Bipolar Disorder and Self Harm

Bipolar Disorder and Self Harm

Bipolar disorder is a challenging mental health disorder that involves episodes of depression. The dramatic mood shifts between mania and depression that the person experiences can increase the incidence of self-harming behaviors. Read on as we explore the connection between bipolar disorder and self-harm.

About Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a type of mood disorder that affects about 2.6% of U.S. adults, reports the NIMH. There are four types of bipolar, which feature episodes of mania and depression to varying degrees. These include:

Bipolar I. Bipolar I features more manic episodes, with or without depressive episodes. For a bipolar I diagnosis, the manic episode must be severe enough to warrant hospitalization and must last a week or longer.

Bipolar II. Bipolar II features a less severe form of mania called hypomania, in addition to depressive episodes.

Cyclothymic disorder. Cyclothymic disorder features mood swings that persist on a long-term basis, even as long as two years or more. There may be stretches of normal mood, but these last eight weeks or less.

Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified: Symptoms of mania and depression that do not meet diagnostic criteria for the other three types.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Although research into the cause of bipolar disorder has yielded important information, experts are not yet sure of the exact cause. The research indicates this complex mental health disorder may develop due to a combination of factors. These include:

Genetics. Bipolar tends to run in families. A close family member with bipolar, depression, or schizophrenia will increase the risk.

Brain chemistry and structure. There is ample evidence that bipolar is caused by an imbalance in brain chemistry. Other brain-related factors might include mitochondria and gray matter volume.

Environmental. Personal life experiences may also play a role, such as a childhood history of neglect, abuse, or trauma.

Self-Harm as a Coping Mechanism for Bipolar

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Self-harm involves the intentional harming of one’s own body. While some people who engage in self-harm may go on to die by suicide, most people who self-harm do not. Self-injury can include these behaviors:

  • Cutting
  • Burning
  • Self-poisoning
  • Hitting parts of the body
  • Head banging
  • Biting
  • Scratching
  • Hair pulling
  • Picking at the skin
  • Bone breaking

Self-harm is a maladaptive coping technique for those who struggle with mental health issues, such as bipolar. The self-injuring behaviors provide an outlet for stress, frustration, and emotional distress.

The Link Between Bipolar Disorder and Self-Injury

Studies have shown a link between bipolar disorder and self-harm. A significant number of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder engage in self-harm. In fact, about 50% of those with bipolar disorder will exhibit self-harming behaviors. The bipolar disorder and self-harm connection is also linked to impulsivity.

However, self-harming is not exclusive to bipolar disorder. In addition to bipolar, several mental health disorders list self-harm as a symptom, such as borderline personality. The person may feel overwhelmed by distressing emotions or an extreme mood state, and use self-harming methods to relieve negative feelings.

Whether the person engages in self-harm or not, those with bipolar disorder are at a much higher risk for suicide. In fact, 15-20% of bipolar patients die by suicide. It is due to suicide risk that people with bipolar disorder have a decreased life expectancy.

Bipolar Disorder Treatment Options

Although bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health disorder, treatment can vastly improve functioning and quality of life. Someone that struggles with both bipolar disorder and self-harm will have both conditions addressed and treated.

When seeking treatment for bipolar disorder, you have a few options. The levels of care vary depending on the severity of the disorder or the need for acute stabilization. Outpatient treatment is available in a couple of different levels of intensity, and allows you to reside at home. Mental health retreats or residential centers provide housing and a more intensive approach to treatment.

Whether a mental health retreat, outpatient treatment, or residential mental health care, bipolar is treated with medication and targeted therapies. Some of the therapies that have been shown to help people with bipolar include:

  • Psychotherapy. Individual therapy sessions provide a setting where you can work on improving thought and behavior patterns. Using evidence-based therapies like CBT and DBT, the therapist helps you change negative patterns. You will also learn how to regulate emotions and improve distress tolerance.
  • Medication. There are specific medications that can safely manage the symptoms of bipolar disorder.
  • Group therapy. While in treatment, and beyond, support group settings offer a safe place to discuss challenges and experiences with others.
  • EMDR. EMDR can provide relief for people with bipolar disorder who have a history of trauma. EMDR uses a method of rapid back and forth eye movements to assist the person with bipolar work through a traumatic event.
  • Light therapy. People with bipolar often struggle with sleep disorders because their circadian rhythms are off. Light therapy can help to reestablish regular sleep patterns and return you to a normal sleep cycle. Light therapy involves using a special light box for a certain number of hours of light each day.
  • IPSRT. Interpersonal and social rhythm therapy has been shown to help younger people with this disorder. IPSRT emphasizes medication compliance and stress management to help regulate social and biological rhythms.

Lifestyle Tips to Improve Quality of Life with Bipolar Disorder

Forming healthy lifestyle habits and keeping a predictable daily routine can be helpful in curbing the bipolar symptoms. These include getting sufficient sleep, regular exercise, avoiding alcohol and caffeine, and maintaining a nutritious diet, which help improve quality of life.

Holistic methods are also helpful for managing bipolar disorder. Yoga has been shown to help reduce and manage stress, and producing a calmer mind state. Mindfulness meditation uses focused breathing and directing attention to the present moment to help de escalate a bipolar episode.

Mental Health Hope Free Guidance for Bipolar and Self-Harm

Mental Health Hope is an online resource for mental health conditions. If you struggle with bipolar disorder and self-harm, our team can guide you toward the best treatment options. Give us a call today at (877) 967-9274.

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