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Utah Mental Health Questions: What is Bipolar Disorder?

Utah Mental Health Questions: What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental disorder in which an individual swings unpredictably and uncontrollably between mania and depression. More than just having a roller coaster of a day, however, these two poles of mood take turns as a persistent, potentially dangerous state for the individual. Know that the times of being depressed and the times of being manic are often asymmetrical and dynamic. Put another way: the periods of depression and mania may be experienced with different levels of duration, different levels of severity, and with a different characterization from the previous episode.


What is Bipolar Disorder vs. How is it Diagnosed?

All in all, it’s not too difficult to understand what bipolar disorder is, but the catch is there’s a big difference between understanding the disorder conceptually and recognizing an individual presentation. And there are several reasons for this:

1) There are a number of mood dysregulation, personality, and developmental disorders that may present with wild mood swings, which can masquerade as bipolar disorder. These masquerading effects may also be caused illicit or prescription drugs or certain medical conditions.

2) Not enough time has passed: A bipolar diagnosis requires a sustained and characteristic episode of both mania and depression. A clinician may make a partial diagnosis when it appears a course of bipolar disorder has begun, but the full criteria are not yet met.

3) Mood swings are normal within a certain range and frequency. Likewise, both depressed and elevated moods may be a normal and temporary reaction to present circumstances.

4) At the same time, circumstances may serve as a trigger for manic and depressive episodes of clinical significance. Sometimes, these circumstances create rationalizations for behavior and, thus, may delay the diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder.

5) An individual seeks help during periods of normal mood. Mental health professionals are well trained to tell the difference between normal mood swings and those associated with bipolar disorder. When it’s not possible to witness these moods in an office setting, the clinician must, in part, rely on reports from the individual, friends, and family.


Symptoms and Risk Factors in Utah

No matter where you live, this disorder often runs an unpredictable course, but there are a few things about living in Utah that can potentially make the situation worse. For one thing, Utah’s elevation is correlated with a higher suicide rate. Cultural factors in the state can create a stigmatizing environment that may lead to an untreated disorder or a lack of proper supervision in association with antidepressant use. Large swaths of rural areas also make it more difficult for some residents to access urgently needed health services.


Am I Bipolar?

When Utah residents ask: what is bipolar disorder, often the follow-up is do I have it? We’re glad you asked, but we can’t tell you. Or rather, as we’ve been explaining, it’s important that neither you nor we make too many assumptions before talking to a qualified mental health professional. Plus, beyond a simple yes-or-no diagnosis, a clinical assessment can:

  • Reveal the type and the severity of the mood disorder.
  • Provide preliminary psychoeducation and help accessing available resources.
  • Offer individualized recommendations for treatment and self-monitoring.

Keep in mind, too, that assessment and therapy services can be life-saving whether an individual is struggling with bipolar disorder or some other mental health issue.


More Resources from Mountain Mental Health

To learn more about what bipolar disorder is, you can visit other pages on bipolar symptoms and the common subtypes of this disorder.



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