Abnormal Psychology: Bipolar Disorder

Numerous disorders fall under the purview of abnormal psychology, each offering intriguing avenues for study. Yet, within the realm of mood disorders, one condition stands out as particularly personal and captivating: bipolar disorder. In my case, this disorder has a familial resonance, manifesting in both my mother's and father's families. This familial link piques my curiosity, motivating me to delve deeper into understanding the causes, symptoms, and most effective treatments for bipolar disorder.

Bipolar disorder, as defined, is a mental health condition characterized by alternating or overlapping periods of mania and depression (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 184). During these episodes, mood and energy levels can fluctuate rapidly, often disrupting sleep patterns, thought processes, and various behavioral patterns.

The disorder presents a plethora of signs and symptoms to scrutinize, particularly concerning mania and depression, the primary components of bipolar disorder. Mania typically involves heightened energy levels and a euphoric or pleased mood, often accompanied by manic episodes. Individuals experiencing mania may exhibit behaviors such as overconfidence, perseveration, sleep disturbances, rapid speech, agitation, and hyperactivity (Galan RN). Additionally, they may engage in risky behaviors, such as reckless driving, promiscuous sexual encounters, excessive spending, and substance abuse (Galan RN). Emotionally, individuals in a manic state may display feelings of superiority, anger, or aggression when their views or actions are challenged, resorting to ego defense mechanisms (Galan RN). Those with milder manic episodes may experience hypomania, while more severe cases can lead to detachment from reality and a lack of awareness of one's surroundings (Galan RN). It's worth noting that symptoms typically manifest in late adolescence or early adulthood, although they can also be present in younger children. Without proper treatment, this lifelong disorder can worsen over time.

Bipolar disorder encompasses not just one singular condition but rather four distinct types, as delineated in the DSM-5. The primary classifications are Bipolar I and Bipolar II. In Bipolar I disorder, individuals experience full-blown manic episodes interspersed with major depressive periods (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 212). Some may even undergo mixed episodes, where symptoms of mania and depression coexist within the same episode, such as racing thoughts coupled with profound sadness (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 212). Conversely, Bipolar II disorder involves alternating episodes of hypomania and major depression (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 212). A third variant, known as a cyclothymic disorder, entails numerous periods characterized by hypomanic and mild depressive symptoms (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 213). Individuals whose symptoms do not fit precisely into any of these categories may receive a diagnosis of "other specified" or "unspecified" bipolar disorder (Galan RN).

For many years, the etiology of bipolar disorder remained elusive. However, recent advancements in biological research have shed light on potential causative factors. One such factor involves variations in the activity levels of certain neurotransmitters. Studies indicate a correlation between mania and depression and low serotonin activity, leading to the "permissive theory." This theory posits that diminished serotonin levels may pave the way for a mood disorder, allowing the activity of norepinephrine to dictate its manifestation (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 215). In essence, low serotonin coupled with low norepinephrine may precipitate depression, while low serotonin alongside high norepinephrine levels may trigger mania. Another significant contributing factor lies in genetic predisposition. Many experts suggest that individuals inherit a biological susceptibility to developing bipolar disorders, as evidenced by findings from family pedigree studies (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 215). For instance, identical twins born to parents with bipolar disorder have a 40% likelihood of developing the condition, compared to a 5 to 10% likelihood among fraternal twins (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 215). Additionally, severe stressors can precipitate the onset of bipolar symptoms in those with a genetic predisposition, such as experiencing the loss of a loved one or job (Galan RN).

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Armed with an understanding of the causes and debilitating symptoms of bipolar disorder, it becomes imperative to explore avenues for combating and potentially curing this mental illness.

Regrettably, at present, bipolar disorder remains incurable, but treatment options exist to alleviate symptoms and facilitate a return to normalcy. Among the foremost methods of managing bipolar disorder are medication and psychotherapy. Various medication-based treatments are available to patients, with mood stabilizers being a primary choice. Lithium, a naturally occurring metallic element, is a prominent example of a mood stabilizer. It is recognized for its efficacy in managing mania and other bipolar disorder manifestations (Comer, 8th ed., pg. 215). Antipsychotics can also assist in regulating manic and psychotic symptoms (Galan RN), while antidepressants may be prescribed for individuals experiencing severe depressive episodes (Galan RN). However, discontinuing medication can lead to symptom resurgence, a risk compounded by some individuals' reluctance to forego the "highs" associated with manic and hypomanic states (Galan RN).

Psychotherapy, or talking therapy, constitutes another effective treatment avenue for bipolar disorder. Counseling or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can enhance patients' awareness of negative behavioral patterns (Galan RN), offering strategies to improve sleep, cope with stress, and maintain a stable work-life balance, thus aiding in mood regulation (Galan RN). In cases where medication and psychotherapy prove insufficient, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) may be employed. This alternative therapy involves administering controlled electric shocks to specific brain regions to induce seizures, purportedly helping to regulate mood and manage symptoms, although the precise mechanism remains unclear (Galan RN).

Bipolar disorder is a chronic condition that may persist throughout an individual's life, with symptoms potentially worsening without intervention and posing significant mortality risks. Studies suggest that individuals with bipolar disorder may experience a reduced life expectancy of nine to twenty years (University of Oxford, para. 7), underscoring the need for early intervention and ongoing treatment to mitigate adverse outcomes. Given the profound impact of bipolar disorder on both sufferers and their loved ones, seeking prompt assistance and engaging in treatment modalities are crucial steps towards effectively managing the condition.

Works Cited

  1. "Chapter 6: Depressive and Bipolar Disorders." Fundamentals of Abnormal Psychology, by Ronald J. Comer, 8th ed., Worth Publishers, 2016.
  2. Galan, Nicole. "How to spot the symptoms of bipolar disorder." Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 25 Feb. 2019,
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312143.php#symptoms
  4. University of Oxford. 'Many mental illnesses reduce life expectancy more than heavy smoking.' ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2014,
  5. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140523082934.htm  

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