Bi Polar Disorder

Bi Polar is a term used to describe a disorder of moods.  A person who suffers from a Bi Polar mood disorder can at times feel high levels of energy and elation with increased production at work or play.  While experiencing mania, they often have little need for sleep. They speak rapidly and have an explosion of thoughts racing through their head. Families and friend often are affected when a love one has the disorder as Newt Gingrich vocalizes in the following clip.


A Bi Polar mood can rapidly spiral downward to a state of depression, low energy, and fatigue.  Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness and an inability to experience pleasure. Suffers swing from one extreme of the emotional pole to the other with devastating effects on their relationships, occupation and self-esteem.  Those suffering with Bi Polar Disorder have disruptions in mood, thinking and physiology.

According to NAMI, the National Association for Mental Illness, approximately 3-5 million Americans are diagnosed with Bi Polar Disorder or about 5% of the population. It is possible for children to have a Bi Polar Disorder although it is frequently under diagnosed resulting in inadequate treatment and poor outcomes.  Advances in drugs and therapy have made the disorder more manageable.

Bi Polar is thought to be genetic and has been documented as far back as ancient Greece. However, not much data was available in the United States until the 1970’s.  Bi Polar Disorder can also be called Manic Depressive illness.   Some of the famous people who have courageously spoken out about their diagnosis include Patti Duke, Jane Pauley and Catherine Zeta Jones. Bi Polar is an illness of the brain with a complex set of behaviors.  Some can be controlled, others cannot make it challenging for the caregivers as well as the one who suffers.

There is also a range of severity—some have little disruption in their lives through proper medication, life style and therapy.  While others suffer severely with 15% committing suicide. The suicide rate with Bi Polar Disorder is 30 times greater than the general population. I have edited the following suggestions for caregivers from the NAMI Family to Family Student Manuel.

  1. Remind yourself that you are a loving helper and not a magician.  You can’t change anyone else, you can only change yourself.
  2. Give love, support, praise and encouragement to those around you—and learn to accept it in return.
  3. It is normal to feel helpless at times.  It is okay to admit this without shame.  You are doing something important just in caring and being there.
  4. Realize the difference between complaining that relieves tension and the complaining that reinforces it.
  5. In the evening concentrate on one good thing that happened during the day.
  6. Be creative and open. Be willing to use to new approaches to old things.
  7. Find someone who can give your support, redirect you and give your encouragement when you are down.  You can do the same for them.  The buddy system works!
  8. Learn to say “no” and mean it.  If you can’t say “no” ask yourself what is your “yes” worth?
  9. An aloofness or indifferent attitude is far more harmful than admitting to an inability to do more.
  10. Learn to laugh and play!

I recommend these books for those who are interested in further knowledge on Bi Polar Disorder: Bi Polar for Dummies by Candida Fink and Joe Kraynak An Unquiet Mind a Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison Check out classes from the local NAMI association in your area.   Also my post on mental illness:

Camille Curtis Foster, LCSW

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