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Understanding Bipolar Disorder

people with bipolar disorder, managing bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a challenging and commonly misunderstood mental health condition. At Highland Hospital Behavioral Health in Charleston, West Virginia, we want to help people with this diagnosis and their loved ones understand and respond to the challenges it can present.

What Bipolar Disorder Looks Like

People with bipolar disorder often have long periods of time where they exhibit no mental health symptoms at all, but when they are experiencing struggles, it is likely to involve the following.

  • Periods of intense mania, where the person experiences:
    • Sleeplessness
    • Hallucinations/psychosis
    • Delusions/Paranoia
    • Rage
    • Euphoria
    • Impulsivity
    • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Periods of equally intense depression, which might include:
    • Sadness
    • Sleeping too much or too little
    • Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
    • Difficulty focusing
    • Hopelessness or worthlessness
    • Thoughts of death or suicide

The shift between mania and depression can happen suddenly or gradually, and symptoms can vary from mild to severe.

Challenges Facing People with Bipolar Disorder

Not only do people with bipolar disorder have to deal with mood swings and impulsive choices they may have made while manic, but they are also more likely to have additional struggles which could include:

  • Lacking insight into how significantly their instability impacts their own life and the lives of the people around them
  • Increased chances of poor health outcomes, as a consequence of engaging in risky sexual or substance-related choices
  • Legal, financial, and relationship problems arising from their behaviors
  • Increased risk of suicide attempts
  • Increased likelihood of going off of their medications against the advice of their doctors

Risk Factors

It is not entirely clear what causes bipolar disorder, but certain factors seem to increase the odds of a person developing this condition:

  • Brain differences – the brains of people with bipolar disorder are observably different from the brains of other people
  • Genes – having a first-degree relative, like a sibling or parent, who has bipolar disorder, seems to increase the likelihood of a person developing it
  • High-stress events – a traumatic event or other difficulty can act as the trigger for a person’s first episode
  • Drug and alcohol use – heavy substance use also seems to activate the condition


Bipolar disorder can occur at any age, but most often people are diagnosed in their teens or twenties. Bipolar disorder diagnosis generally starts with a physical exam and tests to rule out medical causes for the observed concerns. If no medical cause is found, a patient will likely be referred to a trained mental health provider for a mental health evaluation. This provider will likely utilize a variety of information to make or rule out a bipolar diagnosis, such as symptoms, life experiences, and family history.


There is no cure for bipolar disorder, but it can be treated very effectively for most people. An effective treatment plan for bipolar disorder generally involves a combination of medication and therapy. These treatment options are not effective for everyone. In those cases, alternative therapies might be considered, which could include electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), and light therapy.

Co-occurring Disorders

People who have bipolar disorder often experience other mental health concerns, the most common of which are:

  • Anxiety
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Substance use disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Physical health problems including:
    • Heart disease
    • Thyroid problems
    • Headaches
    • Obesity

It is important that people who have more than one health condition treat all of their issues to optimize their ability to have a life that is meaningful and enjoyable for them.

Bipolar Disorder Management

Effectively managing bipolar disorder requires that patients take steps to be proactive in their own care. This includes the following steps:

  • Working with providers to create a long-term plan they can follow–and sticking to the plan
  • Building a structured life that ensures a healthy diet, vigorous exercise, and good sleep habits
  • Tracking their moods, activities, and health to be able to recognize cycles
  • Talking with their doctor before adding any over-the-counter medications or supplements, as these can interact with the medicine they are prescribed to manage their mental health
  • Reducing stress in their lives as much as possible
  • Educating and utilizing their support system, so they can help to identify signs of impending episodes
  • Being patient with themselves as they make improvements

At Highland Hospital Behavioral Health, our staff offers personalized, evidence-based services for people with bipolar disorder and other mental health conditions. We offer a compassionate, collaborative atmosphere where we give our clients the tools to recover and build healthy happy lives.

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