Bipolar Disorder: Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About the Brain?

Bipolar Disorder Why Isn’t Anyone Talking About the Brain

Bipolar disorder is in the spotlight these days thanks to several celebrities—including Kanye West, Demi Lovato, Bebe Rexha, and Halsey—who have gone public with their diagnoses. These high-profile individuals are among the 5.7 million Americans affected by bipolar disorder.

Considered a cyclic mood disorder, this condition shifts between manic episodes and depressive episodes that are characterized by severe changes in mood, energy, and activity levels. The discussions in the media and on social media have brought to light some of the common symptoms associated with the condition.

For example, manic episodes are characterized by:

  • an abnormally elevated mood
  • inflated self-esteem
  • grandiose ideas
  • racing thoughts
  • a decreased need for sleep

On the other end of the spectrum, depressive episodes are associated with:

  • sad or negative moods
  • loss of interest in usually pleasurable activities
  • feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
  • decreased energy
  • suicidal thoughts and behavior

This is good information, but there’s one important aspect of bipolar disorder that nobody is talking about—the brain.


Brain SPECT imaging, which measures blood flow and activity in the brain, shows that people with bipolar disorder tend to have abnormal activity patterns in the brain. For the patients at Amen Clinics and their families, seeing their brain scans helps them understand that symptoms and behaviors associated with bipolar disorder are not “mental health” problems or character flaws, they’re “brain health” problems.

Unfortunately, millions of people in America who are suffering from bipolar disorder and other psychiatric conditions don’t get the help they need due to the stigma surrounding mental health. Reframing the discussion from mental health to brain health helps overcome that stigma because it shows that conditions aren’t moral, they’re medical.

For people with bipolar disorder, brain imaging can also reveal some surprising findings. For example, at Amen Clinics, SPECT brain scans show that many people who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder also have an underlying traumatic brain injury that has never been properly diagnosed or treated. Many of these people don’t even remember experiencing a head injury.

This hidden trauma can be the result of head injuries that happened months, years, or even decades earlier. Some of the most common causes include falls (falling off a bike or ladder, or falling down stairs), vehicle accidents, or sports-related concussions. Having a brain injury can exacerbate the ups and downs of bipolar disorder. The patient population at Amen Clinics shows that healing the underlying damage can be very helpful in reducing symptoms associated with bipolar disorder.

Brain imaging can also help detect other mental health conditions that commonly occur with bipolar. For example, research in Clinical Psychology shows that 62% of people with bipolar disorder also meet the clinical criteria for ADD/ADHD. Anxiety disorders and substance use disorders are also common in people with bipolar disorder.


Without the added help of brain imaging, bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed for other conditions, such as depression or schizophrenia. In fact, most people suffer from symptoms of the disorder for an entire decade before getting an accurate diagnosis. This can have devastating effects because following the wrong treatment plan can make symptoms worse.

When left untreated or mistreated, the condition is associated with a decrease of over 9 years in life expectancy. In addition, people with bipolar disorder are 15 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population, and 1 in 5 people with the condition eventually take their own life.


Bipolar disorder is treatable and is generally responsive to a treatment program that is personalized to enhance brain health and that may include nutritional supplements, healthy nutrition, exercise, lifestyle changes, helpful forms of therapy, and medication (when necessary).

Bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.


  1. I need help and my insurance is just medicaid

    Comment by Do you accept Medicaid — August 24, 2020 @ 3:13 AM

  2. hi I am from Australia, and have been very interested in your SPECT scanning;
    I am a therapist and would like to be able to refer clients onto SPECT scanning imaging, do you have any clinics in Australia, Queensland. I also have friends in Canada, do you have any clinics there ?

    kinds regards Tamara for Australia (Queensland).

    Comment by Tamara — August 24, 2020 @ 3:39 AM

  3. I have never worried about the“stigma” but do have a problem with affording the brain spect. I have had concussions from riding mishaps, but suspect that genetics is a bigger cause and wonder how the two can be differentiated My interest is more in finding the genetic so that it can be helpful to others in my family. Suicides in past generations and having been told that there is a “curse” that needs to be acknowledged
    were not exactly helpful, but the prospect that I, or one of my children, could find useful brain information and a plan to improve its function that could be helpful to children and grandchildren . Has there been any thought given to “family plans” that allow spects of 2 or more (I, a daughter, and one of her daughters seem the hardest hit) with a shared treatment plan. That I have had 6 known knockouts/concussions from riding mishaps (and flying off a trapeze onto a concrete floor) would, of course, skew the nature/nurture dynamic and 2 family members without brain injury would be more useful. One of my siblings might be interested in a group approach that might find similarities in brains resulting in similar treatment plans that might help generations. (Sounds like I’m in a rather manic phase…)

    Comment by Sally Shepherd — August 24, 2020 @ 3:41 AM

  4. I live in Canada, amen clinics help me here

    Comment by Anita Speets — August 24, 2020 @ 3:54 AM

  5. Do you take tricare prime?

    Comment by Shana Maston-Shields — August 24, 2020 @ 4:17 AM

  6. The bit in your article that mentions some sort of Head injury i did find somewhat amusing.
    A. Because I served in the Royal Navy Submarine Service Communications branch On old diesel electric submarines and most people were forever banging their heads on small bulk head doors.
    B. I suffered physical abuse from my mother mostly but also my father with being about the head up until I became a teenager and then it was mental and verbal abuse from my mother until she died in 2018.
    So, yes i did have head injuries up until I would say the middle of December of 1992 when i came off the last diesel electric submarine that I served on before my medical discharge.

    Comment by Neil Burns — August 24, 2020 @ 5:11 AM

  7. More information on location

    Comment by Anthony Best — August 24, 2020 @ 6:00 AM

  8. This makes so much sense to me . I think it is true that this is a brain illness, and being able to see what is going on and use the various treatments to help re-train the brain is the best protocol. Psychiatry has been like a dart board trying to hit the right spot. I’ve been following Amen Clinic , Dr.Amen for years. When I worked with kids around substance abuse issues, the website was a great tool to let young people look at the change in the brain on and off substances.

    Comment by Debra Wucik — August 24, 2020 @ 6:18 AM

  9. Is there a clinic in Canada that does the brain imaging that Amen clinics do?

    Comment by Connie Plotzki — August 24, 2020 @ 6:32 AM

  10. My son of 35 years was diagnosed with ADHD in kindergarten and then with Bipolar in early high school. He is no longer taking an ADHD medication because of the side effects. Vyanse proved the worse medication of all sending him into a high that made him crave more & more. Of course the side effects of overdosing were disastrous including several trips to the emergency room. Currently he take Lithium and while that helps with mood swings it does nothing for his anxiety which can be severe at times. What should we do next? Are the services covered by private insurance?

    Comment by Michelle S — August 24, 2020 @ 6:34 AM

  11. It’s my 24 yr son. Breaking down each day crying. Diagnosed with bipolar. Help seems like it’s only medicine. Desperate don’t know what my part is or where to direct him, before he is frozen and can’t advocate anymore. He does want help. Have very money. Thanks.

    Comment by David Geden — August 24, 2020 @ 6:42 AM

  12. Hi, I have a question : If your mission is helping people, why do you charge to much for treatment? Threre are a lot of people who needs help but can’t afford to pay for your services.

    Comment by Lam vo — August 24, 2020 @ 8:02 AM

  13. Do you have any clinics in Canada ? ( Toronto, Ont. )
    Thank you.

    Comment by Darlene Pellman — August 24, 2020 @ 8:12 AM

  14. According to my long lifetime experience with the bipolar disorder, a treatment with medication is necessary according to me, and that treatment has to be taken until the death of the person. It is a permanent brain health issue according to my own experiences with several brain health issues I had to face in my life. This includes depression, suicidal attempts, chronic anxiety, chronic stress, dyslexy and ADD/ADHD.

    Comment by François Lafond — August 24, 2020 @ 8:16 AM

  15. Been diagnosed with BP2 years ago … Am interested to know expense involved for typical brain ‘spect scan’ for evaluation … Really curious to observe what my current brain status looks lik … Been on Effexor XR for years … Now take (225 mg/day) … Just turned 77 in July …

    Comment by CWHEIL — August 24, 2020 @ 8:19 AM

  16. Hello David, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information and resources.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 24, 2020 @ 8:43 AM

  17. Hello Anthony, thank you for reaching out. Currently, we have 8 clinic locations in the U.S.:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 24, 2020 @ 8:51 AM

  18. Since this is a medical procedure I too wondered why this is not covered by insurance. The cost seems to only be truly affordable by the wealthy. I am currently seeking a grant for our 21 year old son who has Lyme Disease (since 2013 – his freshnan year of high school) as well as double copy of MTHFR and then having a psychotic break and eventually hospitalized and diagnosed with Schizophrenia. I have strong suspicion the latter is connected to former. Without the grant money we too cannot afford your much needed services. Suggestions?

    Comment by S. Mathison — August 24, 2020 @ 9:45 AM

  19. Dr Amen I have read one of your books and I enjoy reading the articles in my email. I have been on medications for thirty years now and want to get off them. I had an ablation surgery on my heart and other severe symptoms trying to withdraw from the drugs. Do you have any information on how to safely withdraw from psych medications? I have had several head injuries as a young child falling out of car on concrete at two or three on my head and was hospitalized and then about five or six fell off my bike on my head and I was vomiting and very disoriented.

    Comment by Kellie — August 24, 2020 @ 10:11 AM


    Comment by JAY JAMES — August 24, 2020 @ 10:24 AM

  21. You fail to mention that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders cause brain injury and are a very common cause of what appears to be Bi-Polar. When we adopted our daughter at the age of 2 she was already violent and abusive. We spent years doing natural things/supplements/excerise etc. Finally used medication at age 16. They have recently discovered that supplementing with choline can help prevent some of the brain problems of FASD if begun at a young age. Also people need to know that alcohol prior to conception (including the father) can cause FASD….and the genetic/brain damage is passed down to children and grandchildren. Friends of a older mother with FASD – one daughter has severe unrelenting depression, and the other is so ADHD she abandoned her children.

    Comment by S Cooper — August 24, 2020 @ 11:19 AM

  22. I need help in accurate diagnosis so I can get the right treatment! I am on Medicaid so I’ve just been passed around from doctor to doctor and given so many meds over the last 20yrs! I feel no confidence in the healthcare system because of it..I’ve only gotten worse not better..different Doctor’s have different diagnoses and I would love to be able to have a PET scan to see if this can help…will you take Medicaid or do as study for free? I am desperate!

    Comment by Jessica Sinclair — August 24, 2020 @ 11:30 AM

  23. After reading the comments above I don’t feel so all alone. My daughter just went through a severe manic episode which landed her in three different psychiatric hospitals over a two month period. No real help was offered her; only drugs and pills and shots that made her sleep so no one had to deal with her. My daughter has bipolar I and borderline personality disorder. I am widowed, 73 and don’t have the $4,000. it would cost to take her to one of your clinics. My daughter is on SSI, medicare/medicaid so her budget is also very limited. Your clinics do not take medicare/medicaid? Why don’t you except insurance? I have reached out trying to get grant money, etc. to help with expenses. Is there anyway to go that will help with the financial burden of caring for a loved one?

    Comment by Betty Mason — August 24, 2020 @ 3:49 PM

  24. Hello Jessica, we’d be happy to go over cost, as well as insurance, reimbursement, and financing options. We can be reached here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:40 PM

  25. Hello Betty, thank you for reaching out. We are an out-of-network provider. We do offer many types of evaluations and consultations and other resources. We also work with Care Credit to offer our patients financing options ( We’d be happy to contact you with more information.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:42 PM

  26. Hello Jay, at this time we only have clinics in the U.S.: Our Care Coordinators may be able to provide referrals closer to you, or other resources. Please contact us:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:44 PM

  27. Hello Darlene, at this time we only have clinics in the U.S.: Our Care Coordinators may be able to provide referrals closer to you, or other resources. Please contact us:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:46 PM

  28. Hello David, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information and resources.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:52 PM

  29. Hello Michelle, thank you for reaching out. We are an out-of-network provider, but our Care Coordinators can give you more information about insurance, reimbursement, and financing options. We can be contacted here:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:53 PM

  30. Hello Connie, at this time our clinics are only in the U.S.: Our Care Coordinators may be able to assist you with referrals closer to you, or other resources. Please contact us:

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:54 PM

  31. What is a SPECT scan?! I realize that it is a brain scan, but what does SPECT stand for? Do private insurances cover it? Please contact me via email. Thanks.

    Comment by Mary — September 3, 2020 @ 8:24 PM

  32. Can U get an accurate SPECT when the pt is on Lithium & Rispidol ?
    Also question why Amen clinics r cash pay only & do not take even good health insurance.
    So many people with mental / brain health issues & the system is so broken .

    Comment by Laurie Ryan — January 26, 2022 @ 11:02 PM

  33. Hello Laurie, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you directly with more information and answers to your questions.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — February 5, 2022 @ 6:44 PM

  34. Have you seen and bipolar patients who do not have to take meds in order to stay stable. I am currently on a mood stabilizer called Lamictal. Was wondering if you have experience with this.

    Comment by Donna — February 1, 2023 @ 10:06 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us