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bipolar patients

Bipolar Disorder and Suicide Risk

Physical Proof and a Big Shocker – Bipolar Disorder and Suicide Risk

Bipolar HeadI read a lot of news about bipolar disorder and other psychiatric disorders (OCD, ADHD, chronic depression, borderline personality disorder, etc.).  In my reading, I came across an article that describes brain scan abnormalities in teens and young adults who have attempted suicide but I found a lot more.

A study conducted at Yale School of Medicine examined brain scans of 26 young adults and teenagers with bipolar disorder who had attempted suicide.  These were compared with scans of 42 bipolar patients who had not attempted suicide and with 45 non-bipolar subjects.  The results were not really surprising – as many research studies are not.

The bipolar patients, who had attempted suicide, showed abnormalities when compared to the other two groups, specifically in the  which showed “less integrity”.

Frontal lobe animationThis means that the frontal lobe (which controls impulses) is not as “connected” to areas that control emotion, motivation and memory.  Researchers indicate that the brain abnormalities may disrupt the ability of the impulse control mechanism to filter emotion and motivational messages appropriately.

In short this means that those patients can’t stop negative emotions and impulses to do something drastic… like attempt suicide and not surprisingly, less integrity or more abnormality – likely means more suicide attempts.

While it is good that they are discovering some physical proof of actual defect, eventually to move bipolar disorder into a category that can be scientifically documented, it doesn’t offer a lot of real-life solutions.  Most of us who are bipolar or know someone who is bipolar, know that there is something wrong or at least different about our brain…and it only makes sense that a person, who is trying to kill himself, is probably a little worse off.

As usual, I found myself thinking “…and… the point is…” which I often do when I read a synopsis of a largely inconsequential research study but then something caught my eye.  It was something that was a lot worse than I thought – statistics.

About 4 percent of Americans are afflicted with bipolar disorder, though sometimes we feel like it is others who are afflicted.  That is not surprising either.  Some groups show a slightly lower percentage at about 2.6 percent of the population.

Bipolar SuicideWhat surprised me was the statistic regarding suicide.  The article – that is from a reputable source – indicates that 25 to 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder are likely to attempt suicide and that 15 to 20 percent are likely to succeed.  Wow.  I didn’t know that.  Funny thing that I didn’t know since of the 20 or so bipolar people I have been close friends with at one time or another – at least four of them are dead.

When searching for confirmation (which I found from the NIH that about 1 in 5 bipolar patients complete suicide), I also found a number of additional shocking statistics:

  • Bipolar disorder results in a 9.2 year reduction in lifespan
  • Bipolar disorder is the 6th leading cause of disability, worldwide
  • Bipolar disorder is found in all races, ethnicities, ages, genders and socioeconomic groups
  • A child with one bipolar parent has a 15-30% chance of having the disorder
  • A child with two bipolar parents has a 50-75% chance of having the disorder
  • There are 3.4 million CHILDREN with depression in the US but up to one-third of those kids may actually have bipolar disorder
  • Bipolar disorder criteria have likely been met for at least 1 percent of all adolescents

Maybe these aren’t shocking for you.  Maybe you already knew all this – but maybe you didn’t.

I have known I had bipolar disorder for a long time – and have known a lot more people with bipolar disorder and I didn’t know all this stuff or maybe like everything else, I chose not to remember.

Food for thought; Take your medicines!

Melissa Lind

Bipolar Disorder and Risky Behavior

One of the most attractive facets of the “symptoms” of Bipolar Disorder is “risky behavior”

Even though this symptom irritates me, it is true. Actually, most of the medically described symptoms of the disorder irritate me.

Probably the reason this symptom bothers me is that like many others, I forget or wish to deny my own risky behavior.  I personally have wanted to think that I am, above all, that – and that my activities were justified which my therapist would say is oppositional behavior and really another symptom of Bipolar Disorder.

Not wishing to go into the specifics of risks that I have taken, I will say that upon honest examination, they have been many.  Because of Bipolar Disorder, I feel compelled justify them.  As a Bipolar, I could go on and write in circles about why I did what I did but really coming back to the same conclusion.  Technically, they have been justified, because I was ill.

Dangerious BehaviorExamples of risky behavior include things such as promiscuity, drug or alcohol abuse, shoplifting, gambling, excessive spending, infidelity, putting yourself in physical danger and others.  The obvious examples of this are celebrities who get into legal trouble because of risks they have taken – such as shoplifting, public exposure, public drunkenness, and drunk driving.  There is no logical reason for a celebrity to steal or shoplift as the things they steal “necessities” and that they can clearly afford to purchase.  There is also no reason for a celebrity to drive repeatedly drunk as they can usually afford a driver, and there is hardly ever a reason for public exposure.

Do I feel guilty for any of the risks I have taken?  Really, I don’t.  Were they against my moral values?  Really, they weren’t.  I certainly have regrets but no guilt.  I regret doing those things because of the trouble I caused and sometimes because they were things that others could judge me for.  Still today, even though I am well stabilized on medication, I am not sure they were against my morals.  Intellectually, I know that some of them were considered “wrong” or possibly illegal but that is the judgment of others, and my judgment system is different.

Guilt is defined as knowing that you did something wrong.  Shame is a judgment that others impose upon you to try and make you feel guilty.

Recently I read that bipolar patients wish to avoid feeling, choosing instead to think.  I agree with that (and I feel compelled to justify my agreement) by also adding that I also think that this is because people with Bipolar Disorder also feel too much.

Fortunately, today I am stabilized on medication and usually don’t exhibit risky behavior.  I haven’t had an episode in a few years – since the last time I quit taking my medication.

Melissa Lind

Bipolar Disorder Research Funding – Poorly Directed

Prepare yourself for a bit of a bipolar rant!

An article entitled “Bipolar Disorder in Youth Not as Chronic as Thought” in Medscape Pharmacists e-newsletter came across my email and while I was initially quite interested, I soon became annoyed.
Bipolar and Borderline (BPD)A recent study done at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine shows that bipolar disorder may not always be a chronic condition. While this may look like good news and you might see it pop up in the media as a big positive – cheerleader kind of thing, it really isn’t.

The study followed 413 children and adolescents who were 7 to 17 years of age and diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the time of study enrollment.  The patients and family members were interviewed about every eight months, for eight years.  What they found was that some of the patients were “ill” most of the time, some were “well” most of the time, and some were both ill and well.  Sorry, but that result isn’t astounding.

I find a couple of things wrong with the published results.

  1. They didn’t say whether the patients were stabilized on medication during the study – what medication, whether the medication was changed, whether the patients took the medication – in fact the publication doesn’t mention medication at all.
  2. The data collected was based on “interviews.”  Sorry, but being bipolar inherently predisposes you to lack of complete transparency.  Bipolar patients are likely to hide and lie – whether it is purposefully or subconscious behavior, it is a known problem.
  3. The patients were ages 7 to 17 when entering the study, meaning they were 15 to 25 at the end.  Many of the patients went through puberty during the study and what pubescent child or the post-pubescent adolescent is truly stable…or honest for that matter.  Interviews with the family may have partly balanced this but we also know how “well” our families may know us…some, not at all.

What I did find a little more relevant was that the patients tended to be “well” more of the time if they:

Though true, this is not astounding either.  It is easily recognized that if your family has a history of mental disorder, you are more likely to have a mental disorderBipolar disorder and substance abuse go hand in hand, and sexual abuse makes nothing more manageable.

Incidentally they also showed that patients would be more stable if they:

•    Had less history of severe depression, manic or hypomanic symptoms
•    Had fewer subsyndromal episodes

So basically, if the patients had a history of fewer episodes, they would have fewer episodes……really?
Not discounting the fact that any academic attention given to bipolar disorder, especially in juveniles should be welcome, I am disappointed because the study results didn’t show anything.  This is all information that anyone could guess – and the funding for mediocre “non-results” could have gone elsewhere.

This sort of news can easily lead to an “it will go away” thought process, lack of medication and lack of attention to and acknowledgment of the real and long-term challenges that a bipolar patient can face.  Yes, let’s all believe that bipolar disorder is not a chronic medical condition… let’s undo all the progress that has been made.

Melissa Lind

Academic attention given to bipolar disorder should be welcome!

Diagnosis and Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is difficult to diagnose.

The average bipolar patient will see three mental health professionals before getting the right diagnosis. In fact, one-third of bipolar patients will not be diagnosed with the disorder until more than 10 years after they first seek treatment.

There is a lot of similarity between the symptoms of bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions, but that isn’t the only reason why it is so difficult to diagnose. Here are some of the complicating factors:

Bipolar Disorder PatientThe patient only talks about depression – as bipolar disorder is a condition that has periods of depression alternating with manic episodes, many patients present when they are depressed. This is particularly true when a patient seeks treatment for themselves. Manic patients feel good or at least energized and are unlikely to believe that anything is wrong. Either they feel terrific, or they are in a heightened “bad” mood – and likely to blame that on other people or life circumstances. Consequently when they first seek treatment – they only profess to the depression as that is most bothersome.

Bipolar disorder looks like anxiety – in actuality, many, if not most bipolar patients also have some type of anxiety disorder. Consequently it may be very difficult for mental health professional to root out bipolar disorder. If patients are seen as agitated, hyperactive or fidgety, they may be only asked about anxiety or given a self-rating scale for anxiety. This would immediately lead the practitioner to diagnose an anxiety disorder – unless careful investigations were done.

Substance abuse can be complicating the issue – many bipolar patients spend years self-treating with substances of abuse. This includes prescription medications, recreational drugs and alcohol. There is not any particular drug that is more often abused by bipolar people as a whole – some will choose alcohol, some will prefer stimulants, some will choose pain medications – all of which will mask the symptoms to some extent. In some cases, the substance abuse appears to be more problematic than anything else and in cases of addiction; the substance abuse must be treated before an accurate evaluation can occur.

Denial is very common – Denial is a nice way of saying dishonesty. That would be lying. This sounds very harsh but in many cases, bipolar patients will not be honest about difficulties that they have had. It may be subconscious dishonesty in that they, themselves do not really know what the problem is. Lack of awareness is common but outright denial is also common. Many bipolar patients absolutely refuse to accept the diagnosis when it is first presented – even after years of not being treated properly. Oddly, this may make it more likely that the practitioner believes that the patient has bipolar disorder but such outright denial delays treatment.

These are just a few of the reasons why bipolar disorder is so difficult to pin down and, unfortunately, delayed treatment can have huge life implicationsBipolar disorder is one of the riskiest psychiatric illnesses to have and can have severe consequences for the patient who is not properly diagnosed and medicated – including job losses, family disturbance, institutionalization, jail and even death.

Bipolar disorder affects not only the patient himself – but family and loved ones as well.

Why is it so difficult to diagnose bipolar disorder?

Why do Bipolar Patients Quit Taking Their Meds?

Why do bipolar and schizophrenic persons quit taking medicine?

Talk to any medical professional about the trials and tribulations of dealing with bipolar patients and they will tell you that the single most bothersome thing is the frequency with which manic-depressives quit taking their meds.

This problem isn’t unique to bipolar patients, but it is more insidious and often more surprising.  Schizophrenics, who quit taking their meds, are identified fairly quickly.  Those with depression who quit taking their meds stay in their houses – this is troublesome but not a public nuisance.

People with bipolar disorder are usually quite memorable both at the best of times and the worst of times.  They are vivacious; they are shining; they are exasperating; they are amazing, and they are irritating.  Generally in order to be diagnosed, a bipolar patient will present one of two ways – either severely depressed or psychotic but their illness has gone unnoticed or unaddressed for a long time.

To be fair, psychiatric patients of any type may quit taking their meds for a number of legitimate reasons.  Well, semi-legitimate.

Mood DisordersLegitimately, a psychiatric patient of any type will have consulted with his or her physician before quitting can be medically supervised while doing so.  Even with medical supervision, the only really legitimate reason for a psychiatric patient to quit taking their meds completely is a person who has been taking anti-depressants for a short period of time (less than one year) who has only had one episode of clinical depression.  In this case, a psychiatrist would agree that a patient who does not have a long term history of depression can taper off the medication because they may not need it forever.  This patient is rare. Once another episode of depression or mood disorder occurs, virtually everyone will agree that it is a chronic problem that should be addressed with medication.  Permanently.

One legitimate reason for temporarily discontinuing use would be pregnancy, to avoid potential harm to the fetus.  In most cases, the medication would be re-started as soon as the patient is able.

Patients may also approach their physician about discontinuing a specific medication to switch to another.  Reasons for this might be ineffectiveness, intolerable side effects or cost.

Unfortunately, for most psychiatric patients there is no legitimate reason to discontinue medication altogether.  The physician will suggest or even prescribe an alternative medication.  The patient may feel that they have been unheard by their physician and while this may be the case, for most patients who “quit”, it is actually more likely that they have not talked to the physician at all.

Bipolar patients and those with other psychiatric conditions most often quit taking their medication without medical supervision or intervention in secret.  Oddly, this is because the brain is a tricky thing – most often they quit when they are doing well.  When the medication is working, they begin to believe that they do not need the medication – that they are “OK”.

Most psychiatric patients don’t want to have a mental disorder – or more likely they don’t want to be told that they have a mental disorder.  This may be in part due to the social stigma, but it may also be because they really like the way they are.  Medication often takes away the “spark” that has made them vivacious, memorable, brilliant and even irritating or dangerous.

It is very difficult to go from “outstanding” – whether it is good or bad to normal.  Bipolar patients in particular also quit taking their medication because their brains are bored.  The brain is used to go up and down, backwards and forwards, in and out.  When medication is working, the roller coaster goes away.

This may be good for a while, after the crisis because life has gotten way out of whack, they need time to recover, rest, and breathe.  But when the fires are put out, and the dust clears, the brain begins to crave the excitement.

Again, this really means the medication is working, and they will quit, yet again, starting the cycle all over again.

So, what can a caretaker, a parent, a spouse, or a friend do?  Likely any attempt at supervision or intervention will be met with anger, avoidance or outright denial.

Bipolar CaosAs bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia most often emerges in the late teens or early adulthood, is should be predictable that they do not want supervision.  They do not want to be told that someone else knows best.

When confronted or even questioned, the bipolar will almost always say that everything is OK – even if it is far from OK.  In short, they will lie.

Again, what can a caretaker, a parent, a spouse, or a friend do?  In short, especially in the newly diagnosed (and for a bipolar or schizophrenic the definition of newly would be likely less than 10 years), there will be no opportunity for supervision.  They will be secretive and untruthful.  You must wait for the crash and be there to assist with the crisis and recovery – only to repeat it again in a few months or years.

The good news is that eventually, the periods between “the crashes” will likely lengthen. When they are thinking clearly, when the medication is working – ask them why they do it.  Encourage them to participate in therapy, join a bipolar or mental disorder group. Realize they may not always go.

Over a period of years, perhaps decades – the patient may eventually become to accept that they truly do need the medication.  Likely they will never be completely compliant but one can always hope.

A caregiver, a parent, a spouse, a friend can look for signs – if you are close, you may be able to keep track of their medication, physician visits, refills but you may not be able to.  You should prepare yourself when you see signs: a developing increase in communication, vivacity, anger – likely followed by erratic behavior and hiding.

Intervene as much as you can but know that your may not be able to stop them.  They quit medication when it is working because it makes them….normal.

Melissa Lind