Absolutely. It is very important that anyone with bipolar disorder be fully educated on the disorder and have the self-awareness of how it manifests itself in their lives. It is helpful for them to recognize if they tend to have more manic episodes versus depressive episodes, or vice versa. What we do find is that often for individuals who have bipolar disorder, the mania is described by the patient as being very positive and euphoric type of experience. And if they have suffered from depression, then mania, when it presents, can almost feel relieving in its euphoria. Subsequently because that feeling of mania (including the euphoric feeling of having much energy and creative thoughts and motivation) can be so rewarding that individuals with this disorder are prone to stop taking their medication. The mania is interpreted by them as a very positive uplifting type of feeling, especially in light of the depressive feelings they had been experiencing. So they prefer to feel that way, not understanding that during those episodes, there is typically extremely impulsive behavior that coexists or evolves over time, which brings about very negative consequences. For instance, going out and purchasing a new car that you're not prepared to financially be responsible for. Or engaging in a sexual relationship that is with an individual that is not safe nor interested in a long term commitment. There are consequences to the mania that the individual is not able to distinguish in the course of the disorder being active, things they often do not take into consideration when they're feeling euphoric. That is why acute awareness and monitoring of their mental state is important, because with awareness the appropriate environment or medication can administered at the right time.
A traumatic event does not cause or create the disorder of bipolar. However, what we do know is that individuals who have bipolar disorder, if they experience a traumatic event or they encounter what we would refer to as a trauma trigger, that it can trigger a manic episode or it can trigger a depressive episode. High levels of stress for an individual who has bipolar disorder can trigger an episode, be it manic or depressive, but it does not in theory cause them to be bipolar.
That's a great question, and one I hear people ask because that word is used very loosely... in particular when they are trying to describe someone else's behavior. Unfortunately, people tend to think that erratic behavior warrants a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. In particular, I will hear people say, "Well she's down one minute, and she's up the next minute, and I'm convinced she's bipolar." An important distinction must be made to note that the changes do not happen that abruptly. Not only do the changes in mood not happen that abruptly, but there has to be an established pattern. And within that pattern a specific amount of time, that the individual is exhibiting specific symptoms that are associated with the mania or specific symptoms that are associated with the depression. So quite frankly because it can be easily misdiagnosed or improperly diagnosed, I would say it is appropriate to go see a psychiatrist who is willing to assess you but also continue to observe you over a period of time in order to determine the most appropriate diagnosis, i.e. is this bipolar disorder, is this a depression disorder, or is this an anxiety disorder?
Typically you are going to have two different categories with bipolar, after all bi means two. You are going to have the symptoms of the mania: