Understanding Bipolar II

Recently, Catherine Zeta-Jones was hospitalized for psychiatric reasons, and revealed that she was struggling with symptoms of Bipolar II Disorder. Additionally, Demi Lovato reported being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder during her treatment stay over the winter. Most of us know what Bipolar Disorder is, but few have heard about Bipolar II. There is a difference between them.

Bipolar II (Bipolar Two) is similar to Bipolar I Disorder, highlighted by moods cycling between highs and lows over time. One of the biggest differences is that in Bipolar II, the highs never reach the same level of mania. The less intense elevated moods in Bipolar II Disorder are “hypomanic episode”, and rather than the mania seen in Bipolar I, fall into a category called hypomania. Generally, a person diagnosed with Bipolar II has at least one hypomanic episode over the course of their lifetime.

Most people who struggle with Bipolar Disorder do have periods of depression (thus the term, Manic-Depression). The depressive lows can be pretty debilitating, and are often what causes people to seek help, as the depressive periods can create problems in relationships, school or job performance and can lead people to attempt suicide because the lows are so low.

The good news is that Bipolar II Disorder (and Bipolar I as well) can be treated effectively. In between the episodes of hypomania and depression, many people with Bipolar II Disorder lead healthy, productive lived. When left untreated, however, life can be much more difficult.

Bipolar II Disorder can impact anyone. Recent statistics from the CDC report that approximately 2.5% of the population in the United States suffers from some form of Bipolar Disorder—almost six million people. There is a hereditary component, so individuals with family members who have a Bipolar Diagnosis are at higher risk for developing the disorder.

Most people develop symptoms in their late teens or early adult years (although there has been a recent rise in the diagnosis of Childhood Bipolar Disorder). Key symptoms to look for include: depressive and hypomanic episodes, decreased need for sleep, irritability, rapid speech, lack of interest in things, to name a few. Bipolar disorder is not easy to spot when it starts. The symptoms may seem like separate problems, not recognized as parts of a larger problem. Some people suffer for years before they are properly diagnosed and treated. Like diabetes or heart disease, bipolar disorder is a long-term illness that must be carefully managed throughout a person’s life.

The first step in getting a proper diagnosis is to see your doctor. Although Bipolar Disorder cannot be detected in a blood test, other factors that are impacting one’s mood swings can be ruled out. Your primary care physician may refer you to a mental health professional, who will run through a series of evaluative questions and determine what your diagnosis is. To date there is no cure for Bipolar Disorder, but proper treatment helps most people with the disorder gain control of their mood swings and related symptoms. Because Bipolar Disorder is a lifelong and recurrent illness, people with the disorder often require long-term treatment. The most effective treatments have been found to be medications (a mood stabilizer) and psychotherapy, more specifically, Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). In fact, a combination of these two can help reduce symptom severity and help prevent relapse for preventing relapse and reducing symptom severity.

Overtime, if not treated, Bipolar Disorder does tend to worsen. Individuals may suffer more frequent and sever episodes than when symptoms first surfaced. Additionally, delays in receiving the proper diagnosis and treatment can create problems in personal, social, and work-related domains. Thus, it is incredibly important for individuals to receive proper diagnosis and treatment so that they can lead the lives that they choose, with their symptomatology under control.

Here is the link to the discussion I had with Erica Hill about Catherine Zeta-Jones: