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Just Mood Swings? Or Something More Serious?

Who doesn’t have a friend or relative with “bipolar disorder?”  Bipolar disorder is one of the most commonly diagnosed psychiatric disorders today.  But what is bipolar disorder really?  You may have heard people who have wide mood swings are bipolar, or people who change moods very quickly are bipolar, but neither of these descriptions are necessarily true.

Most people will be diagnosed with bipolar disorder in their late teens or early twenties.  They may have exhibited symptoms earlier in childhood, but because children tend to demonstrate heightened levels of emotions anyway, they may go unnoticed.

Highs and Lows
The most prevalent symptom of bipolar disorder is the “mood episode.”  This is a prolonged mood that results in behavior that is dramatically different than the person’s usual behavior.  These mood episodes are generally on opposite ends of the emotive spectrum—hence the term “bi-polar.”  The extremely happy and excited mood is called “manic;” the sad and hopeless mood is called “depressed.”

Symptoms experienced during a manic state might include: rapid speech, irritability, sleeplessness, inability to focus—rapidly jumping from one idea to another, risk taking and grandiosity.

Symptoms demonstrated during a depressed state might include: feeling hopeless, feeling worthless, lack of motivation, loss of enjoyment, being tired, increased sleep or sleeping all day, and thoughts of suicide.

Psychotic Features
A small number of people with bipolar may have hallucinations and delusions.  These are called “psychotic features.” A delusion is a belief about yourself or your life that is not true.  If you have a delusion while you’re in a manic state, you might think you are rich and famous, when you are not.  If you experience delusions while in a depressed state, you might think you are homeless or terminally ill, when, in reality, you are not. These symptoms can be mistaken for schizophrenia, which is similar, but not the same.

Start With Your Primary Care Doctor
In order to be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, you should start with a visit to your primary care physician.  Though there aren’t any medical tests that can detect bipolar disorder, it’s important to make sure there isn’t a medical condition causing the behavior. It’s also important to get a complete social history in order to get an accurate picture of whether the problem behavior is atypical and truly bipolar and not a uni-polar or major depression.

A Very Serious Illness
Unfortunately, people struggling with bipolar disorder often turn to alcohol and drugs to cope with their intense emotions and sometimes out-of-control behaviors that may confuse or embarrass them.  Relationships are often tumultuous, making sustaining a support system difficult.  If you suspect someone you love has bipolar disorder, treatment is imperative.

When looking for bipolar disorder treatment, contact Salt Lake Behavioral Health. Reach them online at or by phone at.

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