Now that we have an established foundation regarding emotions in general,  we may understand that emotions are signals to underlying issues–much like the warning lights on the dashboard of a vehicle.  The warning light itself is not the problem.  I often joke that a warning light coming on my only be signaling that the warning light itself was broken (Is there a warning light for a malfunctioning warning light?) but I digress.

Very rarely is it that our emotions are the problem.  Resolutions to stop being angry, or to be happier fail then because it is not the emotion that is malfunctioning.  Those, who are actually able to address a seemingly faulty emotion, need to check all the reasons that the warning light may be signaling.

In the world of emotional disorders, of which bipolar is one, these reasons are commonly referred to as “triggers.”  Everyone has something or someone, who will trigger a downward or upward cycle, or a rapid shifting between mania and depression. Numerous triggers have been identified, and even the seemingly random shifts in emotions found in bipolar individuals may arise from various triggers.  Bipolar symptoms are just that–symptoms.

The underlying cause for many of us with bipolar disorder is an imbalance of two or more brain chemicals, specifically norepinephrine, epinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin.  Most often dopamine is the principle factor in bipolar disorder.  Antidepressants usually deal with serotonin, so instead of addressing the issue, they destabilize the one stable chemical. Because of this, antidepressants often aggravate rather than alleviate the symptoms.  Other triggers exist that may cause bipolar-like symptoms.  These exist in some combination with each other: stress, relational issues, chemical issues (internal and external), drug usage, blood sugar and insulin issues, societal and cultural issues, and others.

It is in recognizing the array of issues in our lives that allows us to begin addressing each one as a means to understanding our personal warning lights.  Think of it this way: if a mechanic does not recognize all the reasons for a warning light, or is unfamiliar with one or two, a great chance exists that the mechanic will be unable to fix the problem.  We need to be aware of the complexity of emotions to help people effectively address them.

Assuming that we know that person is sad, the principle cause for sadness is most often a chemical imbalance magnified by a circumstance.  My initial advice to this individual would be to see a doctor or to suggest some remedies that have helped me out of depression.  If the sadness however is caused by a loss, a doctor’s visit or common remedies may be unable to mask the pain.  Neither will the individual be able to deal with the loss.  Though just an example, this scenario shows us that effectiveness in helping others dealing with emotional challenges, requires us to go deeply into both health and circumstantial issues.  We must be willing to ask questions and most importantly listen to the answers.