What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder (also called “manic depression” or “manic depressive disorder”) is one of the most complex mental illnesses. Often accompanied by other conditions, including personality disorders and substance use disorders, it can pose serious treatment challenges. At the same time, it is also one of the most over-diagnosed disorders in psychiatry today.
What are some signs of bipolar disorder? People with bipolar disorder have extended episodes of manic behavior—such as sleeping very little, feeling energized, or acting recklessly and without their usual judgment—that alternate with extended periods of depression. If you have experiences like this that negatively affect your social and work life, you might be living with a bipolar disorder. After such episodes, you might feel ashamed or humiliated and lose confidence and trust in yourself.
According to the current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
, or DSM-5
—a reference commonly used by mental health professionals in the US—it’s possible you might additionally experience:
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight fluctuations
- Problems concentrating
- Bouts of self-medicating to try to control your symptoms
People frequently ask us how to treat bipolar disorder. Successful treatment is complex and multi-layered. Since bipolar disorder is so often over-diagnosed, the first step is careful verification of the diagnosis. When it is clear that bipolar disorder is present, mood stabilizers and other medications play an important role.
Most people with bipolar disorder, however, need more than medication. Research suggests that psychosocial treatment, in addition to medications, is associated with better outcomes. Understanding what leads to episodes and mastering coping skills can help you lead a more productive and fulfilling life.
Sometimes we are asked whether bipolar disorder can be cured. Sadly, there isn’t an outright cure. But patients with bipolar disorder who have not been helped sufficiently in other settings often benefit from the integrated, psychodynamically focused, psychosocial evaluation and treatment Riggs provides.
Our Treatment for Bipolar Disorder
At the Austen Riggs Center, we have successfully helped many patients with bipolar disorder. In fact, we are known as the place “where treatment-resistant patients become people taking charge of their lives.”
Bipolar disorder, like other mental illnesses, arises from a complex and highly personal interplay of biology, social stress, and psychological factors. At Riggs, the whole person is the focus of the treatment, not simply discrete symptoms. We work with you as a person with your own unique life story and your own problems and strengths.
Our treatment approach centers on intensive psychodynamic psychotherapy four times a week with a doctoral-level therapist, exploring your lived experiences to identify patterns and the potential impact of losses or other adverse experiences that may be outside your awareness but that influence your decision making. Through this deeper self-understanding, you can be freer to make better choices.
To augment regular psychotherapy sessions, medication, such as mood stabilizers, are usually part of the treatment for bipolar disorder at Riggs. We have been trailblazers in developing what we call psychodynamic psychopharmacology, a way of using medications for their biochemical benefit, while also carefully attending to the impact of their meanings to the patient and to the doctor.
Family is often part of the social context in which symptoms of bipolar disorder may emerge. So an important part of every treatment at Riggs is family evaluation—with family treatment offered when indicated.
In addition to therapy and medications, our open setting with its Therapeutic Community Program mobilizes the powerful potential impact of social learning from interactions with peers—a profound opportunity to learn about things we do that we cannot see but that others can help us see and address.