Q: Hi David,
Recently my father committed suicide due to bipolar disease. I am not
understanding this disease. I am 22 and my dad was 44 when he died. I didn't
know that he had it until after he died, I am scared that I have bipolar
disease. One minute I am happy and then the next I could be in tears. I have
battled depression my whole life, so I am not to sure if it is upset over
loosing my dad or if there is something really wrong with me. Is there
anything that you can tell me.
I am so sorry to hear about your father's illness and recent death.
Despite your despair, you have the strength and courage to write for advice. It
is this ability to reach out to others that may well carry you through your most
difficult times of depression. Bipolar disorder differs significantly from
clinical depression, although the symptoms for the depressive phase of the
illness are similar. Most people who have bipolar disorder talk about
experiencing "highs" and "lows" – the highs are periods of mania, the lows
periods of depression. These swings can be severe, ranging from extreme energy
to deep despair. The severity of the mood swings and the way they disrupt normal
life activities distinguish bipolar mood episodes from ordinary mood changes.
Symptoms of mania - the "highs" of bipolar disorder:
* Increased physical and mental activity and energy
* Heightened mood, exaggerated optimism and self-confidence
* Excessive irritability, aggressive behavior
* Decreased need for sleep without experiencing fatigue
* Grandiose delusions, inflated sense of self-importance
* Racing speech, racing thoughts, flight of ideas
* Impulsiveness, poor judgment, distractibility
* Reckless behavior
* In the most severe cases, delusions and hallucinations
Since you have "battled depression" your "whole life", I am assuming you have
been under the care of a psychiatrist with whom you can communicate openly about
all of your behaviors and symptoms, who is persistent in getting as much
accurate information from you as possible. If this is not the case, this is a
critical time in your life to select a psychiatrist who is knowledgeable about
depression and bipolar disease and be relentless in getting the correct
diagnosis, making it your top priority so that your life can achieve stability.
Appropriate medical treatment is a big part of treating the disorder first.
Don't be 'scared that you have bipolar disease'. Talk first hand to an expert
who can answer your questions by taking a full history. Also, consider talking
to an adult you trust or other family member who is either familiar with this
situation or can just provide a good listening ear. In other words, rather than
remain scared, take the proper steps to get the answers.
If you do not have regular access to a licensed psychologist or counselor for
therapy for your ongoing depression, this would be an extremely important time
to find one. The questions you have asked honestly are excellent questions but
require much more attention than a single email can provide. You deserve to
learn more about yourself, your father and his disease/life sitting face to face
with someone with whom you have built a trusting relationship. This may be a bit
uncomfortable at first but I have seen the courage of your convictions in your
writing and trust me, you are not alone in your fear. There is help waiting for
you out there IF you choose to pursue it.
It would not be accurate or professional of me to attempt to diagnose based on
the limited information in this email but being happy one minute and being in
tears the next following so closely after the death of a loved one may indicate
a normal grief reaction to the loved one's death or the recurrence of a major
depression, not necessarily the start of bipolar disorder although this too
should be ruled out since it is in your family background but IN PERSON by a
psychiatrist during a comprehensive evaluation.
The key right now is not to isolate yourself....stay on your quest to confirm a
diagnosis and following through on your treatment and therapy. Just because your
father had bipolar disorder does not guarantee that you will have it too, in
fact statistics suggest that among children there is only approximately a 30%
chance. Additional "comorbid" disorders include ADHD (Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder) and Major Depression, which you already feel you have.
American Psychological Association
National Alliance for the Mentally Ill
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance
National Institute Of Mental Health
David Schafer, M.Ed.
Published May, 2006