Summary:  Bipolar disorder is a pretty severe condition that affects over 2 million people in the U.S. alone. The severity of the illness can vary from person to person – one thing that is a given is that this condition has a very powerful impact on the person and their immediate family. Mental health issues affect everyone and it becomes imperative to get help in a timely fashion.

Having a bipolar spouse is quite a challenge for couples to deal with.  Here is some information about the disorder and advice on how spouses can cope with a mentally ill person.

  • What is bipolar disorder and how is it diagnosed?

Mood disorders are caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry.  The patient has no control over this and it is not a result of an unstable personality.  This kind of disorder is treatable with specific medications as well.  There are no tests which can determine this illness – it is a diagnosis made by doctors based on a complete medical history and symptoms mentioned by the patient.

  • What are the symptoms?

People who have this disorder experience mood changes in cycles.  They have manic and depressive episodes. When they are feeling high, they don’t feel sleepy, racing thoughts and cannot pay attention for any length of time.  When they are depressed, there is no energy for any activities, feel blue all the time, no interest in any activities and suffer from low self esteem.

  • What are the patterns to be aware of?

People with bipolar disorder have different types of episodes.  Some are manic and others are depressive.  Some have both and the time between episodes can vary.  Some people have rapid cycling as well as it gets worse over time.

  •  Is there a possibility of other psychiatric conditions?

Bipolar disorder shares similar symptoms with psychotic and anxiety disorders.  Some people have a combination of different conditions and this can be exacerbated by drug abuse.

  •  When does it start?

 Bipolar disorder usually starts in adolescence or on the threshold of adulthood.  It can even happen to people in their 40s and 50s.

  •  Why is it important to get an early diagnosis?

Most people don’t realize that they have an issue and spend time looking for help.  Early diagnosis and intervention can stop people from committing suicide, stop abusing drugs or alcohol, address marital issues etc.

  •   What treatment methods are available for bipolar disorder?

The reality is that bipolar disorder tends to run in families.  It is always a good idea to be aware if there is some history – this can be helped and there is nothing to fear.  In the acute phase, people are first treated with medication to stabilize them.  In the preventive phase, patients are offered psychotherapy and education as well.  This helps them to get a handle on their illness and handle it responsibly.

 Quite a few families have broken up because the ill spouse is unwilling to take responsibility for their illness.  The brunt of managing the family falls to the spouse who is not ill – day to day chores, paying bills, holding down a full time job, etc.