The quarter is well under way and some of us are already feeling stressed out and overwhelmed. Under these circumstances, a lot of us neglect self-care and do not pay attention to some very important warning signs: from feelings of euphoria, extreme optimism, agitation, poor judgment, difficulty sleeping to persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, guilt and hopelessness. Is this a recurrent pattern in your life? Is it affecting your normal college routine? If you or someone you know is going through these extremes, it might be bipolar disorder.

This condition is a mood disorder with a pattern of emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). This condition affects more than two million American adults, or about 1 percent of the population age 18 and older. It often begins in adolescence or early adulthood and may persist throughout life. The flares of bipolar symptoms may last for weeks or months, causing great disturbances in the lives of those affected. College students may experience increased physical activity, recklessness or taking chances not normally taken, sleep difficulties, inability to concentrate and extreme irritability. This often cycles into periods of depression with difficulty concentrating and recurring thoughts of suicide.

Coping with bipolar symptoms can be difficult and it is a condition you cannot treat on your own. UCSB is committed to helping and serving students who may suffer from mood disorders. On Oct. 6, UCSB participated in National Depression Screening Day. Our screening was held at the UCen, a high traffic area, where hundreds of students participated in the screening for mood disorders. The aim of the program was to raise public awareness that mood disorders are common, often undetected and have many effective treatments, as well as to identify those students who are at risk. The outcome was really positive with several students seeking out additional information and services at both Counseling Services (893-4411) and at Student Health (893-3371).

With support from the UCSB Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Committee and in response to the needs of students who suffer from bipolar disorder, Counseling Services is currently offering a support group. Support groups provide a setting in which people can share their common problems and provide ongoing support to one another. Students usually find the group very helpful because they hear from others about their experiences with bipolar disorder and share their ongoing successes and setbacks in coping with the symptoms.

The Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Management of Bipolar Symptoms is an educational and support group that assists students in developing skills to tolerate distress and to regulate their own emotions. All currently enrolled UCSB undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for counseling services and can participate in this group. Privacy is important and great lengths will be taken to protect your confidentiality. Exceptions to this policy are made in cases of certain emergencies and when other legal and ethical exceptions to confidentiality require that the counselor take responsible action. You can call 893-4411 to obtain additional information.

Mary Ann Evans, Ph.D. and Fernando Ortiz, Ph.D. are the group facilitators at Counseling Services.