Hope and Help

How treatments can change lives for those with bipolar disorder

By: Ellissa Cuevas

Screaming temper fits, wild, reckless behavior and even dark, gloomy moods make for captivating TV drama. But in real life, such behaviors can devastate lives and relationships. People who suffer from a condition known as bipolar disorder experience extreme mood swings – manic or high episodes characterized by hyperactivity and irritability, and depressed or low periods dominated by sadness or hopelessness.

According to Raul R. Capitaine, M.D., P.A., people with this disorder are often on a path of self-destruction. In worse cases, persons who are not diagnosed and not treated can end up financially ruined, in prison or dead because of risky behaviors or suicide. Fortunately, there is hope.

Capitaine, a psychiatrist who treats children, adolescents and adults in Corpus Christi, Alice, Beeville and Victoria, says that bipolar disorder is a condition that responds extremely well to treatment. Treatment most often includes prescribing medication that works with the patient’s unique brain chemistry, plus psychotherapy (talk therapy) or behavioral counseling.

The National Institute of Mental Health Institute lists the following general descriptors of manic and depression episodes.

During manic episodes, individuals may:

• Feel very “up” or “high”
• Feel “jumpy” or “wired”
• Have trouble sleeping
• Become more active than usual
• Talk really fast about a lot of different things
• Be agitated, irritable or “touchy”
• Feel like their thoughts are going very fast
• Think they can do a lot of things at once
• Do risky things, like spend a lot of money or have reckless sex

During depressive episodes, individuals may:

• Feel very “down” or sad
• Sleep too much or too little
• Feel like they can’t enjoy anything
• Feel worried and empty
• Have trouble concentrating
• Forget things a lot
• Eat too much or too little
• Feel tired or “slowed down”
• Think about death or suicide

During a manic episode, relationships with friends, colleagues and family are strained, as the manic person is often highly irritable, getting unreasonably angry and sometimes violent. Yelling at the boss or talking incessantly can lead to being fired, sometimes repeatedly. Impulsive or irrational behavior leads to a lack of trust, which can destroy relationships. Impulsive sexual encounters or impulsive spending can have dire consequences. And during a depressive episode, one might not be able to work or even get out of bed. There is no interest in life and little or no reason to carry on.

How can parents know if their teen has bipolar disorder? Isn’t it normal for teens to be moody, impulsive and combative? “Yes, it is,” Capitaine says. “The difference is in the extremity of the moods, behaviors and energy levels. Some things to consider: Is your teen sleeping very little or excessively? Does he or she have temper fits in a variety of environments or only in a specific place like home? Are other people, besides family members, noticing odd behavior or expressing concerns? Is your teen failing in school or at work? If so, take him or her to a doctor for an evaluation.”

While it is interesting to try to diagnose yourself or someone else using online questionnaires, such as Mental Health America’s screening quiz, it takes psychiatrists who are medical doctors with specific training in brain physiology, brain chemistry and mental, emotional and behavioral disorders to make accurate diagnoses.

Bipolar disorder can look like other disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA) or various forms of depression. Plus, there are several forms of bipolar disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, lists the diagnostic criteria for several distinct bipolar disorders. In addition, patients can have more than one condition simultaneously.

According to Capitaine, the disorder manifests itself differently in each situation, and patients should be treated as individuals. The person’s internal body chemistry and external stressors need to be considered.

Although a specific cause of bipolar disorder has not been determined, some medications have been found to reliably treat the disease. Drugs used to treat the disorder include mood stabilizers, atypical antipsychotics and antidepressants.

“It is so important that patients continue to take their prescribed medication, even when they are feeling fine,” Capitaine says. “Bipolar disorder is episodic; there are periods of highs and lows, but also times of [relative] calm or normalcy. It can be tempting to feel that one is cured and stop taking medication. Unfortunately, there is no cure, and when medication is discontinued, mania and depression return. But when patients follow their treatment plan, the improvement can be dramatic. The good news is that people with bipolar disorder can enjoy life and realize their potential with doctor-supervised treatment.”

Source: the National Institute of Mental Health website
For more information, contact Raul R. Capitaine, M.D., P.A., at 361-993-4835.

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