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How to Identify and Treat Bipolar Disorder

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How to Identify and Treat Bipolar Disorder

Defining Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, formerly known as manic depression, is a mental health condition where you experience periods of extreme elevations in mood and energy levels known as “Mania” or to a lesser degree “Hypomania”, and extremely lows called depression. Most people go through the hills and valleys of life, but when you have bipolar disorder, it is much more extreme. Bipolar I and II can both affect the quality of everyday life including relationships, self-care, academia, and employment.

In this article, one of Lifeskills South Florida’s Primary Therapists, Dr. Arthur Chen, offers insight on identifying and treating Bipolar Disorders. Dr. Arthur Chen, Psy.D is a Licensed Psychologist in Florida. He has a Master of Applied Psychology with a specialization in Counseling, a Master of Clinical Psychology, and a Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology.

When asked about defining bipolar disorder, he says,

“I personally prefer the analogy of standing on the shore, watching the waves come in. Some days the weather is ‘good,’ analogous to a client having a good day, with minimal waves. Other days the weather can still be good, but there can still be large waves of emotions.

These large waves may be intense waves of excitement, happiness, joy, or motivation. Other days, the weather may be poor, analogous to having a ‘bad day.’ Some days may have small emotional waves. Other days a person may feel like a tsunami of depression, and hopelessness is bearing down on them.”

According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness, the average age-of-onset for Bipolar Disorder is about 25 years old; however, it can occur in teens and children. Bipolar symptoms affect both men and women equally, and about 2.8% of the U.S. population has this diagnosis. Bipolar is categorized into Bipolar I and Bipolar II, depending on the extent and extremes of the manic/hypomanic state. 

Certain people are in a higher risk category for developing signs than others. Having someone in your immediate family with bipolar disorder increases odds, as well as experiencing a traumatic event. If a loved one dies, a relationship ends, or you’ve suffered physical harm, these can all be risk determinants. Additionally, a history of drug or substance abuse can exacerbate bipolar disorder.

Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

There are some common signs of bipolar disorder. When someone is experiencing a manic or hypomanic episode, they might have increased energy, poor judgment, racing thoughts, restlessness, euphoria, increased sex drive, or seem extremely happy or delusional. This kind of elevated mood and behavior is detrimental to person who is experiencing it.

On the other hand, in a depressive episode, someone might feel the opposite. Feelings of extreme sadness, loneliness, and hopelessness are familiar. One might fluctuate significantly in weight gain or weight loss, feel worthless, and have increased thoughts of suicide. Additionally, underlying health issues can either affect the interfere w/ bipolar disorder. Those might include anxiety disorders, eating disorders, ADHD, obesity or thyroid problems, and/or problems with drugs and alcohol.

Dr. Chen says,

“Family and friends may see the person more often, they may present as more goal-orientated, and even report feeling better. However, pretty soon, a person’s goal may be over the top and they may start multiple long-term difficult projects on an impulse.

This stage is a concern as the behaviors themselves can be dangerous, expensive, and harmful to others. Moreover, as a client is ‘coming down’ from mania/hypomania they are at increased risk for suicidality, substance use, or self-harm.”

When Left Untreated

In some cases, people enjoy the feelings of euphoria that accompany manic episodes, and for some time, are not bothered by bipolar disorder. Over time, it will take a toll on the person as well as their relationships with trusted friends and family.

In Dr. Chen’s opinion, the most significant risk is the individual’s behaviors. Dr. Chen stated that in a manic or hypomanic state a person may engage in risky sexual behavior, make life-altering decisions (such as quitting a job), or spend excessive amounts of money.

In a depressive state, a client could engage in severe self-harm, isolation, and suicide. If left untreated a bipolar disorder can be extremely destructive.

Alternative Treatments for Bipolar Disorder

When treating bipolar disorder, there are many alternatives to consider. While there is no cure for bipolar disorder, there are many ways to manage it. Any treatment for Bipolar Disorder should be reviewed with a medical professional specializing in mental health.

Lifestyle Changes


Sleep is often undervalued, and many feel they don’t need a good night’s sleep to excel.  Significant disruptions in our emotional state can hurt our ability to rest. During manic states, one might under sleep, and in depressive states, one might oversleep.

It is essential to maintain a regular sleep schedule. Start by getting a few ritualistic bedtime routines, like drinking a cup of tea, taking a warm shower, or turning off screens a few hours before bed. Our bodies and minds need sleep to recover, turn over cells, and rejuvenate for the days ahead.


We have all been told about the benefits of exercise since sixth-grade gym class, but our lives get busy and physical health falls to the wayside. Getting outside, stretching the legs, and getting our blood pumping can have massive benefits. A study in 2015 said, “there is promising data that exercise may be a viable and effective strategy to deal with the depressive phase of bipolar disorder.”

Overall, engaging in an active lifestyle leads to improved mental and physical health, as well as longevity. Getting out at least three times a week for an hour can help offset the symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Yoga and Meditation

We know that yoga helps to reduce some levels of stress and the accompanying emotional swings related to the bipolar disorders. A 2014 study showed that “many individuals who self-identify as having bipolar disorder believe that yoga has benefits for mental health.”

Since easing psychological stress and calming the nervous system is so critical to creating a therapeutic environment, yoga is the natural companion to some evidence-based treatment. Yoga shares many of the same goals and teaches participants to achieve these goals holistically through new coping mechanisms, controlled breathing, and gaining control over thoughts and emotions.

These techniques bring balance and peace of mind. Yoga positions express acceptance of one’s own failures and forgiving to self. Breath control facilitates physical control and inner and outer peace.

Through the self-discipline and meditation of yoga, concrete actions to achieve treatment goals or life plan goals are enhanced. Yoga supports those goals by giving individuals tools to positively direct their emotions, thoughts, and coping mechanisms.

Here at Lifeskills, we offer Metabolic Fitness Pathway, a holistic health approach to offset cardiometabolic syndrome, which may be impacted by various brain and hormonal disorders.


Nutritional intake might be considered a supplement to evidence-based treatment for bipolar disorders. Getting the right nutrition is vital for any mental health problem. Our brains have to absorb whatever we consume and use it for fuel. Research has suggested taking omega-3s, vitamin D, and magnesium, and eating foods with concentrated nutrients.

When planning meals try to incorporate superfoods like salmon, sweet potatoes, or kale. Also, try and fill your plate with heaps of colored fruits and vegetables. Before starting any nutritional changes or taking supplements, a person should consult with their medical doctor, as the wrong supplement can also intensify Bipolar symptoms.

Residential Treatment

Every person presents with different needs for treatment that will warrant individualized attention and a specialized treatment plan. Treatment at Lifeskills focuses not just on the presenting problems but also targets the underlying disorders that contribute to them. In a safe and healing environment that promotes recovery, resiliency, and self-determination, Lifeskills utilizes a comprehensive approach to treatment addressing all the challenges that clients face.

We use many different methods, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), medication therapy, family support, psychoeducation, and interpersonal therapy. We can help you rethink your situation, provide mediation, and support for family members, and educate you about yourself and what you are experiencing. We can help you identify and spot the signs while offering you coping techniques in a safe and supportive environment.

As stated by Dr. Chen, the gold standards for treatment is medications and psychotherapy. He says, “studies have shown that cognitive behavior therapies, coupled with education on mental health, are highly effective forms of therapy.”

Reach Out

If you’re feeling that you may have bipolar Dr. Chen says, “Start with having a conversation with your family doctor. You can also always make a single appointment session with a qualified therapist to go over your concerns.”

The more information you have, the better decision you can make for yourself.  If you suspect that you or a loved one may have Bipolar Disorder, please contact Lifeskills South Florida today at 954-953-1742. We offer comprehensive mental health programs to help you or your loved one learn the coping strategies you need.


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