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It’s normal for people to experience the highs and lows of life. We go through episodes of sadness when it’s triggered by an emotional occurrence, while we also go through happy phases that make us forget about any past misfortunes. But rarely do most, if ever, go through the lowest point of depression or the ultimate highest of the high. And more rarely do people experience it not only a few times in their lives, but on an ongoing basis. Yet there exists such a condition and it’s more common that you’d think: bipolar disorder.
Bipolar disorder (also called manic-depression) is a psychological condition wherein a person has extreme mood swings that range from deep depression to mania. It is a long term condition that can be disruptive in the lives of its victims if not managed properly. In the low point of a person with bipolar disorder, he or she might have feelings of hopelessness, despair, agony and insignificance—emotions that can push a person over to even have thoughts of ending his own life. Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, they may feel elation, invincibility, grandeur, euphoria—scarily similar to people who have schizophrenia (and in fact, they could be mistaken as having such a condition if they are having a manic episode). They may talk about things that they can do and achieve—unrealistically and without focus.

There are three types of bipolar disorder:

Bipolar I disorder—mood swings are severe in this kind of bipolar disorder and can be disruptive in their personal and professional lives. Their depression and mania can be particularly dangerous.

Bipolar II disorder—this is a less severe form of bipolar depression, where the depression lasts longer than the mania. Instead of full blown mania they have an elevated form of mania called hypomania. People with Bipolar II can still function in their normal lives albeit they will have stronger than normal bouts of melancholy and irritability or excitement.

Cyclothymia—this is a mild form of bipolar disorder. People with cyclothymia can still have disruptive episodes of depression and mania, but not as severe as the other two types.

When you see signs and symptoms of bipolar disorder in yourself or in loved ones, consult with a mental health provider immediately. Bipolar disorder can only be managed properly with treatment and medication. People who don’t seek help for their bipolar disorder may see themselves struggling socially, financially or in some cases maybe legally. Even if they think that they are doing well enough without addressing the issue, they probably don’t see the repercussions of their unmanaged condition in their loved ones. Suicidal thoughts are especially dangerous, and these should never be taken lightly—whether it’s your own thoughts or you observe this in a loved one. If you or a loved one is having suicidal thoughts, it is important to engage them in dialogue or seek the help of a doctor, a suicide hotline number or a spiritual advisor.

To diagnose if someone has bipolar disorder, the following tests might be performed:

Physical exam—basic physical exam that will record the height and weight of the individual, pulse rate, blood pressure, body temperature etc.

Laboratory tests—will include basic blood, urine and probably stool tests to determine whether there may be an underlying physiological condition causing the problem.

Psychological evaluation—the affected individual will have discussions with the doctor about his emotions and thoughts, as well as the reasoning behind them. There may also be a form with questions that a patient would have to fill out and in some cases, the involvement of family members may be called for (with the patient’s permission).

Mood charting—the doctor will ask the patient to keep a record of the emotions that he or she goes through within a certain period of time. This helps the doctor identify the condition as manic depression or help him plan medication.

People who have bipolar disorder need many tricks up their sleeves in order to manage the situation. One useful tip in order to reduce the risk of harm from bipolar disorder is to quit taking illegal drugs and drinking alcohol. A combination of mood altering substances and the risky behavior of bipolar patients can lead to disaster, so quitting the habit is essential. They should also try and avoid unhealthy relationships such as romantic relationships that always end up in disagreements and fights and friendships that are not mutually beneficial. Bipolar patients should also practice healthier living that includes plenty of exercise and sleep, which can do wonders in stabilizing their moods.