How Much Do You Really Know About Bipolar Disorder? Get the Facts

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Bipolar disorder is a common brain disease that affects about two percent of the world’s population, however, there are many common misconceptions about bipolar disorder, and much of what you think you may know about it may not be accurate. It’s easy to absorb misconceptions about mental health especially given the extreme behaviors portrayed on television and in movies but it’s important to learn the facts.

Jorge Almeida, MD, PhD, Director of the Bipolar Disorder Center in the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences, has been working in psychiatry for 17 years and specializes in bipolar disorder and other mood disorders. “Bipolar disorder is a common brain disease affecting about 2% of the world’s population. If you broaden the definition, it goes up to 5% of people that are struggling with bipolar or related disorders,” says Dr. Almeida.

Bipolar disorder is a brain disease causing unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to function on a daily basis. Most importantly, the disorder is characterized by alternating episodes of elevated mood, known as mania and low mood, known as depression. A common misconception is assuming someone whose mood shifts from one moment to the next is showcasing signs of this disorder, but mood swings are different from what is considered a bipolar episode.

“With bipolar episodes,” states Dr. Almeida, “there’s a beginning, middle and end.”

An episode has to last for at least a week, and often times there are periods of normal moods in between episodes. An episode is an unequivocal change in functioning, uncharacteristic of the person, and observable by others, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). However, episodes can sometimes be misperceived as good days or just a bad week. Bipolar disorder typically starts to appear in people at the age of 18 and Dr. Almeida explains that for one-third of people who have bipolar disorder, it can take 10 years to receive proper diagnosis as it’s often misdiagnosed as depression.

It’s important to be direct when experiencing symptoms or recognizing them in others. If a young adult is not getting treatment for a debilitating disease, establishing a stable life can be extremely difficult. Without proper help and treatment, experiencing symptoms of bipolar disorder without regulation can lead to dangerous situations.

“One in every five people are currently struggling with mental illness that require treatment,” continues Dr. Almeida, “but access to proper care can be a problem.”

The Bipolar Disorder Center in the Mulva Clinic for the Neurosciences at UT Health Austin operates on a referral basis only, which means the provider of someone struggling with bipolar disorder must refer them. Patients received into the six-week program are 16-35 years old and the focus is to treat episode symptoms and enhance function.

“Our main goal is to achieve greater quality of life,” says Dr. Almeida. “Our six-week program has shown to have a 30% increase in quality of life for patients including improved physical health, mental health, ability to manage symptoms and improved function.”

Greater quality of life means healthy relationships, holding a job, and regulating emotions. The clinical team works with the patients to define a personalized treatment plan to achieve this quality. Although bipolar disorder is a lifelong condition, it can be managed with avoiding triggers like lack of sleep or substance abuse, appropriate psychotherapy and medication if necessary. It is a tangible outcome for those with bipolar disorder to lead a normal and healthy life, so long as the help needed is sought and received.

If you or a loved one is battling suicidal thoughts and in immediate danger, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or the Texas 24/7 Crisis Hotline at 512-472-HELP.

For more information on the disorder and specific treatment at the Bipolar Disorder Center, visit here or call 1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737).

About UT Health Austin

UT Health Austin is the clinical practice of the Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin. We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide patients with an unparalleled quality of care. Our experienced healthcare professionals deliver personalized, whole-person care of uncompromising quality and treat each patient as an individual with unique circumstances, priorities, and beliefs. Working directly with you, your care team creates an individualized care plan to help you reach the goals that matter most to you — in the care room and beyond. For more information, call us at 1-833-UT-CARES or request an appointment here.