How Do I Know Whether I Have Bipolar Disorder?

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Reader’s Question

I am eighteen years old and I am afraid that I might have Bipolar Disorder. I am almost always either depressed or crazy happy. When I’m depressed, I don’t want to eat or sleep or talk to anybody. I also have anger outbursts towards friends and family, and I sometimes play with the idea of suicide. I generally see myself as a very happy person. I have a great life and an amazing mother and grandmother, but when I am in this kind of mood I couldn’t care less about anything. I am a college student, and that is the most important thing to me right now. But when I am depressed, I don’t even think about my classes.

When I’m in the crazy happy mood, I dance around the house, laughing, telling jokes, and I don’t get angry as easily. I forget to eat because I’m so excited, and I don’t sleep because my head is so busy. My thoughts are also different.

I don’t do anything extreme. I wouldn’t attempt suicide and I know that, but it still worries me. I have lost a lot of friends because of how I get when I am in my depressed mood.

Do you think I might have Bipolar Disorder? I tried seeing a therapist, but I got worse while I was seeing him, so I stopped.

Psychologist’s Reply

Some of the things you report do suggest that you are having some problems related to your mood. But making an accurate diagnostic call requires professional assessment. There are actually several different types of mood disturbances, and even different forms of Bipolar Disorder. And merely seeing any kind of counselor or therapist is not the answer. It’s important to be assessed by a professional with the level of training necessary not only to make an accurate diagnosis but also to devise an appropriate intervention plan.

Symptoms of depression include: sadness, feelings of anxiety, increased irritability, loss of energy, periods of crying, change in appetite causing weight loss or gain, increased need for sleep, early waking, difficulty making decisions, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Symptoms of mania include: excessive happiness and excitement, irritability, restlessness, increased energy, grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, racing thoughts, and a tendency to make grand and unattainable plans and to act on impulse.

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Many individuals with Bipolar disorder experience significant swings of mood that can include varying degrees of mania and/or depression. Individuals with Bipolar I Disorder have had at least one full-blown manic episode. Individuals with Bipolar II disorder have experienced a period of elevated mood that didn’t quite meet the threshold of a bona fide manic episode. There are other variations of the illness that are sometimes characterized by mixed episodes or rapid-cycling mood patterns. Individuals with Cyclothymia experience mood swings also, but neither their “highs” nor “lows” reach the level of full depression or mania.

So, you can see how important it is to be evaluated appropriately. It’s also important that whatever the diagnosis turns out to be or course of intervention recommended, you stick with the treatment prescribed and adhere to any medication regimen. It’s actually symptomatic of many mood disturbances to experience difficulty remaining faithful to the regimen that will ultimately improve the quality of life.

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