Heartland Human Services

Am I Bipolar?

By Kimi Haarmann, MS, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

No one's mood is stable 100% of the time. It's normal to feel down when you hit a rough patch… and elated when life goes your way.
But if you have symptoms of bipolar disorder, the highs and lows are a lot more extreme and they can sometimes seem random. The good news is that with treatment and some hard work, you can control the impact this disease has on your life.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Doctors aren’t sure what causes this condition, which is also called manic depression.  It could have to do with brain structure -- the pathways or circuits that control mood, behavior, and thinking. Or it could be brain chemistry.  It’s likely genetic, since it often runs in families.  Anyone can get bipolar disorder at any age but most people show symptoms before the age of 25.
Bipolar disorder is generally known for two opposite phases:  Depression and Mania.  During a depressed period, you may feel sad, hopeless, and worthless.  You might even think about suicide.

Manic periods (hypomania or mania), which tend to happen less often than depressed periods, involve unusual bursts of energy.
Also, your judgment will be off kilter.  People do things quickly without thinking about the consequences.  For example, you might spend too much money, have impulsive sex, or get into trouble with the law.  During full-blown mania, you could have feelings that you’re better or more important than other people.  You may even hear and see things that aren't there.
How to Get Help
About 10 million Americans have bipolar disorder, but many don't know it.
Why? Most people don’t seek help unless they're feeling down.  Bipolar disorder can get missed if a person starts with a depressive episode.
It’s a Catch-22 situation.  If you show up at the doctor’s office and appear depressed, you’re likely to get an antidepressant.  If you have bipolar disorder, that drug may not work and can sometimes bring on mania.  The right treatment is a drug that evens out your mood.  It can help prevent both depressive and manic episodes.
If you’re in a so-called manic phase, you can feel so happy and productive that you don’t want to come down.  But depression almost always follows mania.

Clues to a Diagnosis
If you think you might have bipolar disorder, bring a family member with you when you go to the doctor. Family members will recognize periods of mood elevation.
A thorough review of your family history will also help even if you don’t have relatives who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  But if a parent has the disorder, there’s a higher chance you’ll acquire it, too. 
Get Treatment
Seeing a counselor and doctor for medication is only part of the treatment process.  You need to keep stress in check, get regular exercise, and get enough sleep.  Be careful with alcohol and drugs, mind your stress levels, and seek loving relationships.

It takes work to manage this illness, but the effort is worth it.  People who have it can and do achieve wellness and lead extraordinary, healthy, happy, and productive lives. Psychologists advise those who have feelings of depression lasting more than two weeks to seek professional advice.  If you or a loved one are experiencing  any symptoms of depression, contact Heartland Human Services at 217-347-7179 or take a free screening at www.heartlandhs.org