Dear Plain Sense: A good friend of mine says he thinks he has bi-polar disorder. I feel like I should be doing something to help him, but I don't even know what this means.

First of all, it sounds like your friend might be trying to diagnose his own condition, which is not a good idea for any illness, physical or mental. So advising him to talk about his concerns to a mental health professional would be a first step. Because there is so much information available nowadays through the media, on the Internet, and from well-intentioned others, it becomes even more important to get accurate information.

Bi-polar is a mental illness that causes extreme mood swings. A person with this illness experiences periods of feeling extremely "high" (mania) and other times of feeling devastatingly "low" (depression). The length of each phase can vary from days to months, and are often difficult to predict. And the behaviors that accompany these "moods" can significantly interfere with a person's family relationships, with school and/or their jobs. The cause of bi-polar is not completely clear to the medical field, but it appears that chemical changes in the brain are a major factor, along with factors such as heredity, physical illness, and other life stresses. Each person experiences vary with this illness which is why it so important to talk with a professional.

Bi-polar disorder is one of the most treatable mental illnesses. Medication is often used in combination with therapy. Improvements in medications in recent years have decreased the side effects and given physicians several treatment options. With professional help, those suffering from bi-polar disorder can enjoy a healthy lifestyle, maintain relationships with family and friends, and continue to pursue their jobs and careers.

Contributed by Karen D. Beery, LCPC, Manager--Consultation and Education Department.

Mail questions to: High Plains Mental Health Center, PLAIN SENSE, Consultation and Education Department, 208 East 7th, Hays, KS 67601; or visit

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