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Facing Bipolar Disorder

Meet Joel Tavarez. He is a very polite and shy 18 y/o Dominican adolescent from the Bronx, NY. Joel was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and sought professional treatment after a series of self-destructive behaviors (to himself and others) that eventually landed him to hospitalization. It was at that moment, he realized that “enough is enough” and began to see a brighter future for himself. Joel met with me a few days ago at one of my favorite parks (Bryant Park) in NYC on a sunny day to talk about how he balances his life while living with bipolar disorder.  July is recognized as National Minority Mental Health Awareness Month and it is so important to raise awareness about health disparities that continuously affect many people. It is imperative to understand that there is a need to reduce racial and ethnic disparities in order to improve both community and clinical interventions that can help prevent mental health illnesses among minorities at risk of mental conditions.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, bipolar disorder is more prevalent in the United States than in other countries. Bipolar disorder was formerly called manic depression. It is a mental health disorder that causes extreme mood swings known as mania or lows (depression). Some people that struggle with this disease, may feel sad, hopeless or lose interest in most of their daily activities. Then there are moments when the mood can shift to mania. You or a loved one may feel full of energy or become unusually irritable. These mood swings can occur multiple times a year and can affect sleep, productivity, judgement, critical thinking and judgement. It is unpredictable. There are several types of bipolar and related disorders. 

  • Bipolar I disorder: You or someone you know may have had at least one manic episode that may be followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes.
  • Bipolar II disorder: At least two years of many periods of hypomania symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms. It can be also seen one year during childhood and adolescence.
  • Related disorders: drugs, alcohol, strokes and other medical conditions can induce bipolar and related disorders. 

Bipolar disorder does not discriminate and it can occur at any age. It is typically diagnosed during the adolescent years as in the case of Joel. The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be very difficult to diagnose in children and teens. It can be mistaken for normal ups and down of being an adolescent. If you or a loved one have any symptoms of depression or mania, please see your doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. Your doctor or mental health professional can help you get these symptoms under control. This disease will never get better on its own. When it is not treated, it will become more complicated such as suicidal thoughts and behavior. If you have any thoughts of hurting yourself, please call 911, get to the nearest hospital or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).

As a disclaimer, I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist nor mental health worker. I am an Emergency Physician that was trained extensively to care for individuals that come to my Emergency Department during moments of mental health crisis.