More than two million adults in the U.S. are coping with bipolar disorder right now.1 Despite the disorder’s relative prevalence, however, receiving a diagnosis can be a frightening and isolating experience, often raising questions for those who’ve been diagnosed about what it’ll mean for their future—their job, their relationships, their life. But getting a diagnosis may also bring with it a sigh of relief, as those with bipolar disorder usually go up to 10 years before being accurately diagnosed.2
Clearly, there’s still much to be done when it comes to increasing understanding and awareness of the disorder. But the good news is, with proper treatment, many with bipolar disorder can learn to effectively manage their symptoms. In fact, according to Dr. Aron S. Wolf, lead psychiatrist with Teladoc:
“People with bipolar disorder can respond well to treatment with both medication and talk therapy.” Dr. Aron S. Wolf
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, here’s a closer look at this condition affecting nearly 3% of Americans.3
What is bipolar disorder?
Bipolar disorder is a condition that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to think clearly. People with the disorder experience high and low moods—known as mania and depression—which differ from the typical ups-and-downs that most people experience.4
Symptoms of a manic episode5 may include:
- Abnormally upbeat, jumpy or wired
- Increased activity, energy or agitation
- Exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence (euphoria)
- Decreased need for sleep
- Unusual talkativeness
- Racing thoughts
- Poor decision-making, such as going on buying sprees, taking sexual risks or making foolish investments
On the other hand, symptoms of a depressive episode6 may include:
- Depressed mood, such as feeling sad, empty or hopeless
- Loss of interest or pleasure in all or almost all activities
- Either insomnia or sleeping too much
- Either restlessness or slowed behavior
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- Decreased ability to think or concentrate
- Suicidal ideation
What it’s like to live with bipolar disorder
One of our members, whom we’ll call Amy, was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Prior to receiving her diagnosis, Amy describes experiencing symptoms of mania that could last days or even weeks. During these episodes, she was filled with nonstop energy and productiveness, sleeping very little and talking and acting quickly. This impulsiveness often led her to make rash decisions and engage in risky behaviors like overspending, binge drinking and unplanned sexual activity.
Regardless of the fallout from her decisions, Amy’s manic episodes left her feeling euphoric. In time, though, the highs gave way to distraction, irritability and paranoia. Eventually, Amy would sink into a deep depression. This low side of her bipolar disorder brought about intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, a lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and even suicidal urges. It made her never want to get out of bed or face other people.
Amy felt stuck in a never-ending cycle between two opposite extremes. Her varying moods made her anxious, emotional and unable to perform even basic daily tasks. The thoughts constantly running through her head left her feeling isolated. Negativity had invaded her world to the point where she simply couldn’t enjoy life. Amy needed real help.
Getting help for bipolar disorder
Amy’s story is uniquely hers, but it’s not unlike what many others with the disorder experience. Luckily, though, bipolar disorder can be treated—and it’s best done by a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, who specializes in the disorder and other conditions like it.
Treatment7 for bipolar disorder aims to manage a person’s symptoms and typically includes:
- Medication, such as mood stabilizers
- Psychotherapy or “talk therapy”
While a combination of medication and psychotherapy is the most common approach, other treatment options can include:
- Alternative therapies, such as electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) or acupuncture
- Lifestyle changes, such as getting regular exercise and adequate sleep, avoiding alcohol and recreational drugs, and learning to manage stress
Whether you’ve been diagnosed and are having trouble finding the ideal treatment, or you’re not sure what your mental health symptoms may mean, we’re here to support you on your journey. Our U.S. board-certified doctors and licensed therapists are available by phone or video 7 days a week at a time that works best for you. Learn more at Teladoc.com/therapy, or schedule an appointment now and have your visit within three days.
Updated May 21, 2021