Man with bipolar disorder indoors.

What to Know about Bipolar Disorder

We all experience mood swings. Sometimes, a day will start great only to be derailed by personal circumstances or current events. However, for over 5.8 million American adults, these shifts are more than just ordinary ups and downs; they are symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Formerly known as manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings that can propel individuals from moments of intense creativity and activity, known as mania, into episodes of severe sadness and depression. These mood shifts can last for days and are a lifelong condition that demands ongoing management through medication and psychotherapy.

Close up of anxious patient's hands.

Diverse Forms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder manifests in various forms, each marked by unpredictable mood and behavior changes that can be challenging for the affected individual and their loved ones:

  • Bipolar I Disorder — This form includes at least one manic episode that precedes or follows hypomanic (milder mania) or depressive episodes. Mania in bipolar I can sometimes lead to psychotic episodes, causing detachment from reality.
  • Bipolar II Disorder — Marked by at least one major depressive episode and one hypomanic episode, bipolar II disorder lacks manic episodes.
  • Cyclothymic Disorder — This condition involves multiple periods of hypomania and depressive symptoms. The depressive symptoms are less severe than in major depression and must persist for at least two years in adults or one year in children and teenagers.

Uncovering the Root Cause

While bipolar and related disorders can be triggered by significant stress levels or substance abuse, they can also result from medical conditions such as strokes, multiple sclerosis, or Cushing's disease. However, the specific cause remains a mystery. Researchers suggest that a combination of factors — biological, environmental, and psychological — contribute. Bipolar disorder often runs in families, being most prevalent when a parent or sibling has the condition. Yet, the responsible gene remains unidentified.

Researchers in the United Kingdom are getting closer, however. Scientists from the University of Cambridgehave developed a blood test that when used with an online psychiatric assessment can help diagnose patients with bipolar disorder. Many of those patients had been misdiagnosed previously with major depressive disorder. 

Happy woman outdoors.

Treatment: The Path to a Balanced Life

Untreated bipolar disorder can lead to disruptions in various aspects of life, including financial, legal, or social, or romantic, depending on behavior during episodes. Unfortunately, misdiagnosis or a lack of diagnosis is common, given the resemblance of bipolar disorder symptoms to other mental health conditions. The persistent stigma around discussing mental health further keeps people from seeking help.

Diagnosis requires a psychiatric examination and a comprehensive medical history review. Some doctors may request patients to maintain a "mood chart" to track episodes effectively.

Successful management of bipolar disorder often involves a combination of approaches:

  • Medications — These can help stabilize mood, but they may take several weeks to be effective. Consistent medication intake is crucial, even when feeling better, as skipping treatment can lead to dangerous manic or depressive episodes.
  • Psychotherapy — Therapy aids in developing healthier self-perceptions and coping mechanisms for stressors, ultimately improving relationships, and reducing the impact of bipolar disorder.
  • Substance Abuse Treatment — When bipolar disorder co-occurs with substance dependency, managing the condition becomes more challenging, requiring targeted treatment.
  • Hospitalization — Episodes involving dangerous behavior, suicidal thoughts, or psychosis may require hospitalization to stabilize mood.
  • Self-care — While it won't cure the disorder, self-care, including a nutritious diet, limiting caffeine and sugar intake, and regular exercise, can enhance one's ability to cope with medication side effects like nausea, fatigue, and weight gain.

If you or a loved one recognizes these symptoms, know that AltaMed Behavioral Health Services is here to help. Call (855) 425-1777 to learn more about overcoming the challenges posed by bipolar disorder.

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Are You Practicing Good Emotional Hygiene?

It’s likely that every morning you take a shower, brush your teeth, and wash your face. These are part of a good hygiene routine.

Are you practicing emotional hygiene as well? It is just as important as your physical habits and can lead to improved overall well-being.

Just like dirt or oil builds on our bodies, the worries of life pile up too, and can build to a point where it weighs you down emotionally. It’s important to give yourself a mental “scrub” and talk to a professional about what is troubling you.

A huge number of Americans are seeking some kind of treatment for mental health issues according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, 21.6% of adults sought mental health treatment, up from 19.2% in 2019.

While more people are going to therapy, especially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, nearly half the population believes seeking therapy is a sign of weakness. However, taking care of your emotional health is no less important than taking care of your physical health, and will actually make you a stronger person.

The Benefits

Emotional hygiene doesn’t always involve talking to a therapist, you can talk to someone you feel safe confiding in. It can include mindfulness, meditation, adopting a positive attitude, exercise, or even scheduling time for yourself. Whatever you do to relieve stress is part of an emotional hygiene routine. Here are how those actions can benefit you:

  1. Improved mental health — According to the World Health Organization, mental health is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community." Taking care of your emotional well-being can help you achieve this state, leading to a happier and more fulfilling life.
  2. Reduced stress — Per the American Psychological Association, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your physical health, as well as your mental health. Taking care of your emotional well-being can help lighten the weight daily stressors bring and make it easier to enjoy life despite them.
  3. Better relationships — When you take care of your emotional well-being, you are better able to connect with others. Psychologist Guy Winch wrote, "When we feel good about ourselves, we are better able to be present with others and connect deeply."
  4. Improved self-esteem — Winch also wrote, "When we care for ourselves emotionally, we feel better about ourselves and our abilities." This can lead to increased confidence and self-worth.
  5. Improved productivity — When you're not distracted by negative emotions, you're better able to focus on the task at hand and get things done.
  6. Improved resilience — Taking care of your emotional well-being can help you better cope with difficult situations and bounce back from adversity.
  7. Improved overall well-being — When you take care of your emotional well-being, you're better able to enjoy life and all it has to offer.

It is difficult to maintain physical health without the emotional component and vice versa. When both mind and body are in sync, working toward your overall health, you have a better quality of life and can do so much more for yourself and those you care about.

We Are Here to Help

AltaMed is here to help you with your holistic health needs. That includes your emotional health. The behavioral health clinicians with our Behavioral Health team speak English and Spanish and are trained to help you cope with life stressors and get you through a rough time.

We offer short-term therapy to help you develop and strengthen your coping skills. We can also link you to mental health services if you need long-term services. Call us today at (855) 425-1777 to learn more.


The Facts about ADHD

Kids can be impulsive. There are plenty of things they would rather be doing each day than sitting in a classroom, behaving in church, or getting together for some boring “adult” activity. That’s normal.

When that behavior begins to disrupt their schoolwork, and leads to trouble at home or with friends, it could be a case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is “one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood.” It’s something kids don’t normally outgrow, often lasting into adulthood.

With proper diagnosis, however, ADHD can be treated and controlled. 

ADHD History

The condition was first recognized by a Scottish doctor near the end of the 18th century. In 1902, Sir George Frederic Still talked about impulsive behavior in children of typical intelligence.

Hyperkinetic disease was described by two German doctors in 1932. The condition prevented children from sitting still in class and getting along with schoolmates. It started in children as young as 3 and peaked by the age of 6.

In 1937, it was discovered that Benzedrine, a stimulant, caused a decrease in the patient’s hyperactivity. By 1954, Ritalin became the most widely used drug to treat children with ADHD.

By the Numbers

It is estimated that as many as 6 million children between 3 to 17 years old have been diagnosed with ADHD. That includes:

  • 265,000 3 to 5 years old
  • 2.4 million 6 to 11 years old
  • 3.3 million 12 to 17 years old

Boys are twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than girls. Black non-Hispanic children, and White non-Hispanic children are most often diagnosed with ADHD — 12% and 10% respectively — compared with Hispanic children (8%) or Asian non-Hispanic children (3%).

The number of children diagnosed with ADHD has increased steadily each year.

Potential Symptoms

Many children will have problems focusing. That doesn’t mean they have ADHD. However, it’s important to look out for:

  • Daydreaming
  • Forgetfulness
  • Losing things
  • Fidgeting
  • Being overly chatty
  • Taking unnecessary risks
  • Carelessness
  • Exceedingly poor impulse control
  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • Difficulty keeping their grades up. 

Causes and Risk Factors

Researchers continue to look for the exact causes of ADHD. Some factors they have identified include:

  • Genetics — Studies show it may run in families.
  • Environment — Environmental factors, such as lead exposure, may increase risk.
  • Development issues — Problems with the nervous system during key moments of childhood development could be a factor.
  • Exposure to environmental factors during pregnancy — Exposure to smoke, alcohol, or  drugs during pregnancy could be a risk factor.
  • Premature birth — This could be another risk factor.

Coexisting Conditions

ADHD can be extremely frustrating, especially if it isn’t diagnosed until adulthood. Dealing with the forgetfulness, inattentiveness, poor performance at school, work, or in relationships, can lead to the development of other conditions. These include:

  • Mood disorders — Depression and bipolar disorder are common. They are not directly tied to ADHD but could be related due to a repeated pattern of failures and frustrations that result from ADHD.
  • Anxiety disorders — Anxiety can become amplified because of the challenges of ADHD.
  • Learning disabilities — Adults with ADHD could score lower on academic testing and may have greater difficulty with understanding and communicating.
  • Other disorders — Personality disorders and substance use disorders pose a greater risk because of undiagnosed or untreated ADHD.

Here to Help

ADHD is common and there are treatments for children AND adults. If you believe you or a loved one might have symptoms of ADHD, AltaMed has skilled pediatricians and behavioral health professionals who can help. Also, AltaMed at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles has pediatricians that specialize in developmental and behavioral diagnoses that could assist your child or adolescent. Call us at (323) 669-2113.

What to Know about Bipolar Disorder