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Monday, May 16, 2011

Surprising Signs of Bipolar Disorder

4 Surprising Signs of Bipolar Disorder

Fewer than half of Americans with bipolar disorder are properly diagnosed and treated, recent research shows. Could you spot bipolar symptoms – in yourself or in someone close to you?

Bipolar disorder has been all over the headlines recently, from Charlie Sheen’s highly publicized rants leading many to suspect that the star is exhibiting “mania” (a telltale sign of bipolar disorder's emotional highs) to Catherine Zeta Jones seeking treatment for bipolar II, a milder form of the disorder. But the mental health condition goes far beyond Hollywood — and according to recent research, many people with the condition don’t even know they have it.
Fewer than half of people in the United States who show classic signs of bipolar disorder actually get diagnosed and treated, says a recent Archives of General Psychiatry report on a survey of more than 61,000 adults in 11 countries — the United States, Mexico, China, Japan, Brazil, Colombia, India, Lebanon, Bulgaria, Romania, and New Zealand. Bipolar patients in lower-income nations get even less treatment — in some cases, as few as 25 percent receive help.
Compared to the other 10 countries studied, the United States had the highest rate of bipolar disorder (4.4 percent of those surveyed fell somewhere on the bipolar spectrum). India had the lowest (0.1 percent). Overall, about 2.4 percent of those interviewed in the face-to-face survey could be classified as having bipolar disorder.
Bipolar Disorder’s Most Surprising Symptoms
It may be buzz-worthy these days, but many people don’t fully understand bipolar disorder and the symptoms that can lead to proper diagnosis and treatment. Bipolar, also sometimes called manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by shifts from extreme highs (known as mania) to emotional lows (depression), with “normal” moods in between.
It’s bipolar disorder’s manic phase that most sets it apart from other common mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. While many people associate mania with high energy and exaggeratedly good moods, these other key symptoms are more subtle:
  • Reckless spending . If a friend is blowing her paycheck on shopping sprees she can’t afford, watch out. A person in a manic phase of bipolar disorder is more likely to take big risks, including spending splurges that can lead to mountains of unmanageable debt.
  • Super-charged sex drive . A sudden revving up of a person's sex drive, obsessively thinking or talking about sex, or engaging in sexual encounters he otherwise wouldn’t (like a one-night stand or sex with someone he doesn't know well) are all symptoms of hypersexuality, another less-obvious mania clue.
  • Alcohol or drug abuse. These often go hand-in-hand with manic episodes: As many as 60 percent of people with bipolar disorder have abused alcohol or drugs at some point in their lives. Depressants such as alcohol or pain pills can send a person with mania straight into depression, while stimulants like cocaine can have the opposite effect.
  • Skimping on shut-eye. Little need for sleep is another red flag that a person may be having a manic episode.
Read about other common bipolar symptoms, including those related to depressive episodes.
Keep in mind that bipolar disorder can vary greatly in severity, and not everyone experiences every symptom. In fact, some patients experience hypomania, a less mild form of mania. But even hypomania, if left untreated, could spin into depression or develop into full-blown mania.
One important takeaway from the Archives study is that across all countries, patients with bipolar disorder faced challenges in their daily lives and were at increased risk of such health problems as panic attacks, substance abuse, and suicide. Untreated bipolar disorder can also lead to troubled relationships with friends and family and problems at work. If you’re concerned about yourself or a friend or loved one, get more information here on the best treatments for bipolar disorder.

What to Say, What Not to Say

What you say to your loved one with bipolar disorder can make a difference — either in a positive way or in a harmful one.

If your loved one has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you may be in shock and may not know what to say. It’s important to choose your words carefully, because what you communicate can either support your loved one and encourage him to seek treatment or make him feel even worse about himself and his diagnosis, discouraging him from getting the help he needs.
Bipolar Disorder: The Nine Worst Things to Say
You may have been surprised by your loved one’s diagnosis and his behavior may be very frustrating, but no matter what he does (or doesn’t do) and how upset you get, do your best to avoid saying the following:
  1. You’re crazy.
  2. This is your fault.
  3. You’re not trying.
  4. Everyone has bad times.
  5. You’ll be okay — there’s no need to worry.
  6. You’ll never be in a serious romantic relationship.
  7. What's the matter with you?
  8. I can’t help you.
  9. You don’t have to take your moods out on me — I’m getting so tired of this.
The truth is that bipolar disorder is a genetic medical illness — and it is treatable. Your loved one may cycle between being depressed with very little energy to being hyperactive or “manic.” This is all part of the illness and he can’t help it. It’s important that you be supportive, without nagging him. It will also help you if you know what to expect and how to spot when your loved one is not doing well or has stopped taking his medication.
Not finding someone to love romantically is something your loved one may be concerned about, so be careful not to reinforce that idea, even in frustration, especially since it’s not true. “There are plenty of people with these illnesses that get married. It just means that they have to do their best to get the condition under control,” says Jeffrey Rakofsky, MD, a psychiatrist at the Emory University Bipolar Disorders Clinic in Atlanta.

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