55 year old woman diagnosed Bipolar?

My sister is 55 years old and just told me she had a nervous breakdown; she went to see her doctor. She told me the doctor told her she has bipolar and put her on medication. She is disabled and is a freelance writer and has fibromyalgia and she has had a total hysterectomy. Can this be ?

Ben's Answer:

While it is possible to be diagnosed Bipolar at any age - it is much less common later in life. The most typical age of onset is 18-21. Since the widespread use of antidepressants, many more people are developing bipolar symptoms late mid-life or later. For many, antidepressants are the first trigger for manic symptoms and they are then given the "diagnosis" of bipolar disorder which can then follow a chronic course, thus necessitating further medication of various kinds.
Hormonal problems can be another trigger for bipolar symptoms - mania or depression -- so it is possible that her hysterectomy could have a lot to do with her mood symptoms; I would get a second opinion. A family doctor/primary care physician is probably not well qualified to diagnose Bipolar Disorder.

Technically speaking, mental health professionals rarely consider the cause of a psychiatric illness. They tend to diagnose more based on symptoms, regardless of the cause. Even though there is a diagnostic category or "Mood Disorder due to Medical Causes" -- this is often overlooked and disregarded. The "take a pill to treat your symptoms" approach usually wins over the "figure out the actual source of the problem and resolve it" approach.

Take Care,
Ben Schwarcz, MFT
Santa Rosa Psychotherapist

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