bipolar disorders

Have you or a loved one ever struggled with mental illness? This can include depression, addiction or suicidal tendencies. I find in my therapy practice that mental illness is still stigmatized, misunderstood and routinely misdiagnosed. I recently had a client describing her struggle with her mother’s life long, erratic behavior and extreme mood swings. As I continued to ask questions, it became apparent to me that her mother has bipolar disorder and yet she has gone her entire life, undiagnosed. This experience inspired me to write this post.

According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, approximately one in five adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million, or 18.5%— experiences mental illness in a given year. These illnesses can range from mild depression to severe schizophrenia to bipolar disorder. Mental illness affects not just those who are diagnosed but their family, friends, caretakers, medical professionals and sometimes complete strangers.

There are often no visible signs that indicate mental illness. For this reason it is important to be aware of signs in the behavior and attitude of others. The better you can inform yourself of what to look for the more quickly you can get yourself or someone else help.

My client described her mother as, “Moody, unpredictable, sometimes super high and sometimes so low she becomes suicidal.” The child of a completely unpredictable mother will be profoundly impacted by the lack of stability. Bipolar disorder, also known as manic-depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Though, having a mental illness is in no way hopeless. With proper medical attention and continued treatment, people can go on to live happy, healthy lives.

While researchers are not entirely sure what causes bipolar disorder, “The current thinking is that this is a predominantly biological disorder that occurs in a specific part of the brain and is due to a malfunction of the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers in the brain). As a biological disorder, it may lie dormant and be activated spontaneously or it may be triggered by stressors in life.” This is according to Steve Bressert, Ph.D. via

To be exact with a diagnosis, mental health professionals use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The DSM provides a technical and detailed description of bipolar disorder. Here is a breakdown of some of the terms and symptoms used for this condition, according to a Diagnosis Guide for Bipolar Disorder written by Brian Krans for


The DSM defines mania as a “distinct period during which there is an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.” The episode must last at least a week. The mood must have at least three of the following symptoms:

  • inflated self-esteem
  • little need for sleep
  • pressure of speech (talking constantly)
  • flight of ideas
  • easily distracted
  • excess pursuit of goal-directed activities or psychomotor agitation (pacing, hand wringing, etc.)
  • excess pursuit of pleasure with a high risk of danger


The DSM states that a major depressive episode must have at least four of the following symptoms. They should be new or suddenly worse. They must last for at least two weeks.

  • changes in appetite or weight, sleep, or psychomotor activity
  • decreased energy
  • feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • trouble thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • thoughts of death or suicidal plans or attempts

In order to get proper treatment for bipolar disorder, it’s important to know what to look for.

I have also included a comprehensive PDF created by the National Institute of Mental Health, about the disorder.  Click here to view.

If you or someone you know is suffering from these symptoms, it’s important that you seek help. First I suggest that you contact your primary care doctor or your therapist. If you don’t already have a therapist you can find one in your area on Depending on what kind of assistance you are looking for there are treatment centers, studies, support groups and hotlines that you can call. Many of these options can be found online at

If you’ve found yourself or someone you love living in a state of hopelessness and confusion please know that you are not alone. Help is out there and you don’t have to figure this out all on your own. Connecting with friend and family members that you trust can decrease a sense of isolation and increase feelings of hope. Remember to do your homework and find out as much as you can about treatment options to find one that is best for you.

Has bipolar disorder affected your life? If so, please share your story in the comments below. Any uplifting advice or helpful support options are always appreciated. I look forward to connecting with you.

As always, take care of you.

Love Love Love




*image courtesy of David Salafia

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  1. thank you for addressing this topic. As a psychotherapist, I know how often lives are touched by various aspects of mental illness yet it is a subject that is often minimized and hence; impact is often denied.

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