Bipolar disorder is a serious condition that affects as much as four percent of the population at some point during their lifetime. In the United States, there are an estimated 5.8 million individuals who battle with this disorder, which is treated through a combination of therapy and medication. The disorder affects men and women equally, but societal pressures and even inclinations of physicians have created some special challenges for men living with bipolar disorder. Because of this, it is important to recognize bipolar symptoms in men so the disorder may be identified and a course of treatment began as early as possible.
Historically identified as manic-depressive disorder, bipolar disorder is characterized by abnormal periods of elevated emotion and energy combined with excessively depressive periods that can become so severe they interfere with basic everyday functioning. Because this disorder can be similar to other disorders like unipolar depression, it is important that physicians be able to properly recognize bipolar symptoms.
Much has been written and studied about bipolar disorder, which was identified even by the ancient Greeks, who thought it was caused by too much yellow bile in the body. The current understanding of the disorder dates back to the mid 1800s, when two physicians identified a disorder that caused a patient to oscillate between manic and depressive periods.
Bipolar Disorder Phases
As this disorder is characterized by two distinct and powerful phases, the bipolar disorder symptoms can be traced back to these manic and depressive states. Men with bipolar disorder experience mood swings that can be dramatic and unpredictable.
The bipolar mania phase, also known as hypo-mania, is characterized by a heightened sense of energy. This phase brings feelings of euphoria and irritability, even a sense of impulsiveness that causes men to take unneeded risks in pursuit of gratification. The bipolar mania phase also includes:
• Racing thoughts and fast, wandering speech
• A heightened sense of self-esteem
• Less need or desire for sleep, and an increased motivation to take on and finish projects.
The other bipolar symptoms in men are related to the depressive phase. This is the phase most commonly mistaken for depression, as it includes many of the same symptoms as common depressive disorders. Because of this, it is important that doctors carefully administer depression symptoms tests so they can properly single out the proper bipolar disorder signs.
This period includes feelings of low self esteem and low energy, even apathy toward hobbies or interests. It is characterized by overwhelming sadness, helplessness and feelings of loneliness. Other bipolar symptoms in men during the depressive state include:
• Overwhelming fatigue or insomnia
• Thoughts of suicide
• Lack of concentration
• Poor coordination and slowed speech
Bipolar Symptoms in Men Treatment
Because of the most common time of onset of this disorder, many of the symptoms can be disregarded or overlooked. Symptoms typically take effect during the teenage years, a period when many physicians can expect volatility for the normal patient, especially young men. Because of this timing, many cases are attributed to the typical growing pains a teenager endures, and bipolar warning signs are ignored. In these cases, the disorder often goes undetected and undiagnosed until much later in life. In fact, the typical patient is not diagnosed with bipolar disorder until between the ages of 25 and 40, when patterns have become more clear.
Identification of these symptoms and the subsequent treatments for bipolar disorder can present challenges for men. As the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliances notes, men are more likely than women to be misdiagnosed as schizophrenic. Men can also face the societal stigma of a mental health disorder differently than women, with many turning to drugs or alcohol as a means to cope. A study from the University of California at Los Angeles found that men who have bipolar disorder become alcoholics at a rate three times that of other men.
There are also many misconceptions about the disorder and bipolar symptoms in men. The disorder’s characteristics—distinct manic and depressive phases—lead many to believe that these alternate frequently and present equally. The truth is that those living with the disorder can go long periods without presenting symptoms, and the manic phase can be so light that symptoms are difficult to detect. Bipolar disorder is also mistakenly seen as a mood disorder, when in reality it impacts energy, concentration, sleep patterns and even sex drive.
Living with Bipolar Disorder
With effective treatment and medicine, men who have bipolar disorder can go on to live normal and productive lives. With special therapies, bipolar symptoms in men can be mitigated and the patients go on to work as they normally would.
Treatment for bipolar disorder takes a two-pronged approach—medication is used to mitigate the symptoms, and ongoing psychotherapy helps to keep the patient on task with the medicine while also addressing problematic thought or behaviors. These treatments include behavioral therapy to decrease stress, interpersonal therapy that focuses on relationships and even social rhythm therapy to establish and maintain routines in life.
Though occupational therapy is generally seen as something for people with physical disabilities, it can also be used to help patients with bipolar disorder live normal lives. These therapists can evaluate a patient’s ability to work and identify goals to return to work. They can also recommend special accommodations for the workplace so both employer and employee can get the most out of the experience.