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February 20, 2018

Bipolar Disorder Can Start in College

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Bipolar Disorder, or Manic Depression, often begins to show itself in college-age students. Listed below are a number of factors relating to Bipolar Disorder.

1. Bipolar Disorder has a biogenetic basis. It can be mild, moderate, or severe. Social and psychological factors can trigger or compound existing Bipolar Disorder.

2. Major symptoms include, but are not limited to: alcohol, marijuana and drug abuse, explosive anger, fights or aggressive behavior, inappropriate sexual behavior (i.e. violation of others' sexual boundaries, many different sexual partners), prolonged periods of sleeplessness, high levels of risky behavior that may result in injury or death, delusions of grandeur (i.e. believing you can do more than you can), ignoring normal responsibilities, excessive spending habits, extreme changes in eating patterns, suicidal thoughts, paranoia, and hallucinations.

3. Bipolar disorder in its early stages can be misdiagnosed as alcohol or drug dependency, anxiety disorders, schoid-affective disorder, major depressive disorder, or personality disorders such as narcissistic personality disorder. Each of these disorders may, in fact, be a proper diagnosis but may share symptoms with Bipolar Disorder.

4. Treatment: Individuals with Bipolar Disorder benefit from a combination of medications and counseling. Lithium, anti-convulsants, and anti-depressants are usually the medications of choice. A psychiatrist can prescribe and monitor the medication. A university physician can help monitor medication. Counseling is also helpful in dealing with the behavioral aspects of this disorder. Self-acceptance, stress management, time management, goal-setting, and relationship concerns are some of the areas that students often need to discuss. The right medications and the amount of counseling needed is unique to each individual.

5. Sticking to the basics: Individuals with Bipolar Disorder must stay on a regular sleep cycle. While this is difficult for college students, it is extremely important. Getting enough sleep and getting to bed at about the same time each night is very important. Consistent eating patterns, moderate exercise (3-4 times per week), and relaxation training can also be helpful. It is important to find a healthy balance between work time and play time, social and personal solitude times.

6. It is critical that you let people who are important to you know that you have Bipolar Disorder and that it is being treated and managed. In addition to close friends or a dating relationship, it is best to let a campus physician and counselor or hall director know. This can be helpful should a problem develop.

This brief handout has been developed to give you some basic ideas about Bipolar Disorder. If you have further concerns, please talk with a university counselor or physician. You can also find additional material on many good websites by doing a search on Bipolar Disorder.