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Doctors Sylvia and Milton Gearing have been serving the Dallas-Fort Worth area since 1985 with compassion and professionalism.

The Gearings implement the latest in psychological research to stay at the cutting edge of their field and bring the most effective and life changing techniques to their clients.

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Bipolar Disorder - Dec 14, 2005

Bipolar Disorder

December 14, 2005

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, CBS 11 News

This week, a 21-year old Fort Worth man has been accused of murdering his mother and nephew. Family members claim that the man suffers from bipolar disorder, and that he had not been taking his medications for several months. Is this man's affliction to blame for these deaths? Dr. Sylvia Gearing is back with us again this morning to help us better understand bipolar disorder and this young man's situation.

Q: What is bipolar disorder?

Dr. Sylvia: Bipolar disorder is a mental health trend found in 2 million Americans today. Also known as manic depression, bipolar disorder causes an individual to vacillate between periods of mania, either euphoric enthusiasm or volatile irritability, and times of deep depression, which can include listlessness and outward expressions of sadness. These two "poles" color the person's personality greatly, leaving little room for 'normal' moods or equilibrium. It can inspire anything from uncontainable aggression to tremendously positive productivity at the office, or even suicidal thoughts. It's a very serious condition and it goes beyond common characterizations of people as neurotic, chaotic, or moody.

Q: How often do people suffering from this disease "change gears?"

Dr. Sylvia: Many timelines exist for bipolar emotional cycles. Sometimes a person's cycle occurs over a couple of days or weeks, making it easy to dismiss their symptoms as simple "moodiness" when extreme behavior isn't exhibited. However, cycles can also occur over months and even years, when a person's emotional "rollercoaster" is stretched to encompass entire eras of their life. What's important for people concerned about themselves or a person in their life is to identify a behavioral pattern--have you observed this person moving back and forth between these moods? Do they often "go back to normal" or is emotional stability much more infrequent?

Q: Is it inherited or a condition that a person falls into later in life?

Dr. Sylvia: Various studies have given us mixed answers. Some have shown that it is genetically inherited and occurs within families. Most studies say that bipolar's onset occurs in a person's early twenties, despite many individuals showing symptoms as children and adolescents. We do know, however, that the disease is caused by an underlying imbalance of brain chemicals. Lifestyle choices such as drug and alcohol abuse only exacerbate the consequences of this imbalance. What's unclear is why the imbalance occurs.

Q: Is there a way to correct the imbalance with medication?

Dr. Sylvia: Most patients take multiple medications, including a mood-stabilizer and an antidepressant. Lithium is a commonly mentioned medication in more famous cases, such as Margot Kidder of the Superman movies.

Q: Obviously, this disorder imparts great volatility. Can it cause someone to harm not just themselves, but also people around them?

Dr. Sylvia: Absolutely. A person suffering from bipolar or manic depression has no control over when they experience great joy, crippling sadness, or aggressiveness. While events in the person's life can certainly trigger transitions from one emotional stage to another, these changes usually occur on a cycle regulated internally and involuntarily. As a result, great attention--including therapy and medication--is absolutely necessary to help the person navigate these choppy waters.

If this young man had been formally diagnosed and had left his medications on the shelf for a prolonged period of time--such as the many months before this incident--an emotional situation that would allow him to express such rage and anger could easily arise. Relapse is very, very common for patients that have pulled out of one or more episodes with the help of medication, so doctors always warn that medication use should be ongoing to prevent repeated mood swings.

Q: It's a very sad situation. Is there anything our viewers need to keep in mind both about this young man and other people in their lives that are suffering potentially from bipolar?

Dr. Sylvia: Bipolar disorder does not make individuals dangerous only towards others--the greatest risk is to themselves. While getting someone diagnosed may protect the people around them, you'll most importantly save their life. It will help them contain their emotional highs and lows and allow them to lead a regular, safe life.