Bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme mood swings, including periods of high energy and activity (mania) and periods of low energy and activity (depression). Within the diagnostic category of bipolar disorder in the DSM, there are two main subtypes: Bipolar I Disorder and Bipolar II Disorder.

Bipolar I Disorder is characterized by manic episodes that last for at least seven days, or manic symptoms that are severe enough to require hospitalization. These manic episodes are typically followed by major depressive episodes, which can last for two weeks or longer. (Note: depression is not required for a bipolar diagnosis.) In addition, individuals with Bipolar I Disorder may also experience periods of normal mood (euthymia) in between episodes.

Bipolar II Disorder is characterized by hypomanic episodes (less severe upswings than those seen in mania) and major depressive episodes. Hypomanic episodes are characterized by a distinct period of elevated, expansive, or irritable mood that lasts for at least four consecutive days. Unlike manic episodes, hypomanic episodes do not cause significant impairment in social or occupational functioning and do not require hospitalization.

Treatment for Bipolar I and II disorder typically involves a combination of medications, such as mood stabilizers, and psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and/or family-focused therapy.

For social work practice, and for the social work licensing exam, remember that people with bipolar disorder may also have co-occurring conditions such as anxiety or substance use disorder which can impact diagnosis and treatment planning.

You can pretty easily imagine an ASWB exam question on the topic:

A client reports intermittent periods of elevated mood, usually followed by depression. To diagnose bipolar I disorder, the client's symptoms would have to include:

A) A depressive episode lasting at least two weeks.

B) A manic episode lasting at least two weeks.

C) A manic episode requiring hospitalization.

D) A manic episode lasting at least seven days.

Having just read the post (if you did) you have your answer. Since not all manic episodes require hospitalization, it's either B (a two-week+ manic episode) or D (a seven day+ manic episode).

Even if you didn't read the post, you might figure that two weeks is a long time to have manic symptoms. Surely a diagnosis would kick in before that. And you would have figured right. The answer is D.

You're all the more ready for the ASWB exam. To really get ready, sign up and get going with SWTP's full-length practice tests. Each question includes thorough rationales to help you understand both exam content and the exam-taking process.

Like we always say, get practice, get licensed. Happy studying and good luck on the exam!

January 17, 2023
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