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Finding Hope and Understanding in Bipolar Support Groups

December 1st, 2023

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Bipolar disorder is still one of the most heavily stigmatized mental health disorders. However, this does not have to be the case. With individual counseling and medication, people experiencing bipolar disorder can manage it and go on to live healthy and productive lives.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a genetic condition inherited from a close relative like a parent or sibling. People who have a parent or relative with bipolar disorder have an increased chance of developing it themselves. The onset for indicators is 25 on average, but in some cases, symptom presentation can start in the teen years or even childhood on rare occasions (NAMI, 2017). The start of signs usually occurs with high stress or a life change. Any significant life transition can trigger an episode; typically, the episode triggers depend on the event. For example, death or a loss can trigger a depressive episode, whereas a new job or graduation may trigger a manic state. However, this is not always the case, and many factors contribute to initiating and activating episodes. Weather, stress, family, work, and just life in general all play a part in spiraling into one episode or another, and it can sometimes be hard to decipher which episode is currently at play. There are different types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar I disorder consists of people experiencing one or more manic episodes as well as depressive episodes. People who have Bipolar II will have depressive episodes altering between hypomania (a milder version of mania). Cyclothymic Disorder (Cyclothymia) is a chronically unstable mood disorder causing hypomania and depression for two years minimum with potentially short periods of stable moods. Someone with unspecified bipolar disorder displays symptoms of bipolar disorder but not enough to meet the criteria for a bipolar diagnosis (NAMI, 2017).

Manic versus Depressive Episodes

Living with bipolar disorder can feel isolated and leave you feeling like no one understands what you are going through. Understanding bipolar disorder can be challenging, and navigating bipolar disorder can be even more strenuous. There are many things to learn and be aware of, such as triggers, differences in manic versus depressive episodes, symptom management, mood stabilization, emotion regulation, and so much more. Bipolar symptoms vary from person to person, but they are wildly different depending on the episode. Depressive symptoms include depressed mood (feeling tearful, hopeless, empty), loss of interest in activities that used to be enjoyable, feeling tired and sleeping a lot, changes in appetite and weight, feeling worthless or guilty, trouble concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicidal ideation (with or without a plan). When you think of depression, refer to Eeyore from Winne the Pooh or Sadness from Inside Out. Manic symptoms can include elevated mood such as extreme happiness, inflated self-esteem, grandiose thinking (big ideas, grand gestures/actions), being more talkative and talking very fast, flight of ideas, jumping from one thing to the next, racing thoughts, becoming easily distracted, increased desire/need to fulfill present or previously set goals, and impulse issues such engaging in activities may have negative consequences. When thinking of mania, refer to Tigger from Winnie the Pooh or Joy from Inside Out.

Individual Therapy and Medication Management

Individual therapy and medication management can help to cope with bipolar disorder. Individual therapy can help you to understand more about bipolar disorder and how it affects you, your thoughts, and your behaviors. The therapist can help teach you coping skills, techniques to control impulses, ways to combat intrusive or suicidal thoughts, help with managing impulsive behaviors, boundary setting, and other helpful methods of handling the illness. Medication stabilizes the mood, bringing it back to a steady baseline, making it easier to regulate emotions and control thoughts and behaviors. Medication can alleviate symptoms of bipolar disorder, which assists with utilizing coping mechanisms.

Group Therapy

Group therapy for bipolar disorder is another excellent tool for those struggling with the illness. Group therapy helps to not only create a sense of community but also to learn from others trying to manage their lives. Whether having just received the diagnosis or have been living with it for years, bipolar support groups can help to make those who have it feel less lonely and connect with people who understand what they are going through. Groups can have many benefits along with community and support, including holding members accountable, providing a safe space to process feelings, learning and gaining wisdom from others, and, most importantly, feeling heard and understood. Different types of groups have different purposes as well. A peer support group provides a space for processing and exploring emotions but is led by another person experiencing the same issue, not a professional. A support group led by a professional is led by someone trained in the treatment of mental illnesses. This type of group also has a process and exploration component but tends to be more psychoeducation and skills-based. Both groups are helpful in their ways, and each aims to provide a safe space for members to get the help they need. Some find a peer group more valuable as it is led by someone else living with bipolar and understands what members are facing. Others enjoy a group led by a clinician to learn more about the illness and all that encompasses it and the healing journey. No matter what it is that you want to get out of it, group therapy for bipolar disorder can help in more ways than you can imagine.

Reference

National Alliance on Mental Illness (2017) Bipolar Disorderhttps://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder

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