How Do Couples Best Cope with Bipolar Disorder?

I’m not the kind of person who likes to shout out my personal issues from the rooftops, but with my bipolar becoming public, I hope fellow sufferers will know it’s completely controllable. I hope I can help remove any stigma attached to it, and that those who don’t have it under control will seek help with all that is available to treat it. —Catherine Zeta-Jones

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), bipolar disorder is a psychiatric condition which affects 2.8% of the U.S. population in any given year, and over the course of a lifetime affects 4.4% of people. Approximately 83% of people will have very severe symptoms, and an addition 17% will have moderately severe symptoms. Rates of bipolar disorder are similar for men and women, and bipolar disorder is most commonly diagnosed in the mid 20s, within a broad range of age of onset.

Bipolar disorder is a complex illness, with seemingly contradictory symptoms from severe depression to extreme euphoria and agitation (“mania”), and everything in between including low-grade manic episodes called “hypomanic” episodes and combined depression and mania, called “mixed” episodes. There are several sub-types of bipolar disorder, and it is considered to be a condition requiring long-term management. Many with bipolar disorder have difficulty accessing effective diagnosis and treatment, leading to further suffering for themselves and those close to them. Bipolar disorder is often complicated by the presence of other psychiatric conditions, including anxiety disorders, ADHD, and substance use disorders, exacerbating the situation.

While excitement, energy and measured euphoria can be pleasant for patients and people close to them, depression is often chronic and difficult to treat, and manic phases may include, in addition to euphoria and periods of heightened productivity, reckless behavior, agitation, sleeplessness, impaired judgment and decision-making, and more severe symptoms, leading to long-term negative repercussions from excessive spending, sexual, and other highly problematic, sometimes frankly dangerous, behaviors.

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