Bipolar Network

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"I would encourage anyone and everyone to go to (the Bipolar Network site), because you'll be able to learn what it's like for your neighbors, your collegues, maybe even family members...without having to be afraid"--Dr. Joseph Shrand, psychiatrist, Harvard Medical School

Bipolar Network is a service for patients and families dealing with Bipolar Disorder. You now have a place to get answers on how to deal with this serious mental illness, and gain support from professionals and folks who deal with Bipolar Disorder every day.

You have an opportunity on this site to share your story, or ask questions and seek help. Feel free to be as open or as anonymous as you choose. You may wish to listen to the programs below and read information as this site first, but however you like, please don't be afraid to start your journey into healing from the pain of Bipolar Disorder.

Click here now and listen to Breakthrough with Michael Pipich with his guests from the Bipolar Network, who share their stories about discovering and living with this mental illness.

Click here now and listen to Breakthrough with Michael Pipich when host/therapist Michael Pipich, LMFT discusses Bipolar Disorder with return guest Dr. Joe Shrand, M.D.

What is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar Disorder, once commonly known as manic-depression, refers to a class of psychiatric disorders involving severe, intermittent mood swings. The word “bipolar” means “two poles.” Just as the North Pole and South Pole represent the furthest points on the globe, bipolar mood swings span the length of the emotional spectrum. While many of us can experience mood swings through our lives for a variety of reasons, Bipolar Disorder maintains a distinct quality in that the cycles of mania and depression can both present destructive consequences to the health and well-being of the individual.

Although we call Bipolar Disorder a “mental disorder,” its foundations appear mostly to be genetic (hereditary); that is, it begins in how the brain develops from the person’s genes located in cell DNA. It is nobody’s fault that someone has the foundations in place for Bipolar Disorder—it is not, for example, the direct result of bad parenting or a psychological trauma. Some researchers believe parts of the brain that typically regulate emotions in people are not designed well to the job in those with Bipolar Disorder. As an individual gets older, life presents various stressors and challenges, and the person’s brain has to find a way to deal with these problems. Depression and anxiety may be present very early in life, but we often see the symptoms of bipolar emerge in adolescence or early adulthood, with the average starting age at 20 years old. This usually happens because the rigors of developing into an individual, and all the added responsibilities that go into it, can trigger the person’s first “manic episode.” If that person has struggled with traumatic experiences, either in the present or earlier in life, then the symptoms can form sooner and/or more severely. So, Bipolar is genetic in its foundations, but life events can trigger the symptoms or serve to make them worse.

A person is typically diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder if he or she has had at least one definable manic episode in their lifetime, and the duration of the episode lasts at least one week (unless the person is treated in a hospital within that week). The manic person’s mood is often described as abnormally elevated, euphoric, or expansive; or it can be very irritable. Essentially, the mood state in mania can easily look like the person is on some kind mind-altering drug that makes them appear “high” or “cranked.” However, to have the correct diagnosis of a manic episode, it has to be clear that it is not a direct consequence of drugs, or another medical or psychiatric problem.

During the period of the manic mood state, three or more of the following must be present (or four if the mood is only irritable):

  • Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity.
  • Decreased need for sleep.
  • More talkative than usual, pressured speech or pressure to keep talking.
  • Flight of ideas or racing thoughts.
  • Distractibility.
  • Increase in goal-directed activity or psychomotor agitation.
  • Excessive involvement in pleasurable or risky behaviors that have a high potential for painful consequences.

(Ref: 2015, American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition.)

There are different assessment methods available to establish a good diagnosis, and sometimes even an additional opinion from a different mental health professional will help to fully support a diagnosis of bipolar, or rule out that diagnosis if appropriate. Many patients and their families have gone through several professionals, different therapies or hospitalizations without success because a clear diagnosis was not made in the first place. With the proper knowledge of bipolar symptoms and the ability to differentiate from other psychiatric problems, a precise assessment will represent a good start in forming a viable treatment plan. But while everyone needs a good start, bigger complications for the bipolar patient and the family are right around the corner.