We all get moody from time to time. It’s this sort of feeling that none of us want to have, yet still escapes when we are most vulnerable. If it be times we have been too stressed, or not sleeping well or just down in the dumps, it takes a toll. When our guard is down and logic is snuffed out from our arising emotions, we may even take some pleasure in being callous towards others, be it yelling at an innocent person, kicking the dog, or sitting on the couch like a lump and telling ourselves how bad life is. Yet, when it is all done, we feel bad, pull ourselves out of it, and try to be better next time.
Bipolar Disorder is different than moodiness. It usually comes about from several factors, including genetics, brain structure and function, and a vulnerability to stress which can induce symptoms. Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood, different from the typical ups and downs most people experience, interrupting their ability to maintain work or school or cause significant family disruption. There are several types of Bipolar Disorder, with the primary differences being the degree to which or severity an individual experiences manic and/or depressive symptom. Mood frequency changes are usually at least 1-2 weeks in duration, although there are those that are more rapid cyclers, at 1-2-day overturns.
Manic symptoms range in severity, but include a distinct period of at least one week in which the individual has an expansive, elevated or irritated mood and a persistent focus on goals or excessive physical energy or agitation, in addition to several other symptoms, including an inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, excessive talking, racing thoughts, easy distractibility, and/or excessive involvement in activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g., buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, foolish business investments).
Depressive symptoms in Bipolar Disorder are similar to symptoms when someone is experiencing Major Depression, are at least 2 weeks in duration, and include a depressed mood most of the day nearly every day, a lack of interest in usual activities, significant weight loss/gain, insomnia or sleeping too much, being more or less active than usual, feeling worthless with inappropriate guilt, a lack of ability to think clearly, and/or thoughts of wanting to die or hurt yourself. Usually, with Bipolar Disorder, the depressive symptoms feel more severe and distinct, especially after moving from a manic state.
Sometimes, those experiencing Bipolar Disorder may also exhibit psychotic thinking, such as hearing voices, have delusional thoughts, or become paranoid.
Treatment usually consists of Psychiatric medications (mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medications and occasional antidepressants), Psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral therapy and family-focused therapy), Self-management strategies (education and early detection, Complementary health approaches (such as aerobic exercise, meditation, faith-based help).
Moodiness mostly takes will power and self-control to manage. Bipolar Disorder is like any medical diagnosis and needs treatment. It is no one’s fault. It just is.
Claudia A. Liljegren, MSW, LICSW
St. Williams Mental Health Service