Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy
Bipolar illness is not always immediately obvious as a diagnosis. Bipolar illness used to be known as Manic Depression, due to the extreme mood swings back and forth between depression and mania. At times, people who suffer from this serious illness have been mistakenly treated for depression alone, or for a personality disorder, or anxiety before getting an accurate diagnosis.  This is because it sometimes takes observation across time to recognize that the symptoms actually conform to those of bipolar illness.

The classic symptom for this illness is mood swings. But for some people, the swings rarely achieve an intensity that would make an accurate diagnosis obvious.  Additionally, people can be treated for a time just for the depression, as there may be more frequent depressive episodes than manic.

The diagnosis is made after observing the mood swings, the length of time they last, and their intensity. In some cases, the mood swings are rapid and severe, but at other times, they arise gradually, and are not as problematic, which is what sometimes makes the diagnosis difficult.

The depressive episodes can become severe, with suicidal thoughts occurring along with other symptoms of depression, such as increased or decreased appetite and sleep, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, loss of interest in usual activities, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and anxiety or sadness. When suicidal thoughts are occurring, there is often brief hospitalization.

The episodes of mania are generally characterized by periods with little sleep and increased energy. People may feel euphoric and have extreme behaviors and racing thoughts. They may view themselves as being in a very creative or productive period, and not easily admit that their behaviors are excessive. One often sees irritability or aggression, denial of how uncharacteristic their behaviors are, accompanied by very poor judgment. Mania sometimes leads to psychotic thinking, and may at times need to be managed with brief hospitalization.

Bipolar illness is complex illness, which requires treatment with medication, psychotherapy (sometimes both individual and family) and occasionally hospitalization.  There can be other conditions that accompany bipolar illness (which sometimes make its diagnosis difficult) such as alcohol or drug abuse and relationship or job difficulties.

If you believe that you, or someone you know, may be suffering from bipolar illness it is important that you get an evaluation as soon as possible, so that treatment can begin. It is best to be evaluated by a psychotherapist or a psychiatrist.  Although this is a serious illness, there are many avenues of help available, and generally once an accurate diagnosis is made, people can live very productive and happy lives.

Kathi Whitten Copyright 2009