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Understanding bipolar disorder in students

Students go through life experiencing obstacles. For those with bipolar disorder, these experiences can become weekly and sometimes daily occurrence.

According to Mayoclinic.com, Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition involving episodes of mood swings, environment and genetics. These mood swings can affect an individual’s mental health and social interactions.

There are several phases of bipolar disorders including Mania, Hypomania, Depressive phase and Bipolar 1 and 2.

Mania is a high level of mood characterized by symptoms such as a high level of energy and an unusual level of irritability. Travis Hull, a licensed clinical social worker at BYU-Idaho, gave information about the symptoms of Mania found on psychcentral.com such as:

-Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep.

-More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking.

-Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing.

“Hypomanic phases are not as severe or as intense as a manic phase,” Hull said.

The next phase is the depressive phase. Hull talked about symptoms of the depressive phase such as being in a depressive mood or feeling down. In children, they may be irritable or cranky, rather than sad. In adults, a disinterest or pleasure in almost all activities every day and others such as:

-Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain (e.g., a change of more than 5 percent of body weight in a month), or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day.

-Problems with sitting still, including constant restlessness, pacing, or picking at one’s clothes — called psychomotor agitation by professionals — or the opposite, a slowing of one’s movements, talking very quietly with slowed speech — called psychomotor retardation by professionals.

-Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day — for example, ruminating over minor past failings.

-Recurrent thoughts of death — not just fear of dying — recurrent suicidal ideas without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide.

According to Mayoclinic.com, Bipolar 1 and 2 have similar but a few distinct characteristics:

Students with bipolar 1 disorder have at least one manic episode that may be preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. In some cases, mania may trigger a break from reality — psychosis.

Students with bipolar 2 disorder have at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but you’ve never had a manic episode.

Hull talks about how students can also have mixed episodes; which are combined with depression and mania; people will go from a high level of energy to a low state of mood to high irritability all at once.

“You can have both symptoms of a manic phase and depressive phase,” Hull said. This is the phase that most people feel the most crazy experiencing because you feel a lot of different and conflicting emotions all at the same time.”

There are students at BYU-I that either have been diagnosed or have symptoms they aren’t aware of according to Hull.

“At the counseling center in the year of 2019 we saw about 350 people with a bipolar type diagnosis,” Hull said. “The number on campus is probably higher because this number doesn’t include the number of people being treated for bipolar off-campus and those who didn’t receive treatment at all.”

Students would set an appointment, receive a diagnosis and social workers, like Hull, would talk with them about different treatment options.

“We also talk about different recourses that are available on campus through different departments,” Hull said. “We also talk to them about community resources that are also available to them. We then help them choose the best course of treatment for them and what services they want to try. “

He also mentioned that some students set appointments with doctors in the area, ask questions and be prescribed medication. For students uncomfortable with taking medication Hull said therapy groups are another option to help students.

“People are afraid that people will judge them or not understand them,” Hull said. “It’s hard for people to stay with a friend whose emotions are up or down a lot.”

Hull also gave a great insight on people with bipolar disorders interacting with society, particularly, with their roommates.

“Some people have had friends leave or roommates that don’t want to deal with them because they have bipolar disorder,” Hull said. “It’s complicated and different for everyone but those are some reasons that some people with bipolar (don’t) talk about it.”

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