Bipolar Disorder Basics
Bipolar disorder used to be known as manic depressive illness.
It is a mood disorder characterized by mood swings between the "highs" of bipolar mania and the "lows" of depression.
It is an episodic illness. In between episodes of bipolar mania and/or depression, there will usually be periods of stable or normal moods and wellness.
The usual age of onset is late teens to early twenties.
Bipolar disorder is not curable and must be controlled by mood stabilizing medication.
Despite being a life long illness, bipolar disorder is very manageable. In fact, it is one of the "best" mental illnesses to have in that there are many effective bipolar treatments available.
Bipolar disorder is often misdiagnosed as depression in women or schizophrenia in men.
Un treated bipolar disorder is dangerous and may lead to suicide during depression, or self destructive activities during mania such as wild spending, crazy business ventures, sexual promiscuity or infidelity and other high risk behavior.
Bipolar disorder must be diagnosed and treated by an experienced psychiatrist who specializes in mood disorders.
Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of bipolar depression may include:
Persistent empty or "blue" feeling.
Lack of interest or pleasure in usual activities.
Sleep changes - either insomnia or excessive sleep.
Lack of motivation and neglect of routine tasks such as personal grooming.
Indecision. Indifference. Lethargy.
Symptoms of Bipolar Mania may include:
Reduced need for sleep.
Grandiose plans and beliefs that are not realistic.
Taking on multiple projects and marked increase in goal directed behavior.
Risk taking behavior and distorted judgment i.e. crazy business schemes, reckless investments, sexual indiscretions, shopping sprees, gambling binges etc.
Bipolar Disorder Types
Bipolar Type I is characterized by at least one manic or mixed episode. The mania in Bipolar 1 is serious and may involve bipolar psychosis.
Bipolar Type II is characterized by at least one hypomanic episode, (hypomania meaning literally 'below mania'), and one major depressive episode.
The third bipolar type is called cyclothymia, which is characterized by recurrent cycles of sudden hypomania and dysthymic episodes (type of depression in which a person's moods are regularly low, yet not as severe as with major depression).
Bipolar Disorder Causes
Genetics Bipolar disorder is not always inherited and in even in identical twins, both do not always develop the disorder. Although hereditary factors are a major risk factor in developing bipolar disorder, it is not a purely genetic illness.
Neurological Neurotransmitter imbalances and other brain chemistry disturbances can play a significant role in bipolar disorder.
Stress Someone with a predisposition to bipolar disorder may go on to develop the illness if triggered by stressors.
Environmental Factors Seasonal changes or sleep deprivation sometimes precipitate the onset of bipolar episodes.
Pregnancy Obviously, pregnancy in and of itself does not cause bipolar disorder. However, like stress, giving birth can trigger the initial episode in a woman with a predisposition to the illness.
Bipolar Disorder Myths
Hypomania misconceptions: it's a a fun 'high'', an exaggerated form of being the life of the party. Not necessarily. Mania takes on many different forms and can manifest as extreme irritability or even psychosis. (I've experienced both).
Bipolar people are crazy: NO. They have a mood disorder and in between the highs of mania and lows of depression may have long and/or frequent periods of stable moods where they function well. The true bipolar disorder facts are that many people go months or even years without an episode.
Medication and treatment: some people mistakenly believe that bipolar is un treatable, while others believe that bipolar medications are a cure. On the positive side, there are a variety of bipolar medications available, yet finding an effective treatment may take some people longer than others.
Workplace and functioning: although some people are disabled by their bipolar disorder, more than 75% are successful at work. (After graduating college, I maintained a successful and satisfying professional career for three years until my disorder took an extended turn for the worse in 2010. Currently, my situation has not improved beyond the norm of personal or social functioning.)
The myth most bothering is that bipolar disorder is not considered or perceived as a real illness. Although bipolar disorder is episodic and very treatable, it is a serious illness and if untreated can lead to life-threatening consequences, mainly suicide.
Society has a preconceived notion that bipolar is just a fashionable excuse for bad behavior. Bipolar disorder has a clear clinical definition and has been a documented chronic illness for over 2,000 years. Our "bad behavior" is not without a price. We suffer long after the damages as the regret and remorse we feel during "stable" periods consumes us... more so than the consuming illness itself.