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Bipolar Disorder

What is Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a treatable medical illness marked by extreme changes in behavior, thoughts, moods, and energy levels, also known as manic depression. A person’s mood can alternate between symptoms of mania and depression.  

Volatile mood swings can last for only moments or months, unlike people with clinical depression, who often feel low and depressed. Most people with bipolar disorder discuss experiencing both highs and lows. 

Family Concerns

Families of those with bipolar disorder experience high levels of stress and may react with hostility, judgment, and criticism. They often feel that bipolar individuals should be able to control harmful behavior. Therefore, they spend copious amounts of energy trying to help.  Counseling for both the individual and family is vital to help manage the chaos bipolar symptoms can cause. Participating in group and family therapy sessions can significantly enhance family coping skills.  


Typical topics of bipolar counseling include education about the disorder, recognizing stressors, awareness of relapse prevention strategies, and learning to manage medications. Even though bipolar disorders are often devastating to sufferers and their families, asking for help can be difficult. If you or someone you know suffers from bipolar symptoms, the first step is to find the right combination of mental health resources. 


  •       Bipolar disorder is more likely to affect children of parents who have the disorder. When one parent has bipolar disorder, the risk to each child is 15 to 30%. When both parents have bipolar disorder, the risk increases to 50 to 75%.
  •       Some 20% of adolescents with major depression develop bipolar disorder within five years of the onset of depression.
  •       Up to one-third of the 3.4 million children and adolescents with depression in the United States may be experiencing the early onset of bipolar disorder.
  •        Children and adolescents with manic issues are more likely to be irritable and prone to destructive outbursts. Compared to those who are more elated or euphoric.
  •       When depressed, children are more likely to complain of physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or tiredness. They may experience moodiness, poor school performance, social isolation, and extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure.
  •       It is vital to recognize bipolar disorder early to help treat the individual. Effective symptom control, prevention of worsening, and promotion of better mental health and functioning.


Lithium, the first mood-stabilizing medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of mania is effective in controlling and preventing the recurrence of both manic and depressive episodes.  Anticonvulsant medications, such as valproate (Depakote®) or carbamazepine (Tegretol®), can also have mood-stabilizing effects and may be especially useful for difficult-to-treat bipolar episodes.

Newer anticonvulsant medications, including lamotrigine (Lamictal®), gabapentin. (Neurontin®), and topiramate (Topamax®) are being studied to determine how well they work in stabilizing mood cycles. 

Quetiapine (Seroquel) is one of the atypical antipsychotics. Quetiapine has FDA and International approvals for the treatment of acute mania in bipolar disorder. Anticonvulsant medications may be combined with lithium or each other for maximum effect. 

Children and adolescents with bipolar disorder are generally treated with lithium, but Valproate and carbamazepine are also used. Researchers are evaluating the safety and efficacy of these medications in children and adolescents. 


Hal Baumchen, PsyD, LP, LADC, is the President and Clinical Director of NorthStar Regional. He is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (LP) and a Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor (LADC) with over 30 years of counseling experience. He received his master’s degree from Wheaton Graduate School, a Doctorate of Psychology (PsyD) from the Illinois School of Professional Psychology, and a Certificate in Co-Occurring Disorders from Adler Graduate School. He serves frequently as a seminar leader and has taught workshops in the USA, Canada, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and India. He is the author of Journeys and Destinations, two books on co-occurring disorders treatment, and the co-author of Finding Hope Again: Overcoming Depression with Dr. Neil T. Anderson. 


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