipolar behaviors of a loved one without a clear understanding of the psychology at work. Family therapy sessions can help relieve these tensions and make life more bearable for everyone in the family.
Bipolar Depression Medication
The two classes of drugs primarily used to treat bipolar depression are mood stabilizers and antidepressants.
Mood stabilizers help to control manic symptoms, whereas antidepressants are used to combat bouts of depression.
Mood Stabilizers: Lithium
There are several common mood stabilizers used in bipolar treatments, as well as a few newer drugs which are beginning to gain credit within the medical community.
One of the most widely prescribed drugs for bipolar depression is lithium. Lithium salts have been used since the late 1940s for their mood stabilizing effects. While it’s still not completely understood exactly why lithium works the way it does, most experts believe it’s due to the way it inhibits certain chemicals in the brain which are linked to manic behavior.
This raises an important point about why medication is such an important part of the treatment process, because there are real chemical imbalances in the brain of a bipolar sufferer which can’t be corrected through therapy alone.
Antidepressants: Prozac and St John’s Wort
Due to the very nature of the disorder, different drugs are required to treat the symptoms of different episodes from each end of the bipolar spectrum. One of the most commonly prescribed antidepressants is Prozac.
There are several other commonly prescribed drugs, which affect different brain chemicals related to mood such as serotonin and dopamine.
For a more natural form of anti-depressant, St John’s Wort has been used for centuries as a herbal remedy to treat depression and other mood disorders.
Supplementary and Natural Self Treatment
Manic Depression Lifestyle Changes – Exercise Raises Endorphin Levels
Manic Depression Lifestyle Changes – Exercise Raises Endorphin Levels
As mentioned above, some bipolar depression sufferers find their condition improves as a result of lifestyle changes.
It’s not a good idea to try to deal with bipolar completely through changes in lifestyle, however – the best results are achieved when lifestyle changes are implemented alongside medication and therapy treatments, not as a replacement for them.
Basic changes such as regular exercise can help avoid the onset of depressive episodes. Regular exercise helps to keep endorphin levels high, which leads to a natural mood boost. The self-esteem boost that can come from exercising regularly may also help prevent depressive episodes.
Rich Omega-3 Diet and Supplements
One other key area in which lifestyle changes can help is diet. In particular, there’s evidence that omega-3 supplementation may help in reducing the severity of bipolar depression symptoms.
Omega-3 supplements are sometimes recommended in addition to mood stabilizers and antidepressants.
Some studies have shown results pointing to positive effects for bipolar sufferers – others have found no results whatsoever.
In short, there is yet to be any conclusive scientific evidence for the effectiveness of omega-3 in treating bipolar, but anecdotal evidence indicates many sufferers believe it to be a useful supplement to their medical treatment.
Omega-3 supplementing can provide many other health benefits, so adding it to a well-rounded bipolar treatment plan may help and is unlikely to do any harm, however you should consult your doctor before adding it to your diet.
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