Bipolar Disorder and Decision Making
When in a manic mood, people with bipolar disorder can act recklessly. Here's how to take responsibility and manage your emotions.
By Malinda Gibbons-Gwyn
Medically Reviewed by Niya Jones, MD, MPH
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurMental Health & Mood DisordersNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
The dramatic mood swings of bipolar disorder can interfere with your ability to make good choices, particularly during a manic episode. Symptoms of depression include intense sadness, emotional indifference, fatigue, and feelings of despair, whereas mania often causes restlessness, anxiety, irritability, and impulsive behavior.
One recent study explored decision-making skills among manic patients. Study participants were given the Iowa Gambling Task, a psychological test that involves picking cards from different decks with the goal of winning money. Manic participants chose more cards from the decks of cards deemed "risky" than other people and did not learn from their mistakes as easily. The researchers found that manic people made poor decisions because of an inability to understand the consequences.
During a manic period, people with bipolar disorder often have impaired judgment and act recklessly. People with bipolar disorder often do not recognize just how ill they are (a condition known as anosognosia) and may blame their problems on outside factors.
One patient, a teacher in Pittsburgh named Susan, says she had trouble learning to take responsibility for her actions. Her "past faults and mistakes are too numerous to name," she says.
"Admitting that I am wrong is so painfully difficult," she notes. "Yet I have had occasions to [apologize], and there have been those who have received it warmly."
Bipolar Disorder: Partners and a Plan
Experts recommend that a person with bipolar disorder have a care team in place. Care partners — friends, family and trusted health care providers — can help steer you away from the triggers that lead to manic episodes; if an episode does occur, they can help you take responsibility for your actions.
When you are not depressed or manic, make a pact with someone you trust. If you have a manic episode, tell that person to intervene by:
- Helping you avoid situations that intensify mood swings
- Providing feedback on your mood and behavior
- Giving you constant reassurance
- Contacting your doctor to make an appointment or to talk about treatment
Having such a plan will not only help you avoid mistakes, it will also help you cope with mistakes even if you do make them. You and the care partners can agree on additional parameters that are relevant to your personal circumstances.
According to Gary Sachs, MD, an associate professor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston: "You cannot rely exclusively on yourself and have much hope; you must have a plan in writing and care partners in place. This process is like physical exercise — if you keep working on it, you will be able to do it sooner or later. You have to work at the process."
If you have bipolar disorder, he says, realize that your perception of a given situation may be biased and that you must have someone to help you "see accurately."
Bipolar Disorder: Communication
Jair Soares, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and director of the UNC Center of Excellence for Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorders, says it is important to communicate honestly with your care partners after an episode. "When you are doing well, have a good conversation about the things that were done or said," he says. This is also a good time to review your bipolar treatment with your doctor or therapist and admit past mistakes.
Bipolar Disorder: Support Groups
It may be helpful for you and your care partners to join a support group. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) provide helpful information for people with bipolar disorder.
Of course, the best way to avoid making the same mistakes during future episodes is by recognizing the mistakes you have made in the past. When you realize you are experiencing familiar symptoms of mania (talking too quickly, not sleeping or eating well, needing instant gratification), be sure to contact your doctor or therapist as soon as possible.
Video: 4 Rules For Helping Making BIG Decisions When You Are BIPOLAR!
15 Benefits Of Antioxidants – And How They Keep Us Healthy In A Polluted World
Lumpectomy Plus Radiation May Beat Mastectomy for Early Breast Cancer
21 Excellent Flower Tattoo Ideas For Men
The 11 Best Natural Energy Bars to Buy in 2019
Revive Your Credit, Restart Your Life
How to Use Basic Strategies and Tactics in Clash Royale
How to Acquire a Death Certificate
The Merriest Christmas TV Episodes to Watch Between Meals, Presents, and Holiday Cheer
See Fall 2012 Campaigns From Burberry, Louis Vuitton and More
Walmart robot scrubs store floors
Matteo Molinari Menswear: SS14 Collection
The Weird Connection Between Your Moles And Your Breast Cancer Risk