While the idea that people with mental disorders are automatically more violent than the general population has been proven to be a myth, there are several aspects of untreated bipolar disorder that can lead to an increased risk of domestic violence. This is a confusing and frightening situation with emotional and physical repercussions for all involved.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
The brain uses an intricate system of chemical signals to manage emotional functions in the central nervous system. Tiny changes in the level of these chemicals are directly related to the following critical functions:
- Positive and negative feelings
- The formation and recollection of memories
- Impulse control
- Anxiety and stress management
When individuals suffer from an imbalance or deficiency in this chemical system, they may experience times of extreme depression and times of emotional mania. Some of the most common symptoms of depression include the following:
- Emotional numbness
- Persistent sadness
- Lack of motivation
- Feelings of hopelessness and despair
- Suicidal thoughts, words or actions
Some of the most common symptoms of bipolar mania include the following:
- Emotional outbursts
- Making reckless and irresponsible decisions, including decisions related to sexual behavior, spending money and using drugs or alcohol
- Verbal abuse of others
- Denial and blame-shifting all personal culpability or responsibility for actions
- Irrationally elevated mood
- Little need for sleep
Bipolar individuals tend to move from one of these emotional extremes to the other. They often fail to receive treatment because during depressive episodes they don’t believe there is any hope to feel better and during manic times they don’t feel that they need any help. Spouses and loved ones tend to live with a combination of fear and uncertainty as a result.
Bipolar Disorder and Domestic Violence Risks
Individuals with untreated bipolar disorder are at an increased risk for violent behavior for the following reasons:
- Substance abuse often fuels domestic violence.
- Mania can cause impulse control disorders.
- Reckless sexual behavior can cause injury to the bipolar person’s partner.
- Major depression can cause suicidal thoughts or actions.
Because of the constantly volatile nature of the disease, bystanders are often unsure how to prepare themselves and how to encourage their loved one to get help.
Successful Bipolar Disorder Treatment
While there is no known cure for bipolar disorder, mental health professionals have discovered several very effective treatment tools, including medical care and various forms of counseling, that can reduce symptoms significantly. It is not uncommon for the partner of a bipolar individual to resort to holding an intervention in order to convince his or her partner that help is needed and available.