Deep Bench: Recognizing bipolar disorder

WAUSAU, Wis. (WZAW) -- When you think about mental illness, the ones that often come to mind are depression and anxiety. But when it comes to bipolar disorder, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize and diagnose.

We had a Deep Bench conversation Wednesday with area psychologist, Dr. Heather Meggers-Wright from Behavioral Health Clinic of Wausau, about recognizing the signs and characteristics of the illness.

She said bipolar disorder is a mood disorder that's characterized by people who experience both manic highs and manic lows in their mood.

"Periods of days or weeks at a time where they feel high, on top of the world, energetic, euphoric even," Meggers-Wright explained. "Having racing thoughts, just everything moving very fast."

She said while it can seem good it also can cause a lot of problems. It can cause the person to have risky behavior, such as spending a lot of money or having reckless sex.

On the flip side, a person living with bipolar disorder can experience depressive episodes, typically lasting at least 2 weeks.

"Maybe feeling lethargic, not having a lot of energy, have difficulty functioning their typical life," Meggers-Wright added. "And the thing about bipolar disorder is that both of these episodes are distinct about how a person typically is. So we want to look for that difference of how they typically function."

She said bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose because usually a person will come in to see a mental health professional when they're experiencing depression, which is more identifiable.

"Often people are misdiagnosed on the manic or hyper-manic side, because it looks like anxiety or it looks like ADHD, or there are other disorders that can kind of mimic that, and it might not be perceived as a real problem," she explained.

Meggers-Wright said the chronic condition usually stays with you for life, but it can be managed with a combination of mood stabilizers, to balance out the highs and lows, and therapy, which can help the person cope with stress.